The Last Brink by Etienne

In a few days we’ll be in the last week of the summer design residency and it’s been a whirlwind of ahhhh’s! Design thinking on ideas… projects… presentations — I’ve gotten a chance to meet and listen in on a lot of cool projects from social innovators and entrepreneurs from all across the borders. It’s been truly inspiring.

I came into this program not knowing exactly what it was that I’d be getting myself into — the whole design for social change sphere is just beginning to be a viable agent in a lot of corporations, businesses and organizations — when I have to explain what it is that I’ve been studying and what this field is sort of about, I have to mention ‘to think about the impact and success of Tom’s Shoes as a social enterprise. That’s just one example of Social Innovation ‘  Conversely, you have non-profit/for profit orgs partnering up with designers to brand and create products that do good for humanity. You have design competitions in which graphic designers design posters for socially conscious campaigns. We’ve met a doctor who turned his practice online. Environmentalists who’ve created a universal iconography for maps. Designers re-translating healthcare information in a more accessible way. And funny enough, a lot of social problems are being addressed thru iPhone apps! I think there are a lot of people doing genuinely good work. It’s really something of the future.

We’ve been working with local neighborhood orgs from each of the main boroughs of NYC: my teammates and I have been collaborating with a public housing development org in Queens (the largest low income public housing building in the us) called the East River Development Alliance – ERDA, working on rebranding, marketing and curriculum restructuring of the youth development program. This along with a series of great lectures on funding, grant writing, corp. sponsorship, pitching, entrepreneurship and our own personal design projects (students have been covering a good range of topics from bullying, drug war, to water bottle consumption) — all of which has given each and every one of us a glimpse, and overview of what it takes to put together  socially engaging design based projects.

On our personal Big Idea Projects, I’ve been working on designing a package that makes the healthcare seeking process easier for LGBT elders who few may know are this invisible population who’s been forced to go back into the closet — this may continue well after the program ends, as I think I may have a possible tool of a solution to this social problem.

As everything wraps up, I want to take the opportunity to thank Mark Randall and the entire gang of the SVA IMPACT! program for a tremendously touching experience. In such a short period of time, I’ve managed to push myself as a designer and thinker and team player. I not only learned more of the field and some of the pioneers, but I’ve learned how to think thoroughly and thoughtfully about ideas (because we all have them!) and ultimately how to best articulate those ideas in the most effective and compelling ways — out of everything, this was one of my biggest gains, and I’m reminded that this is just a taste of it all. I look forward to seeing how  my fellow classmates projects come together and where we all take these simple and complex ideas that we’ve formulated over the course.

My hopes by the end is that I’ll be refueled with a sense of purpose, taking skills I’ve learned over the years and applying it into something worthwhile. This may be the last week of summer school, but I feel that it’s the beginning of bigger pursuits.

– Etienne Pham