New York bubbles with stories.
Although last weekend marked my 4th trip to the Big Apple, it was the first time where I found myself noticing the complexity of stories within the city. The many passing faces on the streets all seem to tell a distinct tale – some seem egoistic, some admirable to have made their mark in New York, and some are undoubtedly unheard and lost. I passed by New York last weekend to visit a friend, but found myself wrapped in their stories and more relevant to this blog, in the growing epic of design (yep, I just compared the Mahabharata to design).
On Saturday, we ventured to Queen’s to take a walk on the High Line – an admirable project in transforming abandoned land into vibrant public spaces. Just before the stroll, we popped by the Danziger Gallery to witness the work of Thierry Cohen – pieces that I have admired online just a few weeks back on my laptop screen in Toronto.
On Sunday, I stopped by MoMA’s Applied Design exhibit and also participated at an event presented by Parson’s DESIS Lab (DESIS) and the Helsinki Design Lab (HDL) at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI).
MoMA’s Applied Design exhibit interestingly showcased video games alongside Eames chairs, highlighting the diversity of forms that design takes on which surround our lives. Below are a few snapshots of the exhibition, curated by Paola Antonelli.
On to the meat of this blog post – the event presented by DESIS with the HDL at the CSI in NYC (heavy dose of acronyms, I know). Simple descriptions of the latter 3 spaces:
Parsons DESIS Lab (DESIS): A network of schools, non-profits, companies and institutions interested in promoting and supporting design for social innovation and sustainability.
Helsinki Design Lab (HDL): A Finnish initiative to advance strategic design as a way to re-examine, re-think and re-design the systems we have inherited in the past.
Centre for Social Innovation (CSI): A co-working space, community centre and incubator for people who are doing impactful work in fields from consulting to design.
First and foremost, it was incredible to have the opportunity to visit the CSI before it officially opened its doors on May 1st (Fastcompany wrote a piece on it, check it out). Started in Toronto by social entrepreneur Tonya Surman, the CSI is interestingly a case of diaspora into New York, and not the other way around.
As always with events like these, the room was filled with electric social entrepreneurs, designers, community workers, startup gurus, tech developers…(bottom left)
The speakers, Bryan Boyer (photographed top right) and Justin W. Cook, were incredibly insightful. Here are the stories they shared, and what I felt resonated most with me and to the topic of this blog:
“you have to be willing to let it all crumble” – Boyer
We give birth to ideas. What we do with them is completely up to us – we can drown it in doubt and fear by tricking ourselves to believe that nothing can ever be accomplished from it or we can allow ourselves to take a plunge, execute it and see how it impacts our surrounding world. But because ideas can become so personal, sometimes we allow our ego to override decisions and collaborative opportunities that makes a good idea from becoming great. Always take a step back and acknowledge when your idea could be refined; practice humility and accept that sometimes other people may do it better than you can – this is your chance to learn.
The process of making something tangible intrigues me. Maybe it is because our world is becoming more and more digital, relationships more and more distant, and communications turning into itty bitty soundbites – that I constantly try to find ways to instill meaning in my world. Like what I have written in my first blogpost, there is something magical with making things with your hands.
Both Boyer and Cook talked about how creating visuals and something tangible during consultations with their clients or interview sessions with the target end-users have generated more discussion and synergy. This is why storytelling is such an important tool. Sure, everyone translates a story differently based on their experiences and background, but it opens up conversations and formulates reference points.
Tangibility, in this case of design and social innovation, is to create a common language.
Let’s just say, it was a great weekend of learning in a buzzing city.
If you’re in New York from May 10-21, check out NYC x Design!
Would love to hear your stories from there.