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Design for America: Students + Design Thinking + Community Impact, Part 1 — DT101 E36

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

We start our episode with Eric Richards explaining how he founded Design for America on the UC San Diego campus. Eric was interested in human-led design and, coupled with his interest in social impact, Eric started to search Facebook for others who had a similar desire in utilizing both fields interchangeably. He found a Good Design Lab founded by Don Mormont at UC San Diego. Many of the UC San Diego students who were interested in human-led design had worked at this lab. Eric liked the concept, applied to the university, and was accepted to the program.

Through this lab and Don’s involvement, many design classes were available to students. Eric joined Good Design Lab as a sophomore – the year after the lab was founded – and took the introductory design class. During his journey with Good Design Lab, Eric became part of a very tight-knit community. He was grateful to have found a community that, like Eric, valued using their skill set for social impact.

Andrew Demas discovered DFA by accident while he was a student. He had a friend who was involved in DFA, and one day Andrew visited the Good Design Lab. He fell in love with the process and how the process affects social impact. DFA taught Andrew how to find out who your user is, gaining empathy for the user, and developing a solution for someone else. His new perspective not only changed the way he solved problems in real-world applications, it also changed his view of how he thinks about his curriculum at school, and changed the way he works towards coming up with solutions.

Throughout this time, Andrew was connected to many other students who had a passion for design and for giving back to their community in a sustainable way. He was able to put his newfound skills to use when he and his classmates rebuilt a community center that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Andrew felt that DFA gave him his best college and learning experience in university, and he’s passionate about his alumni board and networking for future leaders of design thinking and to get more corporations involved with DFA.

William Moner is a faculty member who sponsors a DFA Studio at Elon University. Dawan Stanford approached William to mentor and encourage students to engage in the design process. William talks about the process of creating a DFA Studio, using DFA guides, and bringing together the efforts of everyone involved to make DFA happen on campus. He also discusses the challenges of mentoring and recruiting students for DFA.

Our Guests

Eric Richards is starting his last year at UC San Diego, where he’s studying Human-Computer Interaction and Design for Social Innovation. His interest is in design that empowers communities and advances equity and sustainability. He currently leads Design for America at UCSD, and advises undergraduate humanitarian engineering projects on campus.

Andrew Demas is a Senior Managing Consultant in IBM’s Digital Strategy & IX practice and is also the digital account partner for one of IBM’s top telecommunications clients. As an IBM Design Thinking Leader, he runs the New York Design Thinking Chapter. His passion for design started with DFA; he served as President of the Barnard-Columbia Design for America Studio for three years, and he currently sits on the DFA Alumni Board.

William Moner is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Elon University and is the faculty mentor for the Elon Design for America studio. He holds a Ph.D. in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas, and his research focuses on emerging methods of storytelling and interactive media production through open software platforms and systems.

Show Highlights

[01:28] Eric tells his story of how he founded Design for America at UCSD.
[02:54] Eric’s early experience with DFA chapter on campus.
[05:15] How Eric foresees using his skills in his work in the future.
[06:31] How Eric came into and is currently developing his need-finding skills.
[09:09] The value Eric finds in DFA and his DFA experience.
[13:40] Andrew’s transformative experience with DFA on his university campus.
[15:43] Andrew’s most memorable project to date, and the skills Andrew and his classmates employed to this project, and what he learned from DFA.
[20:03] Andrew and his passion project with DFA.
[26:44] Students start to bring DFA to Elon University.
[32:30] Wicked problems in the DFA Studio at Elon University.
[34:28] William’s advice on how to mentor at a DFA Studio.
[38:58] The work of DFA and who William is grateful for at DFA.


UC San Diego Design Lab
Contact UC San Diego Design Lab
Design for America
Elon By Design at Elon University
Center for Design Thinking at Elon University
Bernard-Columbia Design for America
William Moner
Andrew Demas
Eric Richards

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