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Explore Careers in Social Impact Design

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Find new pathways towards careers in social impact design, aside from working in a design firm. How else can designers gain the skills and expertise they need to build a practice around socially relevant work? What does the future of design practice look like and how will the rising generation of designers expand the scope of what we traditionally see as design? And what does this all mean for education and training? How can we forge new career pathways in design??



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  • Gilad Meron

    There’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years about design and social impact, from to Mass Design Group to D-Rev, seems like there’s lots of new firms that have figured out how to use design as a tool to tackle some of the most important challenges around the world. But it also seems like there are only a handful of firms like those. Does that means that if you’re looking for a career in social impact design you’ve only got a few dozen firms to choose from? Yes and no… let me explain.

    If you ONLY want to work for a design firm and you ONLY want to doing public-interest or social-impact work, then yes, there are only a few dozen firms for you. But if you’re interested in working on lots of different types of projects, then there are hundreds of firms all over the country that design amazing socially oriented projects, alongside a range of other types of projects.

    But it’s important to think even broader, to think beyond just design firms. The skills we learn in school as designers can be really powerful in a number of different roles, many of which can actually provide great career paths into public interest design. For example, working at a nonprofit health organization can be a great opportunity for a designer to learn more about health systems and figure out how they can use design to transform them. Or working in a public agency if you’re interested in how design can shape better democracy, or working at a consulting firm to learn how to use your skills on a diverse range of projects. But what many students don’t know, is that there is already a network of organizations across the country that do public interest design work that they can plug into.

    Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are nonprofit organizations that work to support and improve social equality through a number of programs and services. CDCs typically focus on serving lower-income families and individuals in a specific neighborhood or region and are often involved with a range of projects in economic development, education, healthcare, community organizing, planning and real estate development, and most notably, affordable housing. (For more on CDC’s read this- or go here-

    And if you think affordable housing doesn’t sounds like social impact design, think again. While there are billions of people around the world whose lives could be improved through better design, there are also millions right here in the U.S. who are no less deserving, and affordable housing is a key mechanism to serve them. Shelter is a basic human need and it affects nearly every aspect of our lives including our physical, mental and social health. Yet right now over 11 million families can not afford a safe and stable place to live, and over 21 million more live in housing that limits their access to basic services and opportunities. In total, 1 in every 4 families who rent their homes are affected – that’s 10% of the entire US population! In short, if you’re looking to build a career in social impact design, consider affordable housing and community development, because while it may not be as sexy as building schools in Africa, it’s damn sure needed.

    For the past 14 years, the Enterprise Rose Fellowship has been a quiet but powerful force in helping emerging architects gain professional experience in design and community development for low-income communities and develop the skills and expertise they need to work directly with communities and use design to transform lives. If you’re interested in a career in design and community development, check out the fellowship, applications are open until July 10th -

    Fellows learn from the inside so they can help shape the future of the architecture profession towards public-interest design and socially relevant projects. The fellowship teaches the best and brightest architectural designers about the power of embedding themselves in a community, learning with and working alongside residents to improve the fabric of the community.

    Daniel Splaingard, a Rose Fellow from 2009-2012 reflected, “This opportunity has enabled me to see and feel what it’s like to work really intimately in one group of neighborhoods, and to see the effect of projects over time, and the impact that stabilizing rental housing can have on people’s lives… architecture and design are really only the first step.”

    Rose Fellows have proven time and time again that with their design and architectural training, they offer a unique capacity for analysis and synthesis, understanding of how systems work, and integrative problem solving. These are skills not only applicable to designing better affordable housing, but broadly to solving complex problems. So if you’re trying to build a career in social impact design, think big, expand your definition of design and find a way to plug into a field that you’re passionate about.