Design Studio for Social Intervention

The Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si) is a Boston-based organization dedicated to changing how social change is imagined, developed and deployed in the United States. Ds4si serves as a design studio for the progressive arm of the nonprofit sector, working to support the sector’s ability to create new forms of effective social intervention.


Summer 2009: Artist in residence, Youth Activism Design Institute (YADI)


During the summer of 2009, ds4si's Youth Activism Design Institute took to the streets with 15 interns from the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston to find creative new ways to think about and address social violence in their communities. The interns worked with the grill (where two peers catch eyes and assume animosity, often leading to an escalation of threats or actual violence) as a point of investigation and intervention. Characteristic of ds4si’s systems-based approach is that no direct attempt was made to stop the practice of grilling, only to investigate its workings from within, to play with it, to connect it, to publicly mess with it.

As artist in residence my role was to support the work of the interns by offering them tools for thinking/seeing as an artist might and by being a maker in their midst – ready to make a prop or visual mnemonic as needed. I designed and led in-studio sessions exploring analogical thinking and conceptual mapping and offered formal feedback as they began to design and deploy interventions in public spaces. Of particular interest to me was convincing the interns to trust that their interventions spoke for themselves, with little need for explicit explanation or interpretation.

For more, see: Art and Activism: A Case Study from the Design Studio for Social Intervention. [download pdf]

Summer 2008: Artist in residence, Youth Activism Design Institute (YADI)


During the Summer 2008 Youth Activism Design Institute, ds4si worked with 12 youth interns to explore the potential for indirectly intervening in neighborhood violence using unexpected tools like play, spectacle, and delight. The interns designed large-scale adaptations of childhood street games like simon says, hopscotch, taps, and tug-of-war and invited other to play -- on trains, in crosswalks, on sidewalks.

As artist in residence my role was to support the interns in the planning and implementation of these games, with particular attention to the element of spectacle produced by their props and costuming. Inside the studio, I worked to demonstrate ways in which metaphors prescribe as much as they describe, making small paper models of concrete alternatives to the metaphors already in play. We used these models to think through how interactions with the public might be experienced in very different ways depending on the model through which the interaction was being understood.


January 2008: Artist in residence



During my initial month-long residency with ds4si, I worked along two parallel tracks to explore and develop shared areas of interest. The first track involved making myself useful, applying the making and thinking skills of a contemporary cross-disciplinary artist to the work of the studio—crafting physical representations of their design process in order to explore/test/illuminate certain aspects of it, staging interventions in the physical space of the studio, acting as a mild irritant.

The second track involved engaging members of the design studio as actor-participants in a series of staged encounters, recorded on video. These were encounters designed to generate a formal vocabulary capable of communicating about relationship, context, and the punctuation of behavioral sequences in excess of what written or spoken language permits.

Points of departure included: Paul Watzlawick, Pragmatics of Communication and Ultra-solutions; Gregory Bateson on second-order learning; Norman Brosterman, Inventing Kindergarten; Johannes Itten’s Design and Form; the paintings of Michael Børremans; Christine Harold’s Ourspace, and in particular her notion of kairos; a phone call with Mark Enslin of the School for Designing a Society, Goat Island Performance Group and the currency of lastness, and Arun Chandra’s Web site Readings That Matter To Me.