About Me

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Currently the Associate Director for Design for America (DFA) and a lecturer at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University, I am a San Francisco native and passionate about the intersection of design education and local/social impact. My studio, students' projects, and DFA have been discussed in publications and blogs such as Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Core77 and more. I have been fortunate enough to have spoken and given workshops at TEDx, the NE IDSA Conference, Better Word by Design Conferences, Fulbright Seminar, and given workshops at college campuses across the country. I earned my BFA in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design where I received RISD’s Community Service Award and the Rachel Carson Award upon graduation. I am currently working on a masters in learning and organizational change at Northwestern University. At the start, I founded and taught the advanced studio, Design for Social Entrepreneurship at RISD, Design Futures at Pratt and worked with nonprofits such as Design that Matters and GreenBlue.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Design?


I just posted a survey for RISD design students, alumni and faculty HERE. 

If you are at or went to RISD, please take the survey!! If you are burning to answer the questions but do not go to RISD, please feel free to answer the questions and just be sure to indicate where you are from.

Thanks!
Sami

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Death of Industrial Design?

In conversation today with a friend and strategist from Bruce Mao. It's a bit of a free-flow rant:

I want Industrial Design students to believe they can have a job doing good and not creating waste once they get out of school. I want the industry- both design and the nonprofit world to be convinced that design thinking is valuable and if we take the time to re-evaluate how we do things, that we can make them better and more impactful. 

What do we do with all of these design companies? I want the design and manufacturing of products to stop and I am not so sure products are the answer to our most pressing needs, but do believe however that design and strategy can be. In looking at landfills- how can we make them stop growing, how can we stop creating so much waste? The answer is for us, the designers to stop designing and manufacturing products! Is design and business going to merge? Design thinking is valuable from a strategy perspective, but do we really need new products? Our economy needs products, but do we as individuals, as human beings? In today's economy, perhaps we will start to question more the products we bring into the world and realize that a service or strategy that is not material can achieve impact, can generate revenue, and harness the power of design.

This era might be the death of Industrial Design. Of which I am not opposed to, to be honest. I went into industrial design with the hopes slowing down its engine and steering people away from over-consumption and materialism. Indeed many products are necessary but so many more are not. In my perfect world, every new product that enters the market is voted on before manufacturing. This way, we can reduce the amount of wasted products that don't win the Darwinian economic race.

I wonder how many ID students at RISD would be interested in shifting towards strategy/service design as oppose to product design if they knew they could have a good job doing so. Plus, what do we do with all of these talented designers with the creative impulse to create and make? Do we push them to the wayside and say become a sculptor? I value the art of making, but hate the result it creates on a mass produced scale. Yet, everyone deserves to have beauty in their life, and many can only afford it when produced on that scale.

Perhaps the lesson will be that we can only have control over our own lives and cannot force an industry to shift, but if they want to follow, then so be it and we can strive to be leaders.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Now?

I recently had an interview with journalist Ken Shulman for an article in Metropolis Magazine. He pointedly asked me "why now?" Why now are designers and this generation turning their interests to these topics of social impact?

My initial response over the phone was not as thorough as my ideas below.

"Firstly, much of this new generation in America in their 20's and 30's either grew up hearing about the hippie era from either their parents or t.v. with their passions, philosophies, free spirit and outraged protests. I once spent a summer with ex-pats in Mexico, all self-identified ex-hippies who exclaimed to me their fear that my generation was apathetic and lacking the action orientated mentality that was once seen a few decades ago. At first I agreed with them and thought what a dull generation I am a part of, but I quickly looked back and realized that "no!" this is not the case. In this generation, we may not necessarily be protesting in the streets, although I and others certainly do this on occasion, but more so we have seen where this has gotten our country and rather than curse the "man," we are trying to create this change from the inside to become what RISD's new president calls, "the save-the-world generation." Our generation of passionate, disgruntled youth are instead starting businesses and NGOs , studying international development, working for the UN and we are seeing now that this also includes designers. Designers are finding their voice in this generation of change-makers and proving the amount of impact we can have. Architecture has been pushing this for a while with its LEED standards and more obvious ROI's for environmental investments. This within the design industry is slowly emerging but at a radically incremental rate. One simple indicator of this was my year of graduation I received RISD's Community Service Award from my work in and outside of my studio courses. I was one of three nominees. The very next year the number of nominees jumped up to 9. Now we'll have to wait and see if this is actually a pattern, but my feeling is that there will be more and more students joining this band wagon as I have already seen by the number of students interested in my studio.

Secondly, in addition to growing up hearing about the hippy era, and being surround by entrepreneurs that inspire us to start our own initiatives like this article discusses, we have also grown up with the internet and vast amounts of technology. The world has become smaller and smaller and the injustices that go on around us jump out on a regular basis that we can see and hear with our own eyes and from crevices of the world we may have never heard of, pushing, urging, and inspiring us to act. This of course occurs with videos like this, this, and this on YouTube but also with websites like Erik Hersman's Ushahidi where anyone can submit their situation during a crisis, Kiva, BopSource, or Facebook's Cause application all which open the door to introducing a plethora of causes and people's stories to a new and typically young audience, spreading virally.

Thirdly, and less altruistically, with the economy tightening and market competition increasing, more and more design companies are looking to emerging markets as a new source of income. Companies like Nokia have found great success in tapping into the "bottom of the pyramid," marketing to those earning just a few dollars a day but who are willing to spend money on something that they see as adding value to their livelihood and families. Cell phones are a huge industry in the developing world as seen with Iqbal Quadir's Grameen Phone in Bangladesh which uses a cell phone as a source for generating income by selling its service to others as a telecenter or saving time by not walking miles to a doctor only to find out he is not there. Companies like Procter & Gamble are all rushing to figure out how to tap into this market and so with it they must work to understand the context of designing for the "BoP" aka the "Other 90%." In addition to this other 90% I ask designers, how can we Design for America to help restore our current crisis and downfall. (more thoughts and initiatives on this later!)

All of these are just some of the indicators to answering the question, "why now?" The tunnel of contributors is endless."