Tag Archives: DFA

Week 5 Reflection

This week in class we had a group of guest speakers from an RSO on campus called Design For America (DFA) come in and lead a workshop that focused a lot on the idea that we have been emphasizing all semester of having a making mindset. In this workshop, we were given multiple situations and issues and then taken through some steps to come with viable solutions based off of a lot of questions we were coming up with that describes the main problem we want to solve. For instance, my team took on a problem that a visually impaired mother had about not being able to see or locate her children at times. We then came up with the question “How can we help visually impaired parents locate their children in groups of many children or unknown locations?” to represent the problem we are trying to solve more specifically to hone in on potential solutions. After coming up with a focus question to base our ideas off, we began to bounce off each teammates ideas until we finally came up with an idea to which we then had to create a mock prototype out of supplies at hand such as play-doh, pipe cleaners, magnets and some others. From this workshop, my team came up with the idea of a sort of locator jewelry that can be worn by the parent that is visually impaired as well as his/her children that can use some sort of magnetic technology or location system that will sort of pull or put pressure in the direction of the child. We also thought of some potential ear buds that can also be synced to the device to offer audio directions to the child as well. We then used pipe cleaners to form a bracelet to be worn by the parent and a necklace for the child to wear and used magnets as a design for the necklace and bracelet as well as for its attractive properties.  Lastly, we coated the magnets in blue play-doh to make them appear like actual jewelry pieces.


This was a very interesting workshop that helped give us an idea of things we can do to help us come up with an idea for our semester project. Focusing more on a problem to solve then branching out to potential solutions we found is very efficient for our team and got us thinking of possible project ideas. It also helped me learn a lot about DFA, which is a very interesting RSO that I wish I would have known about earlier in my college career and cannot wait to hear what great projects they work on in the future.

Designing to Change the World

This past week we learned about the concept of design thinking. Design for America (DFA) at Illinois, is a student organization part of a  national network of creators and innovators seeking to revolutionize the way college students engage with the world around us. DFA focuses on utilizing the design process to generate ingenious solutions to various challenges in our communities.  Before this workshop, I have heard about the amazing work DFA through my involvement in Illinois Enactus. Design thinking is a powerful tool to that allows an individual to structure and channel their ideas to form a positive impact in the world.

Key Takeaways from DFA Workshop

From the DFA workshop, I learned how the design process is not a linear process. Although it can be separated into two stages, the design process over time is very iterative. It’s broken up into an understanding phase and then a create stage. I learned how imperative it is to first understand in order to design. I was surprised to learn how in-depth the understanding process is.  DFA talked about how you need to go beyond just identifying a problem, you need to immerse yourself to truly understand all of a problems nuances.

What I really enjoyed about the DFA workshop was the hands on activity. It was a neat opportunity to collaborate with my peers to engage in design thinking. The problem we examined was blindness in the urban environment. We chose to design a problem for Jess, a legally blind college student who felt disconnected from many of her peers. First, we identified and made some assumptions about our user. Assumptions like “Jess knows how to navigate her surroundings as a legally blind individual” helped us begin the process of attempting to understand our user. From there, we made additional assumptions about how Jess hears, sees, and feels. I thought the most beneficial part of this process was when we started to create “How Can We” statements. This allowed us to narrow our focus from broad to specific. Ultimately, my group and I came up with the idea of a “smart cover” for blind walking sticks. Key features we incorporated into our idea was Bluetooth and GPS functionality, and rubber material so that it could be a one size fit all attachment.

When reflecting on the workshop led by DFA, I was reminded about Tim Brown’s, IDEO’s CEO, approach to design thinking. Brown discusses how close observation combined with brainstorming and rapid prototyping can streamline information shifts and produce more efficient an effective results. I noticed that the iterative process to come up with an end product idea required much collaboration and flexibility in thought. Furthermore, it was important to set time limits for each stage and to not get caught up in one part of the process for too long.

Other Design Thinking Resources

Other resources I examined this week associated with Design thinking was a podcast published by McKinsey titled The power of design thinking and a Ted Talk given by Joe Gebbia, the founder of Airbnb. In the McKinsey podcast, Hugo Sarrazin, a McKinsey director and the digital vice president of McKinsey Digital Labs talk about the impact of design and how it can drive positive change within an organization. Joe Gebbia’s Ted Talk explores how the design process can be tailored to address specific  issues. Gebbia discusses how he founded Airbnb with the principle of trust in mind. This principle led him to tailor the design process to design for trust, resulting in the successful creation and expansion of Airbnb. The Ted Talk and McKinsey podcast are listed below. I am excited to continue using this framework as my team and I finalize our project idea.



Learning the Design Process

Design for America Overview

Hello! This past week our class was able to learn the Design Process from our University of Illinois peers at Design for America (DFA). “Design for America is an idea incubator, a motivated community, and a way of approaching complicated challenges. DFA shapes the next generation of social innovators” (http://designforamerica.com/). The individuals representing DFA were very knowledgeable in guiding us through the process and offering great insight. I have a good friend who has worked closely with DFA; this relationship has actually resulted in a successful startup company: Therapalz. Check out the company’s website here: http://www.therapalz.com/. Essentially, Therapalz creates smart therapeutic companion animals for patients with Alzheimer’s. These customizable animals have realistic heartbeats, lifelike sounds, and calming vibrations to provide additional comfort for patients working through this challenging disease. Please keep this success story in mind as I guide you through the Design Process we learned from DFA because it gives a strong indication about how perseverance through this process can produce great results.


The Design Process

The stages of this process are: Identify, Immerse, Reframe, Ideate, Build, and Test. Identifying involves simply observing or researching a challenge. Once it is identified, we must immerse ourselves into learning every piece of information about the challenge. Then we move into the reframe stage which is where the problem is further narrowed down through the insights we have gained through the previous two steps. Once we understand the specific challenge, we then begin creating in the ideate stage. This means writing down each and every possible solution to the problem. We then begin building prototypes based off of these potential solutions. None of these prototypes should be considered final because they should be built up, torn apart, and iterated to better model a viable solution to the challenge. Finally, we test the model with the end-users. We will go back and forth between building and testing until a final solution is pinpointed.

We were able to go through this process by analyzing a case involving an individual named Brian. Brian is an aspiring entrepreneur in the Austin area who faces challenges when navigating the city due to being blind. My team was able to simulate the Design Process by going through each of the steps with a goal of figuring out the best plan for Brian. We came up with the idea of helping Brian navigate by teaching him with two of his senses other than sight: touching and hearing. This would be accomplished by giving Brian a 3D-printed map of his route with depth features indicating roads, buildings, turns, etc. along the path. The 3D-printed object would allow him to become comfortable with his route before having to take it; his sense of touch will give him further confidence in memorizing the path. Second, we would leverage his sense of hearing to guide him step-by-step in real-time while he is walking his route. This will be aided by his phone-based GPS and headphones. Ultimately, we believe Brian will gain much more comfort and confidence through leveraging two of his stronger senses and the technology we designed.


Wrap up & Thank you

Overall, learning the Design Process helped bridge the gap between the real-world challenges that our class has been identifying and the skills we have learned in regard to 3D printing. Prior to this session, we did not have a specific path to follow when connecting our challenges to 3D printing (we simply 3D-printed without much end-user consideration/prototyping in mind). Now, we have the skills necessary to Identify, Immerse, Reframe, Ideate, Build, and Test our ideas. As evident in Therapalz, a challenge was identified, the Design Process was leveraged, and now patients with Alzheimer’s are living more comfortable lives (see video below). I am excited to use this framework to get started on our class’s semester project with my teammates. Thank you for taking the time to read my post this week.


-Scott Provenzano