Launching and Leading a University-wide Design Thinking Initiative with Danielle Lake — DT101 E31

Welcome to the Design Thinking 101 podcast! I’m Dawan Stanford, your host. Today I’m interviewing Danielle Lake. She is the Director of Design Thinking and Associate Professor at Elon University. As a feminist pragmatist, her scholarship explores the connections and tensions between wicked problems and the movement towards public engagement within higher education. Her current projects focus on exploring the long-term impact of collaborative, place- and project-based learning, design thinking practices, and pedagogies of resilience. Lake is co-editor of the book series, Higher Education and Civic Democratic Engagement: Exploring Impact, with Peter Lang Publishing.

Danielle started her journey by designing her own major; she called “designing life” her philosophy, relating to who we are and what we want to do. In her Ph.D. program, she uncovered “The Field of Wicked Problems,” while working with her Ph.D. advisors Kyle White and Paul Thompson, looking at large-scale systemic crises needing a different approach. She had learned from many experts before discovering design thinking, and she asked herself how she could take her teaching, research, and service, and weave them together.

Today, we explore how design thinking has played out in Danielle’s teaching, such as redesigning student outcomes so that a final product is a practical solution to a current issue. This way of teaching has flipped the classroom for Danielle, and she talks about how this methodology on student learning has been very impactful in her classrooms. Project-based, relational, and on-going learning experiences are critical ingredients for long-term learning. Early on, she faced some challenges: opening up to students, starting small, and finding ways to invite other experts in and allow them to lead with their expertise. Danielle is looking to continue to design courses to give students the time to delve into the work they value.

We’ll also dig into the relationship between design and philosophy, and how they work together to give us a place to start in learning about our environment, being collaborative, and solving societal issues. Danielle also talks about what she hopes to accomplish in her professional relationships moving forward, and we’ll hear a little about Dawan’s own journey in discovering design thinking and the creation of Fluid Hive and The Education Design Lab. Dawan also talks about how he was introduced to Elon by Design, and his process of discovering design thinking was part of the Elon culture, and the importance of having the space to learn with others who are practicing design thinking.

Learn More About Today’s Guest

Danielle Lake, Elon University

Show Highlights

[02:26] Danielle’s journey into design thinking.
[04:06] Working with her advisors in her PhD program.
[05:25] Discovering design thinking and applying this to new curriculum at Grand Valley State University.[07:07] What has design thinking given students and how design thinking can shape curriculum and projects inside the classroom.
[09:17] Danielle’s study of the long-term impact on student learning.
[13:32] Danielle speaks about her early challenges when implementing design thinking in the classroom.
[17:20] Where Danielle is now with her new role at Elon.
[19:32] How Danielle helps her students to launch their work forward and apply their work in the community.
[21:05] Students carving out relationships in society, applying their work from university.
[22:11] Danielle’s perspective on the relationship between design and philosophy.
[25:44] She asks, “How are we going to step in and learn from our mistakes?”
[26:39] What is Danielle hoping to achieve with her professional relationships?
[28:16] Dawan talks about where we want to take design thinking in the Elon University Program.
[30:45] Fluid Hive’s launch in 2008 with design work in higher education.
[32:55] Meeting Lambert and realizing Elon was serious about design thinking.
[39:00] The early days for Dawan at Elon.
[41:45] Placemaking and where is the Center going from here?
[44:58] Danielle reimagining how Elon can play a role in design thinking and building relationships to make institutions more fluid and dynamic.
[47:18] Benefits of partnering with other universities and public sectors to bring value and richness to the learning experience and community.
[50:34] Where you can learn more about Elon and Danielle.


Elon University’s Design Forge conference for 2022 is April 7th – 9th. Explore “How might we better understand, design for, & demonstrate the impact of design thinking pedagogies?” in a “choose your own adventure” style. Attendance can in in-person, or virtual.

Elon By Design, Elon University’s Design Thinking Program

Recent publications by Danielle at Bepress
Service Design Network
Design For America

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