Phi Nguyen, MArch I 2016
Summer 2015
Organization: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, NY, USA
Sponsor: Harvard Club of New York Fellowship

Inside Cooper Hewitt Phi Nguyen“This summer, I have had the opportunity to get first-hand exposure to the curatorial department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York City). It has been a great learning experience working with the small team that is organizing the third exhibition in the Design with the Other 90% series, which explores design approaches to challenges faced by underserved communities around the world. The first two of the series were international, while this one focuses on the United States and will open in September 2016.

One of my many tasks was researching statistics about different issues facing the U.S. This information will serve as important background for exhibited projects, helping visitors to establish context for the objects they encounter in the exhibition. We collected data on various aspects of poverty, which demonstrates clearly the inequality in access to basic needs among groups and communities throughout the U.S. Many of the statistics are shocking, especially ones that explain the differences between the top 10% and bottom 90% in terms of income. To better understand and visualize the data collected, I calculated the budget for a typical family of four—two parents and two children—living below the poverty line in five different cities and states. The findings show that according to the $24,250 federal poverty threshold[1], no family living in poverty could afford all basic needs—housing, food, and transportation.[2] This revelation drew my attention to innovative projects that do not merely create demands for those who can afford them but ones that solve problems affordably for the many who need a designer’s skills the most. It also motivates me to explore other opportunities within the field where design can be used as a tool to solve these issues, for I soon will graduate and begin my career as a young designer.

[1] Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “2015 Poverty Guidelines,” accessed July 21, 2015, http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/15poverty.cfm.

[2] Economic Policy Institute, “Family Budget Calculator,” accessed July 21, 2015, http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/.