SVA students impact social change across New York

by Hala Malak

More designers are becoming interested in projects to better society. Design for social change is the new hot thing. Many want to make a difference and better the world, but there is still no set doctrine for this field. A plethora of successful and less successful initiatives are afoot. Change is needed at all levels but before trying to cure world hunger, designers should start in their own back yards.

I was fortunate to be part of the innovative Impact! Design for Social Change 6-week course at SVA, where participants in the workshop were divided into teams and paired up with non-profits from all over New York City. Heading the initiative and the program was Mark Randall of Wordstudio and he introduced a new approach – leave it to designers to choose the area to tackle and then apply the design process to come up with solutions, all the while working very closely with the clients themselves. The designers were not answering a traditional creative brief but collaborating with the non-profits on all aspects of the project, from initially choosing areas of focus to developing relevant concepts to plans of execution. As Mark eloquently put it at the beginning of the course, small acts of change inspire big ideas.

The process followed can be summarized in four steps:

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Analyze the situation
  3. Take into consideration the barriers and constraints
  4. Propose solutions and frameworks

Each of the four teams worked closely with their respective organizations, with support from the SVA faculty, the New York City Department of Small Business Services and desigNYC to develop the projects below –

DayLife – LES is more than nightlife

Non-profit: Lower East Side (LES) Business Improvement District (BID), Manhattan

Team: Hala A.Malak, Zennie McLoughlin & Jacky Minkler

Context: The LES has developed a reputable nightlife and a “happening” restaurant and bar scene but foot traffic during daytime is still weak.

Goal: Drive more foot traffic during the day and revive Orchard Street on Sundays.

Proposed Solution: Concept for a proprietary event to involve retailers from all over the LES.

Concept: DayLife is a series of events for 4 Sundays on Orchard Street. The idea is to step away from another street fair with white tent after white tent and really apply an ownable concept that can be rolled out monthly and yearly. Each of the four Sundays had a theme highlighting the unique characteristics of the Lower East Side.

1st Sunday: Food – LES is more then Pickles
2nd Sunday: Art – LES is more then Graffiti
3rd Sunday: Dating – LES is more then Harry meets Sally
4th Sunday: Nightlife – LES is more then DJs

Deliverables: DayLive presentation, postcards and posters that demonstrate the concept, identity and branding plus implementation guidelines for the event design.

Ride the Hook

Non-profit: Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, Red Hook, Brooklyn

Team: Jen Odegaard, Liz Cook & Payal Patel

Context: Red Hook is a distinctive place but quite hard to get to (there are no easy public transportation options). As a community, it holds a certain special cachet but there is a need to draw in foot traffic for the retailers without losing its core identity.

Goal: Bring in more people during the day to Red Hook.

Concept: Ride the Hook is a program that establishes Red Hook as a biking destination through collaborative efforts by the local community. The initiative intends to increase economic activity by 25% in the first year. The primary audience is residents, particularly bikers, from neighboring communities in Brooklyn.

Phase I: Signage, blog and bike map.
Phase II: Social Networks, creative pitch and launch event. Introduction of collaborations and partnerships.
Phase III: Bike stations, web applications and swag!

Deliverables: Detailed program guidebook and brand identity.


Non-profit: Northfield Community Local Development Corporation (LDC), Port Richmond, Staten Island

Team: Nathalia Nogueira, Ana Pérez Gil & Bess McLaughlin

Context: What was once a main destination in Staten Island, Port Richmond today harbors segregated communities, communication barriers, lack of neighborhood pride and security issues.

Goal: Highlight social concerns by improving the cleanliness and safety of the commercial district, enhancing the sense of community and pride and encouraging social interaction.

Concept: ¡Revive! is a community program to cleanup storefronts and enhance cleanliness. By choosing one store as an example to develop a model for revitalization, a day of cleanup was set in motion.

Deliverables: Actual cleanup day, video and “how to” guideline brochure.

Reelizations: Stories start in our neighborhood

Non-profit: East River Development Alliance (ERDA), Queens

Team: Tania Jimenez, Chris Seabrooks, Mollie Ruskin & Etienne Pham

Context: ERDA is a non-profit organization in Western Queens working to transform and improve New York City public housing neighborhoods by providing residents with the tools and opportunities necessary for self-sufficiency and economic mobility. This area houses the largest public housing development in the country with many residents living below poverty line. ERDA has a Youth Media Program for the underprivileged that has very low awareness and participation.

Goal: Rebrand and re-launch the Youth Media Project by bringing visibility, credibility and outreach to recruit new youngsters and help push this program to its fullest potential.

Concept: A program that creatively engages young people living in NYCHA neighborhoods, equipping them with real-world video production skills to develop their own personal narratives around the issues faced by their communities.

Deliverables: Brand book that covers everything from financing strategy to recruitment to curriculum to all branding material. It even proposes a Reel Eyes Film Festival.

Six weeks, thirteen students from all over the world and design minds teamed together were enough to make a difference. These were not just concepts presented, but actual projects that are being implemented. That is social change, one small step at a time. Just imagine what bigger changes can be done if this simple, yet effective framework is implemented on a larger scale. Change is actually not just about great ideas, but tangible results that come from a rooted understanding of those we want to help.