Nancy Richardson Design Center was a busy hub of collaboration, innovation in first year

Video by Ron Bend

In its first year of operation, the Nancy Richardson Design Center lived up to the expectations of its namesake.

Colorado State University alumna Nancy Richardson, who with her husband Curt donated $8.1 million to make the $19.2 million building possible, says she’s pleased with all that has been accomplished so far in the facility, which opened in early 2019.

“The most thrilling thing for me this past year at the RDC has been the excitement from the students,” Richardson said. “The objective was to bring interdisciplinary learning into the center, and that has definitely happened. The RDC has already been a catalyst for so many great ideas and innovations, and I think we’ve experienced just a taste of the potential. I look forward to watching the possibilities unfold in the years to come.”

Laura Malinin, director of the RDC, describes it as a building that was intentionally designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations through design thinking.

“It’s a place to be innovative in ways that people can’t always achieve in their own academic departments,” Malinin said. “It’s satisfying to watch people from different disciplines come together around a particular socially significant problem and work together with industry and community stakeholders to propose solutions.”

Design thinking

2019 Nancy Richardson Design Center Opening

Nancy Richardson greets students in 2019 at the opening of the new design center, which bears her name.

“I love seeing people get excited when they arrive here,” said Sarah Badding, the RDC’s operations and academic administrator. “It reignites passion in people. Watching students from different departments stay after class because of the camaraderie they’ve built is so rewarding.”

Badding co-teaches a “Introduction to Design Thinking” course that attracted 68 students from 38 different majors last fall as part of the RDC’s undergraduate design thinking certificate program. Among the students’ projects were proposing how a new small-format Target store might reflect the unique qualities of northern Colorado, and helping the Food Bank for Larimer County optimize its collection/distribution systems.

Now, with the limitations imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, the class has broken into teams to take on projects aimed at minimizing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s a product, service, tool or something else uncovered during their current customer discovery phase.

All eight colleges involved

Badding estimates that about 450 students have used the RDC in its first year, hailing from all eight CSU colleges and 62 different majors/concentrations. An undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in design thinking are in the works.

“We are open to everyone,” Malinin said. “And we are seeing more and more academic departments think about how they can integrate with our classes.”

Malinin and her colleague in the Department of Design and Merchandising, Leah Scolere, recently received a grant to study how augmented reality technology can be used to assess building designs intended to enhance learning, creativity, health and well-being. They are working with Francisco Ortega, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, and an interdisciplinary student team to develop an AR app that will help users learn more about the features of the RDC.

Spaces for events, group learning

Approximately 450 students have used the RDC in its first year, from all eight CSU colleges and 62 different majors/concentrations.

The RDC has been used for a variety of activities in its first year and is home to community outreach programs as well as corporate partnerships.

Currently, its labs are open in a limited capacity to assist with coronavirus emergency response projects.

Last summer, it was the setting for a three-day professional development workshop for about 30 local K-12 teachers. And last fall, the center hosted “RED {DRESS},” an exhibit of stunning work by apparel design and production students and faculty; “RED (AGAIN),” a satellite show of the Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition; the RamReality Hackathon; a lecture by Creative Orchestra founder Chris Arnold; and many other events.

According to Paul Callahan, the RDC’s fabrication labs coordinator, 255 students from 18 different majors received training at the RDC on many of its tools and machines. Three student clubs have used various spaces in the building, including the Wood, Metal and Prototyping labs, as well as meeting spaces.

Callahan said several student groups from the Walter Scott Jr. College of Engineering have also used the labs for coursework completion and group projects, including one of the rocket launch and recovery teams and the off-road racing and development club. A part-time volunteer and three part-time student hourly workers staff the labs.

“I feel a huge amount of gratitude to the Richardsons, Nancy in particular,” Callahan said. “They invested not just their funding to make this place a reality, but also their life experience and vision. Their contribution created so many employment opportunities for people like me, so I am extremely thankful for that; but also the RDC is already giving CSU students from across the entire campus experience that will absolutely help them find future employment. What an amazing way to invest your resources.”

The Nancy Richardson Design Center also serves as the home to the Department of Design and Merchandising. A visual tour of the RDC, which is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, is available online.

Named spaces in the RDC

• Workplace Resource Design Exchange
• Herman Miller (d)Lab
• Carla Dore and Family Inspiration Alley
• Saunders Heath Rooftop Terrace
• Saunders Heath Computer Lab
• Carol Ann Sarchet Light and Color Studio
• Green and Gold Foundation Lower Terrace

• Golden Hands Work Café
• The Light Center Light and Color Lab
• Aaron and Catherine Finch Entry Garden
• Jean Rand Hassenger Industry Coordinator Office
• Salt Design Studio Café
• Martin C. Gregg and Pauline A. Brock Graduate Student Workspace

Additional spaces throughout the RDC are available for naming through philanthropic support. For information, contact Kim Winger at