Delaware Design Institute holds inaugural event
UD Provost Tom Apple said the Delaware Design Institute was created to give students "the opportunity to think in a different way."
Janet Hethorn, Delaware Design Institute coordinator, said the new institute is working to facilitate collaborations across disciplines.
Julie Panaro, of Panaro Construction, discusses the Oasis at Cypress Ridge project.


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11:14 a.m., May 27, 2010----The new Delaware Design Institute (DDI) at the University of Delaware celebrated its progress at an inaugural event on Monday, May 24, where students, faculty and community members shared projects that ranged from a sustainable teaching garden to an online site for sharing business process management approaches.

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The institute was established to facilitate collaboration across disciplines and to encourage the use of “design thinking” in finding creative solutions to complex problems. Design thinking -- which also will be the focus of the keynote address at this year's UD Summer Faculty Institute on June 1 -- is described as a creative process based around sharing ideas to find innovative and human-centered solutions.

“Giving our students the opportunity to think in a different way” was a key goal in the creation of DDI, Provost Tom Apple said at the celebration. “Design is a way that we combine creativity and innovation and collaboration.”

He said the idea for the institute began about two years ago in discussions with Janet Hethorn, professor and chairperson of the Department of Art and the DDI coordinator, and that it already involves all seven colleges and some 20 departments at the University.

Hethorn said that when the idea was first discussed among faculty, most said they were interested in design thinking and in collaborating across disciplines but weren't sure how to find potential partners. The institute, she said, is working to facilitate those kinds of collaborations, while also emphasizing the importance of imagination (to see and explore new approaches), understanding and the impact that design can have.

Three projects that were supported by DDI and that Hethorn said exemplify its core values were showcased at the gathering:

The Oasis at Cypress Ridge is an 80-acre parcel of land near Townsend, Del., where Panaro Construction is working to design an accessible and sustainable site that will accommodate homes, wetlands, wooded areas and other features of universal design, said Julie Panaro, who owns the company with her husband, Tony. UD students from a landscape design class and a leadership class took on the project of creating designs for potential homes that would be both green and accessible. Faculty involved in the project included Hethorn; Lance Winn, associate professor of art; Jules Bruck, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences; and Tony Middlebrooks, assistant professor of urban affairs and public policy.

Harnessing Web 2.0 to Support Open Process Innovation was a project led by Harry Wang, assistant professor of accounting and management information systems, which has resulted in a working online prototype, a user study and an MIS graduate course component. Wang said the team designed a user-centered and collaborative way that businesses can share their business process management (BPM) resources. UD faculty included Jingyi Yu, assistant professor of computer and information sciences; Abby Donovan, assistant professor of art; and Fang Fang Chen, assistant professor of psychology.

The Art of Sustainable Gardening project gave students the opportunity to design and build a model garden that can be used to teach children and adults principles of sustainability. The model was on display at UD's Ag Day this spring and was then transported to the Tyler Arboretum to be part of its “enchanted garden” theme. Students also worked on a longer-term goal of designing a three-acre sustainable garden to be created at the arboretum. Faculty participants at the University included Bruck; Jon Cox, instructor in art; Xiang Gao, professor of music; and Lynnette Overby, director of the Undergraduate Research Program and professor of theatre.

Also at the event, students from a seminar DDI offered during spring semester, “Design Impact,” presented posters summarizing their class projects. Each project identified a problem and proposed a design solution. Topics included reducing the incidence of cheating on exams, improving students' eating habits and increasing the use of recycling by residents of apartments on Newark's Main Street.

The Delaware Design Institute has been supported by the Unidel Foundation and the College of Arts and Sciences. Its steering committee consists of Hethorn, Bruck and Middlebrooks, in addition to David Ames, professor of geography and of urban affairs and director of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, and Terry Harvey, assistant professor of computer and information sciences.

Article by Ann Manser
Photos by Ambre Alexander