Design for America is excited to introduce the 7th annual Leadership Studio! Leadership Studio is the signature, 5-day design sprint and leadership conference designed to prepare innovative student leaders for success in the upcoming year. This year, 100+ students from 35+ universities will come together at Northwestern from August 3-7 to tackle a social challenge in interdisciplinary teams. Joining them will be leaders in social design, from Greater Good Studio and Design Impact, as well as community leaders, campus mentors and DFAlumni.

DFAers learn by doing, and LS gives them the chance to do just that: student teams will apply human-centered design best practices as they explore: “How can we expand accessibility in urban areas?” Teams will work together to ensure the inclusion of those with differing abilities into the fabric of our communities and the future development of our cities.

We’re learning about universal design in a variety of ways: Morgan’s Inspiration Island is a waterpark designed with accessibility in mind, included air-powered wheelchairs. Photo credit to Mashable.


“Accessibility is a universal topic that can benefit anybody and everybody.”
– Michael Horsting of the Regional Transit Authority


A world report on disability produced jointly by WHO and the World Bank recently found that more than 1 billion people in the world experience disability. With the U.N. reporting that more than half the world’s population now living in cities, it is crucial to design welcoming spaces for people of all abilities. Students will work directly with members of the accessibility community, relying on personal experiences for guidance as they create innovative concepts that address challenges of urban life. By empathizing with those who experience disabilities every day, students will gain a first-hand perspective on the topic so their ideas will meet the real needs of this community. After Leadership Studio, students will take their findings on accessibility and apply them to their studio projects, designing for a more inclusive world in all the challenges they choose to tackle.

The design sprint culminates in a Project Expo on Saturday August 5th, in which teams will present final concepts to community members and guests. All are welcome. Please RSVP to join us!

Design for America would like to thank the incredible community partners who have helped shape Leadership Studio 2017. Jessica Pedersen from the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab has been instrumental in helping DFA build relationships with partners throughout Chicago. Open Doors Organization’s Eric Lipp, Access Living’s Tom Wilson have worked hard to help DFA include members of the accessibility community in LS who will share their stories. Second Sense, the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, and the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired are just some of the other powerful organizations that have helped the DFA National Team explore accessibility and identified problem spaces for students to tackle during the design sprint.

Leadership Studio would not be possible without the support of Champion DFA Sponsor, 3M. Thank you for making Leadership Studio a place for creativity, collaboration, iteration, and growth!