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Picture This! Social Innovation Driven by Design Management and Visual Communication

In our globalized world of the 21st Century, we are all too familiar with wicked problems such as terrorism, childhood obesity, poverty, and racism. Imagine a world in which people collaborated across boundaries to solve systemic problems at their roots. What if communities could thrive on sustainable systems that strengthened citizens and the natural environment at the same time?

Within the trans-disciplinary field of innovation, there is a niche known as Social Innovation. This is a form of innovation that places its focus entirely on improving the lives of people through solving problems using methods of design. Most design savvy people are familiar with the term Human-Centered Design (HCD), but Social Innovation takes HCD to the next level.

"Social Innovation is the result of the intentional work of people trying to create positive change by addressing complex problems at their roots" -Social Innovation Generation

Still feeling unsure about what Social Innovation is? Watch this short informational video by Social Innovation Generation to learn more:

What's the problem?

Current methods of planning for social innovation are ineffective because they often do not consider the full complexity of the systems involved. Furthermore, meetings of this nature are not as creative or productive as they could be with the use of graphic facilitation techniques and visual thinking methods.

The manner in which we approach social innovation—developing solutions for social issues—is fundamentally flawed (Shipman, 1971 & Morelli, 2008). Without proper utilization of systems thinking, design management strategies, co-design and visualization techniques, we find ourselves producing unsustainable, misguided outcomes that often have unintended consequences (Morelli, 2008). Furthermore, the complexity of social innovation challenges designers to think differently and collaborate in ways they never have before (Senge, 2008).

There is an opportunity to create a social innovation process that leverages systems thinking, visual communication techniques and other design management methods to yield more efficacious outcomes.

Why Visual Communication?

Visual Communication is one of the most underutilized, underrated tools out there! Not only are visuals the most powerful form of communication, the use of visuals facilitates multi-modal learning, which essentially means that people learn and remember much better when more of their senses are involved. (Don't worry, there will be much more on this topic in future posts!)


In order to tackle such a complex, yet specific research topic, I have created a Venn Model. The four main research areas within Picture This! are:

Social Innovation: A social innovation is a novel solution to a problem that makes a positive impact on the lives of people, and also does not harm the natural environment.

Systems Thinking: A mindset that acknowledges that everything is interconnected through systems.

Visual Communication: A means of conveying ideas through pictures, drawings or other visuals.

Design Management: a discipline at the nexus of design, business, strategy and innovation, which utilizes human-centered research principles and Design Thinking methodology.

These areas of study combine to form the unique approach to Social Innovation through methods of Visual Communication and Design Management. Another area of study that I am beginning to find increasingly related is Change Management. Social innovation has a lot to do with change. Whether it be a change in a system, or even a change in culture.


As for my approach to's a doozy! In short, I have about 16 months from today to complete the entirety of this thesis. The overall project includes: a prospectus, literature review, thesis document, thesis defense presentation and other designed materials. Needless to say, I'm going to be quite busy! Here's the brief synopsis of how I plan to tackle Picture This! I have divided my phases according to SCAD academic quarters:

Summer 2016 (now!)

  • Read read read!

  • Build Annotated Bibliography

  • Begin Lit Review Draft

  • Recruit Committee Members

Fall 2016 (Sept-Nov)

  • Finalize committee members

  • Business Design and Management for Social Innovation (SCAD class + client collaboration)

  • Preliminary Interviews

  • Finish Draft of Literature Review

Winter 2017 (Dec-Mar)

  • Begin selection of Social Innovation Case Study

  • Develop Topic Selection for The Grove

  • Preliminary Interviews

Spring 2017 (April-June)

  • "Designing and Leading Change Intensive" at The Grove in San Francisco, CA

  • Possible Reframe

Summer 2017 (June-Sept)

  • Final Prototyping & Revisions

  • Validation of Research Findings

  • Begin Writing Final Thesis Document

Fall 2017 (Sept-Nov)

  • MFA Thesis Class

  • Finalize & Edit Final Thesis Document

  • Picture This! MFA Thesis Defense


I plan to post routine updates on the progression of Picture This! If you are interested in following along, please subscribe! I'm also eager to hear any feedback or suggestions any of you brilliant readers have to offer. The comment box below is ready for your two cents! You can also contact me directly via email

Author's Note

Picture This! is a thesis project in partial fulfillment of the Design Management MFA degree at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). I have been pursuing the MFA in Design Management at SCAD since June 2014, and plan to finish the program in November 2017. Prior to studying Design Management I completed a BFA (also at SCAD) in Illustration, with a minor in Business Management and Entrepreneurship. I am thankful for my background because it is an eclectic mix of both creativity and aesthetics, balanced with business strategy.

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