A time to reflect...

December 11, 2012

Myself and two of my colleagues - Stefanie Norvaisas and Ami Verhalen- co-teach a Design Thinking class in the Center for Brand and Product Management in the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison, and on Tuesday the 11th we held our final class of the semester. We switched things up for this class, hosting the students at the Design Concepts office for a screening of the documentary Design & Thinking, to celebrate our success, and reflect on the semester as a whole.

As we reworked the course over the summer, one point that became important for us to emphasize was the process and power of reflection. Most of us grow up learning a very linear decision-making process, and it can be difficult to break out of that mold. We asked the students to not only learn a nonlinear and iterative process like design thinking, but to more or less live it. And they had to do so at the breakneck pace expected in graduate level studies of a high-caliber program like the Wisconsin School of Business. As expected, it was difficult (for them and us), and that deserves some time to look over your shoulder and see where you've been.

From our perspective as instructors and facilitators of the class, there were a few highlights during the semester. “Ah ha!” moments are always fun to observe, helping the students work to generate insights from their research was rewarding, and their final presentations were excellent across the board. But this time we were especially proud to see the reflections they had about their experiences in the class and with the process of design thinking. Some of them were genuinely surprised at what they were able to create and deliver to their client in only 10 weeks. And the students’ efforts generated some outstanding results that will really help a real company with real challenges they face in their business. Grounding design thinking in reality this way really helped them see its power.

We asked the students to not only learn a nonlinear and iterative process like design thinking, but to more or less live it.

From our perspective as practitioners, this was also a time to reflect on our own thoughts regarding design thinking. Even though it's something we do everyday, it's not often something we think about explicitly. Wouldn't you know it, we disagreed on some things. Of course, the big lesson to come out of all this reflection was that these differences in opinion add up to more robust and well-rounded teams. Two people won't look at a problem the same way even though they may be looking at it through the same lens of design thinking, and this means the number of possible approaches and solutions will be expanded. A valuable insight, indeed. Thanks due to the students for not only a great semester, but for teaching us a thing or two, as well!