Design for America: Founding + Present + Future, Part 2 — DT101 E37

Welcome to the Design Thinking 101 podcast! I’m Dawan Stanford, your host. Today’s episode is part two of a two-part series on Design for America. Design for America is a nationwide network that supports design innovation for social impact. DFA was founded at Northwestern University, and is helping to shape the next generation of social innovators and student-led design-led studios on over 40 college campuses. Today, we’ll speak to two guests about what Design for America is, why DFA exists, how DFA works, and what the future may look like at Design for America.

Photo of Kelly Wisneski
Kelly Wisneski

We start our episode talking to Kelly Wisneski about her DFA experience, which began at Washington University in St. Louis during her undergraduate education. She knew she wanted to talk to people who were involved in Design For America in the Washington University chapter. She was working on a project related to food insecurity in St. Louis when she realized DFA would be her entry point into St. Louis. Kelly joined DFA during her first semester at university, and found herself on the leadership board in her second semester.

She enjoyed being part of the leadership board and having a hand in growing DFA from a small studio into a more extensive workshop. Kelly assisted others in getting their projects off the ground in her early stages of leadership. In 2019, Kelly has contributed to the building of nine new DFA studios. “DFA is not just design thinking projects, they are projects that are here to make an impact on the people that it matters to the most.”

Photo of Liz Gerber
Liz Gerber

Our second conversation is with Liz Gerber. We first chatted with Liz about how DFA was launched. She worked in the research sector of the toy industry with kids, asking them how they would build their own toys. As a new professor at her university, Liz was not satisfied with just research and publishing. She wanted to launch a new idea that she had brewing. Liz yearned to create a unique educational and impact structure in which students were working directly with community members. She broke down the boundary between the classroom and campus and the “real world,” giving students the ability to tackle and solve real-world community problems.

Our Guests

Kelly Wisneski is a Program Coordinator at Design for America, supporting DFA studios across the country and working to improve DFA’s data systems. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied Architecture and Computer Science and led her local DFA chapter for 4 years.

Liz Gerber is the Faculty Director and Co-Founder at Design for America. The question that drives her is, “What can I do for others,” and she continues to create communities that innovate collectively to tackle messy and meaningful problems. She is a design professor with a passion for understanding social interactions and practical applications for the technology.

Show Highlights

[01:34] Kelly talks about her early DFA experiences.
[04:25] Advice Kelly gives for studios that are getting off the ground.
[07:27] What Kelly has learned and what her students have learned when they are a part of the project experience.
[10:57] Kelly highlights some DFA project components she enjoyed learning.
[11:57] How Kelly is working with mentors and guiding them through the process.
[15:08] Kelly’s advice if you want to start a DFA studio.
[16:37] Liz tells the DFA launch backstory.
[20:30] The students’ first challenge: helping children with diabetes.
[22:15] Ten years later: Liz reflects on the work of DFA.
[23:40] Anniversary party for DFA and the DFA chapter’s ripple effects.
[29:13] Open questions about the future for DFA.


Liz Gerber at Northwestern University
Liz Gerber on LinkedIn
Kelly Wisneski on LinkedIn
UC San Diego Design Lab
Contact UC San Diego Design Lab
Design for America
Northwestern University
Elon By Design at Elon University
Center for Design Thinking at Elon University
Design for America Washington University

DFA Receives Cooper Hewitt Design Award in 2018

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