Infusing Design into Pan-University Programs

I believe strongly that education should provide a solid foundation for the skills, knowledge, ways of thinking, and fostering of a curiosity required to progress advancement in society. I also believe that design and design thinking are critical ingredients of education at all levels.   

This commitment to education led me to start working with a variety of education institutions, design schools, business schools, medical schools, and whole universities. I've delivered guest lectures, given invited keynote presentations, served as a judge in case competitions, worked with my IBM design teams to provide collaborative real world capstone projects for design classes, and participated on a variety of university and government education boards and committees. I've worked with education institutions worldwide and have recently been working more closely with Canadian universities including University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Carlton University, York University, OCAD University, University of Windsor, and McMaster University. 

I most enjoy helping to develop and then co-teach entirely new programs and courses. I've done this mostly thus far with McMaster University as well as with it's DeGroote School of Business, it's DeGroote Health Leadership Academy, and it's Directors College. I do this teaching as a personal passion on Saturdays as my Design Director role at IBM more than fills up my weeks and involves significant travel. In this role as Industry Professor, I've collaborated closely with Michael Hartmann, the Associate Dean of the School of Business, Del Harnish, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the insightful and forward thinking Dean of the Business School, Leonard Waverman. I've helped infuse design and design thinking into a new Executive Digital MBA program, a Health Leadership Program, a Directors College Program, and most recently a brand new Innovation by Design pan-university course. I absolutely loved working with the students especially given their diversity. While further improvements can and will be made in these programs, I think we're really onto something here. 

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a strong proponent of fostering a T-shaped person, someone who has deep skills in one or two disciplines (the vertical stroke on the T) as well as has broad skills that all disciplines should have (the horizontal stroke of the T). I believe that design thinking (and in fact IBM Design Thinking in particular) is in that latter category of cross-discipline skills. And I don't mean exclusively the mechanical learning of specific methods but rather the new perspective on problems and opportunities to improve a situation, the approach used to conceptualize and evaluate future directions, and the practices to make it real. 

Feedback from students and faculty on the keynotes as well as on the programs and courses has been extremely positive (e.g., "this is absolutely the best course I've ever taken!"). So what's so special about the new perspective and skills provided by the innovation by design approach? And, how is it that it's relevant to such a wide range of disciplines? Well, let me give you some examples of experiences that the students had. Business students are typically deep in analytical thinking but while analytical thinking is very useful for many things, they need design and design thinking skills to know how to come up with something innovative. Of course, they need to have analytical thinking and design thinking skills and they learned how to know which to use in what situation. Medical students, and health sciences students more generally, learned how to take a patient-centered perspective in everything they do, for example, how they arrange the patient flow through a medical office, clinic, or lab setting using service design or even to include the conceptualization of various methods of automating and digitizing the experience. Engineering students learned how to not focus immediately on the solution but rather to understand the problem or opportunity for improvement better first, and to explore and evaluate with users alternative solutions. Students from other undergraduate and graduate faculties had similar transformative experiences. Executive students learned how to ready their companies for the future, how to foster innovation, and what organizational models they should be considering. Directors College students learned how to evaluate the innovation readiness of companies and how to help guide companies to optimize for innovation by design. All disciplines learned from each other and realized that future innovation requires truly diverse multidisciplinary collaboration.

Does including these approaches in the curricula guarantee that students will be more innovative? Well, no, but it does give students a perspective that is human centered and focussed on the opportunities to be innovative and provides the approaches that will increase the likelihood of an innovative solution. I believe that something is only truly innovative when the user who is using it thinks that it is innovative.  

There's an appetite for this change in education at all levels: executive education, health education, and in fact pan-university education. I believe that traditional approaches to university education need to be disrupted and incorporating innovation by design approaches is a first step in doing this. There is a lot of attention in education circles of late on what are called the STEM disciplines. That is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Others have argued for the inclusion of the Arts, which makes the acronym STEAM. I believe that if we really want to prepare students for the future, we should be focusing on STEAMED. The additional two letters represent Education and Design. Given what I've written above, you probably see the wisdom in the addition of the D but might be wondering about the E for Education. The contributions to the various university programs summarized above haven't been solely focussed on content. They also focus on the way the students are taught. The focus has very, very little lecture style learning but rather has mostly experiential learning. Students learn much more effectively and retain more of their learning in an experiential learning environment. In fact, I believe that university education programs should actually be designed using design methods to intentionally create the right learning environment for the students.  

Check out our IBM Design site for more information about our overall program and our version of design thinking. You can also check out the Emerging Health Leaders program, the EMBA program, and the Directors College program. Details of the next pan-university Innovation by Design course should be available shortly. 

I'll discuss in a future post how I believe design schools, business schools, universities, enterprises, and entrepreneurs should be working more closely together in a new innovation by design ecosystem.