Parsons

  • Transdisciplinary Design (MFA)

    Isabella Brandalise

    Isabella Brandalise

    Originally a graphic and product designer, Isabella Brandalise never planned on working in the government sector, but after finishing her Master of Fine Arts in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons, she found herself in the unusual position of supporting an innovation team in the Brazilian government for her employer, pioneering Danish design lab MindLab.

    Brandalise worked for several years as a project manager for MindLab, which focuses on “bringing a design approach to government.” Her job was to guide federal civil servants to ask themselves how they can become “more citizen centered through design,” because, as she explains, “the government is a complex system in which a design-driven way of working can be valuable for both civil servants and citizens."

    She recently collaborated with Brazil’s Ministry of Health, helping to gather and assess user input to create an easy-to-use app for booking medical appointments. But government experts there, accustomed to bureaucratic and hierarchical ways of thinking, often found it difficult to adopt a “design mindset.” To help her colleagues adapt, she led the Brazilian innovation team through exercises designed to build their capacity in conducting user-based research.

    Another part of Brandalise’s job was to promote a less output-driven approach to policy initiatives. For her, this meant helping governments understand the differences between the immediate and the long-term effects of a given policy. Consider the example of installing new bulbs in streetlights, which may cost a great deal initially but reduces electricity use and the need for maintenance and improves public safety in the long run. Reflecting on her work, she asks, “What is the difference between outputs and outcomes? An output would be the delivery of your project, the service or the product; but the outcome is the effect — the ‘so what’ aspect, the consequence.” From her point of view as a designer, “the reason for the government to exist is to create value, so asking, ‘What are you trying to achieve with new policies and new services?’ — that’s what the outcome is about.”

    Brandalise believes her time in the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program was essential in helping her pose meta-level questions like this one. “I learned at The New School how to apply all these methods and ways of thinking, not being obsessed with solutions but being open to explore,” she says. “I think my practice is really to challenge current systems in everyday life.” Today she is an independent consultant focusing on civic innovation and public imagination, a role enabling her to draw on these insights daily.

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