Problem solvers

Design Spotlight spring 2018.

Problem solvers

Members of Design for America are designing innovations for social good—and making a difference in the neighborhood.

Members of Design for America have found plenty to improve upon in and
around University Circle. They helped the Ronald McDonald House organize its
donations using spreadsheets, streamlined the recycling process at a campus
café, and developed a pedometer that encourages the elderly to use their

But as the local studio begins its sixth year, DFA members say they’re ready to
make a broader impact in Greater Cleveland. The volunteer group—made up of
students from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art-
– is hoping to attract more off-campus community groups and causes in need of
change agents.

“We identify problems and try to design solutions,” said Jasmine Lee, the studio
lead for the CWRU-CIA chapter of Design for America. “We bring students from
diverse backgrounds to every project. We’re donating our time because we want
to make an impact.”

The chapter numbers about 50 students from CWRU and CIA. Engineering
students make up the largest cohort. But Lee, a senior majoring in biology and
psychology, does not feel out of place. Her teammates are aspiring scientists,
artists, entrepreneurs, business managers and industrial designers.

They share a belief in innovation and a willingness to help. Sometimes, that’s

The grassroots network began in 2009 at Northwestern University, where
students were challenged to use design thinking to solve real-world problems.
DFA chapters, or studios, spread to dozens of other campuses and emerged at
CWRU in 2012.

Lee was walking through the Spring Student Activity Fair her freshman year, she
recalled, when someone from the DFA table called out to her. “What do you think
about designing for social good?”


“I was hooked right way,” she said. “I’m a biology major. But I really wanted to be
creative and help people. This club is perfect for me.”

On her first project, she and teammates cooked up a meal at the nearby Ronald
McDonald House, then helped the non-profit better organize its donations and
contributions. They set up an Excel spreadsheet on an iPad and showed staff how
to use it.

“Sometimes it’s a simple solution,” Lee said, smiling humbly.

A more recent project tapped both design skill and empathy. A DFA team worked
with staff from Medline Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of medical
supplies, to address the problem of elderly persons not using their walkers as
often as they should.

Working with a local focus group of seniors, the students identified a stigma issue.
“They don’t want to start using it until they see other people using it,” Lee said.
“There’s a huge emotional component.”

The solution? The students devised a pedometer for walkers, a device that allows
walker-users to count their steps, set goals, and engage in friendly competition.

They called their device the “Geri-active.” Medline has said it is pursuing a patent.

“We start small but think big,” Lee said.

“We identify problems and try to design solutions. We bring students from diverse backgrounds to every project. We’re donating our time because we want to make an impact.”

Jasmine Lee

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