Design For America

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Mariana Somma March 30, 2015

Late last year Alumna Mariana Somma (GRAD ID ’14)  had the pleasure to meet with and advise  USC’s Design For America  (DFA) student-led studio group. DFA is an “award-winning nationwide network of interdisciplinary student teams and community members using design to create social change.”

mariana_somma_fellow thumbThe USC group consisted of about 15-20 students who teamed up to work on projects that challenged them to find creative and sustainable solutions to very local problems on campus and in the greater community surrounding the campus.  The projects students were tackling included homelessness near the USC community, mental Illness help for students, better communication with the community surrounding USC, and increasing drought awareness for the USC community.

It was great to go around and hear how the teams were approaching the research and field testing of their ideas. My role as guest-advisor was to help teams think about the next phase of physically prototyping ideas, or the next steps in validating their ideas within the community.  We also had an extensive Q&A session where I shared some insights from my collaboration with Designmatters and the current progress of Calientamigos, a portable pressurized water heating system and shower for families living without running water (project from the Designmatters Safe Agua Colombia 2013-2014).

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Photo Credit: Geronimo Carlo Ramos, USC DFA

I was really impressed by the level of detail and thoughtfulness of the projects.  Each team had a unique and integrated systems approach to understanding the users and their needs, as well as coming up with creative ways to involve community and education through various public art and media-based awareness campaigns.

One particular group that stood out has already gained press with their Safe not SCared campaign, which “aims to empower students suffering from mental illness and give them a voice in a culture that neglects their silence.”  This project is set to launch campus-wide at USC in January 2015.

I am eager to see all the great work coming out of DFA in the years to come, their passion for social change on a local scale will bring great impact for their student body and greater off-campus community.  I encourage Art Center students who are interested in social impact to connect with DFA and collaborate!

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Photo Credit: Geronimo Carlo Ramos, USC DFA

To learn more about DFA please visit