Kristin Hughes

Kristin Hughes

Associate Professor

Kristin Hughes is an Associate Professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design. Her interdisciplinary research blends design with informal learning, public health and place-making. Specifically, it focuses on how collaborative, community-designed solutions can catalyze social and civic engagement. By employing design-research methods that combine hands-on learning and creative thinking, her research-as-practice approach helps communities to identify factors of motivation and agency, while supporting distinct individualized learning styles. Her rich corpus of research-as-practice and community-based projects (e.g., Night Owl Bakers, Latham St. Commons, Fitwits) illustrate the impactful results that occur when all members of a community are invited to exchange skills and know-how as they make the decisions that will solve vexing problems affecting their communities every day.

Since arriving at Carnegie Mellon in the fall of 2001, she has had the opportunity to teach at all levels of the curriculum from Freshman Design Studio to Advanced Typographic Systems to Design for Social Innovation. Most recently she has been co-teaching a course called Design Thinking for Social Innovation with the H. John Heinz III College. She also advises a number of graduate students on their thesis projects.

Over the years shehas won numerous national and international design awards and often speaks and offers hands-on workshops to educators and students around the world. In addition to her design practice, she currently serves on the advisory board of Propel Schools. Kristin holds an MFA in Visual Communication from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University. She has also studied abroad at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and at Yale University’s workshop in Brissago, Switzerland.

Select projects:
Night Owl Bakers
Research shows social ties and connections as well as economic stability contribute to well-being. Because wealth is so significantly linked with health, creating mechanisms to improve financial opportunities for marginalized youth is critical. We propose to foster well-being by connecting young adults often left in the margins of economic development with Night Owl Bakers (NOB) career readiness and workforce training. We are investigating the degree to which the NOB program (a) prepares participants for job readiness, which includes shifts in their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and social emotional functioning; (b) creates employment opportunities for NOB participants; and (c) deepens the sense of community experienced by local residents who will have the opportunity to observe and interact with our program. For additional information visit

Latham St. Commons: Placing care at the center of economic development
Latham St. Commons is an idea that addresses the challenges and complexities in rejuvenating a past urban structure now situated between two divided neighborhoods. Our research began with the question: “What would it take to design a ‘commons’ situated between two socially and economically divided communities?” What is fueling this separation? Economy? Education? Healthcare? As we look further into the specific characteristics that make up these two communities we begin to imagine a place that is able to bridge the differences between them through common denominators like food, education, and health services. For additional information contact

Meet Me Halfway: A Toolkit for Transforming Communities with Conversations that Matter.
The tools in this book help to reveal and clarify collective assumptions about race, power and privilege, building a foundation that enables authentic conversations and relationships. The goal in sharing these tools is twofold. One, to guide others in discovering ways to understand a community’s latent strengths and worth. Two, to help individuals in that community use those attributes in their everyday interactions, not only between community members, but also with philanthropists, policymakers, government officials, frontline workers and society as a whole. If you would like a PDF copy please contact

Hazelwood: I Lived, We Live; What Did We Miss?
The project works to understand how and when conditions within a community reveal opportunities for social change. Through our work with the Hazelwood community we discovered that the varying forces that impact a community can be difficult to see and even more difficult to change. We began to ask the following questions: How will individuals learn to rely on their community when resources have been stripped from them one by one? When people are marginalized—not given the agency to speak out or take action—how do they begin to engage in the conversations that bring about positive change?

Fitwits: Education Games and Services for Health and Well-Being
Fitwits advocates improved health education and resources in all facets of an individual’s life. Fitwits is a system of games and educational services that enable children and their families the opportunity to adopt and maintain healthier lifestyles. Our approach has been found to be highly effective in facilitating non-judgmental discussions about sensitive topics between children, families, educators, and physicians.