1. April 9, 2015
    The introductory design thinking workshop for d.school fellows and others across Stanford.

    The introductory design thinking workshop for d.school fellows and others across Stanford.

    Note: The d.school teaching fellowship applications close tonight. The following describes the d.school project fellowship, which opens this morning.

    We’re now accepting applications for the d.school fellowship program for the academic year 2015-16. This year, we are looking for restless experts in the fields of K12 education and civic innovation. Ideal candidates will be mid-career professionals and entrepreneurs with the potential to drive systems-level change. If you’re dedicated to improving either of these areas, read on!

    What’s a d.school fellowship?

    Not to be confused with our teaching fellowship, this hands-on, project-based program is rooted in organization design and is intended to help accelerate creative leaders and their work. Ideally, candidates for the fellowship will already have launched an initiative in either of our two focus areas, and will be coming to the program looking to scale its impact. Selected fellows will be eligible to receive a stipend and benefits, so they may commit to the 10-month experience. Our fellows are full-time at the d.school, and have access to the resources of Stanford University and the Silicon Valley community, as well.

    How does it work?

    Continue Reading

  2. March 24, 2015
    The second class of "Research as Design" begins. The class explores the application of design thinking in complex research. (Emi Kolawole)

    The second class of “Research as Design” begins. The class explores the application of design thinking in professional research. (Emi Kolawole)

    Can design thinking help people do better research and better science?

    Enter the d.school pop-up class “Research as Design: Redesign Your Research Process“, which was taught this past winter. The class provides PhD candidates, post-doctoral researchers, master’s degree candidates, faculty and others engaged in professional research at Stanford an opportunity to learn how they may apply design thinking to their work.

    The instructors seek to help their students discover needs and explore potential solutions to problems in their research efforts. Prior to the class, I spoke with Amanda Cravens, a collaborative technology specialist and researcher at Stanford Law School.  Along with the other members of the class’s teaching team, Nicola Ulibarri, Anja Svetina Nabergoj and Adam Royalty, Amanda has been conducting research around the role design thinking could play in the world of long-form research (PDF).

    A problem of one and many

    “Research is very much an individual problem, especially for PhD students,” Amanda told me. The goal of the class is to make finding the solution to that individual problem a collaborative effort.

    The class explores the larger question of how this population’s emotional needs might be understood and addressed. It’s a change from the common approach, which is to take care of people’s mental health needs individually and separate from their research.

    Amanda and I agreed that I should sit in on a class to see how they teach design thinking to this community. I agreed, fascinated by the idea of paving a vibrant and dynamic pathway to creative agency in the world of graduate research — a world I had come to see as overly constrained and staid.

    Students listen to a mini-lecture during class. (Emi Kolawole)

    Students listen to a mini-lecture during class. (Emi Kolawole)

    I arrived to a full classroom of academics in a variety of fields, including biology, robotics and environmental science. Each d.school class must have a mix of students from a variety of disciplines. This class had that, but it also had a common thread in that everyone in the class was involved in research in some way. Students from the law school, business school and engineering school may have been different in their pursuits, but they had a natural point of empathy: the challenge of research. That commonality made for a unique class environment — one where empathy was almost automatically present from the beginning.

    Solving someone else’s research challenge may, in fact, mean solving your own. Continue Reading

  3. March 24, 2015


    UPDATE: The d.school fellowship applications are now open! The teaching fellowship applications, described below, close midnight, Pacific Time, April 9, 2015. 

    Have you ever attended a d.school class or workshop and wondered what goes into teaching the d.school way? Well, now’s your chance to find out.

    Applications for the d.school teaching fellowship are now open. The teaching fellowship (not to be confused with our professional fellowship program) runs for a full year and offers individuals an opportunity to learn, teach and grow their expertise in experiential teaching and design thinking.

    Here’s the critical piece of knowledge: Applications opened Monday and are due by midnight, Pacific Time, April 9, 2015. Continue Reading

  4. March 19, 2015
    Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to take a break. (Photo via Flickr user Moyan Brenn)

    Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to take a break. (Photo via Flickr user Moyan Brenn)

    We all need a break every once in a while. That includes the whiteboard newsletter.

    Winter quarter has ended, and spring break is upon us. That means the campus is getting a little quieter. But the d.school is humming. There are changes to the space afoot, and the work of the media design team is beginning to ramp up.

    I am on that team.

    That’s why the whiteboard newsletter is taking a break. I need to begin carving more time into my schedule for my team and the work we seek to do. There’s a “slow to respond” message on my inbox, and I am committing to the elimination of as many deadlines as possible to which we haven’t commonly agreed.

    Now, does that mean the whiteboard is dead? Absolutely not! It remains alive and well. The only change is that the newsletter will no longer be delivered weekly. Instead, it will go out occasionally.

    Will we notify you when applications for the fellows program go out? Of course!
    Will the Twitter and Facebook accounts remain active? You bet.
    Will I stop writing about what’s happening at the d.school or my and others’ process? Nope.

    It’s just the newsletter that, like the cat above, is taking a nap. It’s getting a bit quieter, calmer and may roll over and talk in its sleep a bit to keep you up to date on the d.school and its offerings.

    Our last weekly delivery will be Friday, March 20. If you have questions please feel free to leave them in the comments.

  5. March 19, 2015
    When it comes to media design, it's not about television studios and journalism lectures, it's about people. (Photo via Flickr user Loozrboy)

    When it comes to media design, it’s not about television studios and journalism lectures, it’s about people. (Photo via Flickr user Loozrboy)

    Media design. It’s a popular term now at the d.school as we embark on a two-year exploration. But what is it? It’s pretty broad, when you think about it. There’s media. Nearly everything, from a piece of paper to the food on your plate, can serve as media. There’s design, and within design, there’s organizational design, industrial design, product design and the list goes on.

    So, what is media design? Is it the design of new ways to bring information to smart watches? Is it a new curriculum to bring journalism schools to the cutting edge? Then again, could it be coming up with new dinner recipes?

    It turns out the real and most urgent question is none of the above.

    Continue Reading

  6. March 12, 2015
    The Austin skyline. (Photo via Flickr user Andrew Nourse)

    The Austin skyline. (Photo via Flickr user Andrew Nourse)

    Batman is my favorite superhero.

    Beneath the tragic life story, the brooding and the money — the infinite gobs of Wayne Enterprises money — is a human being. He can’t fly, he doesn’t have a magic ring, he can’t breathe under water and webs don’t shoot out his hands. He has a secret identity and buys and makes really cool tools.

    Often, at the d.school, we run an exercise where we ask participants in a class, workshop or event to tell everyone around them what their superpower is. The exercise calls on people to identify an aspect of themselves that they would consider to be their superpower. I love the exercise, especially since my favorite superhero’s superpowers are his wit, drive and, well, gobs of money.

    Where am I going with this?

    We’re going to SXSW this year and our presentation is titled “The Next Great Superpower“. The presentation is the brainchild of the d.school’s Justin Ferrell and IDEO.org’s Sean Hewens. They will be joined by Erin Barrar of IDEO.org, Alaine Newland and Jason Rissman of IDEO and Tran Ha and me from the d.school.

    Continue Reading

  7. March 5, 2015


    Ugh, what now? (Photo via Flickr user r. nial bradshaw)

    Ugh, what now? (Photo via Flickr user r. nial bradshaw)

    I have been trying to wrap my head around vulnerability recently. Yes, I finished reading Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly“. No, I am not the first person to do so or to be taken with the concept of vulnerability as a powerful force in our everyday lives. I am now hunting for people with whom I can speak about the topic. I am also observing people as they write, share (or don’t) and why. I am also keenly aware of what they write and why they choose to take the approaches that they do.

    I have a prototype with which I am wrestling in an attempt to move forward with my findings so far. One is a journal for innovators to use while in process. It is inspired by my habit of using the 5-Minute Journal and the ways in which I have seen it change my behavior. This prototype is also inspired by my seeming inability to stick with my sticky-note-a-day habit. I have also been observing others struggle with a daily habit of recording around their daily process. Then there are the requests to promote projects via social media and other avenues without the context of what they learned and their path to success through struggle and failure.

    But I  (yes, me!am actually having the hardest time getting started. All I have to do is fire up InDesign and begin. But, for whatever reason (fear?), I am not doing it. I am checking Facebook, sharing interesting things I have read on Twitter and generally procrastinating. I am not short on time either. I had almost three uninterrupted hours to work on this project at one point and numerous occasions to bang out the prototype, which is currently in the messiest stage imaginable as you can see here:

    The mess contained in my notebook. I am struggling to get from this to a prototype. And, yes, that is my sad attempt at drawing a camera. (Emi Kolawole)

    The mess contained in my notebook. I am struggling to get from this to a prototype. And, yes, that is my absolutely ludicrous attempt to draw a camera. (Emi Kolawole)

    I’ve really got nothing. Continue Reading

  8. March 4, 2015
    What if you could automate your in-home lighting in a matter of seconds? (Photo provided by the Switchmate team)

    What if you could automate your in-home lighting in a matter of seconds? (Photo provided by the Switchmate team)

    If you want to automate your home today, chances are you have to change something major about it. It may mean switching out a thermostat or replacing a light switch. There’s no getting around fumbling with wires, a screwdriver, and hoping not to get electrocuted. So, how are people supposed to try out home automation when it’s so hard just to get started? We created Switchmate to solve this problem, launching it as part of d.school’s fifth Launchpad class. Our device snaps right over a light switch and lets you control it from your phone in seconds without rewiring.

    Our first major hurdle was to discover who our users would be and what their needs were. In order to do this, we built a basic prototype and stood outside of hardware stores, including Home Depot, Costco, and Lowe’s, testing the prototype with average people and writing down their thoughts before we were eventually kicked out. Continue Reading

  9. February 26, 2015
    Erik (left) and Jonah (right confer over the team breakdowns during class.

    Erik (left) and Jonah (right confer over the team breakdowns during class.

    by Emi Kolawole & Erik Olesund

    The moment is unmistakeable. You are in the garage, you’ve long since shut off the engine and you’re just sitting there listening. Maybe you’re in a dark theater and you’ve forgotten how much time has passed. Perhaps your sitting across the dinner table and all you can hear is that sound — the sound of a great story being told.

    So, what makes those moments happen? What makes stories stick?

    You may be tempted to say that it’s the element of surprise, artful tropes, a strong opening. But something underlies all of these structural elements: empathy.

    We wrapped the pop-up class (a short-form course offered at the d.school) “Sticky Stories” last week. The class was proposed by Erik Olesund, a teaching fellow at the d.school and a graduate of Stanford’s Management Science and Engineering master’s program. Erik invited me and Jonah Willihnganz to join the teaching team.

    Jonah is the Bruce Braden Lecturer in Narrative Studies at Stanford and the director of The Stanford Storytelling Project. Will Rogers was also invited to join the team. Will is the co-managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project and one of four producers of the True Story podcast which has nearly 700,000 followers on SoundCloud.

    Erik conceived of the class because he’s found that listening closely to someone else’s story and then retelling it helps him connect better to the people he interacts with. It also allows him to fully see the world from their perspective, or step into their shoes. The skills needed to listen for the vivid details, strong emotional turns, and underlying meaning of a story are the same skills that designers need to empathize with the people they design for. Creating the class was also a great reason for us to involve Jonah, a faculty member from another part of the university to collaborate with us at the d.school.

    Continue Reading

  10. February 23, 2015
    Vines grow at Benziger Winery, a family owned vineyard run biodynamically. (Emi Kolawole)

    Vines grow at Benziger Winery, a family owned vineyard run biodynamically. (Emi Kolawole)

    Where do you retreat?

    I visit the plants on my patio. There’s an orange tree (named “Apple”), a struggling rosemary bush, a hydrangea on the mend and some succulents, among other plants. I visit these plants to get away from everything. More often than not, I even abandon my phone in the house.

    It’s quiet aside from the birds, a few active squirrels and the rush of water being driven from the spout into my water canteen. You can hear the occasional car rush by the house and the horn of a train in the distance. Both are nice reminders of my temporary absence from the world outside.

    A view of the winery from the trolly car. (Emi Kolawole)

    A view of the winery from the trolly car. (Emi Kolawole)

    I check the flowers, wait to see if any hummingbirds or bees will visit, and I breathe.

    I think.

    This past Thursday, the media design team retreated. We too went to a garden — one far more sophisticated than the small patchwork of green on my concrete patio. En route, there was the coursing engine of the sports utility vehicle we rented. The large Suburban rumbled towards Sonoma and the Benziger Winery. Continue Reading