Design + Education + Social Innovation

Okay, Universe, I know you want me to be specific about what I want. I have to put an intention out there and stop hedging my bets. I need to stop being fuzzy about my needs and the direction I want my life to go in over the next year. If I insist on staying fuzzy, you’ll just keep throwing me curveballs.

So I’m going to start saying it, and I’ll keep saying it until you hear me:
I want to work at the intersection of Design + Education + Social Innovation.

What does that mean? It means I want to use my co-design and design research and service design skills to help teachers and schools and students to re-imagine education in the 21st century. It means I want to collaborate and co-create with those teachers and students and administrators and school systems. It means I’m not afraid to start a long-term relationship with the right innovation-focused, not-afraid-to-experiment, community-building partner in the education system.

What does that look like? I’m not the first one who’s passionate about this intersection. Here are a couple examples that get me super excited about working in this space.

D3 Labs at Nightingale Middle School

The D3 Lab is a collaboration of the New Learning Institute, COMMONStudio, and Nightingale Middle School in LAUSD. D3 stands for Dream it, Design it, Do it, and the goal of the lab is to help students turn ideas into action. The space, structure, and philosophy of the D3 Lab is to engage students in project-based learning and to connect their work in the lab back to their core subjects. The side benefits are a stronger community of learners, and a way for students and teachers to actively shape their school environment and school time.

Kim Karlsrud and Danny Phillips are the Social Design Consultants* who have been working alongside NLI and Nightingale students and staff. They started with a deep ethnographic research project to understand the culture of the school, its place in the community, and the opportunity areas that could meet their common goals. They then transformed the workspace for the D3 Lab from a former computer lab. Their work continues; they are at the D3 Lab twice a week and are currently working on developing curriculum that’s project-based and design-process-driven.

Here’s a video about D3 Lab and its impact by the New Learning Institute, and here’s COMMONStudio’s write-up of their work with the D3 Lab

*Love that title. Christina Tran is now a Social Design Consultant.

NOCCA + Collective Invention

NOCCA is the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. About seven years ago, they wanted to expand their professional arts training center, so that they could also offer high school graduates accredited diplomas. They wanted to expand their academic offerings without losing the qualities and culture that had made their existing arts training center.

NOCCA met Collective Invention when founder Erika Gregory was asked to facilitate a conversation in New York around arts education. That led to a small engagement with the school, which led to a larger ethnographic design research project to understand the community’s aspirations for the school and the qualities they wanted to preserve and extend into the new high school offerings, which has led to a strategy that includes a highly-structured iterative prototyping of the education process.

In Collective Invention’s “Detailed Plan for NOCCA’s Future” (download the PDF called ARTiculation here), they outline a design-influenced process that can be applied to the education process.

“We recognize that the language of “prototyping” is tricky when used in the context of education. To some it implies random experimentation, that children’s educations will be put at risk. This plan, however, describes a rigorous learning process that requires that multiple iterations take place before we ever enter a classroom. Our job is to ensure that as many problems have been worked out in advance of student interaction as possible. That means that each time we prototype a new program or class we’ll need to invent a mechanism for trial and error that is cost-effective, relevant to the context and able to yield the greatest insight possible by the time we begin interacting with students.”

Integral to their success is a deep respect for the lives of the students, parents, and teachers who will live with the impact of the school’s and their partners’ “experiments.” Because of their long-term engagement, the co-design collaboration between NOCCA, CI, and the community have been able to touch on everything from the design of the space and faculty-designed curriculum to funding and assessment strategies.

And they’re nowhere near done. This year, NOCCA launched their first ninth grade class, and CI continues their involvement during the implementation phase as the school expands — prototyping, reflecting, evolving all the while.

More on Collective Invention’s work in the education space.

I’m ready. Let’s do this. Have you heard of an education foundation or institute looking for designers or researchers? Do you know of a school or teacher who has big ideas and wants to collaborate in making them real? Let’s talk.

Do what you love

via Magical Game Time via The Flog

^He thinks he’s figured out the meaning of Mario…But maybe it’s actually about turning what you love into your day job.

I had a good conversation this weekend with a recent AC4D Design-for-Impact Bootcamp attendee about #SocEnt and who’s doing what where out there now. Her main question was: Can you make money doing this? She’s not yet convinced you can, so she’s holding onto her day job for now. But she’s also just starting out on her journey of questioning her role as a designer.

I’m at a point of no return. I’ve decided I want to do design work for social impact, fulltime, and right now I have to figure out how to make money doing it. I know it’s possible, even if it’s relatively new territory.

Scary. Exciting. More soon.

Monday Inspiration: Moving between mediums

Seriously, this video gave me chills. As Robin Sloan says, “spectacular in the truest sense, that we simply would not be watching if a set of images hadn’t bounced back and forth between the physical and digital worlds for a while”

The whole post is worth reading: Robin Sloan on “How to Dance the Flip-Flop”, on the new possibilities that emerge from moving between physical and digital mediums, that are impossible to conceive of otherwise.

“When you do the flip-flop, you achieve effects that aren’t possible when you dwell in only one world, physical or digital. You also achieve effects that are less predictable. Weird things happen on the walls between worlds.”

Definition of a pragmatic vegetarian

Yotam Ottolenghi is a “New Vegetarian,” writes a column for the Guardian by the same name, and runs a restaurant known for its vegetables and grains. Many people were surprised that a new vegetarian wasn’t a vegetarian at all–he’s not the kind of vegetarian that eschews all meats from his plate 100%, though he respects those who do.

A second group of people, which is increasingly growing in number, are pragmatic vegetarians, those who have excluded meat or fish from their diet to some degree, but are not completely put off by the notion. This group would include people who are concerned with the health implications of eating meat. It also consists of people who would like to eliminate or reduce their consumption of meat and fish due to the environmental implications. They are put off by what mass-scale farming does to the land and the sea, how growing numbers of cattle herds contribute to the growth in greenhouse gases and the warming up of the planet. Many long for a time when meat was precious, a reason for celebration rather than a cheap commodity, a time when farm animals were highly regarded and their slaughter more sensible.

~Excerpted from the intro to Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book called Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi

It’s been easy over the past few years to be 100% pescatarian, and easy to just tell people I was vegetarian. In Austin I wasn’t tempted with as much readily-available, affordable, amazing, home-cooked Asian comfort foods–the kinds of dishes I grew up with and which bring back memories of my family and our heritage. Now that we’re in LA, now that we’re surrounded by the aforementioned Asian comfort foods (with the convenience of restaurant experience), now that we’re surrounded by a panopoly of ethnic restaurants in a foodie city, now that I’m looking at the food cycle with new eyes,…I don’t know what to do with myself–categorically, that is.

It’s easy to stick with the comfortable label of “pesky”. It certainly makes choosing a dish at a restaurant drastically easier, since it generally eliminates half to three-quarters of the menu.

But I’m changing. I eat meat on the rare, usually special, occasion. But mostly I’m still a pragmatic vegetarian who eats some fish. (P.S. OMG-yummy & sustainable sushi.) I don’t want to have to explain myself. So I won’t. I’ll just leave you with more of Ottolenghi’s words:

What I’m getting at is how lucky we are (although unfortunately not all of us) to be living and cooking in a world that offers such a spectrum of ingredients and so many culinary heritages to draw on. And this is what gets me excited—the multitude of ingredients cooked and processed by so many people in so many ways with so many different purposes.

Also, I made pizza last night, and it was delicious.

On the left, plum pizza with caramelized onion & (Mike’s leftover Lucky Boy) bacon. On the right, marinated artichoke hearts, olives, and garlic. Both with Mark Bittman whole wheat crust.