Yuri Malina must have been a busy guy at Northwestern University in Chicago. Aside from his classes, studying math and physics in the school’s Integrated Science Program, the young scientist and entrepreneur co-founded Design for America, a nationwide network of student-run studios that create design-based solutions for local problems. He also somehow found time to start a health care technology company, SwipeSense, which uses sensors and wearable devices that log every time hospital staff sanitize their hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control, close to 100,000 people die every year from infections they contract while in the hospital, at a time when they are supposed to be healing and under the care of medical experts. SwipeSense will be in its first eight hospitals by June.
This edition of Creativity at Work features Dr. Liz Gerber. Liz and I taught together in the early days of the Stanford d.school, where I witnessed firsthand the big ball of energy she brings to any learning environment. A truly gifted teacher, Liz has a unique, inspiring point of view on how to shape the classroom experience to build students’ creative confidence. And her research on how crowdfunding and prototyping promote innovation and leadership is hugely timely.
Liz is the founder of Design for America, a network of students and practitioners using human-centered design to create local impact and the Allen K. and Johnnie Cordell Bleed Junior Professor of Design at Northwestern University.
Here’s her take on making creativity work.
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.