In 2004 I was working on a marketing feasibility study for a gardening product. I talked with a friend about my issues with the product, and he said “You really need to talk to the people at IDEO. They have this new method called ‘human centered design’. It will blow your mind!” He introduced me to a director at IDEO in London, with whom I spoke and, yes, it blew my mind. I contacted a professor of horticulture who popped up on a web search, although her work was not in the area of our product, and confessed “I don’t even know exactly why I need to speak with you, but I know I do.” She kindly gave me her time, and after about ten minutes she said “I know why you need to speak with me. I know a company that does something called ‘human centered market research’. It will blow your mind.” She introduced me to that company and, yes, it blew my mind how they were using the same physical design principles that IDEO were using, but in researching food products. My client wouldn’t fund the research project with them, so I finished the project and moved on, but the excitement I felt over the value of human centered design stayed with me.
In 2010, I took a class called “How to think like a designer” as part of the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. Our reference text was “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation,” by another IDEO director, Tim Brown. In his 2009 TED Talk “Designers, Think Big!” Brown says that human centered design is more than good ergonomics:
“It’s often about understanding culture and context before we even know where to start to have ideas…Instead of starting with technology, the team started with people and culture.”
“So if human need is the place to start, design thinking rapidly moves on to thinking by making. Instead of thinking about what to build, building in order to think.”
“Design may have its greatest impact when it it taken out of the hands of designers and put into the hands of everyone.”
Between these two events, I worked at a teacher in a school with an “all desks must be in straight rows and face the front” rule. Teaching within constraints made me focus on the parts of the process over which I had freedom. There were so many rules on what, when, where, and why that all I could affect was the how. I designed my pedagogy to follow my students’ lead. Whatever activities captivated them and inspired them to deeper learning of our set curriculum was what we did. Our units of learning were a month long, so I let our collective curiosity take us in whatever path through the material, keeping an eye on the checkpoints. The confirmation came when the students spent their spare time reading ahead because they were so curious. Our class was fueled by our collective Passion Quotient (PQ) and Curiosity Quotient (CQ), as Thomas L. Friedman defines them.
One thing we did not have that year was space. Our room was so small that we dubbed it “The classroom under the stairs”. For my final project, I have designed a learning space. My design document, with rationale, can be found here. My overarching design aesthetic for a learning space is flexibility and minimalism. A flexible space, with furniture that lends itself to multiple learning modalities and a project-base enquiry system of learning, would cultivate the innovation ethic my group discussed in our wicked project.
This is my final blog post for my studies at Michigan State University. I find myself thinking about all I have learned. Last night I was thinking about that professor of horticulture and I realized that she was part of my personal learning network. I remembered that she was in a place far away, because she asked me about the product in snow. Then I remembered: that distant place she was in was Michigan State University.
Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper Business.
Tim Brown 2009 TED talk “Designers, think big!”:
Teaching children design thinking:
Thinker photo used under public domain license from wikipedia
Friedman, T.L., “It’s PQ and CQ as Much as IQ”: