Design for America

Design for America (DFA) at Duke is an extracurricular club, affiliated with the national DFA network. The goal of DFA is to teach students to apply the human-centered design process to create solutions to issues with a social impact. Teams of interdisciplinary students work together on a design project with a nonprofit community partner. As a national organization, DFA has recently received the 2018 Cooper Hewitt Award for Corporate & Institutional Achievement.

The human-centered design process we use as part of DFA

Freshman Year – General Body Member

I have been a member of DFA at Duke for all 4 years of my college career. During my first year, I worked on two different semester long projects as a general body member … both of which ended without a final product and with my team dynamic fallen apart.

My first year with DFA was a good experience learning to work with groups and learning pitfalls to avoid in future projects. The first issue was there was no strong leadership in my teams; both teams were composed of first-time DFA members who had not been through the process, and thus as a team we had nobody to guide us through the steps of the design process. The second issue (which arises every semester) was momentum. A project with strong momentum, strong interest, dedicated team members will result in a successful project.

Even though I was demoralized after this first year, I decided to stick with the club because I saw the strengths and potential impact of a club dedicated to designing social solutions. I decided to use what I learned from my first year failures and apply them as a team lead.

Sophomore Year – Team Lead

During my second year with DFA, I co-led a team with my friend, Mary. Our team had great success with our year-long project. We decided to pursue the problem of “hospital no-shows.” Patients who make medical appointments but do not show up to the them cost the healthcare industry about $150 billion dollars annually. Through our research, we found that this problem was especially prevalent in the Durham community due to transportation islands – residents make appointments but are unable to reach the medical center.

The black lines are public transport routes. The colored markers are hospitals and clinics. The purple patches are areas where residents are elderly and do not have access to reliable transportation, hence the name “transportation islands.” (click image for link to the original source of this image)

We worked with a community partner, A Helping Hand. They are a local nonprofit organization that provides companionship and transportation services to elderly citizens in the Durham area. They have a lot of experience working to help their clients get to their medical appointments, and understand many of the issues we were trying to address.

We conducted dozens of interviews with patients, volunteer drivers, A Helping Hand staff members, hospitals, caretakers, etc. One of the fundamental key insights that we noticed is that we could help A Helping Hand improve their volunteer-client efficiency. The current management software that A Helping Hand used was clunky. Thus we created a simply Google Scripts program to streamline this process.

We created a Google Scripts program. A client calls A Helping Hand. The staff at A Helping Hand enter the client’s medical appointment information into a Google Form.

The program compiles these appointments and puts them onto a Google Calendar. This calendar is embedded into every email A Helping Hand sends out to the volunteers.

The volunteers receive an email, and they can see who needs help when and where. They are then able to sign up to help transport the clients to their medical appointment.

Junior Year – Project Manager

For the first half of junior year, I was studying abroad and unable to contribute to the DFA club at Duke. When I returned the following semester, scheduling and logistical conflicts prevented me from participating on a design team. Instead I helped to facilitate teams as a project manager. The role of the project manager in DFA is to provide guidance to the team leads and resources to the team members so that they are better able to move forward with their projects. In addition to checking in with teams, I also helped to plan general body meeting activities; this includes things like inviting speakers, planning warm-up exercises, creating lesson plans to teach design concepts, etc.

Senior Year – Studio Lead

In my final year, I was a studio lead for DFA Duke. In this role, I was responsible for coordinating logistics with Duke and with DFA Nationals. This includes things like applying for funding, presenting projects, planning general body meetings, recruiting new members, communicating with DFA Nationals, and other tasks necessary to keep DFA an active club on campus.