Design for America Adds Six Studios, Holds Second Annual Leadership Studio

Northwestern Student Group Brings Mix of Design and Social Impact to Six More Schools

Students at the 2012 Design for America Leadership Studio

Design for America, the McCormick student initiative that creates local and social impact through interdisciplinary design, held its second annual Design for America Leadership Studio last month, bringing together dozens of students from DFA studios across the country for an introduction to the group’s unique design processes.

DFA students began by brainstorming and building prototypes.More than 40 students from 14 universities came to Northwestern University’s Evanston campus from August 9 to 13, where leaders of three-year-old Design for America helped onboard new members so they can lead new studios at their own schools.

Returning to the Leadership Studio for the second year were students from Northwestern, Stanford, Cornell, Dartmouth, the Rhode Island School of Design/Brown University, Barnard College/Columbia University, the University of Oregon, and the University of California-Los Angeles. New attendees this year came from UC Berkeley, Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Institute of Art, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, and Yale.

Design for America was conceived at McCormick in 2008 to enable students to learn design through service projects. The group’s projects have included Jerry the Bear with Diabetes, an animatronic bear that educates children about the disease; hygiene solutions to prevent hospital-borne infections; and dishwashing solutions to save water in cafeterias, among other projects. In 2011, enthusiasm for the group was so strong that it expanded to eight universities nationwide; six more were added this year.

Students get inspired at the DFA Leadership StudioDuring the four-day Leadership Studio 2012, students learned Design for America’s values and processes through a hands-on project: brainstorming and creating designs to improve the lives of the elderly. After a Friday morning welcome by McCormick Dean Julio M. Ottino, the students broke into teams and started tackling their challenges. How could they ensure Mary takes her medicine on time? How could they keep Jack from falling? How could they make sure Joe follows his doctor’s recommendations at home?

Students started by conducting research online and interviewing residents at Evanston’s Northshore Retirement Home to gain a fuller understanding of the problems. On Saturday, brainstorming and building prototypes was followed by evaluations and critiques by a dozen design professionals. The third day, students brought their working prototypes back to the retirement home for testing. The teams also developed pitches and practiced presenting them.

Some designs were a hit, such as a vibrating belt to keep users aware of their bodies and help prevent falling; other designs may have missed the mark. Regardless of result, students learned to question their assumptions and design for others instead of themselves, a big lesson they will take back to their studios. “This was such an intense weekend,” said Baillie Elizabeth Davis, a student from the Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Institute of Art studio. “So much learning. So much connection. So much brainpower. I wouldn't have changed it for the world.”