In lieu of traditional honorees, our Spotlight Series features projects, people, and groups who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in creating a more just and equitable future.

Design Advocates

Michael Chen, Co-Founder and Board President, Design Advocates;
Fauzia Khanani, Co-Founder and Board Vice President, Design Advocates;
Jane Lea, Co-Founder and Treasurer, Design Advocates;
Abby Coover, Co-founder and Secretary;
Michael Yarinsky, Co-founder and Board Member;
Nicholas McDermott, Board Member

Design Advocates is a network of experienced architecture, design, and advising firms, as well as individuals, who volunteer their time and expertise to collaborate on projects, research, and advocacy to serve the public good. Initiated in April 2020 as a non-profit platform for collecting data and empowering design businesses in the era of COVID-19, Design Advocates has since expanded into a collective effort to match designers with those in need by providing pro-bono design services to small businesses and community organizations while engaging in ongoing advocacy for the broader independent design industry. In particular, Design Advocates pushes for equitable design and firm diversity to contribute to a just built environment.

The organization’s Test Fits initiative leverages the creative energy and collaborative spirit of its members. In order to help local businesses, non-profits, and institutions respond to the crisis, Design Advocates is adapting their spaces and operations for reopening, creating strategies to ensure safe and comfortable continuing operation. Test Fits is currently serving clients on a pro-bono basis, assisting restaurants such as Kopitiam in Chinatown and Le Paris Dakar and La Napa in Crown Heights, social services organizations such as the Bowery Residents Committee and Housing Works, community institutions such as the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and schools and arts organizations.

Inherent in the Test Fits program and the broader mission of Design Advocates is a commitment to providing long-term design solutions to the most vulnerable, during the pandemic and beyond. Creating a seat at the table for the design community to provide input and receive work is central to their mission to empower designers to help safely guide New York City into the future. Thinking creatively on behalf of all types of small businesses, non-profits, and community organizations impacted by the pandemic, Design Advocates also aims to investigate how specific needs can be addressed through design and through advocacy on an agency or governmental level. Through the process of collaboration between all of the design firms involved, as well as between Design Advocates and their clients, the group hopes to build a new framework through which equitable design outcomes, driven by mutual advocacy, can be established.