MFA Design for Social Innovation Thesis Forum 2014: Blueprints for Change

June 18, 2014

The MFA Design for Social Innovation class of 2014 made design history on May 5 when the department hosted its first-ever thesis forum. The cohort of 20 students from 11 countries presented projects that marked the culmination of their experience in the unique new program.

dsi200Founded by Cheryl Heller, MFA Design for Social Innovation was created for designers who want become change-makers on social and environmental issues. Where other design programs teach self expression and technique, DSI focuses on using these tools to have an intentional and positive impact.

Activism was on full view at the forum as each student presented his or her vision for bettering the world. Some projects have already moved from prototype into reality. A few examples:

Stephen Bernasconi’s Wear Slow Clothes initiative, which promotes buying locally made clothing, is connecting consumers to a growing list of participating stores and factories.

Josh Treuhaft’s “Eat Everything” movement is raising awareness about food waste. He has spearheaded several popup “Salvaged Supper” parties—including one inside a dumpster—featuring gourmet meals made with ugly potatoes, day-old bread, and other perfectly edible goods that many would send to the trash.

Carl Landegger, concerned that litter has become such a part of everyday life that we ignore it, developed a fun game called Chalk Circle Change. The challenge: make the invisible visible. Hundreds of people, young and old, have rallied to the call. In communities around New York and elsewhere, armed with sidewalk chalk, they signal wasteful behavior by drawing circles around thousands of pieces of trash on the street.

Hoping to turn first-time voters into lifetime voters in her native India, Tanya Bhandari launched Votever, a peer-to-peer campaign to engage college students in the nation’s elections.

A Common Ground Convention, devised and facilitated by Ruchica Muchhala, brought communities on opposing sides of the fracking debate together for a conversation about managing and protecting their shared resources.

Heller’s pride was palpable as she addressed students, families, faculty members, advisors and administrators in the Beatrice Theatre. “The soon-to-be, first-in-the-world holders of an MFA in Design for Social Innovation have each run a marathon and then some. And they are all just at the beginning,” she said. “Defining what design for social innovation is will never be finished. We will always be learning and changing, and it will always be our job to evolve.”

Click here to view short videos on several MFA DSI thesis projects, or watch the complete forum (including the students’ presentations) here.

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