1. October 17, 2014


    The following sentence is an understatement: Aaron Huey is a photographer.

    Aaron is a designer, storyteller, explorer, entrepreneur, activist, author and maker — and those are only a few of the hats he wears. In addition to his award-winning work for National Geographic, The New Yorker, Smithsonian and The New York Times, among other publications, Aaron is an alumni of the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford and is currently a Global Ambassador of the d.school fellowship program. For seven years, he photographed the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, transitioning from objective observer to activist, which led to his collaboration with street artist Shepard Fairey and the launch of the Honor the Treaties campaign.

    Aaron visited the d.school this week to speak with the d.school fellows about his work, the power of visual storytelling and the new developments for those who seek to reach out and have impact. I had a chance to catch up with him afterwards and ask a few questions about his daily process and professional evolution. Continue Reading

  2. October 16, 2014

    Learning to do a backflip on a BMX bike is a lot like launching a new product or service. You’ve got to continue to do things you can already do well, and you’ll have to do some things you (and maybe no one) has ever done before.  That’s scary territory. If you mess up, the implications are serious.

    But the BMX community has developed a way to prototype a BMX backflip (and countless other tricks) in a way that minimizes their chance of injury and is leading to rapid changes in the evolution of that sport. The innovation is called a tramp bike. It’s a “bike” that’s completely non-functioning (no chain, wheels, pedal, brakes, etc.), except when combined with a trampoline; at that point, it becomes a brilliant tool for prototyping risky tricks.

    So, what can we learn from these prototyping geniuses? Let’s break it down into 5 key lessons.

    1. Deconstruct the challenge
    Continue Reading

  3. October 9, 2014

    I built a prototype tonight. It’s quick, dirty, to the point, and, quite frankly, I think it’s going to fail completely. But I want to know why.

    One of the persistent challenges at the d.school is getting individuals to share the stories of their learning. They’re too busy doing to share. So, I continue to test new ways to mine for these golden nuggets. My latest effort is a short, sweet Google form. It consists of four fields: Name, date, a call for one insight and another call for one wish. The prompts for the last two fields are “I was surprised to learn…” and “It would be incredible if…”.

    So, who am I testing with. I sent the form to one fellow (rather than blasting it to all of the fellows at once) to get a response and and iterate from there. Continue Reading

  4. October 9, 2014
    Brandenburg Gate at night. (Emi Kolawole)

    Brandenburg Gate at night. (Emi Kolawole)

    Berlin-Tegel Airport is humming at 5:45AM. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong (visit Marché, should you ever find yourself at Gate D72). The rocket fuel helps me to clarify the last 72 hours, which have taken me from San Francisco to Paris, from Paris to Berlin and now back to Paris.

    I have a very good reason to be in Paris. The French-American Foundation has a remarkable Young Leaders program, which makes possible a regular cultural exchange between French and American professionals over the course of two years. I was fortunate enough to be named a Young Leader in 2014, making me eligible to take part in this year’s gathering in Paris and Bordeaux.

    I decided, however, that while I was here, I should take care of some other important business: experiencing Berlin after having heard much of its startup energy and its continued emergence nearly 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, I arrived very close to the Nov. 9 anniversary of the fall. While I took some time to reflect on the important and difficult history of the city and visit its key landmarks, I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t there just to look back. Rather, I was there to see glimpses of Berlin’s future and places where design thinking’s seeds had been planted and started to take root.

    The entrance to the Creation Center in Berlin at The Telekom Innovation Center. (Emi Kolawole)

    The entrance to the Creation Center in Berlin at The Telekom Innovation Center. (Emi Kolawole)

    I stayed in Potsdamer Platz between Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate, but I found the sparks I was looking for at the Telekom Innovation Arena in Winterfeldstraße, specifically I went to visit the Creation Center there. I walked into the bright, open space and immediately felt at home. There were toys, objects the team used to help inspire those new to design thinking to reach new prototype ideas. There were lamps adorned with pink sticky notes, and multi-level seating and wide-open tables. But, most importantly, there was evidence of strong storytelling and methods that I hadn’t yet tried to employ, including flip books and card boxes to help distill process and outcome on a project. Continue Reading

  5. October 2, 2014
    The cover of the worksheet we had fellows from four separate Stanford programs work on during an introductory design thinking workshop. (Emi Kolawole / Photo by Flickr user muffinn)

    The cover of the worksheet we had fellows from four separate Stanford programs work on during an introductory design thinking workshop. (Emi Kolawole / Photo by Flickr user muffinn)

    One of many challenges in teaching design thinking can be finding ways to make the methods relevant to students’ everyday lives. It’s one thing to design an object or experience for a partner you may have just met, it’s another to apply the process to a project with which you are intimately familiar.

    In a previous post, I mentioned that Justin Ferrell (our director of fellowships), Ashish Goel (d.school teaching fellow) and I put together a worksheet for professional fellows at Stanford, including the Knight, Biodesign, CERC and d.school fellows. For many of the fellows, the workshop we conducted served as an introduction to design thinking. But, based on previous experience, Justin realized that the engagement needed to be more than just a simple introductory design project or bootcamp. It had to be designed, if you will, for the attendees — a group of professionals who, in many cases, had uprooted their lives to come to Stanford, learn a variety of new skills and methods and bring that learning back to their professional organizations.

    They needed a bridge between a basic understanding of the process and the potential for its application in their work. So, what could such a custom introduction to design thinking look like? Continue Reading

  6. October 2, 2014
    Photo by Flickr user bclinesmith

    Photo by Flickr user bclinesmith

    Next to sex, feeding ourselves involves one of the more complex, irrational decision-making process we engage in. But those on both sides of the political aisle as well as urban advocacy groups and health and food industries seem to have found themselves arguing over statistics as determinators of the obesity epidemic in urban areas.  A massive effort in the last few years, and millions of public dollars have been spent on eliminating food deserts with the hypothesis being that if there were whole, healthy foods available, people would automatically gravitate towards those options instead of quick, fatty fast food.  A study published by Health Affairs reported: “The present findings suggest that simply improving a community’s retail food infrastructure may not produce desired changes in food purchasing and consumption patterns.”
    Continue Reading

  7. October 2, 2014


    Wired, yes that Wired, held their first Wired by Design, bringing leading designers to Sausalito and Marin to share new and interesting ideas around a variety of topics. Stanford d.school Executive Director, Sarah Stein Greenberg was among the speakers, delivering the four prompts of Stanford 2025, the byproduct of a year-long design effort conducted by students, faculty, staff and outside collaborators here at Stanford.
    Continue Reading

  8. September 26, 2014

    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

     – Ecclesiastes 1:9

    Think back to what you did with your last “ah-ha” moment. Who did you share it with, and where is the record of it now? Do you remember? Odds are, you probably don’t.

    Rarely do those breakthrough moments in the shower, over dinner or on the drive home get captured and shared. We may have a process for innovating, but we almost never maintain a process for recording what we learn as we go about that work. Journals can be unreliable and difficult to share. Social media tends to present a version of ourselves, often only what we think is our best possible face. On top of that, the individuals and teams that generate these moments — these insights — don’t think they are valuable outside of their immediate sphere (if even there).

    This especially holds true for failures. Our natural reflex is to sweep those unflattering moments under the rug. Nevermind that we stand to learn more from our failures than at any other point in our innovation process. Perfection, polished products and immaculate outcomes continue to almost always be our most sought-after goals.

    This means one of the best sources of teaching material is also among the most difficult to access: the stories of individuals in the process of their work. How do we capture that knowledge, and more importantly, how do we share it? What do the mechanisms and methods look like to gather this material, and what could the product of it be? Continue Reading

  9. September 24, 2014

    5 Questions - Title image

    One of the fun things about being part of the d.school community is that I get to have a lot of conversations with folks about design. More often than not, I’m chatting with a start-up or mature organization that is looking to hire a designer. It’s not easy to hire designers, but I’ve found answering five basic questions sets you up to hire and retain an effective designer.

    1. What kind of designer are you looking for?
    Let’s break down three types of designers that are often confused. Visual Designers, Interaction Designers and Design Strategists.

    Visual designers optimize the visual language to connect to the emotional, brand and usability goals of a product. This may include screens, user-interface elements or logos. Many visual designers also have some interaction design skills. When working with a visual designer, expect to have a period of discovery followed by time that they’ll spend working through the subtleties of a design. I find it much easier to engage visual designers on a contract basis unless you need a large volume of visual assets.

    Interaction designers create the underlying structure for an experience (The User Flow). They usually do this by conducting (or consuming) user research, extracting mental models and then creating an experience that will feel intuitive to the target audience. Interaction designers usually have experience conducting user research and may have some visual design skills, but that’s not always the case. Interaction designers are are far more effective when embedded with a team since they need to deeply understand the technology, user and business constraints.

    Design strategists tend to be a bit more experienced and may have come up as visual designers, interaction designers or design researchers. Some may come from a different field altogether. Their expertise is in process and how to use a design lens to address the challenge at hand. Design strategists can have a huge impact on a business because they can help introduce new ways of working and thinking, but in situations with far more short term, tactical needs, (creating wireframes, UI, design templates) a design strategist might not be the best hire unless he or she also has some of those skills. Continue Reading

  10. September 19, 2014


    The d.school community is constantly growing, and we’re always happy to see folks share their stories. This month, we welcomed eight new fellows to the d.school, including Jason Mayden.

    An alumni of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Jason came to us from Nike, where he was the senior design innovation lead for Jordan Brand. He was also an advisor to the d.school fellows program before becoming a fellow himself this year. You can read more about Jason here on the whiteboard. But you can also read more about his experiences as a fellow on Hypebeast.

    That’s right, Jason has his own blog, which is aptly titled “The Design Fellow“.  Continue Reading