According to Lara Penin, the future of design is not necessarily about making things. “In the same way that the industrial revolution gave birth to mass products, we’re now entering a new period when designers are called on to design services and systems,” says Penin, associate professor of transdisciplinary design. Penin specializes in service design for social innovation and how design can effect positive social change towards sustainability. So what does all that mean in the real world? “Service design is about looking at people’s experience of a service and the social implications of that, whether that be related to health care, government, commercial or community organizations” she says.
Penin is currently the program director of the MFA in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons, an innovative graduate program that seeks to define a new model of design discourse and practice which explores how design can reshape our social infrastructure. She is also a co-founder of Parsons DESIS Lab, a multidisciplinary research lab at the intersection of service design and social innovation, which is affiliated with an international network of practitioners. One pivotal DESIS project, Amplifying Creative Communities, received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (New York City Cultural Innovation Funds 2009). Penin is the principal investigator of the project, which focuses on new ideas about how to transition to more sustainable societies. The project studies New York City's “creative communities” — people who are already taking small but significant steps toward more sustainable ways of living and working. The project will map and document the sustainability initiatives of the city’s creative communities and amplify those efforts by turning the ideas into designs that can be shared around New York and worldwide. Penin has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the São Paulo Architecture Biennale. She is currently working on a new textbook, An Introduction to Service Design: Designing the Invisible, with Bloomsbury. This work will be the first book dedicated to the basics of service design, offering a critical survey of the key theoretical principles within the field of service design.