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.