As incoming graduate students, Ashley Thorfinnson (M.I.D. ’11) and Sahar Ghaheri (M.I.D. ’11) were asked by Allan Chochinov, instructor of their first-year seminar, why they had come to Pratt to study industrial design. Coincidentally, they both gave the same answer: They wanted to use design to help people. In this way, the two discovered a shared interest that would lead to DH Studio, their design partnership.
Their bond grew when they traveled together to cover the first Better World By Design conference in Providence, Rhode Island, for the design news site Core77. At the conference they discovered inspiring projects and individuals doing powerful, world-changing work and asked themselves, “Why can't we do that, too?”
An internship at Pratt’s Center for Sustainable Design Studies (CSDS) helped them move into social entrepreneurship. But they decided to put a special spin on their venture. “We had only seen pro-bono work of this kind before,” said Thorfinnson. “So we collaborated on a master’s thesis project that showed that socially and environmentally responsible design could be profitable, too.”
As part of the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, which helps start up companies build socially responsible businesses, the two were able to found their own firm, Designing Hope, now DH Studio. The company uses a variable pricing model, allowing a wide range of companies and not-for-profits to make use of its services.
“We use a traditional pricing structure for most large companies,” said Ghaheri, “and offer different combinations of low monthly retainers and royalty share options to non-profits and new businesses that might not otherwise be able to afford design services.”
One such non-profit is Hellosmile, for which the firm has designed two new dental clinics that are expected to bring in nearly $1 million in revenue once they are at full capacity. “The service model and rewards program we’ve developed with them will help the clinics attract new patients and improve retention rates of current patients,” explained Thorfinnson.
The clinic’s co-founder Farhad Attaie has been enthused about working with them: “DH Studio’s passion for design has enabled Hellosmile to unleash its creativity and tap into our potential for transforming pediatric healthcare for low-income communities in New York City,” he said.
Another contented client is Friends of Tilonia, Inc., a U.S.-based nonprofit organization named for a small village in India, for whom Thorfinnson and Ghaheri designed a line of throw pillows made out of hand block-printed fabric to coordinate with Tilonia’s existing bedding collection. The design of the pillows will help Tilonia access a higher-end retail market, bringing more work and profits to its artisans in rural India.
As Tilonia’s executive director, Ellen Fish, put it, “The principals of DH Studio recognize what it takes to accomplish our mission and vision.” The pillows are currently in production, but the retail display set up in Pratt’s Pop-up! at Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market last fall showed strong initial interest.
DH Studio’s current bestsellers are Gaggle of Tees T-shirts, a new venture with its own website (http://www.gaggleoftees.com), which encourages visitors to “give to groups that do good.” Gaggle features both T-shirts and totes in durable fabrics at modest prices.
Most recently, DH Studio has helped the American Jewish World Service devise a design competition, called "Where Do You Give?," which invites participants to reimagine the traditional tzedakah (charity) box found in homes, synagogues, and other community centers.
"We’re looking to hire a graphics or product intern for the summer semester," said Ghaheri, "and we think a Pratt student would definitely be a great fit!"
Text: Adrienne Gyongy
Photos: Chris Barth, Courtesy of DH Studio, Courtesy of DH Studio