case study

Design at Columbia.

project details
Co-Founder & Lead
Service Design, Content Design, & Strategy
February 2020 - Present

Let's start with the present.

Today, Design at Columbia is a thriving online community united by an interest in design thinking and an understanding that everything is a prototype, including this. Under my leadership, the organisation has grown from nothing to where we are now:

Over 800+ Columbia affiliates

active in our Slack community.

A team of 18 people

driving our events and initiatives, including a mentorship programme, industry outreach team, academic partners team, and more.

150+ hours of design programming

including career panels, workshops, 1-1s, design jams, sprints, and talks.

But how did we get here? Let's go back to the beginning, where I found myself interested in a career in design, with next to zero university resources to support me.

Back to square one: the problem.

Design has never been an accessible, visible, or legitimate career path at Columbia University.

Classed as corporate even for Ivy League standards, many Columbia students find themselves envisioning their career on Wall Street, choosing to study economics or business, or pursue traditional pre-professional careers such as consulting, law, and medicine. Any design spaces that have been available have either failed to reach the larger student body, or failed to sustain their interest.

Something had to change.

The solution.

In collaboration with a small team of design-minded students, we set out to introduce the field of design to the student body with Columbia University's first ever mini design conference: Design Day. The conference was held across two days, and featured a keynote speaker by Harry West, former CEO of Frog, as well as a student panel about breaking into design.

We also led three practical design workshops:

  • How To Get A design job: Portfolio & Recruiting
  • Figma 101
  • Creating Your Design Story: Branding & Storytelling
Me with the team at Design Day.
Me leading a Branding & Storytelling workshop at Design Day.
Me introducing Harry West at Design Day.
Design Day poster.

100+ students attended Design Day.

The next steps seemed obvious: build on Design Day's momentum and offer more design-related programming, including industry panels, a career fair, portfolio building workshops and reviews, and more practical design workshops.

And then COVID-19 hit.

Our campus and our team was strewn across the globe, from London to New York to South Korea. The community we had hoped to grow could no longer meet and we had to cancel our planned events. With such economic uncertainty as the world shut down, students lost internships and new graduates lost job offers.

So we researched, and adapted.

The pandemic meant our target community suddenly had lots of time and nothing to do with it. An opportunity. We went back to the basics and sent a survey out to our Design Day attendees, and shared it across every Columbia social channel possible. In just 30 days, we received 466 responses.

And created Design at Columbia.

Based on our survey feedback, we designed a six-week design sprint to help students learn and apply Design Thinking principles. We set up a Slack as a communications hub, which saw over 400 members join in the first week after launching.

Our sprint prompts were:

Digital Wellbeing

How might we increase awareness and mindfulness around our increasing technology usage?

Mitigating Behaviours

How might we mitigate contagious behaviors at a personal and public level?

Establishing Routines

How might we help people build a routine during the quarantine?

Shuttle Service Redesign

How might we make Columbia’s shuttle bus service easy to understand and use?

Student Services Redesign

How might we transform Columbia’s digital tools (SSOL/Vergil/CULPA) into a streamlined experience?

Redesign Your Favourite App

Take an app that you use often, identify some pain points, and create improved solutions!

Bring Your Own Idea or Startup

Got an idea on your mind? Working on a startup right now? Bring it along to our summer session!

Each week, we set out to teach a new phase of Google's design sprint methodology, host two practical design workshops, and provide 1-1 mentorship and feedback on student projects. We empowered students within our design space to be Jam Leaders, stratified across time zones to cater to our global community.

Over 100 students submitted weekly deliverables for our design sprint, which culminated in a project showcase and Design Career Panel with Columbia students who had secured design internships or graduate roles.

The Design at Columbia founders after Session 1 kickoff.
Me presenting at the Session 1 weekly meeting.

It's only been growth from there.

Following the success of Session One, I wrote Design at Columbia's formal long-term strategy and recruited a team of Columbia students and alumni to help me grow and iterate on our service offering.

Below is just a handful of events that we have hosted since:

Pivoting to Design & Portfolio First Look Video

Laura Block CC'20, D@C Lead, Freelance UX Designer

User Research & Interviews Video

Aleksei Igumnov GS'21, UX Research Intern @ Apple

Ideating & Sketching

Prof. Harry West, xCEO @ frog, principle @ Invisible Design, Columbia Mechanical Engineering and IEOR

UX Writing & Portfolio Bio

Laura Block CC'20, D@C Lead, Freelance UX Designer

Accessible Design

Prof. Sarah Morrison-Smith, Computer Science Professor @ Barnard

Visual Information Design

Lydia Chilton, Computer Science Professor @ SEAS

UX Resumes & Recruiting

Perrin Anto SEAS'20, D@C Lead, Interaction Designer @ Google

And it's only the start.

You can join our Slack, catch up on our events, and partner with us at designatcolumbia.com.

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