Rice Design for America
Design Innovation for Social Good

Studio Updates

Mid-Semester Review

DFA @ Rice has had an exciting semester so far. We recently held our Mid-Semester on March 3rd, bringing studio members, community partners, and friends & family together for presentations of teams' progress thus far.


Teams presented on their current progress, timeline, and vision for their projects. Armed with beautiful presentations, teams communicated their ideas to a full audience in search of insights and constructive feedback regarding their approach. The studio also discussed the current state of our ongoing community-wide project, which involves re-designing the Servery dish-drop areas at campus eateries. Teams who presented this semester included: Chapstick, the Design Journal, Hermann Park Sustainability, Homelessness in Houston, the Montrose Center collaboration, Solar Studios, and Writing Utensil. Stay up to date with this semester's teams at dfa.rice.eduwhere we have been posting updates on the design process. 


If you're interested in learning more about what DFA @ Rice teams for this semester are working on, read our previous blog post here. We're thrilled to see how teams finish out their projects in the next month. Thanks for reading!

Design Sprint (Spring 2018)

The Design for America studio at Rice is back in session for 2018! We kicked off the Spring semester with a design sprint hosted at the Liu Idea Lab, a new entrepreneurship and collaboration center on campus.

A design sprint walks through steps of the DFA design process (namely: Identify, Immerse, Reframe, Ideate, and Build), and participants are limited to just two hours to complete their work. The goal is to better grasp the design process in a short, intensive session. The sprint emphasizes function over beauty, iterating quickly, and translating your ideas into prototypes on a short deadline.

We were excited to see a great mix of both newcomers and experienced Design for America studio members –– it was a blast.

This design sprint was focused on the widespread issue of campus bike theft.

The event started off with the Identify stage. Teams identified potential users as undergraduate, graduate, and faculty members of Rice. Problem spaces included awareness and preventative measures, physical attachments to bikes, more widespread availability of bike racks, and methods of finding stolen bikes.


After conducting thorough research regarding the problem space, teams came away with many excellent insights about bike safety. Here are a few:

  • Students often do not register bikes with RUPD (campus police) because it takes too much time, they don’t know how, they aren’t incentivized to do so, or they do not care to reach out to RUPD regarding registration details.
  • The idea of surveillance is a significant deterrent against bike theft.

  • Students would purchase locks if they were more convenient to obtain.

  • You cannot protect every valuable part of a bike with a single U-lock. It must be accompanied by a chain lock to prevent theft effectively.

  • Some students might not have enough time to lock their bikes, especially if locking the bike is a very involved process.

  • Bike thieves at Rice are likely not to be students or employees.

  • Only 2.4% of stolen bikes are recovered. It is either an impossible or tedious process, that is quickly considered “not worth it”. Proof of purchase is also necessary to recover the bike from the police.

  • Individuals often fail to lock their bikes because bike racks are over capacity.

  • Lack of publicity and awareness about the issue lead to the perception that bike theft is not a widespread issue.

  • Zipcodes 77004 and 77006 (close to Rice) are the regions of Houston most susceptible to bike theft.

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By the end of the sprint, many teams came away with well-developed solutions to move forwards with. These included:

  • Bike racks with built-in chain locks which use 3-digit combinations to unlock the bike. Racks would have infographics re: how to lock the bike

  • An RUPD liaison position within each college who acts as a resource for students to query about bike registration, assist those in need of help, educate on proper bike safety procedures, answer questions students may not feel comfortable talking to the police about directly, and serve as a link between the college’s student body and RUPD.

  • Increased capacity / availability of bike racks around campus.

  • Innovative stickers with QR codes / hyperlinks leading to a website which demonstrates bike theft statistics, and promotion of these stickers at Beer Bike.


We’re happy to share that both newcomers and DFA members really enjoyed the event. Here's some feedback we received from participants:

It was really great! Collaborative, interesting, and fun!
My overall experience at the DFA@Rice event was incredible. It only increased my desire to be a part of the organization.
WE LOVE DFA; did not know how much could be accomplished in two hours; cool learning about design process.

The sprint was an incredible way to kick off the spring semester. We hope to see a full crowd at our first Studio session next weekend. Go DFA!

Rice Design for America
Community Studio

This semester, our studio is also working on a community-wide project. There is a common frustration shared across the student body and employees that the dish-drop area across campus serveries is wildly disorganized. In order to decrease commotion, wait times, and to improve ease-of use, our studio – with the assistance of interested Rice students and community partners – are staging 8 successive studio sessions over the course of the semester to work intensively on each part of the design process.

Two weeks ago, students convened for an Open Studio to practice interviewing for the Immerse stage of this community-wide project. They paired off into groups and observed common behaviors and inefficiencies. They proceeded to interview both students and Housing & Dining staff to get a better understanding of the problem space.

Dish drop areas get emptied out very frequently during meal times as employees rotate to each dish disposal area. During this time, the cart for loading dishes blocks an already small entryway.
Some students go through the dish drop backwards and in the wrong order, like going backwards in a buffet line. These students end up disrupting the current flow through the dish drop.
Even if the layout in a dish drop space is correctly sequenced, the small opening to get both in and out is enough to cause congestion problems.

With some excellent insights, the studio is prepared to convene this weekend to REFRAME the problem and approach a solution inspired by valuable user stories.

DFA Rice is back and better than ever! We hope to share more with you in the coming weeks.


Spring 2018 Projects!

DFA Rice is back in session for the spring semester, with 13 new faces and 7 exciting new projects. Let’s introduce our active projects for the next few months:

  • Design Journal: There is no editorial journal for the human-centered design ideas produced by students. A formal publication sourcing content from DFA chapters and design-interested undergraduate students across the nation would bring countless ideas to light. This team will make progress on this vision, working on the content, layout, and representation of this journal.

  • Hermann Park Conservancy Sustainability: Neighboring Rice is one of Houston’s largest urban parks, enjoyed by more than 6 million visitors per year. The Conservancy’s responsibility over the park has grown to include reforestation and maintenance of the grounds, programs to attract volunteers, and management of the various attractions such as the Railroad, pedal boats, food services, and facility rentals. This team will develop a tool to communicate sustainability and resiliency practices to its patrons and visitors.

  • Rehousing LGBTQ+ Homeless Youth: LGBTQ+ homeless youths are given the bare necessities to survive in their apartments. Rooms are barely furnished, and do not come close to resembling a home. These youths may also lack a stable support system and do not find themselves in an environment that affirms their identities. Partnering with the Montrose Center, this DFA team will attempt to develop a solution implemented every 18 months to rehouse previously homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

  • Solar Studios Environmental Installation: The Solar Studios is a recently-built solar powered lab & exhibition space by Lina Dib located at Rice. Artists and researchers at the Solar Studios perform experiments in sustainability, art, and technology. Houston recently experienced groundbreaking rainfall, and record water consumption. This team will create an experience that allows the Rice community and campus visitors to track their own water consumption habits.

  • Writing Utensil for Individuals with Hand Disabilities: Individuals with motor-control related disabilities in their hands many find it difficult to write using a pen or pencil. This affects their ability to participate in the workforce, their education, and daily tasks. This DFA team envisions a way for those affected to use a writing instrument that bypasses fingers.

  • Chapstick Manipulation Device: Though common chapstick prevents and heals chapped lips, the containers are hard to use and apply because they require fine motor control. Sometimes the elderly have arthritis or poor coordination and cannot manipulate the cap and the twist function of the chapstick. Other times it is because the chapstick gets lost and lanyards cannot be used because they are strangling hazards. This DFA team strives to create a cheap and manipulatable chapstick enclosure.

  • Tools for Homeless Individuals to Improve Hygiene: The problem of homelessness is prevalent in Houston, especially exacerbated by displacement from Hurricane Harvey. Homeless individuals face a series of daily challenges beyond simply finding a home. Homeless individuals lack access to running water and resources that assist with maintaining hygiene. This team seeks to empower homeless individuals to access water resources and capitalize on them.

These projects strongly echo our studio’s principles of inclusivity and collaboration. Our team is psyched to execute on our visions for the semester.


DFA Final Semester Review

Here at the DFA, the semester is coming an end and on May 2, the Rice studio held their final semester review where each team showcased their accomplishments during the year. Team “Kidhabilitation” showcased their final product and gave a presentation regarding their accomplishments and goals going forward!

The second team, “Way Home” showcased both their digital and physical maps made to help the Houston homeless population. The digital map was improved greatly in terms of usability now allowing people to quickly find their way to resources around Houston. The physical map includes twenty six resources and is printer friendly to allow a greater distribution to the homeless population. We wish both teams best of luck with their future endeavors! Get ready for even bigger and better involvement of DFA at Rice next year!

DFA Rice Presents: The Big D(esign) Challenge!

Design For America Rice proudly presents The Big Design Challenge aka THE BIG D.


  • Meet/mingle with other creativity-driven students
  • Learn about the DFA design process (human-centered design) and how to apply it to solve community issues
  • Work with a team against other teams to attack the Design Challenge (Face the D!)
  • KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr. Kirsten Ostherr (media scholar, design thinker, intriguingly innovative individual)
  • Pitch workshop presented by SPOCO

Finish the school year strong by participating for a chance to win cash and raffle prizes! All while learning about the human-centered design, listening to a keynote speaker, learning from SpoCo, and having fun.

For more information and to RSVP, go to:

Rice Design for America
2014 Complete Conference

On March 21-22, 2014, Rice’s Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) hosted the 2014 Complete conference. This conference is a two day program, focused on the best methods for professional development for engineers early on in their careers. The conference featured industry leaders alongside students from twenty eight top universities.

The second day of the conference featured a workshop in the Duncan commons hosted by Giselle from DFA National and Rice DFA was there to help host and facilitate the event! Giselle kicked off the event by giving an overview of Design for America and describing the approach used to working on local and social problems which includes talking directly to people, empathizing with their needs, and creating small impact which slowly leads to making a huge impact!

Current members of Rice DFA helped Giselle teach the crowd of 200 engineers the human centered design allowing them to think outside the box while offering creative examples. The audience was able to design the engineering leadership experience of the future, while keeping the needs of others in mind using a three step process. This process included the three steps used at Design for America which include understanding, creating, and implementing. Overall, the audience left with phenomenal ideas that can be implemented to improve the engineering experience of the future!

Rice Design for America
DFA Mid-Semester Review

On March 21, 2014, Design for America at Rice hosted its spring mid-semester review and it was a huge success! DFA was honored to have Giselle from DFA National join in help leading the review. The review began with each of the two teams giving a presentation updating the rest of the DFA members on their progress, timeline, and their final vision for their projects. The first team kicked off the review by presenting a printed copy of their map as well as showcasing their online map. However they are still in the process in getting feedback to make both versions of the maps as effective as possible as well as correctly and clearly displaying the information. The second team, who self proclaimed themselves, kidhabilitation, continued the review by presenting a rough prototype of their safety harness to help stabilize physically disabled children when using bathroom assistive devices. Exciting things are in the future for this team!

After a quick break, Giselle led a series of workshops to help the teams further develop and execute their ideas in an effective way. The workshops included giving the students a limited supply of materials and having the students come up with ways to solve the issues in creative ways always keeping in mind the human centered design portion. Giselle left the students equipped with the necessary resources and tools to continue working on their individual projects with new ideas and making the greatest impact. Stay tuned for updates on the individual teams!

Rice Design for America
A New Year for Design for America


With the start of a new year, Design for America is ready to get back to work, accomplish their many goals, and make an impact! Today Design for America held their first open studio of the semester and things are looking great! DFA has two main teams this semester  looking to make an impact to both the homeless population and the physically disabled population. The first team is looking to create a map which would facilitate the homeless population’s access to resources. The team is working on two versions of the map; a printed version and a digital version which would be found around most of the homeless shelters in Houston. The second team is working to make a versatile,cheap, and safe device that would help fit the needs of the physically and mentally disabled children population at the medical center. Throughout this semester, DFA will also host various social events, so be on the lookout for that!

Stay tuned for more updates and how to get involved with Design for America!

Rice Design for America
DFA Retreat Update

This weekend, Design for America had their first retreat in the OEDK. The three project teams are working on the following projects:

Team 1: The team is involved in creating a simplified map for homeless people to find nearby resources. They are in touch with homeless shelters in Houston, identifying the real needs of the community.

Team 2: The team is working on creating a physical rehabilitation device for mentally and physically disabled children. They are in contact with Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital, in order to identify the needs of disabled children.

Team 3: The team is designing a pen/wristband device that can easily measure glucose levels in diabetes patients, ensuring that it is less conspicuous and painful than the procedures now in place.

Right now, all three teams are still in the ideation/designing process; however, in the next few weeks, the teams will beginning their first prototypes, tackling the most difficult elements of their process first.

Rice Design for America
Design for America Begins at Rice

We would like to welcome the 28 new members to Design for America at Rice University! Today we had our first open studio during which the three project teams began to realize their mission statements. This year Design for America at Rice will be led by three co-founders, Sonia Garcia, Katharine Li, and Margaret Watkins. 

The open studio kicked off with some ice-breakers so that everyone could get to know each other. The group then split into their individual teams to begin working on their team charters identifying their experiences in design, their team dynamics, goals, and strengths and weaknesses. During this time the teams used colorful sticky notes to write down any creative ideas that sparked!

The teams will continue meeting weekly and open studios will take place bimonthly. The team will be holding various Rice fundraisers including a memorable movie night so be on the look-out for that! We look forward to an exciting year and making DFA at Rice a long-term well known program!


Rice Design for America
Warming Up to Change

Your DFA representatives from Rice are getting to meet some amazing people over here at the Leadership Studio! Among the great speakers, one of the highlights was Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan. This non-profit organization started out in Detroit with a single university student (Veronika) on a mission to help her local homeless community. Over the course of two years, she went from trying to help keep individuals warm by sewing a coat together, to running an organization that builds a better life for those trapped by homelessness though providing jobs and hiring women in shelters to construct waterproof coats made of recycled material that also transform into sleeping bags for others who are homeless at no cost to them.

Veronika’s story and dedication is an amazing example of the potential impact that human-centered design can have. She serves as a great reminder to young students by proving through her own accomplishments that you can make a significant impact and turn your visions into reality with the right amount of dedication and perseverance.

Rice Design for America
Joining the DFAmily

We’re so proud to announce that after a year of hard work and dedication, Rice University has been accepted by Design for America (DFA) as an official studio! As one of the newest members of the DFAmily, we have been integrated into an amazing nationwide network that includes studios from universities like Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, UCLA, and Columbia, to name a few.

The founders of the Rice Studio are currently heading out to Chicago, IL to participate in a national DFA Leadership Studio Conference located in the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University. Throughout the week, they will undergo a series of training sessions regarding studio management and structure, participate in several design-intensive workshops, network with and listen to some of the greatest thinkers, doers, entrepreneurs, and idealists in the country, and actively engage in the design process by taking on a mini-project to combat urban flooding.

Stay tuned to find out how everything went, and get ready to have a spectacular Design for America studio at Rice this fall!

Rice Design for America