At It’s Nice That we’re constantly meeting people who are using their creativity to further good causes, and two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to invite a few of our favourite creatives down to Chelsea in New York to talk about their work in front of a packed house at the Wix Playground. The event, hosted by Wix and curated by It’s Nice That, took place during NYCxDesign and saw over 130 people gather together to listen to a stellar line-up of speakers, all of whom use their creativity to have a positive impact, whether that be socially, environmentally or ethically.
The evening kicked off with Gail Anderson, who will soon be stepping into a new role as chair of the BFA Advertising and BFA Design departments at the School of Visual Arts, where she has taught for over 25 years. Then came Rod Stanley, the founder and editor of Good Trouble, a new magazine all about resistance and protest, and their ties to wider culture. After him, there was a short break, when guests were able to help themselves to beers from Toast, a brewery that puts surplus bread to good use, and chocolate courtesy of Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch company looking to end slavery in the cocoa trade.
Then the evening continued with Shaina Garfield, a recently graduated industrial designer whose own experience of being disabled has impacted her design philosophy, and Hana Tanimura from Google’s Creative Lab in New York, who has created a new design methodology for ensuring you have a positive impact with your creative practice. All in all, it was an inspiring and eye-opening evening, but to distil the key messages from the four talks, here are a handful of key takeaways from the night.
The first speaker of the evening was Gail Anderson, who has taught at the SVA for over a quarter of a century. Her talk began with an introduction to her prolific career, showing her work both as the creative director at Visual Arts Press at the SVA and for her own design firm, Anderson Newton Design. Then she took the audience through some of her experiences as a design educator. “Teaching has been the most rewarding, and the most frustrating, thing in my career,” she explained, with a wry smile.
But despite the highs and lows, Gail’s main message for the audience inside the Wix Playground was: “Find the time now, not later in life. You all look pretty young – you should start teaching now.” Becoming an educator is often something people put off until they feel they’ve “done their career”, she admitted – but that’s the wrong way to think about it. And to be fair, she did make the education profession look both exciting and rewarding, explaining that her work has taken her to places as far afield as South Korea and the Middle East. But for her, it all eventually comes down to the students: “You’ll meet students you’ll really love and those moments make it all worthwhile,” she said. “It sounds corny, but when you can teach them and watch them grow, it’s amazing.”
After Gail, Rod Stanley took to the stage to talk about his new editorial project. Rod was the editor of influential culture and fashion magazine Dazed and Confusion between 2005 and 2012, before he made the move from London to New York. In 2016, amidst all the protests he saw (and participated in) across the US following the election of Donald Trump, he decided to launch a new broadsheet-format newspaper focused on resistance and activism and their connection to culture. He called the magazine Good Trouble.
The name comes from a quote by the civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis, who said: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to stand up, to speak up and speak out, and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” Rod took the audience through the first two issues of the magazine and some of the more experimental pieces of content he created for them. For instance, he and designer Richard Turley “decided to print the entire source code of the malware that was used in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee”, he explained, showing the vast page of dense, impenetrable text.
Rod also spoke about Good Trouble’s impact on its audience, and on him. “I saw it on the shelf next to the New York Review of Books – that was a really special feeling. That’s the photo I sent to my mum,” he said. Having given the audience a tantalising look at what’s coming up in its third issue (an in-depth look at protest and environmentalism), Rod left the stage with one message: “Make trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”
After the break, Shaina Garfield took to the stage to talk about a few of her projects. The young industrial designer only graduated from Pratt Institute last year and already she has a fascinating body of work to her name. Shaina explained how she was diagnosed four and a half years ago with Chronic Lyme Disease. “It took me three years to get diagnosed, and at one point I honestly thought I was facing death, because I was rapidly deteriorating and no one could figure out why,” she said.
For about three years, Shaina used a cane to walk and the experience opened her eyes to the challenges faced by disabled people on a daily basis. This experience has also translated into her work, which is concerned chiefly with accessibility and humanity. “Getting sick while I was in school allowed me to push the boundaries of my truth and the impact I could have with design,” she said.
The project she spoke about most was Spry, a cane for people with disabilities that is not “an accessibility product that treats the disabled as burdens or an after-thought”; instead it is designed with self-expression and comfort in mind and is therefore what Shaina describes as “a product that respects all people’s individuality and encourages them to embrace their disability with confidence”. She concluded her talk: “By being vulnerable and owning our stories, we can all come together, respect each other, and make some badass designs that can create positive impacts.”
The fourth and final speaker of the evening was Hana Tanimura, a designer and art director based out of Google’s Creative Lab in New York. Hana began by discussing a project she created a couple of years ago called Notable Women, which used augmented reality to put female faces onto US currency bills and to teach users of all ages about those historically significant women. “If you can’t see an example of what you aspire to be, it is so much harder to imagine yourself becoming that thing,” Hana said, quoting US Treasurer Rosie Rios. “Visibility is important; if you can see it, you can be it.”
Hana then explained how this project, alongside a few others, had led her to create a new methodology or philosophy for how to use design in order to have a positive impact on the world. “The idea is a really simple one: just start small, with one person or one community, and work together to solve one problem,” she said. “You can be sure that what you make will be impactful to them and the people in their lives. And sometimes, what you’ve made together can go on to be useful to many more people.” This philosophy isn’t about shrinking your ambition, but rather about a new way of looking at bringing about positive change. Don’t go out there initially trying to impact millions of people’s lives – instead, Hana said: “Start with one, invent for many.” It’s a philosophy and a methodology we can all easily apply in our daily work.