veryniceNY: Meet Elana


Welcome to our brand spanking new Behind the Scenes column, where each week we'll be featuring *behind the scenes* content including new team member interviews and an inside scoop on what's happening in our offices! This week we're featuring an interview with our new Studio + Project Manager, Elana Hubert, from our New York office.  

I'm so excited I had the opportunity to interview Elana, not only because she is a serious powerhouse lady, but she also has an insanely wide range of experiences and interests behind her— from reimagining condom packages with Design for America to living with a community of artisans on a Mapuche reservation in Patagonia. She a passionate foodie, world traveler, social ice cream entrepreneur, and artist living the dream in New York City.

To learn more about a day in the life of Elana as our Studio Manager and find out what her fave restaurant spots are, check out my interview with her below! 

1. You’re interested in all the ways that, “interdisciplinary design can be used for community building and healing in areas of conflict.” Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by “interdisciplinary design,” and what community building looks like to you?

 Interdisciplinary design is something I was introduced to in college through Design for America, a student-led social innovation group that brought students with all kinds of interests and skills together to problem solve using design thinking.  Something that was so special about that model was that everyone brought a unique perspective to the table, and we were really invested in solving problems in a holistic way. Understanding the user was accomplished through a collaboration of ideas based in Human Rights, Anthropology, Graphic Design, Sociology, and Engineering, to name a few.  I think this kind of design is especially important in community building.  For me, community building means investigating the reasons for isolation or marginalization in communities and designing a way to engage and enliven those same communities. 

2. What are your favorite things about living in New York City?

 I love how all of the neighborhoods are so different from one another. After spending 4 years on the Upper West side, it’s so much fun to be down in the West Village where there is a ton to see and do.  There’s always something interesting going on… a few months ago Kickstarter had an event in Brooklyn where you could check out their head quarters and the companies/products that had been successful through their Kickstarter campaigns.  In true Brooklyn fashion, there were food trucks and DJ’s, of course.  

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3. I’ve never heard of Design for America, so thank you for blowing my mind. Can you talk more about your work with them and how it informed your desire to work in design for social change?

 I joined just as DfA was starting at Barnard/Columbia, so we got to pitch our own project theme to create a design solution for a “local issue”.  Our project evolved into a collaboration with a local health clinic and peer health educators.  We worked with a group of high school juniors and seniors to redesign condom packaging as a medium to transform the conversation about sexual health into something compelling, relevant, and educational. From an academic standpoint, I had become slightly cynical about the ways outside organizations or groups could help support communities.  I loved how design was based in empathy, and the solutions were all about the user and their beliefs/habits/perspective.  The process was never about implementing a system for someone else who you really didn't understand, but working with the people you wanted to support to develop a highly informed and creative solutions for the serious issues affecting them.

 4. I have always wanted to go to Argentina (I have this vision of myself salsa dancing the night away and drinking red wine with breakfast, which is totally unrealistic since I can’t salsa dance or drink before 3PM). You spent a semester there studying social movements, what was that experience like for you?

 You’re right…it did involve a good amount of dancing and Malbec.  It’s a fascinating country, and like everywhere else, has a super complicated history.  We traveled a lot by bus, and every stop was so different from the next.  I lived in Buenos Aires, which is very urban, traveled to Patagonia, and stayed in a Mapuche reservation with a community of artisans.  We talked to a number of different social groups— everything from social/political activists and local scholars to indigenous leaders and community artists.  It was fascinating to be able to see so many versions of political/social resistance and protest. I really hope I can go back soon!

 5. Walk us through a day in the life of a verynice Studio and Project Manager and tell us what your favorite or most rewarding part of the job is:

 Basecamp and Google Cal have become my best friends over the last couple weeks. If there’s a client meeting coming up, I create an agenda that covers everything that needs to get done for next steps of the project to happen.  I’m also helping systematize the volunteer database so we can better match volunteers and non-profit organizations for pro-bono projects.  Because I’m involved in project managing, I’ve had to learn a lot about the process and details of a design project.  I’ve really enjoyed taking that in, and translating it into something cohesive for the client.  I’m learning something new everyday (and have amazing mentors!), and that’s been very rewarding for me.

 6. You seem like a bit of a top chef and foodie, do you have any favorite recipes we can try or LA spots our office should check out?

 Since I’ve spent the majority of my adult foodie life in NYC, I feel like I have a better working knowledge of the NY food scene than the LA one.  But, there are a couple staples I always love to go to when I go home.  For sushi, go to Shabuya (in the valley, if you ever dare to venture out there).  It’s some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, and is very casual.  Chinois on Main— it’s on the pricier side, and has super corny 1980s decor, but everything I’ve tried there I’ve loved. Lastly, Malibu Seafood on PCH.  They have amazing fish and chips (and a great view of the ocean), and a small seafood market where you can buy freshly caught seafood to cook at home!

 Wanna learn more about Elana’s background? Check out her website or catch her posting gorgeous shots on Instagram. Also be sure to check out her socially-conscious business Sweet Karma Ice Cream!