A Blueprint for Hope: Design for America NYU


Courtesy of DFA NYU

Focused on social activism, Design for America NYU works with communities and their residents to make an impact. DFA NYU strives to incite hope by joining people together in this uncertain time.

Emily Conklin, Staff Writer

Design for America NYU is fiercely focused on enacting social change with active projects ranging from local hunger abatement to financial security for seniors. A diverse array of students use their background in design to make creative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

In their mission statement, the group emphasizes something they call human-centered design. In an interview with WSN, DFA NYU member Rodney Lobo defined this as solving problems by empathizing with the people who are facing them.

“Theoretically, this process can be applied to any situation,” Lobo said. “It is an iterative process which usually has six phases: identify, immerse, reframe, ideate, build, test.”

DFA begins and ends each mission with their values. They emphasize collaboration and diversity — DFA volunteers come from all over the world, have interests stemming from every corner of the NYU curriculum and are encouraged to bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the drawing board.

Social change is about improving people’s lives in tangible ways. The program works intimately with communities and their residents to come to a full understanding of the specific needs of neighborhoods, rather than relying on generalized statistics or trend planning. Among their projects — they have worked on 18 since 2015 — include the Bindi Project and the NYU FREEdge Project.

DFA NYU began The Bindi Project back in 2014 with the mission to help women in low-income areas of Kathmandu, Nepal. Their program materialized in 2016, when DFA NYU volunteers travelled to Nepal to train women on sexual health, administrative tasks and making their traditional wedding shoes a profitable enterprise. The project has since been adapted to Queens in collaboration with Wishwas, a NY-based not-for-profit organization, to help immigrant women.

The FREEdge Project, on the other hand, works directly with the NYU community. It addresses issues of affordability facing many students. FREEdge is a food-sharing network at Tandon that offers healthy meals to financially struggling students on campus. Although the project is still in the prototyping stage, in Dec. 2016, DFA NYU was awarded a university grant to help further its research and experimentation.

When describing NYU FREEdge, Lobo said that the students involved are passionate about using their skill sets to aid the community.

“The student volunteers are enthusiastic about overcoming the technological obstacles to end food anxiety in the NYU student body by making free yet satisfying meals an on-campus reality,” Lobo said.

At the heart of DFA NYU is a positive message that expands beyond the practical world of design.

“Our world is just approaching the precipice of a turbulent, uncertain era,” Lobo said. “While many common and previously concrete facets of American life are being called into question, it is imperative that Americans join together to bring about positive change and creative change.”

When people work together for a common good rather than inciting hate, our country as a whole can grow. DFA NYU is a representation of this movement and an example of the benefits a change making mindset can bring.

To learn more about DFA NYU’s work, their Spring Projects Showcase will be April 28 at 5 p.m. at 6 Metrotech Center in Brooklyn.

Email Emily Conklin at [email protected]