6 Essential Skills for Design & Social Innovation

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. 

2. Prototype 

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. 

#FoossaFinds – 13 August 2014

#FoossaFinds curates insightful readings, awesome events, #SpiritAnimals, and other inspiration. Look for it weekly. Reposted from Foossa.com/blog.

ARTICLES

Who’s Getting Rich Off Profit-Driven ‘Clicktivism’
Nithin Coca, Motherboard
Follow the money behind the clicks.

The Economics of Jane Austen
Shannon Chamberlain, The Atlantic
In her fiction, the 18th-century novelist wrestled with the same question that preoccupied Adam Smith: Does the pursuit of wealth diminish a person’s moral integrity?

Why Startup Urbanism Will Fail Us
Leo Hollis, Shareable
“The city is not a company; community is not a brand; citizenship cannot be mistaken for consumption.”

Artists’ brains are structurally different, study finds
Lindsay Van Thoen, Freelancers Union
A study published last week in the journal NeuroImage confirms that artists do indeed have different brains — and regular art practice can permanently change our brain structures.”

EVENTS

Be Social Change Class: #DesignThyself – Applying Design Principles to Personal Growth
Monday, September 15, 2014, 6:45-8:30 PM, Centre For Social Innovation, 601 W 26th Street, Suite 325, New York, NY 10001
Are you interested in learning about design principles to affect change in the world? Why not start with yourself? #DesignThyself brings design thinking and design doing to a personal level. Learn how to use design as a tool for changing your own creative habits and behavior. Learn how to use design principles and methodology to cultivate a new creative habit and to make an intentional and proactive change in your life. We will draw from the fields of interaction design, activism for social/cultural change, as well as cognitive psychology. This class is based on material previously offered at the School of Visual Arts MFA Design for Social Innovation and on Skillshare.com. Register today.

TEDxGramercy | Grit 
Saturday, 27 September 2014, 4-8 PM, Mason Hall, Baruch college, 17 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010
Get early-bird tickets and suggest speakers.

#SPIRITANIMALS

Wikipedia refuses to delete photo as ‘monkey owns it’
Selfie Monkey

World’s oldest eel dies in Sweden
1407483280_eel

Energy Duck could generate solar power in Copenhagen
dish_energyduck

#DesignThyself comes to Be Social Change

I will be offering my #DesignThyself class again on September 15th. Register on EventBrite.

Join Be Social Change for Design Thyself on Monday, September 15th at 7pm w/ Lee-Sean Huang, Co-founder and Creative Director at Foossa

Are you interested in learning about design principles to affect change in the world? Why not start with yourself? #DesignThyself brings design thinking and design doing to a personal level. Learn how to use design as a tool for changing your own creative habits and behavior.

* Doors open at 6:45, class starts at 7:00 sharp *

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

Learn how to use design principles and methodology to cultivate a new creative habit and to make an intentional and proactive change in your life. We will draw from the fields of interaction design, activism for social/cultural change, as well as cognitive psychology. This class is based on material previously offered at the School of Visual Arts MFA Design for Social Innovation and on Skillshare.com.

WHO THIS CLASS IS FOR

  • People interested in cultivating a new habit or modifying existing behaviors.
  • People interested in applying design (thinking/doing) and cognitive psychology to their own lives.
  • Designers and aspiring changemakers looking to “be the change” the way they want to see the world.

4 Lessons From The Social Innovation Hotbed Of Brazil

Here is my new article about Social Innovation in Brazil, part of the Purpose content series on Fast Co.Exist.

Brazil is known for its supermodels, but what about its social innovation models? Besides the economic boom, the country is finding a new groove in the field of digital collaboration and activism.

Last year, I moved from New York to Rio de Janeiro, where Purpose has opened its first overseas office. I have met with local innovators and interacted with all kinds of people on the streets, at the beach, and in botequins (informal bars). These experiences have all enriched my work in social innovation. Besides stimulating my creativity, immersion in a different culture and working in a foreign language have heightened my sense of mindfulness and empathy, reminded me of the virtue of humility, and taught me a few things about what it means to innovate.

Read the rest of the article at Fast Co.Exist.

The Three Great Chords of Might

I have been making music as a writer, composer, producer, and performer since my teenage years, so I am well aware of the power of just three chords. Songwriter Harlan Howard once said “All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.” Just substitue “country” with “punk,” or a myriad of other popular music genres, and you get the point.

Colby and I visited Harvard, our alma mater, this weekend. I noticed and photographed the inscription on the music department building, which reads “to charm / to strengthen / and to teach / these are the 3 chords of might.” Although I have taken classes in the building before, I had only just noticed this inscription for the first time, perhaps because I was accustomed to entering and exiting from the opposite side of the building from the inscription. I later learned that this quote comes from a poem called “The Singers” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The quotation really struck me because I have been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of my life and work and how I synthesize and integrate the various streams of my interests and experiences as a musician, social innovator, and as an educator.

Longfellow offers a succinct and poetic framework that helps me sum up what I do:

To charm: I bring delight and inspiration to others through creativity.
To strengthen: I support the work of changemakers and social entrepreneurs, helping them articulate and communicate their ideas in a more effective and powerful way.
To teach: From my first post-college job on the JET Programme to teaching in the MFA Design for Social Innovation program at SVA next year, as well as my work at Purpose, whether I have been a “teacher” or a “consultant,” I find my greater calling to be that of fostering learning and critical inquiry, not just to “empower” others, a rather well-worn term, but to inspire in others a greater sense of the possible. Teaching also helps me to perpetually learn more.