MFA DESIGN FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION
SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS (SVA)
Cheryl Heller is the Founding Chair of the MFA Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts. Since its launch in 2014, DSI at SVA has attracted students from twenty-eight countries and graduated over one hundred alums now working as change leaders in industry, government and the social sector. Cheryl is also the founder of the design consultancy CommonWise and the Measured Lab, created in 2017 to investigate the impact of social design on human health. She is a recipient of the prestigious AIGA Medal for her contribution to design, and was recently awarded a coveted Rockefeller Bellagio Fellowship. Her book, The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design, will be published by Island Press in September 2018. She is the former Board Chair of PopTech, and a Senior Fellow at the Babson Social Innovation Lab. She created the Ideas that Matter program for Sappi in 1999, which has since given over $14 million to designers working for the public good, and partnered with Paul Polak and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to create the exhibit, “Design for the Other 90%.” She is currently a Ph.D candidate at RMIT in Melbourne.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE EDUCATION A MEANINGFUL PART OF YOUR CAREER?
Richard Wilde, Chair of Design at SVA, talked me into teaching by inviting me to create a class on something I thought was missing. I was bothered by the fact that design education teaches tools and self-expression, but never what impact designers’ work can – and does – have on the world. I have become deeply passionate about rectifying that. Our graduates are now out in the world leading change in industry, government and the social sector. That is the measure of success.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TEACHING OF FUNDAMENTALS VERSUS THE NEED TO RESPOND TO OUR FAST-CHANGING WORLD OF MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE?
At DSI, we define Social Design as the creation of new social conditions – in cities, corporate cultures or communities – that result in increased creativity, equity, social justice, resilience, and a healthy connection to nature. This requires systems design, interaction design, entrepreneurial and leadership skills, as well as mastery of every aspect of the design process. The principles, skills and process of social design apply to any situation involving human beings, which is everywhere. This is why our graduates are prepared to be creative leaders wherever they work.