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Fifteen Years Forward

EDI Director Amy O'Keefe looks back on the program's 15th anniversary and ahead to her hopes for the program's future.

The year 2007 was monumental for technological and design innovation. Apple launched the iPhone. Facebook launched video capabilities. AirBnB was founded.   

That same year, Northwestern’s Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program was launched. 

EDI Director Amy O'KeefeEDI was originally led by J. Edward Colgate and Don Norman, who co-directed the Segal Design Institute at the time. Colgate is a mechanical engineering professor whose research is in robotics, while Norman is an emeritus professor of electrical engineering, computer science, and psychology. 

"This was before every product and service had a digital and physical component to it," current EDI director Amy O’Keefe said. "Ed and Don really had a clear understanding of what was coming in terms of integrated product service systems." 

EDI was one of the early graduate programs that taught human-centered design, O'Keefe said. The program trained students to think about ways to integrate product design for the digital and service space.  

"EDI has been this forward-thinking program from the start," she said. "Constant iteration is core to who we are and how we approach design and innovation." 

That responsibility to continue iterating now falls to O'Keefe, who was appointed director this year after serving as co-director of the program with professor Jim Wicks. Her plan is to focus on the tenets of human-centered design the program is built upon while embracing collaborative design methodologies that center equity and design justice.  

"Human-centered design has always been about people, but it hasn't rigorously explored which people and who was included in the design process," she said. "It’s time for the program to question design and process, to focus on topics of ethics, equity, inclusion, and sustainability.  

"We want our students to leave EDI better positioned to influence who is included in a design process, show how diverse participatory teams can dramatically change how products and services are designed, and understand how that change can ultimately impact people." 

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