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First annual Impact Design Summit : 

The Practice

of Impact DesigN

The National Building Museum, Washington D.C.

October 27-28 2017 



From urbanization and climate change, to displacement and equity, the biggest problems of the twenty-first century are attracting design professionals with a desire to leverage their skills to create meaningful solutions. At the same time, the recent successes of social impact designers have raised public awareness about the potential of design to effect positive systemic change. Today, nonprofits, governments, NGO’s, foundations, and others are looking to design professionals with renewed interest, seeking to create partnerships and work together to solve social problems. Are we ready to engage?


For many professionals, the desire and skill to help solve social problems exists, but the infrastructure and knowledge necessary to practice impact design does not. From staffing and finances, to communication and research, the demands on social impact practices are significant, and they vary dramatically from those in a traditional architectural practice. To grow a sustainable public interest sector inside design professions, we need to understand those demands and create the infrastructure necessary to support them.


The purpose of this symposium is to discuss the practice of social impact design in the context of these concrete realities. In other words, this symposium aims to answer the question: how do we practice impact design sustainably and responsibly in today’s world?


Through a series of workshops and panel discussions, this summit will address three critical and interrelated aspects of this question: how to staff and fund a social impact practice; how to communicate value while ensuring accountability; and how to disseminate knowledge and best practices within and beyond the design sector. 


The Practice of Impact Design was developed through collaboration between the Virginia Tech,   School of Architecture + Design, Center for Design Research and the Autodesk Foundation with the support of the  National Building Museum.


For more information please email Dr. Nathan King. Final schedule, registration, and list of participants to follow.



The following schedule is subject to slight modifications as the event approaches. 

FRIDAY, October 27th (Register for Friday only here

6:00 - 9:00 Autodesk Design Night


​The Impact Design Summit kicks off with Design Night, a participatory event on design and social impact, hosted by Autodesk with National Building Museum and the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research. A keynote presentation, open bar, food, DJ, and hands-on activities, are included in this fun-filled evening celebrating how design, technology and innovation are making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. 

SATURDAY, October 28th (Register for Saturday only here

8:00 - 9:00 Coffee / Breakfast


9:00 - 10:45 Practicing Impact: How Do You Staff & Fund a Social Impact Practice

This session features 15-minute presentations by practitioners on the nuts-and-bolts of practicing social impact design, including how to staff a social impact firm and how to access sources of funding to achieve financial stability. These presentations will highlight common challenges that face social impact designers, and, where they exist, the creative solutions that practitioners have invented to meet them. Following the presentations, a moderator will give a 15-minute response, setting up a 30-minute session of discussion with the audience.


10:45 - 11:00 Break


11:00 - 12:45 Practicing Evaluation: How to Communicate Value and Ensure Accountability

This session includes 15-minute presentations on a variety of strategies for communicating the value of social impact design. Each presentation describes the goal, methods, intended audience, and outcomes of the evaluation strategy. Presenters discuss the feasibility of their approach (with regard to time and resources required to execute it responsibly), as well as the ability and limitations of the evaluation to fully capture the consequences of a design project. Following a 15-minute response, there is a 30-minute discussion including the audience.


12:45 - 2:00 Film Screening "Design That Heals" , MASS Design Group (Lunch Provided) 


2:00 - 3:45 Practicing Pedagogy: How to Teach Impact Design

This session features 15-minute presentations from 4 practitioners of design and impact design education. The purpose of this discussion is to illuminate pedagogical strategies for responsibly growing the sector of impact design, and highlight challenges inherent in that project. The presentations are followed by a 15-minute response, leading to 30 minutes of Q&A.

3:45 - 4:00 Break

4:00 - 4:30 Closing Remarks


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