When Good Intentions Meet Good Design

Good, bad or indifferent, design is part and parcel of everything we do and everything we touch. It can add value (most things Apple), annoy (refrigerator-size parking lot pay machines with change slots located a foot from the floor) or lead to unintended outcomes (remember “butterfly” ballots?).

Design isn’t “frosting” to be added after the fact. Whether or not a designer is at the table when a product or service is created, it is designed. Just probably not as well as it might have been. 

Nowhere are the design stakes higher or the margins for error thinner than in social innovation. Without thoughtful design, even the best of intentions can lead to projects that miss the mark and even do real damage. 

For example, the buy one / give one model made popular by Tom’s Shoes isn’t the slam dunk success many first thought. Local markets can become flooded with so much free product, local manufacturers lay off workers and shutter shops. Solving one problem, then, triggers another. Which means figuring out what works best where, when and for whom is key. And that means having someone who can bring design thinking to the mix from the get go.  

Enter New York’s School of Visual Arts new MFA program in Design for Social Innovation (SVA / DSI), whose first class of 25 students is slated to start in the fall.

Founder and program Cheryl Heller

…So many people think that just having an idea and being passionate and having a mission is enough. But there is a lot going on, a lot to learn about the contexts in which it is taking place. And that’s part of design: What is it? Where you’re working. What’s the context?… 

This is about communication. It’s being able to define what you do in a way…

  • that makes others care about it…
  • that helps them hear it…
  • that gets the support you want…
  • that someone can repeat in a room where you won’t be…
  • that a whole organization will understand it and help you live it out

As a taste of what’s to come, DSI held a “Designathon” in a couple of weeks ago, with a focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Teams from Cisco Systems, Arup, The World Bank, American Sustainable Business Council, Hub Bay Area and Catchafire were paired with DSI faculty for an intense weekend of issues analyses and rapid-prototyping.

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— J.A. Ginsburg / @TrackerNews