An Innovative Approach

By Christine Cox | Spring 2015

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Beyond interviewing, students observed carefully how subjects accomplished tasks in their garage. “So we’d say, now please show me how you get out your bicycles,” said senior Colleen Sheehy. “You’re watching behavior. What they tell you isn’t as important as what they show you.”

The Innovation and Design classroom experience itself is significantly different from traditional lecture format. Angst grades largely on effort and engagement and emphasizes there’s usually not a right answer. She plays music to keep the mood light and to encourage groups to collaborate. There are sticky notes hanging on all the walls — a nonthreatening way to share an idea.

During the Chicago field trip, the students filed into design firm IDEO’s colorful, decidedly nontraditional office space. Steve Schwall (ND ’06), portfolio director, assigned teams of four to five students to create a “rapid” prototype, allowing 5 minutes to come up with an idea and then 30 minutes to build.

Sheehy (MGT ’15) and her group made a proto-type based on their experience with Gladiator. They considered the problem of storage faced by active urban dwellers who own bicycles and bulky sports equipment. With their 30 minutes, they built a portable mini-garage as tall as a bicycle with a sliding drawer for a door and an urban garden on top. It was remarkable, as were the prototypes from the other groups.

But the point was not to build something that looked cool. The point was to test it, to take it to a consumer, who would likely rip it to shreds. “You ask, ‘OK, what’s wrong with this?’” Sheehy said. “We don’t like hearing criticism, but that’s the only way you learn how it can be better. And you go back to the drawing board.”

Sometimes that means going through the whole process again. But a long string of iterations might lead to creating something lifesaving or important.

“Design thinking really helps give our students the tools they need to live out the mission of Notre Dame, which is to address and solve ‘wicked’ problems facing society — problems that have never been seen before, that have no precedence,” said Angst, who has just started collaborating with colleagues from across the University to see how to make design thinking more cross-disciplinary and prominent.

“Design thinking can change the way we approach challenges like Ebola or safe drinking water or economies of developing countries. We challenge our students to dream big and to change the world, and I’m certain design thinking can enable that in ways we can’t even imagine right now.” 


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