Yale Design For America Sets Its Agenda For The Year

Tennis for the visually impaired, improving your wait at the airport, a maker space for kids and two environmental efforts are among the projects that the Yale chapter of Design for America (DFA) has set out for itself this year.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but senior Doo Lee said the group follows a meticulous process. 

"We create innovative solutions to local problems and challenges on a slew of issues – from sustainability to medical care to campus safety - using a particular 'design process,’” said Lee, one of DFA’s studio leads. The organization’s other studio leads are Charlotte Smith and Jessica Alzamora, a fellow at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID), where the group meets and does much of its work. 

Last year, the roughly 25 members of DFA worked on included collaborating with local health and charity organizations to maximize their efficiency. 

Lee said the group follows the design process created by the national organization, which was founded in 2009 at Northwestern University with the goal of bringing interdisciplinary student teams together to develop projects with a positive social impact. The group members first identify a problem – either on campus, the city, or internationally – and then brainstorm solutions. 

"Often, these initial ideas are meant to be fun and creative,” Lee said. "We then bring those ideas back down to earth using concrete engineering and industry principles. We create prototypes of our solution, which may involve creating an actual physical device or product or creating some non-tactile solution."

Then, during "design thinking workshops,” the proposed solutions are discussed and go through various stages of testing.

Each year, the group decides on a handful of projects to focus on, with members divided into groups, each focusing on one. This year, they’re working on the following:

  • Green Technology in the Third World: DFA will work with a non-profit organization in Haiti to incorporate sustainable technology in new buildings being constructed there, such as vertical farming along building sides.
  • Green Engineering in New Haven: Similar to the project above, but locally based.
  • Tennis for the Blind: DFA will work with Tennis SERVES, a non-profit organization that teaches tennis to the blind, on a new tennis ball design.
  • Maker Space for Kids: DFA will create a portable STEM space/product that children can play/work in, similar to Yale's CEID.
  • Improving the Airport Experience: This project will focus on improving various aspects of air travel, such as airport boredom during layovers, lack of food and activity options. 

In addition to working on these projects, the group holds various workshops during the year. Last month, it hosted a group of students from New Haven middle schools. The students were given the task of redesigning safety gear, from helmets to shin guards.