What are you doing professionally?
I just started a new job as design director of a fledgling design studio for social impact called Openbox, located in New York City. It’s a very exciting time for Openbox as we build our team and hope to grow out of our WeWork nest, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to shape the culture and processes here with the design thinking perspective that I practiced previously at IDEO.
How has your thesis progressed?
My thesis Ametrica! is a public awareness campaign that encourages the U.S. to adopt the metric system of measurement by immersing people in everyday metric experiences, rather than asking them to learn painful mathematical conversions between their own system and the international standard. For a while after graduation I balanced work with thesis work—and then the world went into recession, which made it pretty hard to ask people to convert the U.S. to the metric system. I still meet people every so often who tell me they’ve heard of Ametrica! and that it makes so much sense to them, and that’s pretty awesome.
What is your favorite part of the MFA Design program?
The community. Last month I traveled with Juan Diego Soto to Mexico City to attend the baptism for the son of our classmate Luisa Gloria. Yesterday I had cupcakes with Kirsten Sorton and her daughter at the Plaza Hotel. The weekend before that I was hunting for the best momo with Lita and Esther at the annual Momo Crawl in Jackson Heights. I’ve made lifelong friends through the program, I work with fellow graduates regularly, and the program is great about organizing events—from dinners to thesis review panels—to help alumni catch up with each other as well as meet current students. I am infinitely grateful and honored to be part of this family.
What impact has SVA MFA Design had on your career?
It has appeared, like a fairy godmother, at the biggest junctures of my career to guide me where I want to go. When I first realized I did not want to become a doctor, it was one of Steve Heller’s books that revealed to me graphic design was the long-lost love of my life. Stefan Sagmeister helped me choose a graduate program with a single, killer filter—what do the students make for their thesis? And when traditional graphic design felt no longer satisfying, Lita pulled me into a guest lecture by Sam Potts. It opened my eyes to the work of IDEO, which attempts to reconcile the execution of design with a process upstream that is grounded in the needs and wants of users. So instead of starting on a brief such as, design us a website, I could ask what challenge the client is facing and whether a website actually solves this challenge—in fact, that’s what I did one time, reshape a digital project after field research showed that social workers working with low-income Americans were not likely to take advantage of a government agency’s financial tools online. I want to make things that will actually help people!
What advice would you give incoming students?
This is the time to try all the things that are scary to try: to get to know yourself as a designer and as a person.
You can see more of my work at aliasamy.com. Due to the nature of some of the work I’ve had to put a password on it, but I am happy to share it—just email me, amy [at] aliasamy [dot] com
Amy Wang is from SVA MFA Design class of 2006