“Creative Innovation” class at Stanford #2

This is the second article in a series about d.school at Stanford. You can find first article here:


A way to d.school at Stanford University

From here it enters the process of creation called “brainstorming”. We give, give and give ideas on a table as much as we can to make 4) happen. Quantity exceeds quality here.

“Call a food cart to school”, “Invite a famous chef to school”, “Have a potluck party” “Make a field trip to local farmers”…ideas overflowed one after another and the whiteboard was covered by a number of post-its immediately.

When our hands stopped, the instructor followed up us quickly.

“Don’t evaluate ideas whether they are correct. It is not the state to throw away ideas now, thinking they might not be feasible.”

No breaks for giving ideas. The key to success to find the unexpected research area is maximizing the possibility through trying not to find “right answers”.

About 40 ideas came out with 20-minute brainstorming.

Then we narrow down them to one or two ideas based on the criteria of “highly possible and highly effective”, which is the stage of evaluation.

What we do next is the process called “prototype”.

We literally move hands and make the idea “visible”. The materials are colored papers, a pair of scissors, needles, felts and tapes… if it is a prototype of “call a food cart to school”, you can make a model of a vender car, or you can create a flyer for the information that a food vender is coming to school. Even if it’s difficult to make it visible, move your hands first. Make, make and make before thinking too much in any way. “There’s only MAKE”- just as the sign of d.school.

A sign which you won’t miss when entering d.school building.

It’s something we can explain verbally, but the advantage of this prototyping process is that we can share the same image with your teammate by shaping it. It is a great merit to clarify what functions we should add or eliminate and it eventually accelerates the speed of improvements.

Materials students can use are in the “Rapid Prototyping Tool” section. A tons of post-its and pens…

By the way, one prototype we came up with is to send e-mails entitled “The Famous Chef of This Month” to parents to raise awareness about food and nutrition. Parents can choose menus from several categories such as Chinese, Italian or Mediterranean and they can also see cooking videos and recipes. We created an image of the e-mail sent to parents within 10 minutes by using papers and pens. Here is the prototype we made.

This is the Image of the PC screen. We draw many illustrations so that it becomes more understandable intuitively.

And the last step is “test” to actually test the prototype. We show the fresh prototype to several parents and observe their reactions. Are they happy with it or they find it not user-friendly and if so, why do they think that way? We collect those informations.

Although our group had thought about giving information about how to cook dishes by emails, we got ideas that parents want children to eat local ingredients, or if the local restaurants are involved, a certain amount of money would get funded and free food can be offered at school. We also learned that the idea that we didn’t adopt to the first prototype was actually in demand through this testing process.

Now we modify the prototype. We repeat the cycle of noticing failures with feedback → iteration and test → feedback…The final form that our group came up with was to place a flyer on a table in restaurants in addition to the previous email prototype. The flyer asks parents for a little donation when they eat at restaurants and brings more varieties in menus. If parents think the food they had ordered was delicious, they can vote for it online and the most popular dish would be offered as lunch at school as well.

This is the 5 steps you will learn roughly in d.school and 2-day intensive course finished with words as follows.

“Innovation is not an event. Innovation is a design process.”

By the way, I took another class at d.school. The class in the fall quarter was “Transformative Design” which designs our life to better one by attaching the design thinking methods.

The class finally finished on Monday, December 5th, and this final class was also quite unique in a way of showing “the way of Stamford”.

A scene from daily work at d.school. Post-its on whiteboards are everywhere…

First of all, we were asked to make posts for questions, 1) the most meaningful work, 2) the biggest waste of time, 3) work that we feel most ambivalent or indifferent, and posted on a whiteboard in the class.

Although I have submitted evaluations anonymously in class, it was my first time to say that “this work was meaningless” in front of the instructors and I intimidated to do it a little first. In addition, students who gave the same opinion were asked to make the point clear why they came to the thoughts in a conversation setting.

Students were not hesitant to say opinions of where they felt wasteful, how instructors could improve it, or the other opinions of who thought it very meaningful.

When I was about to be overwhelmed, the instructor turned to me and said, “What do you think?”. One of the methods, learning from failures, is practiced deeply in a classroom as well.

I found it important that design thinking is not the one we can done with just one practice but also the one we need to keep learning patterns of how to observe users and the way to draw out needs from them.

Also, even if we say “Let’s make innovations with design thinking from now!”, it would sound quite difficult. First of all, it may be possible to begin with a small training. This is an example of trainings taught by a professor at d.school, that can be done by a team.

First, prepare a pen and paper with co-workers in your department, think about what you want to change in the workplace, think what you can change better. Become active, move around the space and observe for 5 minutes. For example, you may notice such as “There is a television where we don’t need it”, or “There are too many chairs in our way”. Try to share the result with co-workers, even it’s very trivial. This is an exercise for a problem discovery. Surprisingly you will find many “problems” which you have not noticed so far. I feel that making the atmosphere of doing something different is the first step to be innovative more than anything.

“Innovation is not an event. Innovation is a design process.” — There is a process to be innovative.

In addition, I think that we can make use of design thinking in brainstorming at office effectively. There is a process to make “creative ideas”. Group members clearly decide the tasks, share the prepared contents, and give ideas all at once. It won’t be right to stay in a meeting room until we come up with something creative, unfortunately. In tackling a difficult problem, it seems that one-hour brainstorming, if it’s done correctly, is the maximum of the capacity at any case.

Of course the methods obtained there are not a silver bullet for all questions. However, as many companies need new ideas, which are not on the extension of where they used to be, in this digital age, I think that a roll of design thinking will means more and more.