Design for America (DFA) and Health for America (HFA) share some obvious similarities at face value. Naturally, when DFA kindly invited HFA to present at its signature event, we expected this alignment on core issues to hold true, even as we peeled back the sticky notes on the surface. And oh were there sticky notes.
Here are the HFA/DFA similarities that came to the forefront during my day with DFA:
We’re in it for America. Let’s start with the obvious. But digging deeper, DFA asks questions to identify fitting projects that apply to HFA’s work: Are there multiple places across the country where the problem occurs? Does it affect a significant number of people? And my favorite: If we had a minute with the President, would we talk about this?
We attract promising young professionals who want to innovate and improve outcomes for others. While HFA fellows are within three years post-bachelor’s degree, we both work with leaders in the earliest stages of their careers who want to do something different and make a difference.
Some organizations use sticky notes. Others create entire displays with them. When I drove up to the event location on Northwestern University’s campus for the first time, I knew we had reached the right building when I could see the Post-its from the street.
We take on bold challenges. We share an interest in focusing on big and daring issues with social significance—from health care to environmental challenges—often working on very short timelines.
We have involved alumni. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the day was when DFA alumni spoke to students over lunch in pecha kucha sessions—aiming for no more than 20 slides, accompanied by 20 seconds of content. We heard from a medical student who supported an art project inviting individuals to walk into shipping containers with a giant Skype screen shared by a stranger, often located in another country. They made truly moving connections across borders by simply answering the question: What would make today a really good day? We also heard from young entrepreneurs whose products respectively serve kids with type 1 diabetes and scoliosis. Through professional and personal design projects, they discovered a love for process that transcends products, and they learned how to use design thinking in everyday life.
We know how to display our design thinking efforts. Similar to how impressed I was with the HFA fellows’ graduation celebration displays showcasing their work, I truly enjoyed experiencing the DFA Project Expo on Improving the Voting Experience. Students invited me to simulate everything from riding in “an Uber” that took me to the polls and educated me on the way, to using their “Match.Congress” app intended to help me understand which candidates align with my values by swiping to answer basic questions about where we stand on issues.
Our supporters are diverse and generous. At the Expo, I met some wonderful Chicagoland community members who took time out of their Sunday schedules to experience students’ ideas, and it similarly reminded me of those who joined HFA’s graduation celebration after business hours to show support.
We have instructors who provide the right educational content to complement hands-on experience. We both offer a curriculum, and DFAers got crash courses in design research, ideation and prototyping, design testing, and pitching.
You can feel the energy at our events. Students presented the results of their design sprint with such pride, right down to giving me an “I voted” sticky note after they walked me through their user experience.
Our user remains at the center of what we do. At the Expo, I heard “when we talked to” on repeat, as it should be.
Thanks, Design for America, for the chance to learn, network, and celebrate our similarities.