Design Beijing with Jiang China Design: A City Without Strangers

They said fly across the world and teach 36 students from 29 universities and across 20 different majors a skill set that could change their lives forever. How hard could it be right?

The answer: One of the most sophisticated challenges my team faced all year!

This July, I had the wonderful opportunity to represent GSVlabs as a design coach teaching design thinking methods in the Beijing based program Jiang China Design (JCD).

Alongside other instructors from the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University, graduate level design students, ex-IDEO professionals and other mentors who teach design thinking year round in China, we were anxiously ready for the challenge!

The Beginning of a Design Journey

Students receive a deep dive overview of the design process on Day 1

Students divided up into 6 different teams tackling opportunities omnipresent in Beijing such as designing effective art education programs in migrant children schools, improving lives of local residents with HPV, and identifying ways to improve the lives of the local Hutong residents.

Teams worked to identify opportunities in their community, conduct in-field research, and make decisions on how to address the complex challenges that occur in real world problem solving environments.

As instructors and mentors, we focused on demonstrating methods of building empathy for local populations, building and testing rough mock-ups, and how to make objective, evidence and team-based decisions throughout the two weeks.

Students undergoing a practice empathy exercise before conducting user interviews

Although these may sound straight forward, the human-centered design process is a messy process where teams experience many failures until a team finds a scope and path they are all comfortable with.

As instructors, helping teams through their failures and understand their learning moments very quickly became our most important role.

Students initially hesitated at different stages of the process due to uncertainty, many decisions and compromises to be made, and the ever looming fear of failure.

Students successfully conducting user interviews in a Hutong

We greatly value these moments and celebrate once they push forward as we are witnessing students build creative confidence and begin to unleash their true potential on the impact they can have in their communities and beyond.

In the end, all six teams were able to identify key user insights and use them to guide the design of their prototypes serving local community needs. Through this winding journey, the design process proved once again by delivering an invaluable learning outcome!

The Art Dream Education Team showing off their final prototypes

Summarized below are a few of the challenges we faced as instructors throughout the experience and would be great discussion points for others undergoing a similar teaching experience:

2016 Jiang China Design Instructors and Mentors

1) Earning students trust and permission to be their guide through learning the design process with an ever-present a language and cultural barrier

2) Balance the role of offering guidance but avoid being a crutch for the team to rely on. They must make their own decisions through the direction of their project!

3) Gaining consensus on which style or curriculum format of design thinking is the most effective.

4) Identifying, documenting, and celebrating breakthrough moments for each team while they are happening

Here are some core values, we witnessed students gain through their experience:

JCD Students and Faculty on the last day

1) Learn to adopt a design mindset that students can exercise to build their creative confidence

2) Practice using various languages and forms of communication through a real-world problem solving process

3) Experience the cross-cultural opportunity of working beside professional faculty team from China, Europe, and United States

4) Gain connections to real institutions using design to solve problems

5) Leave inspired and equipped to change themselves, their community, or the world for the better

After quite the journey, I am excited to continue to support the Jiang China Design program to help them continue to expand their mission of building the next generation of design thinkers in China. Now entering their third year of operation, program expansion plans are underway for launch in 2017. Congratulations to the JCD team and a special thank you to Jenny Wang, for being the strong visionary leading this movement!

For more information watch JCD’s 2016 video here: