d.school prototype lab

Week 2 San Francisco.

Just back from a tour of the d.school at Stanford University — interesting because it’s a school that doesn’t award any degrees — it’s sort of a plug-in for other courses.

Stanford University is one of oldest schools in America and celebrating it’s 125 anniversary this year. See more about the way that the d.school was developed in Greg’s Linkedin Pulse article.

In 2005, one of the founders of IDEO, David Kelley along with some colleagues launched the d.school on the university campus with the sole aim of teaching ‘design thinking’ to students across disciplines. So, you can’t study design thinking per se, you elect to do a design thinking subject as part of another degree.

An example of that were the two current students conducting the tour: one was an engineering undergraduate, the other was studying political science. Both were using d.school subjects to help them in their specific studies.

The d.school isn’t large so the tour didn’t cover a lot of physical area, but it did cover a lot of content.

The school covers the five areas of study in a design thinking model: empathy, define, ideate, and prototype and test.

Empathy is about putting yourself in the client’s shoes with user-centred design (which is commonplace now but was actually first proposed in 1958 by a Stanford Engineering professor).

Define encompasses three areas aimed at gaining a detailed understanding your market: user+needs+insight.

User = refining the market with segments and subgroups until the audience is clear. The example used was designing a project for disabled people. The subgroup was autistic, narrowed down to those verbal skills, and then again to those not independent, still living with their parents.

Needs = a verb. What the market wants. The school focuses on defining what th users need from the product/service that is being designed. Examples are: they need to connect, or need to understand, or need to be able to use…

Insight is why you are doing the project. The why. The reason for the project.

Ideation is the area many designers know the best – it’s the action of brainstorming. Two take-away points here. One was to defer judgment, the other was to build on the last suggestion with a ‘Yes and…’ statement. Building on others ensures the suggestions became more and more outlandish/creative/lateral and less predictable. From the outlandish comes lateral solutions.

Prototyping is the next stage, and both students stressed the mantra of prototyping fast and dirty. They called it ‘wizard of oz’ing’. The prototype lab included items like tape, cardboard, felt, string and clamps. It’s based on the idea of getting market feedback quickly, rather than spending money and time persuing ideas that may be inappropriate. Presenting less than perfect prototypes also invited constructive criticism rather than intimidating users with a finished, polished product. (This is a process I use often, presenting scribbled layouts rather than final photoshop files.)

The final stage was testing. Getting users to try out the prototype and having them give considered feedback.

The tour of the ‘home studio’ space was really interesting. It’s completely modular, and made up couches, white board dividers and small desks on wheels.

Everything about the space was considered, especially the desks.

They were at a specific height that only worked if you stood at them or perched on high stools. That’s because at this height those standing are at the same height as those sitting, so there’s no overt body language – for example, it’s not possible to ‘stand over’ someone. Everyone is at eye level to others.

The desks are small, too small to share with a laptop, so it makes students step away from the computer and use a paper and pen. And finally, they are deliberately unpolished, almost to the point of looking unfinished, to continue the conversation that ideas don’t need to be finished to be discussed and used.

Read more about Stanford and the d.school, and their place in the rise of San Francisco and silicon valley as global innovation centre, in Greg’s Linkedin Pulse article.

Next week we’re meeting a local design studio owner for a chat about running a studio on this side of the world … I’m really looking forward to that.

In between, there’s lots of sightseeing … and hill climbing.

Carol Mackay

Carol is the owner of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 31 years in business.  Her expertise is in the use of design to package complex content into bite-sized of information that is easy to understand and digest. She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not-for-profit sectors. More at mbdesign.com.au