Video of Foossa co-founder David Colby Reed and myself at the StoryForward NYC Storytelling for Social Good panel in November with Ram Devineni, Andrea Phillips, and Dan Bigman.
Students and job seekers frequently ask me about the skills that they need to succeed at Foossa, the community-centered design and strategy consultancy that I cofounded, or in a related career path. I came up with this list as a starting point for anyone interested in using design as a tool for social innovation.
1. Write Well
Being a strong writer goes a long way. Clear writing signals that you can think clearly and communicate effectively.
Craft compelling stories. Appeal to the heart and to the head. Be persuasive. Be concise. Be memorable.
Prototyping could mean making something out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners to coding the minimum viable version of an app. You don’t necessary need high tech prototyping skills, but you do have a bias toward action.
You learn by doing. You learn by making. You prototype to learn. You can think visually and sketch out maps, diagrams, and charts to help inform your thinking. Your sketches could be doodles on Post-Its rather than museum-worthy masterpieces, although strong drawing skills are certainly a plus.
3. Code Switch
You speak the language of business. You speak the language of your clients and of your customers. You speak the language of social innovation. You understand how to define a theory of change.
You know how to reinterpret a creative brief to get down to the essence of what the needs really are.
You can get by in the language of designers and technologists enough to be able to collaborate with them effectively and to manage multi-disciplinary teams. You understand the basics of visual language, from hierarchy to typography. Bonus points if you can code in a programming language.
4. Make Stuff Happen
You know how to manage projects from inspiration to implementation. You break down difficult and complex tasks into manageable steps. You find the courage to put stuff out in the world to see what happens. You iterate until you get it right. Then you iterate some more.
You make community happen. Bring people together and get them involved in collaboration and co-creation. This could mean hosting an event, facilitating a meeting/workshop, or community-managing an online discussion forum.
5. Give and Receive Feedback
You know how to conduct a design critique. Help your teammates improve by giving critical insights and new perspectives into their work. You can give and get feedback without making it personal.
You make it about the creative brief and shared goals rather than just your personal opinions and preferences.
You learn how to filter the feedback that you get into “advice to implement” and “advice to take with a grain of salt.”
6. Document, Document, Document
My professors really drove this point home in my masters program. Make sure you document your work, whether it is through blogging, journaling, photos, videos, or a combination of the above. You will need it one day in the future, whether it is for a portfolio or for another project. Pictures, or it didn’t really happen.
This list is a work in progress. What skills would you add? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. If you are considering grad school to help you acquire some of theses skills, check out the MFA Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I teach there.
News & Media
“We’re rogues giving to rogues. It’s misfit money for the weird and wonderful.” Lee-Sean recently talked to the New York Times about our work with the Awesome Foundation. We give out $1000 grants every month to awesome projects.
Learning Rwandan: Ten key words for understanding Rwanda today. Lee-Sean reflects on his recent trip back to Rwanda to continue working with UX for Good and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
David Colby is doing research around “Financial Citizenship” and wealth-building in minority communities. Contact us to learn more and to get involved.
Join Lee-Sean for his movement workshop, Kinesthetic Conversations in Crowded Spaces, on Governor’s Island NYC this Saturday, August 8. The workshop is part of Sextant Works’ Summer Placemaking Lab and is free and open to the public. Update (8/12/2015): view documentation from the workshop here.
Lee-Sean will be offering his Be Social Change workshop onTransformative Storytelling again on August 24 and September 21 in New York City. Use coupon code Huang25 for 25% off. We also have a limited number of need-based full scholarships available. Please get in touch to learn more.
Building Networks for Good
Awesome examples of Community-Centered Design, architecture in dialog with the wider ecosystem and community of species
Cecil the Lion and the American Dentist