Recently, DFA Fellows Ken and Geneva headed to Better World by Design, an annual design conference put on by RISD and Brown students in Providence, Rhode Island. The trip proved to be an opportunity to learn from leading designers sharing case studies of their own projects, and connect with the DFA RISD/Brown Studio as the students led a workshop on “Synthesizing with Empathy” to a sold out crowd! Take a look at some of their key takeaways from the weekend:


The key word of Better World by Design really seemed to be “better.” “Better” can take on so many meanings but at the root of them all is an unyielding sense of forward-looking optimism. Lectures that stood out the most focused on redefining our conception of the future and infrastructure in our homes, communities, and nations.

What stood out to you the most?

Ken: The projects of Paolo Cardini, an adjunct professor at RISD, that focused primarily on identity, globalization, and cultural expression. His examples of “transculturation” and how cultures interpret globalization efforts to match their own customs were especially interesting to me.

I also enjoyed Saturday’s ending keynote from James Auger, who introduced the idea of alternate conceptions of power and agency. His work addresses the question of unassuming systems within the constructed environment we live in. His primary example was the power outlet; which exists everywhere we go. Our relationship to energy ends at this wall outlet and he hopes to use motion to create a power source for electronics that people can interact with in a personal way, understanding where that energy comes from.

Geneva: Over the course of the weekend I was introduced to and fascinated by the emerging fields of biomimicry and synthetic biology. I especially liked Kit McDonnell who works at Ginkgo Bioworks, a lab in Cambridge that engineers organism for commercial products. She eloquently explained how organisms have perfected the design process through evolution. It gave me hope that there are alternative ways of manufacturing that society has become so used to without the enormous sacrifices we are only just beginning to see.

On a more DFA-related note, two MICA thesis students, Smile Indias and Kehinde Bademosi, discussed their year-long social innovation projects. They are tackling two remarkably complicated, sensitive, and timely topics: Baltimore police-community relations (Smile) and HIV healthcare in the black, gay community of Baltimore (Kehinde). These projects are clearly daring, but also accessible and feasible because of their personal histories placing them in these communities and the integration of trust into their research. The biggest takeaway I had from this panel was the importance of forming real relationships and designing with a community.

Learn any new skills?

Geneva: Asking questions! I didn’t ask questions in sessions until about halfway through the weekend and I found myself learning much more by engaging in the discussion.

How has attending BWxD inspired you to make positive change?

Ken: BWxD helped me conceptualize community engagement and development. To inspire change means empowering communities to imagine a better future for themselves.

Geneva: I am going to continue researching synthetic biology because it’s cool and I want to write articles about the topic. Also, I’m inspired to change the way DFA teams engage with their communities once projects are completed.

Thanks to the organizers of BWxD for having us for a weekend of learning, understanding, and gaining new perspective!

Geneva, Ken, and DFA Vanderbilt Alum Eunice Jun participating in an empathy workshop led by DFA RISD|Brown Studio Leads, Andrew and Rosa!