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This project was submitted by an applicant to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

Design for America

Our economic and social prosperity depends on innovation. Innovative work is completed by innovators who have the confidence and domain expertise to tackle complex ill-structured challenges. Government and industry rely on undergraduate institutions to supply a pipeline of innovators into the workforce, yet few opportunities exist in undergraduate curriculum where the necessary practice is married with guidance to foster these skills. Design for America (DFA) is one solution to meet this demand.

DFA is an award-winning nationwide network of extracurricular student-led design studios anchored in colleges universities. Interdisciplinary student teams work with community partners to solve local problems, benefiting both the local communities and the students. As an organization, DFA mentors students in the human-centered design (HCD) process that provides tools to identify real problems and create lasting, innovative solutions. This model of learning is based on an empirically validated model developed by DFA faculty founders called Extracurricular Design Based Learning (Gerber, Olson & Komarek, 2011). The success of DFA relies on effectively following the design process and collaborating with others.

For example, a DFA team recently partnered with a local hospital to reduce hospital-acquired infections by improving hand hygiene compliance. This team conducted user research, generated ideas with stakeholders and professional mentors, and iteratively tested their prototypes in the hospital; they now have a pending patent and a sought-after product.



We seek to teach DFA’s 600+ members this model by creating a badge system aligned with DFA’s core values: look locally, create fervently, and act fearlessly to tackle local and social challenges. Badges given for successfully and effectively executed design aligned with DFA values, as well as for collaboration and sharing within the design community, can promote learning to solve important, locally-minded problems. The badge system would guide and motivate students to create, share, and reflect on great projects aligned with these values. It would also foster a greater level of expertise in HCD and more successful projects offering feasible solutions to local problems.

The values of the DFA community support and reinforce successful practice:

Look locally - members examine the world around them, both to find problems and gain insights to innovate solutions. Observing, empathizing with users, and deriving key insights is valued.

Create fervently - members generate a large number of ideas, mock-up prototypes and test ideas. Generating a large number of ideas and testing solutions is valued.

Act fearlessly - members act upon their ideas and creations, and strive to put them into practice by applying for grants, fellowships, and patents. Daring to follow through on their ideas and projects is valued.

Badges would be awarded to students to support actions and aspects of projects aligned with these values:

Look Locally

  • Identifying daring challenges in students’ communities that are prevalent across the US
  • Gaining access to and observing specific users through community partnerships
  • Gaining critical insights from connecting with users

Create Fervently

  • Exploring a myriad of solutions
  • Rapidly creating and testing mock ups
  • Refining concepts to looks-like or works-like prototypes

Act Fearlessly

  • Searching for and gaining funding to create their design
  • Creating business models
  • Creating and executing a plan, and developing a start-up

DFA has existing rubrics, guiding principles, and criteria for project development that can be used for alignment and integration between DFA's values and the forthcoming badge system.

The aim of this project is to construct a badge- and design education-friendly knowledge management platform where these badges could be administered by our organization. This web-based platform would serve as a way for participants to log project progress, as well as a way to share stories and learn from other, knowledgeable members of the DFA community. Upon completion of certain milestones achieved during the design process, learners will be bestowed badges recognizing their progress and completion of goals.

As well being a signpost for skills and dispositions learned for effective HCD, we believe a badge system has the potential to motivate project teams to share their learning and foster reflection on projects by highlighting areas of excellent performance. Specific goals and well-defined challenges encourage legitimate participation and motivated performance when compared with a more free-formed approach to problem solving (Locke & Latham, 1990); for this reason, a badge system can guide and motivate students along the way to completing life-changing designs.

Furthermore, because collaboration and storytelling are both encouraged by DFA and professional studios and are essential to effective real-world design, a badge system that promotes this behavior is critical as well. Students are highly motivated to work on projects, but do not always see the value in compiling stories and insights from their projects in a form that can be quickly understood by others. Doing so online would facilitate greater learning between DFA studios across the US. Participation and sharing in online communities is bolstered when participants are made aware of the benefit that their contributions have to themselves and to others (Beenen et al., 2004; Karau & Williams, 1993); a badge system for storytelling or logging project milestones implemented on DFA’s knowledge management platform can encourage students to share more once it is apparent how beneficial their contributions are.

Badges should have a professional look and tone to them, fitting with the DFA aesthetic. A high caliber set of badges can play an important role helping to form and motivate the next generation of innovators.


Beenen, G., Ling, K., Wang, X., Chang, K., Frankowski, D., Resnick, P., & Kraut, R.E. (2004) Using social psychology to motivate contributions to online communities, Proceedings of ACM CSCW 2004 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Chicago, IL,

Gerber, E., Olson, J., & Komarek, R. (2011). Extracurricular design-based learning: Preparing students for careers in innovation. International Journal of Engineering Education (Forthcoming).

Karau, S., & K. Williams. (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(4), 681-706.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.






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