Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Design Thinking with Barry Katz at Stanford: Class 1

I'm beyond excited about the new class I'm taking at Stanford! It's called How to Think Like a Designer taught by Barry Katz. Barry is a consulting professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, professor of Humanities and Design at California College of the Arts, and fellow at IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy that I've been a major fan of for years.

Just being on the Stanford campus is inspiring! The 12 week class is held in the Mechanical Engineering building adjacent to the beautiful Memorial Church. I arrived a few minutes before start time and was lucky to get one of the last seats in the back (some people sat on the floor). There must be 70 students ranging from mid 20s to mid 50s, more people than anyone was expecting. The interest and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. I'm among people who love learning and collaborating. I am home!

Barry gave an excellent overview of his experience, which included a fascinating history of the Stanford, CCA and IDEO. He told stories about innovative projects from each place, and observed an interesting switch in the undergrad/grad focus. In the past, students often received their undergraduate degrees in something general, like Liberal Arts, and then pursued a specialty in grad school. These days, more students get a specialized undergrad, then use their graduate studies to explore how they want to apply that specialization. He talked about the history of design thinking, including French industrial designer Ray Loewy who designed everything from locomotives to Lucky Strike cigarette packaging, and Nobel prize winning polymath Herbert Simon who studied human activity around human built systems. He also told us about the book, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, which he co-authored with Tim Brown from IDEO.

Barry closed the class by revealing our semester long assignment: improve the experience of commuting. He said it's our responsibility and opportunity to define what commuting means. Immediately my mind kicked into high gear:

Commuting by car: improving comfort, safety (requiring driving tests more often, offering greater rewards for passing driving tests/traffic school, driving tips while you drive, rewards for staying at or under speed limit), multitasking, distractions from children and pets, traffic alerts, construction, alleviating boredom (new suggested routes to and from work to discover new things), parking (parking meters, paying remotely, app to avoid parking tickets), making use of traffic cameras to provide commentary/emotional feedback, weather conditions, sun in your eyes (a windshield that can dim, like auto-tinting eye glasses), forgetting your laptop at home.

Commuting by train/bus/subway: seat comfort, mobile phone use (etiquitte, accessibility), falling asleep and missing your stop, cleanliness/smell, temperature, transferring, lack of seating, accessibility, accommodating packages, using public transport to move something other than yourself (pets, sick people, bulky objects), meeting people, schedules, waiting shelters, advertising, educational opportunities while you wait, empathy for customers and drivers/conductors, tickets, exact change, loosing cards, over capacity, traffic, construction. Also commuting by taxi and car/limo/van service, special events, parties.

Commuting by plane: orientation and relationship to public transportation, shuttle buses, loosing your boarding pass, boarding order, safety assurances, meeting people (Virgin's seat to seat IM), frequent business flyer perks/issues, sleeping in airport when weather is bad, lost luggage, luggage flies to airport before you do, delays, updates, sleeping on plane, empathy for fellow passengers, lighting, food and drink, staying hydrated, circulation, time zone changes, odors, temperature, storage, lap belts, safety instructions, wifi, barf bags.

Commuting on foot/bike/motorcycle: navigation, addresses, parking, carrying laptop, number of blocks to surrounding destinations (California Ave), comfort, weather, relationship of cars to people/bikes, giving the right of way, blind spots.

I can't wait to collaborate with new people and apply my passion for design thinking to important issues we all share.