Denise Gershbein Dives Past Design’s Surface into the “Why”

Doreen Lorenzo spoke with Denise Gershbein, the executive director of social impact design at global design and strategy firm frog. The interview took place as part of a series highlighting women in the design industry.

Gershbein reflects on the mantra of her design process, finding the next level of “why” and how it has been a driving force throughout her career. After an initial interest in graphic design, she dove past the surface level of design and became fascinated with interactivity and why things behave the way they do. She explains that for her, design is not just about aesthetics, but more so a method for transformation and elevation rooted in the ideals of empathy and experience within the daily world.

Despite gathering an eclectic array of knowledge from her studies including science biology and art, Gershbein argues the importance of collecting and creating expansive frameworks from personal experience rather than education. This understanding of different perspectives results in the possibility to create richly empathetic experiences. At frog, they utilize their rich history across many different disciplines to create new experiences and processes through multi-layered design work.

Gershbein gives an example of this “meta” type of design through frog’s work with their client Tipping Point, a local grant-making organization aiming to alleviate poverty in the Bay Area. Although not a typical product design client, together they work to enhance service design capabilities to aid the development of community programs such as childcare for low-income neighborhoods.

In the future, Gershbein wants to see design play a more prominent role in the early-stage bridging of different partners instead of acting as a downstream process after the strategy has already been established. Allowing design into part of the conception of strategy provides designers the opportunity to bring worlds together while also breaking away from convention to move towards something entirely new. Gershbein reminds us that designers are just human beings designing for other human beings, but it is their vulnerability and authenticity that lend themselves so well to the work of reconnecting to the human experience.


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