Daniel Suh has always been passionate about creating partnerships to uplift others. While he was an undergraduate at UC San Diego’s Thurgood Marshall College, he founded one of the university’s first student consulting organizations, Cornerstone Community Consultants, which provides pro-bono opportunities for students to empower the local community. Suh also established UCSD’s first chapter of International Justice Mission, a student-led organization that centers around human rights, anti-human trafficking, and law enforcement. “Growing up in an underprivileged community, I’ve discovered a passion for social justice and contributing to causes larger than myself,” Suh says.
After graduating, Suh accepted a position at Booz Allen Hamilton, working as a data analytics consultant for government and military clients. “I would definitely say I’m an intrapreneur,” says Suh. “I like to start things inside of organizations with a focus on serving their communities.” Quick to take action, Suh began a volunteer group at Booz Allen Hamilton, providing pro-bono services to nonprofits. In his spare time, he also offers free career consultation services to high school and college students from immigrant communities by helping them design their career paths.
While serving on the Mayor of San Diego’s International Affairs Board (IAB), Suh was tasked with an initiative that combined his skills in data and design. “The mayor’s office approached us and requested that we provide a global strategy for the next decade, detailing how San Diego could operate prominently on the global stage,” he explains. In determining the best community and research partners for the project, Suh remembered the Design Lab. “I reached out to the Design Lab because of its affiliation with UC San Diego, and because of the genuine passion, interest and talent of its [members],” Suh says. “I love how community focused it is. It’s not walled off or pretentious at all. It’s really just about serving the community through design.”
Through the partnership between the IAB and the Design Lab, Suh was invited to be a Designer-in-Residence in the Lab. Designers in Residence link the Design Lab and the UC San Diego community with the outside world. Rather than solely being driven by academic achievement or research accolades, Designers in Residence are selected based on their compelling work as design practitioners across the spectrum of design and innovation and serve to help bridge the divide between design, education and real world application. Suh’s work explores how the intersection of data, design, and diplomacy can strengthen San Diego’s international future.
“To me, it seems like every Designer-in-Residence has their own unique project that is tailored for them by their background. I truly appreciate how The Design Lab lets each person [help] define their role,” he says.
In his distinctive role, Suh acts as a liaison. “I help facilitate the partnership between IAB and the Design Lab,” he says, “[and] find the most satisfaction when I bring the best of both those worlds together and see the sparks fly.” This partnership led the Design Lab Community team to engage directly with the IAB members and Executive Committee to introduce them to the practice of human-centered design (HCD) and create a plan for gathering first-hand stories, views, and data from constituents around the region regarding what it would mean for San Diego to be widely recognized as a top–tier global city. Alongside Suh and some of his colleagues at Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), civic design specialists, and a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the Design Lab hosted two interactive sessions during San Diego’s inaugural Design Week that explored perspectives and opportunities relevant to the City of San Diego Global Vision 2030. The results helped to shape the IAB’s final report published in December 2020.
Ultimately, Daniel hopes to see this project more broadly impact private-public partnerships in the region, especially with designers. ”Our collaboration is tearing down a wall between the city and community. Having these kinds of civic discussion, outreach, and action will pave the way for more of these opportunities. The city benefited tremendously from the talent and contribution of the design community,” Suh says.
To Suh, the Designer-in-Residence role embraces the very foundation of his passion: to enrich and empower the community through partnerships. “What gets me so excited about The Design Lab is the cross-pollinating of ideas, working across industries and innovating as a community,” Suh says. “And that’s why I’m most thankful for the Designer-in-Residence program. It equipped me and the IAB with the confidence and insights to boldly re-image the future of San Diego.”