December 2023 Alumni Spotlight
Marxe BSPA alumna Deana K. Yu tells us about bridging her graphic design expertise with a public sector career, her fellowship at the NYC Dept. of Transportation, her work as Design Lead at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, and more.
Can you speak to your graphic design practice within public service? What role has design played in your public-sector career?
During my time at Baruch, I learned three core things about myself.
I had a strong education in policy and multiple experiences working in the public sector; a graphic design practice, and a love for making and creative thinking; and strong values rooted in social change and local community.
Combining these qualities helped me form my core mission: Graphic design is my superpower to further accessibility, equity, and justice within local government. Further, I believe design and design thinking are tools we can use to challenge, change, and upend government systems. This practice is something I’ve carried with me- as I’ve been able to grow at 3 different NYC agencies.
Since my design practice lives within the realm of city government, I’ve developed two core pillars:
First, design is a mechanism of communication. As a graphic designer within the government, I often find myself distilling large amounts of information. Within the jargon-filled ecosystem of bureaucracy, I’ve acted as a translator and equipped design to simplify systems. Designing for communication, meanings designing with communities at the core.
Second, design can help us redefine what the government. One of my most memorable experiences combining the worlds of design and government was at the NYC Civic Engagement Commission, a government agency dedicated to enhancing civic participation. During my role as a Graphic Designer, I worked closely with artist Yazmany Arboleda, who often used words like “joy” and “beauty” to describe the work we were doing. Having Yazmany as a mentor was meaningful because those words are not often used in bureaucratic systems. As a designer, I was encouraged to question how a typical government looked, and pushed to design beyond that. Working with this mindset helped me realize that how we perceive the government, informs the design choices we make, which then plants the seed for broader systemic change.
Tell us about your work as Design Lead at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity in the Service Design Studio.
The Service Design Studio (SDS) is a small, but mighty team under the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. We are focused on using service design (a mix of qualitative and quantitative community research methods) to improve the accessibility of public services! We work in a consultant-like model and have the opportunity to partner with any government agency across New York City.
I joined SDS in 2022, and have been thrilled ever since. I love our team because we are distinctly rooted in our values of community-first practices! We are also an innovation hub, tasked with thinking creatively within the typically bureaucratic field of city government!
As the team’s Design Lead, my main focus has been managing the Designed by Community Fellowship (DxC). In DxC, we partner with a nonprofit and train fellows to do a small-scale research project within their community. The basis of DxC is that communities know their needs best!
This year we partnered with Phipps Neighborhoods, with the goal of increasing digital access in the Bronx. With Phipps, we’ve hired 6 folks from the Bronx and over several months taught them the process of service design. In these months, I’ve acted as a facilitator, researcher, and teacher, working to guide our 6 fellows through a service design process. I’ve also been challenged to create a curriculum and work alongside the fellows to come up with a localized solution for the Bronx.
What was your experience as an Urban Fellow at the NYC Department of Transportation?
I had the immense privilege of being accepted as an NYC Urban Fellow under the 2021 cohort – right out of the pandemic!
The Urban Fellows is a highly competitive, nine-month fellowship program that gives recent undergraduates exposure to the public sector. 24 other fellows and I underwent an intense interview process with a variety of government agencies. At the end of the interviews, I ended up matching with the NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) and was given the opportunity to work with their Urban Design team.
Each one of the fellows had a vastly different work experience, depending on where they were placed. Luckily at NYC DOT, I worked on a team that had a lot of flexibility. I found myself working on both project management and graphic design projects.
My favorite project at NYC DOT was prototyping a potential educational app. This app does not exist (yet), but the project was about envisioning potential ways to educate New Yorkers on street design. If New Yorkers wanted to advocate for a street light on their street, this app was where they could go to learn more.
Working at NYC DOT was life-altering. I’ve experienced NYC government agencies both big and small. overall – I got to (1) experience what it’s like working at a larger agency, (2) make a presentation that was directly shown to the Commissioner, and (3) learn from and work alongside architects!
What drew you to the Marxe School? What were some of your most important lessons from your professors and classes?
I entered Baruch with a love for social justice. Initially, I started my college career with lots of sociology courses, which gave me a good understanding of the social systems we are a part of.
However, when I found the Marxe school, it felt like a perfect fit! I really appreciated how Marxe contextualized social systems. It wasn’t just about studying inequality, instead, as students, we were empowered to take action and think of ways in which we could tackle systemic problems. We were given the education to understand and research complex systems, but we were also tasked with thinking of ways that the world could be changed and improved.
Also! Many of my professors were researchers or folks who had worked in NYC government themselves, so many of the assignments were applicable to the real-life context!
I’ve learned so much from my time at Marxe! I can talk extensively about how I still use my college-level skills today in my full-time career. However, I think the most impactful thing about Marxe was the intimate community. I’m still in touch with the faculty and professors and actually have bumped into several Marxe alums in city government. An implicitly learned lesson is to find and trust good people. It’s always about the people!
Learn more about Deana