“Creating Innovation” classes at Stanford

An unknown building is in a corner of Stanford University campus.

The appearance is a brick-and-stone building with no distinguishing features, but as you enter, you will see the space in front of you is like a modern cafe. Portraits of hundreds of students photographed with an instant camera are all over the walls and ceiling, with a sign — “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only MAKE.” It is this message that inspires an entrepreneurial spirit.

A banner hanging in the Hasso Platner Design Institute, “d.school”.

This place is called Hasso Platner Design Institute, known as the “d.school,” which is a hub of learning about design thinking.

Even though it’s called “design,” it is not about making artistic art work. The purpose of the class is to “solve” problems in society, business, and life, that is, to “design” the way to a solution. How will we produce different products or services than before? Now that many companies are focusing on the creation of innovation, design thinking is attracting attention.

Hasso Platner Design Institute

Stanford University’s d.school was founded in 2004 by David Kelly who is an emeritus professor of the School of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. He is also a founder of IDEO, a global design consulting firm. IDEO sells a number of hit products such as Apple’s first mouse, and is a company with large customers like Toyota, Sony, and GE. It is no exaggeration to say that the d.school, which contains IDEO DNA, is a hub of bringing innovations to Silicon Valley.

Very open space expands inside d.school with lots of sunlight, which looks more a cafe than a classroom.

Students’ majors include business, engineering, law, social science, anthropology and so on, and students reflect various faculties and ages. Some courses have fieldwork in developing countries and are seeking ways to eliminate hunger, others find ways to increase audience satisfaction by working with the team of the National Basketball Association (NBA). It is said that popular courses’ successful applicants ratio is 25%. Although classes tackle various problems, the methodology to think about the root of the problem, and think about making products and services that have never existed, is consistent.

An iconic d.school truck inside the mail building

What can we learn? How can we use it specifically in business or daily life? I would like to introduce one part of the subject from d.school’s two-day intensive course.

I participated in a course called “Design Thinking Sprints For Social Challenge,” that challenges familiar social problems. Thirty-three students were divided into 6 groups and addressed different tasks. We started by trying to get to know each other through a simple game. We said our names, a favorite hobby, and then showed off our favorite stretch pose. We repeated this with all the teammates. We put both hands down on the ground with my foreflexion pose, and tried to raise our feet by 180 degrees … I wondered what would happen, but everyone laughed as they each struck a unique pose.

“ Pitch Night” is a big opportunity for new students to class-shop next quarter. They can talk to faculty members to get a taste of new classes.

“When we tackle a new project, we do not know in what direction the discussion will go, and in a situation where we can’t see the end, it’s not going to work unless the group working together can trust each other.”

Yes, it makes sense. Although it seems like a bizarre exercise, there are a lot of small tools that bring people together and help them create an atmosphere to communicate more easily in the d.school.

Well, here is the main theme of design thinking. My group’s challenge was expanding the middle school lunch program that the US government promotes. It is said that some kids don’t eat school lunches, even if they’re hungry.

Design thinking has five steps. The first step is “empathy.” We will thoroughly observe what users of goods and services do and why they act, what physical and emotional needs they have, and what is meaningful to them.

It is a major premise to understand users and to become interested in their lives and make meaningful innovations.

Main 5 processes of design thinking

Our group did an interview via Skype, to explore the needs of parents and junior high school children. The most important question here is, “Why?” And we should ask not ask directly, “Why don’t you eat school lunch?” in order to absorb what the user feels, but also ask indirectly, from various angles, such as, “What time is lunch for users?”or “What do you eat at home?” and “How and when did you have a delicious meal?,” in order to gather information on values ​​that users don’t even notice. If you have time, it is also useful to accompany users in their daily life and observe how they spend their days.

We put the content of the interview into a simple sentence, then put it together in red or yellow colorful post-its, and stuck them to a white board. I understood it better later on, that since awareness becomes the basis of the subsequent process, it will hurt you in the end if you don’t collect information or if you misdirect it. The process here is very critical.

Post-its from our observations filling a white board

The second process is “Definition” — defining problems.

This is a process to clarify the needs of users through observation, to determine why there is a situation where the needs don’t meet, and why a deviation is occurring. “Setting a problem right” is the only way to create a correct solution. The words of Mr. Henry Ford, the founder of Ford, a US automobile manufacturer, illustrates this process better.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

In the age when there were only carriages, users want a horse to run fast, but the main point of the problem is “to move quickly,” so the means is not limited to horses. Here, the possibility for new products and services is born.

In the d.school, we used a format in order to make the real problem clear:

1) We met …

2) We were amazed at…

3) We wonder if this means …

4) How might we …?

We used post-its to fill in the blanks.

For example…

1) We met (Ann, a mother of two sons, who is enthusiastic for education.)

2) We were amazed (that Ann emphasizes studies and is not interested in what her son eats for lunch.)

3) We wonder if this means that: (we as a society understand the importance of children’s eating through the day), (there are different norms for dining in vs. out of school), (an education gap exists re:school nutrition/lunch.)

4) How might we (take the school out of school?) (write a new school nutrition narrative?)

(make communications more active between the school and parents?)

Based on the observation in 2), we hypothesize in 3), assuming “I wonder if this means…”. This process is not easy. The point is not to propose a logical hypothesis, but to make a big leap from 2) to 3). Then you can maximize the contents of the brackets in 4) as much as possible.

A part of brain storming process. Don’t stuck on one thing, keep giving ideas out!

To be continued…