empathyboxHello from Providence!  The joint Brown/RISD DFA studio has wrapped up its second year on a high note.  Our teams worked on three core projects, took on a new crew of leaders, and ran several high-energy workshops.  With 21 active members this year (6 from Brown, 10 from RISD, and 5 Dual Degree students), our teams tackled ambitious projects where we were able to draw from our diverse interests and skill sets.  We’re excited to share some highlights from the year.


Empathy Box

The Autism team created the Empathy Box, a collaborative storytelling tool to build empathy for families affected by autism.  They had originally focused their project on the design of learning spaces for children with autism.  However, through attending parent support groups they realized that the broader problem is a lack of understanding about autism and their children’s needs and behaviors.  The Empathy Box helps families share their stories and build understanding, creating new advocates within the community.  Parents and children fill the box with their stories and artifacts that reflect their experience, pass it on, and repeat.  Each box is tracked and documented, eventually returned to DFA to be uploaded onto http://empathybox.org/ to build a gallery of stories.  The team launched the Empathy Box at the Autism Project’s annual Imagine Walk, where they distributed 150 boxes!  The team has received several grants and will be continuing their work through the year.

Healthy Food Access


The Healthy Food Access project continued from last year.  This year, the team made some great connections with organizations and programs in Providence like Farm Fresh RI, SNAP-Ed, YMCA’s Y on the Move, and Skill It.  Over the year, they have done interviews with program coordinators and kids, distributed a “cultural probe,” and interviewed shoppers in the grocery store.  Their research led to the insight that interventions that run for an extended period of time and understand food in a holistic way lead to healthier choices.  Although there are many opportunities to approach healthy food access, the team is now interested in developing tools to help make growing food easy and fun for kids.  They have been ideating solutions and want to continue the project next year.

Environment Team


The Environment Team originally started out looking at the glass recycling problem in Rhode Island.  Rhode Island was collecting but not actually recycling their glass, as the infrastructure to sort and recycle the glass was being figured out.  The team did a lot of research on potential uses for the glass scrap, even getting their hands on a bucket of it themselves, and ideated potential solutions for glass upcycling workshops or awareness campaigns to push the issue towards a legislative solution.  However, in the middle of the Spring semester, the recycling problem was solved as leaders in Rhode Island decided to outsource glass to Massachusetts to be recycled instead.  The team shifted focus towards a problem closer to home: hazardous waste disposal on the Brown and RISD campuses.  Facing the culture of students’ ignorance and dismissal of proper disposal of hazardous materials in labs and shops, the team will be working next year on researching the problem further and prototyping new solutions on campus.


New Leaders

Our team of dedicated DFA leaders is steadily growing!  As studio co-founder Annie Wu graduates from RISD this year, Allison Wong and Julia Thompson will be the new studio leaders.  Allison is a dual Brown/RISD student studying Industrial Design and Urban Studies, and Julia is an anthropology concentrator and rising senior at Brown.  Allison and Julia were on the Healthy Food Access team this past year and look forward to building DFA over the coming year.

Our stellar team leaders for next year are: Priscilla Ahn (Brown/RISD), Tya Abe (Brown), Kelly Hering (Brown), Ariana Martinez (Brown/RISD), Matthew Sanders (RISD), Isabelle Yisak (Brown), Ramya Mahalingam (Brown), and Patricia Dranoff (RISD).  We are also welcoming a new Finance Lead, Sharon Sun (Brown); Events Lead, Sophia Dalal (Brown); and returning Social Media Lead, Allison Chen, onto the team!

Plans for Next Year

Next year we’re planning to expand to 5 project teams, focusing on strengthening our studio community while building our campus presence and community partnerships.  We’ve partnered with the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Creative Mind Initiative at Brown, and we are working with different student groups to create a more unified social innovation community on campus.  This year, we facilitated workshops at A Better World by Design and the SEEED conference, and we hope to continue fostering conversations about design and social impact at Brown and RISD.

Thank You!

This year, we learned a lot about falling into the trap of “analysis paralysis,” the importance of prototyping and failing early, and the power of interdisciplinary collaboration.  We had a great year and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of support!  Thank you to all our community partners, mentors, supporters, and friends – we’re looking forward to seeing where the next year will take us.