Design Innovation Initiative Fosters Creativity Across Disciplines

What does an interactive dress capable of receiving text messages have in common with a zero emission vehicle and a phone case that dispenses birth control pills?

Three interdisciplinary teams of Kent State students created the products using design thinking principles and collaborative strategies to provide solutions to complex problems, such as the need for a trendy, discreet way to communicate; clean, inexpensive sources of energy; and a way to remind women to take their birth control pills.

These creations are but a few examples of design innovation at work across and throughout Kent State University’s colleges and programs.

Kent State’s newly announced Design Innovation (DI) Initiative will cultivate a culture where students from a wide array of degree programs will collaborate across disciplines and create unique concepts to tackle “wicked” problems, according to  J.R. Campbell, inaugural executive director of Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative.

Below Mr. Campbell will answer some frequently asked questions about Kent State’s DI Initiative.

Frequently Asked DI Questions

Mr. Campbell, please tell us about Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative:
J.R.Campbell, inaugural executive director of Kent State's Design Innovation Initiative

The Kent State Design Innovation Initiative is an ambitious commitment  to design-driven,  student-centered,  collaborative,  problem-solving  that seeks to  improve the world by creatively addressing problems big and small.

We bring together students, faculty, community and leading experts from diverse disciplines who are thoughtfully addressing technology and society through design to become creative, intersectional problem-solvers and fearless collaborators in the face of complex, messy problems.

We do this by building and connecting a network of existing makerspaces and resource laboratories across the entire university and making them more visible, accessible and effective in supporting cross-disciplinary collaboration. We call these the “Design Innovation Nodes.”

We will link this network to the “Design Innovation Hub,” which is currently being designed and will sit at the center of the Kent Campus. The DI Hub will serve as an open-access, collaborative, co-working, co-making, idea-generating and innovation-accelerating environment. It will be a place that inspires the “kinetic collisions” for collaborative doers, makers, fixers and experimenters.

To support this, we will offer coursework and curate co-curricular projects, competitions, hackathons and grand challenges as part of a ‘challenge-based-innovation strategy.

This will lead to students and graduates who become “Design Innovation Fellows,” people whose instinct is to seek out and create teams of individuals who come from the widest array of backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives to address, re-frame and tackle the truly big problems facing our world.

At Kent State, we want the DI Initiative to be “Shared by all, owned by none.” As a concept, we hope to treat design innovation as a mindset, similar to terms like “sustainability” and “entrepreneurship” in which their principles can be applied across every disciplinary field and industry.

Are Kent State students and faculty already practicing design thinking principles and collaborative strategies?

Yes. What we are trying to do with the DI Initiative is formalize the ecosystem for more effective and collaborative design innovation practices across the student and faculty bodies. 

When will the DI Hub open?

The design development stage for the renovation of the old Art Building into the 68,000 square-foot DI Hub and dining facility is happening right now and will be complete this fall. We hope to publicly share some of the design ideas soon. Construction of the DI Hub is scheduled to begin in April 2019 and be complete by August 2020.

What is the vision for the Design Innovation Hub?

The DI Hub will be an open access space available for campus, community and industry engagement and collaboration. Students from any and every major will be able to become engaged in design innovation challenges and activities. The Hub will include maker, prototyping and multi-modal visualization spaces for collaboration, as well as the largest all-you-care-to-eat style dining facility on front campus. The DI Hub will also host some retail food spaces.  Our goal is to engage all students in the building to become part of the activities that can happen in the DI spaces.

How did “design innovation” evolve at Kent State?

A grassroots initiative began five years ago. Kent State LaunchNet became a catalyst for connecting the silos and disparate elements across the campus. LaunchNet helped inspire Kent State’s Fashion/Tech Hackathon, a cross-curricular event allowing teams of student participants to create and innovate wearable technology, and SkyHack, a similar event in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering. It led to eight individuals getting together and saying "we need to get more students engaged and involved across disciplines." Now, the core DI team of faculty, staff and administrators has grown to a group of 25 individuals from multiple colleges and units who are helping to develop and steer the initiative. It continues in the “Shared by all and owned by none” value system.

Who comprises the DI Team?

Check out the DI Team members on the “Meet the DI Team” page of the Design Innovation website. The DI Team is comprised of a multidisciplinary alliance of faculty, staff and administrators from across the university who meet bi-weekly to refine and propose course-based challenges that activate, cultivate and evolve strong collaborative design innovation mindsets in students.

What other developments should we be looking for in the near future?

  • When registering for spring semester courses, students should keep an eye out for an “Intro to Design Innovation” course as well as the next iteration of the “Be Smarter than your Smartphone” course, both offered as pilot courses in Spring 2019.
  • A “Design Innovation Fellows” program will be launched so that students can become involved in DI training and challenge-based-innovation experiences.
  • A “Designer in Residence” program, in which the university will host a significant creative innovator/disruptor on the Kent campus to help cultivate and catalyze the DI Challenge-based-innovation events.
  • Students from across the U.S. can come to Kent and compete in teams to create novel wearable technology solutions in our sixth annual Fashion/Tech Hackathon event during the last week of January, 2019; and in November of 2019, we will be helping to host the second national SkyHack hackathon as well.

"We hope to continue to evolve the culture and opportunities for all at Kent State, possibly helping our students to reframe their thinking and reframe their approach to their studies,” Mr. Campbell says. “Using design innovation means being able to tackle a problem from multiple points of view, to collaboratively explore the intersections between disciplines, to celebrate diversity and to create robust solutions in teams as we tackle the messy/complex problems facing our world."

Learn more about Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative

Additional Design Innovation Initiatives 

Other universities in the US and Canada with design innovation initiatives


At Carnegie Melon, CMU IDEATE is part of students’ is incorporated into students primary majors so that students may explore how their emerging skills and expertise interact with those of other students.

Learn more about CMU IDeATe

UC Berkley Design Innovation

UC Berkley Design Innovation offers students a certificate that combines disciplines and technologies from four schools, the College of Engineering, College of Environmental Design, College of Letters and Science – Arts and Humanities Division, and the Haas School of Business.

Discover UC Berkley Design Innovation

Institute without Boundaries (IwB)

Institute without Boundaries (IwB), is a Toronto-based academic program and studio that fosters collaboration between the disciplines to create innovative local solutions to 21st century global challenges.

Explore IwB

POSTED: Monday, October 29, 2018 03:44 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 05:38 AM
April McClellan-Copeland