Design for America does its best to use good design to find solutions to real world issues. Our student teams and community members work together to create this kind of local and social impact, and this includes getting help from professionals in the field. Here, we’ve interviewed Brian Maggi, a DFA Anchor for Northwestern University, who has been doing an awesome job of creating connections between our students and professionals to help teams make an impact.
Give us a little background on yourself.
I more or less found myself in this field. I didn’t even know it existed. In college, I was a subject in a research experiment. They were studying the effects of collaborative technologies on group communication. I told the people running the study the experiment wasn’t very realistic. So they asked me what I’d do differently, and boom, I had a job – transcribing hundreds of hours of low quality video.
That first job led to more interesting opportunities. When I graduated, I went to work for Apple. My first job was user experience engineer on the Newton, their not-so-successful pre-iPhone device. From there I wore a lot of different hats and worked on products like iTunes, G4, and iMac.
While living in Silicon Valley, I got wrapped up in the last startup bubble. A friend of mine said we’ve got to do a startup, and we came up with the idea for Postini. We invented software for blocking spam and viruses that is now part of Gmail. So if you’ve ever used the “spam filter” excuse for not returning someone’s email, you can thank us.
Today, I’m the principal and founder of Idea Momentum, a User Experience design consultancy in Chicago. We help companies and organizations apply design thinking to business decisions.
How did you hear about DFA, and why did you decide to get involved?
It was Liz Gerber’s talk at an IDSA event that really grabbed me. Immediately after her presentation, I introduced myself and told her that I’d like to get involved, so she gave me an assignment. That was to design the pro-bono volunteer experience for people like myself.
What has been your role with DFA?
Sami Nerenberg, Kelly Costello and I came up with my role. I’m what we call “an Anchor” for DFA. My job is liaison to the business world. I help with recruiting new mentors and making connections between DFA teams with outside professionals and subject matter experts. I also coach teams during sessions and host a prototyping workshop.
What have you learned with DFA, and what lessons would you share from it?
Young people are naturally compelled to design and solve problems. That, and college students love to meet people with jobs.
If you have experience, put it to good use and get involved. I have learned that we spend too much time accumulating knowledge and not enough time applying it. This starts in grade school, and continues into the working world. The result is a culture afraid to admit that we don’t know something and reluctant to venture into new and unknown things.
DFA creates a powerful context for learning more by doing. The cool thing about design is that it enables you to apply knowledge while you are acquiring it.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the strength of my personal and professional network. Bringing DFA into that network was one of the easiest things I could do to make myself useful. I have been reaching out to people and asking them personally to think about ways they too can get involved. Some people will make great coaches, while others can help with very specific topics. For example, a team might need help from an electrical engineer, or want to talk to a hospital administrator. I just make those simple connections and watch great things happen.