If you start them young, can industrial designers, product designers, roboticists and their cousins in the ‘hard’ design fields learn the skills to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, from childhood obesity to illiteracy to the trials of aging?
Finding out has been the work of Design for America for the last five years. Dreamt up by Northwestern University product design specialist and professor Elizabeth Gerber, the student-focused network has aimed at figuring out whether professional-grade civic design skills can be taught. In the latest issue of Interactions, the Association for Computing Machinery’s publication, Gerber details what the group has learned so far about cracking “wicked problems.”
During the recent Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia– an iconic moment watched by millions around the world– five large synthetic snowflakes were bathed in light. Four of them electronically transformed into Olympic rings. The fifth failed to light up.
With more testing of the system ahead of time, it’s highly likely that this very public embarrassment could have been averted. Had the technicians probed their system in advance, they might have traded many private failures out of the spotlight for the one enormous public failure they suffered when the world was watching.
1. I know what you’re thinking: “But I can’t hack/code/program.”
Neither can I, but I can learn, have learned, and continue to learn. Any hackathon worth its salt these days would encourage hackers to share knowledge and mentor each other. No interest in programming? No problem. Designers and artists are in demand—in the workforce, in the Valley, and at hackathons. You have production-related design skills that developers will fight for. Every DFA project starts out as a hack and this is your chance to share your craft and demystify what you do hands on.
Philanthropy takes a creative form in Design for America UIUC. Connected to a national organization, the University’s chapter of DFA, a registered student organization, wants to make a difference in the Champaign-Urbana community through human-centered design.
“It’s not just an RSO or putting something on our resume;
As Design For America has expanded over the past 5 years, national has had most of the responsibility of coordinating schools and creating connections between studios. Now, DFA is organizing its first ever Student Council in an effort to increase dialogue between studios and with national. On February 1st, student representatives from Northwestern, Rice, Barnard/Columbia, Vanderbilt, UIUC, Davis, and Virginia Tech called in