September 17, 2016 – Post-it notes plaster the walls and whiteboards of a conference room at MatchBOX Coworking Studio, where students are busy working on a Saturday morning. They are members of Purdue University’s Design for America Chapter, a club dedicated to solving problems and making a difference. Today, they are kicking off the school year with a design sprint; a crash course in using the problem solving techniques that they will employ throughout the school year. Club members will have eight hours to research, brainstorm, and come up with solution for this year’s issue: bicyclist and pedestrian safety on campus.

A national program aimed at combining collaboration, innovation, leadership, and creativity, Design for America, known fondly as DFA, allows students to design for social good. Jesse Palma, a sophomore studying Industrial Design, started Purdue’s Design for America chapter last year. He learned about Design for America online and recruited fellow students Nick Macke, Monica Chanda, and Julia Hatfield to start a chapter here at Purdue. Design for America is different from other clubs. When explaining why they started the club, Nick said “at DFA we actually go solve the problems ourselves”. “What really stood out to me”, said Jesse, “is being multi-disciplinary – different majors coming together to solve a problem”. The founders have big goals for their club – “I think it would actually be very cool to have a start-up” offered Monica. “Establishing a foundation”, stated Julia, is something else the club is working towards. However, “giving back to the community – giving them more knowledge about what design can do” said Jesse, is the ultimate goal.

Starting at 10:00am on Saturday, the board members led their new recruits through eight hours of problem-solving. The members divided into five teams, and first focused on identifying the specific issues of bicycle and pedestrian safety plaguing Purdue’s campus. Next, they immersed themselves in the problem by researching the topic online and interviewing Purdue students. Some interesting facts that came up included the statistics “70% of pedestrians killed in 2014 were males” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and “The total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year” (National Safety Council). After an intense research session, the team reframed the problem by narrowing down what question they wanted to answer. Once this was complete, each team began the process of ideating – essentially attempting to come up with 100+ ideas in just several minutes. Even the wildest ideas were written down, from Segway cops to having everyone ride around on Razor scooters. Picking their best ideas, each team moved on to building a prototype of what their solution would look like. Solutions ranged from dividers between the bike paths and sidewalks, new and improved intersections to bike paths that illuminate at night when in use and an app that outlines all of Purdue’s bike paths. At the end of the day, DFA’s 2016 Design Sprint came to a close. We can’t wait to see what they accomplish this year.

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