What better way to share how DFA shapes college students into social innovators than by attending Sodexo’s Quality of Life summit in London? Sodexo believes that quality of life is central to a user’s experience in the environments that their company creates. The bi-annual summit held this past October was an international event for people from all industries to come together and share how they design for positive user experience and well-being.

DFA Director Rebecca Breuer and two DFA studio leaders, Kelly Wisneski (DFA Wash U ‘18) and Alex Sher (DFA NU ‘18) were amongst the 500+ participants invited to London for the 2nd QoL summit this year. Kelly and Alex share some takeaways from their experience below!


Where do I begin with all the cool things I saw at the conference? Most of our time was spent at the Discovery Session, and it was great to see how DFA’s human-centered methods plays out in finished products. There was a woman who invented a bionic glove that decreases pain for people with joint trouble in their daily activities — Alex and Rebecca even tried it on. A display called Grandpad showcased a hardware-software solution that makes social media safer and easier for “super seniors” (people 75+ years of age). It was essentially a simplified iPad with small features adapted to fit the super seniors’ needs — based on, you guessed it: user research.

The craziest part of the whole experience was that despite the difference between the professionals in expensive suits and myself trying to hide the run in my tights, we were all in the same room together, on the same playing field. While Design for America members may be young, we have so much to contribute to the world already.

Having DFA and DFA students represented was valuable to remind other conference attendees that great ideas, like all the ones on display at the Discovery Session, don’t just come out of nowhere. If we want to continue innovating and improving Quality of Life, we have to change our education system in a way that prepares young people to do so. The tools, resources, skills and mindsets that DFA teaches us are essential as we enter workplaces looking to rapidly innovate.

Sodexo’s QoL summit only further showed me how DFA’s mission and values exist in a variety of industries. Many of the projects and ideas felt like they came out of one of our very own enthusiastic studios.

I also really enjoyed people’s reactions to DFA. It’s interesting how professionals view the skills we gain in DFA as transferable to different workplaces, and the value they see in collaborating with us. Kelly and I stood out due to our young age, but it’s awesome that DFA empowers young adults to tackle challenges that are often thought should be left to professionals.

A favorite speaker was Bunker Roy, who founded the Barefoot College [in India], a model to train and educate women to set up their villages with solar power. His practical approach to education and equality has made incredible impact, and a lot of that is because he refused to listen to expert theories. He asked, “Now that it’s in practice, can experts make it work in theory?” I was empowered learning of his grit and willingness to keep trying new things to make his model better – his iterative work is just like how we prototype in DFA.

After seeing the Discovery Session and all of the models that Sodexo gathered for the conference, I understand how crucial it is to be able to identify social problems, seek solutions, and bring those solutions into the world. It’s encouraging that other people also value the DFA experience, and I hope to see more and more educational opportunities like ours in the future.

In addition to working on a national project with DFA students this year—resiliency and preparedness for college—Sodexo collaborated with DFA for Chicago Design Week, and sponsored and participated in Leadership Studio 2017. We send many thanks to Sodexo for their continued support of DFA, and for inviting us to London to think differently about the Quality of Life!