Healthcare Design - Mayo Center for Innovation

BarnRaise: Mad*Pow

Post Written By Samantha Dempsey and Ciara Taylor of Mad*Pow

The room tingled with the energy and anticipation of a hundred designers, thinkers, and community activists. Though the room was small, every seat was filled, and all the people leaned eagerly forward in their chairs. They were ready to design a better Chicago.

It’s not often that a conference kicks off with such coiled energy and rapt anticipation. But then again, BarnRaise is not like other conferences. BarnRaise is a student-organized event (shout out to co-chairs Jenni Schneiderman and Ellie Eberts!) hosted by the IIT Institute of Design that brings together design-minded people from disparate disciplines to collaboratively design solutions to current problems in Chicago. Part conference and part hackathon, BarnRaise combines the educational talks, panels, and breakout sessions of a conference with the design research, prototyping, and participatory design of a hackathon. It’s a whirlwind two days that results in a final share out where teams present their solutions to the Chicago community.

This strange combination of objectives attracted a unique mix of people. The energy, enthusiasm, and hope that participants brought with them was infectious, and we couldn’t help but be swept off our feet.


We first got a glimpse of the excitement at the opening reception. The night kicked off with networking, talks and discussion. We were lucky to be part of the evening happenings in addition to the following two days of design teamwork. We shared the Designer’s Oath with those gathered and encouraged them to first collaboratively define a code of ethics with their project team before diving into the design process. That idea resonated with the crowd: as designers we have a responsibility to those we design for. As the evening came to a close, we could sense that participants were eager to jump into their design challenges as they searched for teammates during the networking at the opening reception.

When the sun peeked over the Chicago skyline the next morning, everyone was up and ready to design! Participants split into teams pairing each group of participants with a design firm and a community partner. In our team, we represented our design firm, Mad*Pow. Our community partner was the unstoppable Neelum Aggarwal hailing from the American Women’s Medical Association. Our teammates were an interdisciplinary and extraordinary bunch including a supervisor of health program initiatives, ID student, business student, professor of information architecture, customer experience of life insurance, and brand innovation consultant. We jumpstarted our day with an icebreaker to better understand everyone’s strengths; we asked our teammates to share their personal super power. By our super powers combined, we could design for anything! We dubbed ourselves “Team Neuron Sparks” taking inspiration from the design challenge we were set to solve _ “How might we support stroke prevention by empowering community leaders to educate community members?”

At this point, we were almost ready to take on our mission, but first we needed to create a Designer’s Oath. The Designer’s Oath is a tool loosely based on the Hippocratic Oath, which allows multidisciplinary teams to collaboratively define a code of ethics. Together, our team defined the ethical guidelines that our solution and process would follow. We explored and visually documented an ethical code illustrating what was appropriate for our team and for the people we were designing for.

Over the course of the two-day design challenge, our process included constant referral back to our Oath, imbedded ethnographic research, live community interviews, participatory design exercises, collaborative concept ideation, as well as paper and Play-Doh prototyping. And don’t forget that this was all happening as the clock counted down to the final share out presentation!


The grand share out was the culmination of BarnRaise. An insight gallery room was set up with science-fair-style booths for each team and an elevated stage for presenting team pitches. These pitches took the form of a sound installation, a raucous farce, a dramatic play, and more. Each team shared an inspiring idea to improve the lives of people in the Chicago community.

As designers, BarnRaise was an amazing opportunity for us to get back to our roots, embracing the quick, collaborative, and unbounded thinking of the design school mindset. With the endless optimism that comes from working alongside students, we were able to truly embrace interdisciplinary design. We combined our designer’s toolkit with the strange new tools that our teammates brought from other domains and redefined our process together. As a team committed to learning from each other’s disparate practices, we created something together that will positively impact the community we designed for. We can't think of a better way to use the superpower of collaboration.