Sustainability is more than a buzz word. Social good is more than a performative tweet.

At The Ohio State University DESIS lab, we’re looking beyond greenwashed products and sleek marketing campaigns to instead foster an academic community committed to analyzing and addressing the complex societal issues taking place in our own backyard. As part of the DESIS Network – an international group of universities and colleges leading the way in social innovation and sustainability research – and the OSU Department of Design, our lab is focused on advancing design education and community engagement. To achieve these goals and prepare the next generation of designers, our esteemed faculty lead local and international community- and service-focused courses to address social issues, cultivate cultural sensitivity, and practice environmental stewardship.


Our DESIS lab is built on three main pillars:


Our classrooms are designed to support our students’ unique perspectives and interests, as well as to encourage a transdisciplinary mindset that takes into consideration multiple experiences, concerns, and approaches. Our courses use a hands-on approach to initiate students to design research methodologies that place the user first to tackle complex, system-based issues. MFA students further explore these approaches and how to align them with innovative research in our collaborative graduate studios.


We value transdisciplinary collaboration throughout the design research pipeline – from identifying points of contention to implementing opportunities. Rather than assuming a one-size-fits all solution, our research employs co-design and prototyping approaches to gather user needs, feedback, and validation. This tight cooperation between faculty, experts, community partners, and the end users themselves helps ensure a deep impact that effects positive change while preserving societal and cultural values.


Our research simply can’t exist without the valuable contribution of others’ lived experiences and expertise. Our public engagement isn’t about getting papers published – it’s about addressing, amplifying, and assisting community-based initiatives to bring us all one step closure to a just, sustainable future. Our goal is to leverage design research to identify realistic influence points with meaningful implications that can empower communities. Check out our projects to see how we work alongside our community partners.


The DESIS Network is a group of international higher education institutions focused on addressing issues of social innovation and sustainability through design research. The goal of the organization is to join together academic communities along with local, regional, and global partners to share their design thinking and knowledge. In doing so, researchers at these institutions are placed in more informed and better supported position to imagine socially relevant scenarios and solutions to create sustainable change. Design schools in particular are considered critical to this vision due to their emphasis on emergent research that proposes and tests innovative tools, their practical faculty experience and student enthusiasm, and their studio-based labs that encourage new ways of thinking.

To learn more about the history of the DESIS Network and how it defines social innovation, sustainability, and innovation, please visit www.desisnetwork.org/our-vision/.