By Anja Laubscher
Mari Nakano serves New York City as the acting design director at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. Previously, she served as the design & interaction lead for UNICEF’s Office of Innovation for four years. She has been practicing what design can do for products, services, and teams in the social impact space for over 12 years and has an obsession with problem-solving through the lens of design.
We spoke with Nakano about design in New York City and her vision for the future of design.
Anja Laubscher: What is your favorite public space in New York City and why?
Mari Nakano: Standing under the huge archways at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and being surrounded by the Bailey Fountain (where I often sit to cool off from the summer heat), the sky-high Art-Deco entryway to the Brooklyn Public Library, and the north entrance to Prospect Park bustling with joggers, cyclists, dogs, and the Saturday farmer’s market. This is my favorite public space because it gives me the choice to indulge in books, sculptures, or nature all within a few steps of one another.
AL: Give us an example of how design has improved the quality of life in New York City?
MN: I truly believe the NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity’s Service Design Studio has helped the City further engage with residents and those who deliver services in ways where the experiences of those who receive public services are more deeply considered and incorporated into developing and enhancing solutions. We believe in making public services more effective and accessible for all New Yorkers and know that design is a powerful tool that enables us to better shape new and existing programs.
We need to design and provide services for those who need them the most, take care of our one and only planet, and empower the youth who will ultimately inherit this city.
AL: As a designer, what would you like to see in New York City in 2030 and why?
MN: As a designer who focuses on social change, I’d like to see a few things: More free and low-cost accessibility services and environments, easier solutions and incentives for citizens to engage in environmental sustainability, and design-thinking as a more commonplace part of public school curricula. We need to design and provide services for those who need them the most, take care of our one and only planet, and empower the youth who will ultimately inherit this city.