Elon celebrates Dawan Stanford, founding director of Elon By Design, and prepares for the third annual Design Forge this March.
Dawan Stanford, founding director of Elon By Design, came to the world of design through a bit of a circuitous route, earning a bachelor’s in business and finishing law school before realizing his true passion was in creating things. After getting his doctorate in media and communications, he launched his design career.
His expertise and guidance have been instrumental in developing the Elon By Design initiative, and the Center for Design Thinking as a natural offshoot of that program. As of this May, he will be transitioning out of his role as the consulting director of design thinking at Elon, moving into a more advisory/on-call position.
He provided insights about the history of the program, his design philosophy and what he hopes the future will bring for the benefit of student learning.
“Elon’s administration has been so supportive of what we’ve been trying to do,” Stanford said. “That has been a wonderful gift I’ve experienced working here.”
An Innovative Approach to Solving Problems
Stanford defined design thinking as a method that finds problems worth solving and responding by creating viable new offerings. He explained that it’s natural for humans to want to rush from a problem to a solution, but that design thinking is valuable because it provides a logical progression toward identifying and addressing the right challenges.
“One of the differences in the approach to design thinking at Elon is how we go about the process,” he said. “It mirrors what we hope our students do when they come to Elon.”
He explained that the trajectory of a typical college student’s career begins with an initial exploratory phase, followed by prototyping to try different experiences and opportunities, then ultimately cultivating everything they’ve learned as they graduate and build a life outside college.
“Over time, I hope every student who develops a design thinking mindset remembers what they’ve learned about the process during their time here, so they can use it to get unstuck later in life.”
Shaping the Next Generation of Student Leaders
Student catalysts have become a vital component of the Center’s evolution. They play various roles, from leading workshops to helping people learn to use the tools and materials available in the Center. They also learn how to collaborate with each other on projects, which is applicable to the “real world” outside college.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is a moment of watching two student catalysts work together on rehearsing the introduction to design thinking,” Stanford said. He described the interaction as an example of the type of learning and mentoring that happens organically in an environment such as the Center for Design Thinking.
Design Forge 2020
The third annual Design Forge is set to launch March 26 & 27. Part design sprint and convening, this year’s Design Forge focuses on how design thinking efforts can enhance student wellbeing and wellness. Faculty and design practitioners from across over ten universities will come together to generate questions, resources, ideas, and frameworks that advance how design thinking contributes to student learning.
The Future of the Center for Design Thinking
Director Danielle Lake is leading the next chapters of the Center for Design Thinking by getting more students, faculty and staff involved in attending workshops and events, and encouraging people to drop by and use the Center’s resources during open hours, which are Monday through Thursday between 2 and 5 p.m. The Center also works closely with Elon’s chapter of Design For America, a student-led, nationwide initiative that brings design thinking to solving community problems.
“Design thinking is happening everywhere on campus, because wherever you have human challenges, there are design opportunities,” said Stanford.