A Model for Design Education: Leadership Studio

  • A Model for Design Education: Leadership Studio
  • To become great leaders, people need real-world, hands-on practice. Full-time students, however, are often limited to practicing their skills on hypothetical projects in the classroom.

    Leadership Studio, established by Design for America at Northwestern University in 2011, is an intensive crash course in design basics, teaching students the strategies they need to develop their own studios and practice human-centered design in their local communities.

    Leadership Studio is more than just learning; it’s building — building skills, community, sensibilities, and solutions that will last a lifetime.

    Students from different disciplines, universities, and experience levels form collaborative teams. What they have in common is the goal to immerse in and improve the lives of those experiencing local, social issues. Past Leadership Studio topics worked with childhood asthma, elderly inclusion, urban flooding, down syndrome, breast cancer, voting rights, and urban accessibility. 

    Unafraid to confront intimidating projects like these in just a short weekend, Design for America students go home with the curiosity and skills needed to implement long-term change in hundreds of communities, nationwide. Indeed, what started with nineteen students from eight universities has grown to become more than two-hundred students, community members, and mentors from more than thirty-three universities.

    The training doesn’t end there. After shaking hands with one another in Illinois, the momentum continues through the next 12 months with conference calls and an active online community that shares resources, instigates discussion, and provides feedback. These touch-points keep DFA members focused, excited, well-informed, and pushed to do their best. Leadership Studio has proven an effective way to scale nationally and in 2013 was awarded the Core 77 Design Award for Design Education and Design for Social Impact.
  • “It’s a privilege to be here, and I am elated that somebody cares about individuals with disabilities, 
    and cares enough to represent us.”
    — Steve Aoyagi, Member, American Legion Evanston Post 42  

    “DFA is demonstrating how they are achieving sound scalability and showing strong commitment to sustain and build on the leadership lessons that participation in the program affords students.”
    — 2013 Core 77 Awards Committee

    “Being at Leadership Studio with people who were so passionate about creating change and 
    so supportive of others is something I’ll never forget.”
    — Hannah Hunter, Legislative Assistant, Michigan State Senate, DFA Alum

    “The DFA team thought strategically about learning outcomes and created a seamless 
    student design challenge experience. We need more programs like that.”
    — Dawna Leggett, Senior Social Researcher, Design Impact, Mentor

    “Innovative ideas poured out at Leadership Studio from DFAers around the nation. 
    Putting these unique individuals together to create social good is what makes 
    DFA such an amazing organization, resource, and learning experience.”
    — Cindy Cheung, Design and Cognitive Science ‘19, DFA UC Davis