Deroy Peraza and Julia Vakser Zeltser founded Hyperakt, an independent New York City design firm that helps change makers tell their stories. Their clients are organizations that address the most important social issues of our time and innovative businesses that empower people through social entrepreneurship. According to the Harvard Business Review, "By having a bigger purpose, it just might be that Hyperakt's building a 21st century design studio: the crucible of big, world-changing ideas."
How did you come up with the concept?
Deroy Peraza: It evolved naturally out of our personalities and our experiences. Over the years we've worked on projects of every flavor for all kinds of clients. It's easier to realize what you want to focus your energy on when you've tried lots of different things. We learned that we're much more passionate about projects we genuinely believe in and find meaningful. If we can't get behind what we're communicating, the design doesn't come from a place of truth and as a result the work suffers. We're proud of Hyperakt because we champion ideas that we believe improve the lives of people and we tell stories we're genuinely interested in on a personal level.
Julia Vakser Zeltser: While at The New School, Deroy and I were always inspired by each other's work. Hyperakt was born shortly after we graduated from Parsons in 2001. While still young and inexperienced back then, we welcomed any project and any client. After five years and a variety of jobs, we realized that we're much more excited to help change makers tell their story. We narrowed down our message to reflect the kind of work we prefer to be getting. Ever since, we've focused on working with innovative organizations that work towards social change.
What inspires you?
DP: Traveling and seeing the world from different perspectives. The multitude of planned and unplanned design decisions that define the physical space and reflect the culture of modern cities. People who are equally passionate about concept, craft, and purpose. Disruptive ideas that change rules and create new possibilities. The incredible entrepreneurship potential that new technologies and social networking tools like Twitter have created for new Web-based products and services. The rapid increase in open-source data sets that can be visualized to educate and tell rich stories.
JVZ: Our monthly Lunch Talk series, where we invite design leaders to speak and we bring a community of 30 people to listen. My family and the thought that as a parent I can help my children make their choices. Our team of designers who are constantly searching for new ideas, solutions, and possibilities. Wonderful clients whose passionate work rubs off on us in many more ways beyond a project. And recently, The Moth (podcast), storytelling on stage without notes.
What is the relationship between design and social innovation?
DP: In our world, they hold hands. Design is the language through which social innovation is communicated. It's a crucial factor in getting hearts and minds excited about ideas.
JVZ: More than ever before, the general public understands that smart design makes for better products. The line between design and social innovation is increasingly blurred as more designers become social entrepreneurs and fantastic products like Kickstarter, Airbnb, and Etsy are proof that designers can lead great ventures.
How did The New School enable you to become social entrepreneurs?
DP: The New School—Parsons, specifically—gave us foundational skills. Majoring in illustration rather than design was very advantageous because of its emphasis on storytelling over technique. Ten years ago, when I graduated, there was little talk of social entrepreneurship or social consciousness in the university environment unless you were in a liberal arts class, perhaps. It's a focus that has seen tremendous growth over the last ten years. I'd say the most important aspect of being a student at The New School is the access it provides to the New York community of professionals and to an endless selection of talks, events, and career opportunities.
JVZ: We graduated from the Illustration department while it was led by Barbara Nessim, who believed that students need a variety of experiences in old and new media. While the curriculum included painting, drawing, design, typography, and printmaking, we were not aware of social entrepreneurship in or beyond the protected walls of The New School. While it was not taught or talked about in our classrooms, the multicultural diversity of students, teachers, and professionals had an inspiring effect on us. We were empowered with our skills and encouraged by our instructors to pursue what we love. Our passion grew into a design company.