Between Thursday and Monday, DFA opened its doors to the shop down in the Ford Design Center at Northwestern’s McCormick school of Engineering for 45 of our studio leaders from all 17 campuses nationwide. As in Leadership Studios past, the eager students were posed with a design challenge and given four days to apply the human centered design process to solve a community or social problem. This year, the fledgling designers were tasked with crafting a working solution to aid in the preparation, response, or recovery of natural disasters, specifically urban flooding. The group was split into eight teams before beginning work on the thoughtful and innovative process that would bring them toward creating a sustainable solution while forging lasting friendships around the common goal of social welfare.

LS 2013

Aiding them along this journey were many professionals, storytellers, and advisors. Veronika Scott, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Plan, told the youthful leaders of her own process in taking her project from classroom to company.

LS 2013

Partnered with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the student leaders were able to conduct user interviews with the great and helpful people of Midlothian, IL – a community that has been affected and encumbered by prevalent flooding for the past decade at least.

Floodlothian Activists

 In 72 hours — full of scoping, researching, prototyping, and reframing — solutions span from collective-style communication system, described as, “your neighborhood flood concierge” to “a ziplock bag for your couch” to “a smoke alarm for water” placed in overflow drains. The people of Midlothian were very moved by all the creativity and teamwork as well as the results of our process. As next steps, DFA will continue to work with CNT to share the stories of flood victims and the students’ concepts.

LS 2013

So what were the takeaways from the weekend? Well first, embrace sleep and don’t take it lightly. Second, through first hand experience, this gathering prepared leaders to better communicate the human centered design process to their peers upon returning to their respective campuses. With the anticipated arrival of the Design for America Process Guide to assist us in the education of DFA practices, implementation support from key advisors, mentors and faculty, the team here at Nationals has geared up for a positive year of growth, challenge, and success — and we could not think of a better experience to have began this year’s iteration cycle.

 LS 2013