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Sunday, February 8 • 1:30pm - 4:30pm
Educating designers and non-designers for impact: opportunities and challenges with the rise of design thinking Full

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Educating designers and non-designers for impact:

What are the new opportunities, challenges, pitfalls and advantages for interaction designers and design educators? How do we address them?

This topic is related to the following Summit themes:

•          Balancing generalism vs. specialization

•          Relationship between industry and education


Within the past 5-10 years, there has been a rapid rise in the interest of design thinking and innovation methods in all sectors of the economy. Much of this interest stems from a sense of urgency felt by government-, non-government-, and industrial organizations to address critical systems problems arising from changes in technology, populations, and climate.

Many individuals and organizations are investing in how to learn and apply certain design methods and mindsets that are squarely in the wheelhouse of interaction and user experience designers. This is creating opportunity for UX designers and design teams to move into positions of leadership in some organizations, while at the same time commoditizing UX and interaction design as a back-end specialization—and therefore separate from front-end design thinking activities—in other organizations.

Stanford d.school has seen great success in training executives and managers from a variety of disciplines. Design Thinking programs are creating impact in the business culture at companies such as JetBlue, Nordstrom, Intuit, Fidelity, Citrix, Proctor and Gamble, and others. The result is a greater awareness of the value of human-centered design, cross-functional collaboration and early, iterative testing of concepts before implementation. However, these companies are also discovering there are choices to be made: when a DT project team is kept small, staffed with designers who specialize, they are capable of producing repeatedly high quality results; when DT is given away to the organization at large, a culture that values design emerges, but the quality of outcomes on projects staffed with “non-designer design thinkers” cannot be gauged or controlled.

For interaction design educators, in both industry and the academy, the question then becomes: who do we train, how do we train them, and for what types of outcomes? For example, interaction design firms that do research and strategy are increasingly being called upon to deliver toolkits to their clients that include training in design thinking and Lean methods. Teaching a client “to fish” by training their in-house design team can often generate longer, more strategic engagements with the client for these firm. Initiatives like Design For America are empowering students from all majors to use DT mindsets and methods on important social problems. MBA programs are including single design thinking courses in a two-year curriculum, yet in a contest in 2014 at the University of Toronto between competing schools, the MFA programs beat the MBAs for most innovative solutions. What is the background of the trainer and what should the training consist of in each of these cases?

This call for design thinking training across disciplines will continue as the need for cross-functional collaboration grows. Design educators were previously in the position of determining curriculum and outcomes based on the experience of best practice from within the profession. While the curriculum of skills is still set by the profession, the language used, the depth of practice, and the criteria for evaluation will be increasingly determined by how students intend to apply the skills and what types of outcomes the organizations that hire them or sponsor their training expect from their practice. Unlike educators from other disciplines who offer training in design thinking, interaction designers are in a unique position to support and guide the training of both designers and non-designers, in both academic and industrial settings. We must be prepared to articulate the distinction in language that potential non-designer clients and students recognize.



•          To gather stories from across the profession about training for non-designers.

        o  Student/client needs and desired outcomes

        o  Training approaches being taken (methods, formats, etc.) and how these approaches differ for non-designers. What’s working? What are the challenges or unintended consequences?

•          To brainstorm sample curricula of courses, workshops, or exercises for training non-designers that encourages best practice and considers how they want to apply the knowledge. Participants will have a tangible, targeted takeaway from the workshop.


FORMAT (2h 30 min total)

Working on rotating teams of 3-6 people, participants will discuss strategic and tactical questions and case studies related to the topic, then share to the room. Out of the discussions, teams will self-organize based on mutual interests to sketch proposed curricula for training offerings. A framework to support focused thinking will suggested, yet framing of each training offering will be determined by each team.


Workshop attendees, on teams, will generate a basic framework of training offerings for non-designers or in-house design teams. Frameworks will be distributed to attendees. 


Dianna Miller

Professor, Industrial + Interaction Design, Syracuse University

Sunday February 8, 2015 1:30pm - 4:30pm
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