Faculty Directory
Elizabeth Gerber

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and (by courtesy) Computer Science

Associate Professor of Communication Studies


2133 Sheridan Road
Ford 2-327
Evanston, IL 60208-3109

847-467-0607Email Elizabeth Gerber


Research Projects


Mechanical Engineering


MMM Program

Download CV


Ph.D. Management Science & Engineering, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

M.S. Product Design, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

B.A. Art and Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Research Interests

 In the face of looming challenges like childhood obesity, environmental collapse, and soaring health care costs, we need dramatic and sustained innovation. The driving question behind my research is how emerging technologies and organizations can support the innovation process to solve these challenges. In particular, I examine what I define as collective innovation, an innovation process that harnesses the diverse and untapped human, social, and economic capital from distributed networks to discover, evaluate, and implement new ideas. Open, ubiquitous, sociotechnical systems support collective innovation affording greater speed and deeper and broader participation than was imaginable even a decade ago. While collective innovation is a new and exciting collaborative process that has the potential to massively transform society, it is poorly understood. I use grounded theory and design research (Easterday, Rees Lewis, and Gerber 2014) to establish theory and design principles and to develop infrastructure for collective innovation. My pioneering scholarship leads the academy's understanding of this fast-evolving, scalable infrastructure, and directly contributes to its improved functioning to benefit society at large.

 The first premise of collective innovation is that direct collaboration between stakeholders can radically enhance rates of innovation (Gerber and Carroll, 2012; Gerber and Hui, 2013; Gerber, 2014). The second premise is that even across weakly connected, heterogeneous networks, changes in the design of our infrastructure can bring forth effort and resources that would otherwise lie fallow (Gerber, 2014; Shaw et al, 2014, Hui, Gerber, and Gergle, 2014; Gerber, 2007; Gerber, 2006). The third premise: Actively engaging a greater number and variety of people to participate in the innovation process expands the breadth of problems addressed and increases the quality of the solutions (Gerber, 2014; Gerber, 2007). This work is embodied in the three ongoing major endeavors of my career thus far at Northwestern: 1) Crowdfunding, 2) Crowdsourcing, 3) Social Innovation Networks

 My scholarship produces three types of results: 1) theory for collective innovation, 2) design principles, and 3) novel sociotechnical systems to support inclusive and continuous innovation in society. My work has resulted in 27 publications in the Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Computer Human Interaction, and Management literatures and ACM Interactions and IEEE Internet Computing trade publications. My research has been highlighted in the press including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Wired, National Public Radio’s Marketplace and generously and consistently supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, Hastac (sponsored by the MacArthur and Mozilla Foundations), and Microsoft. 



Significant Professional Service

  • Adviser, Design for America

Selected Publications

  • Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Nickerson, Jeffrey V.; Dontcheva, Mira; Dabbish, Laura; Hill, Charlie, Collective innovation, CSCW 2019 Companion - Conference Companion Publication of the 2019 Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
  • Kreitzberg, Charles B.; Shneiderman, Ben; Gerber, Elizabeth; Rosenzweig, Elizabeth; Churchill, Elizabeth F., Careers in HCI and UX, CHI EA 2019 - Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
  • Rees Lewis, Daniel G.; Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Easterday, Matthew W., Assessing iterative planning for real-world design teams, A Wide Lens
  • Gerber, Elizabeth M; Fu, F., Improv for Designers, Funology 2
  • Foong, Eureka; Vincent, Nicholas; Hecht, Brent; Gerber, Elizabeth M., Women (still) ask for less, Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hui, Julie; Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Dombrowski, Lynn; Gray, Mary L.; Marcus, Adam; Salehi, Niloufar, Computer-supported career development in the future of work, CSCW 2018 Companion - Companion of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
  • Hui, Julie S.; Easterday, Matthew W.; Gerber, Elizabeth M., Distributed Apprenticeship in Online Communities, Human-Computer Interaction
  • Easterday, Matthew W.; Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Rees Lewis, Daniel G., Social innovation networks, Design Issues
  • Hui, Julie S.; Gergle, Darren; Gerber, Elizabeth M, IntroAssist, CHI 2018 - Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
  • Carlson, Spencer E.; Rees Lewis, Daniel G.; Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Easterday, Matthew W., Challenges of peer instruction in an undergraduate student-led learning community, Instructional Science
  • Hui, Julie S.; Gerber, Elizabeth M, Developing makerspaces as sites of entrepreneurship, CSCW 2017 - Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
  • Rees Lewis, Daniel G.; Easterday, Matthew W.; Harburg, Emily; Gerber, Elizabeth M.; Riesbeck, Christopher K., Overcoming barriers between volunteer professionals advising project-based learning teams with regulation tools, British Journal of Educational Technology
  • Yen, Yu Chun Grace; Dow, Steven P.; Gerber, Elizabeth; Bailey, Brian P., Social network, Web forum, or task market? Comparing different crowd genres for design feedback exchange, DIS 2016 - Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems
  • Easterday, Matthew W.; Rees Lewis, Daniel G.; Gerber, Elizabeth M., The logic of the theoretical and practical products of design research, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology

In the Classroom

Professor Gerber's teaching interests include design, innovation management, and organizational behavior. At Northwestern she teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on product and service design which emphasizes the design thinking methodology - a human centered problem solving approach focused on gaining inspiration from human needs, working in diverse groups to generate ideas, and prototyping ideas for rapid feedback. She also advises students in the award winning design initiative she founded called Design for America where students take on extracurricular design work to make social and local impact.