1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. February 19, 2015
    Students work with Jen Cotton, a designer at Twitter, during their final design review for Redesigning the News Ecosystem. (Emi Kolawole)

    Students work with Jen Cotton, a designer at Twitter, during their final design review for Redesigning the News Ecosystem. (Emi Kolawole)

    It’s over. In fact, it has been over for a while. I just needed some time to recover.

    The class, in all, was a wonderful prototype — an attempt to have a group of people from multiple disciplines consider the entirety of the news ecosystem, ascertain a challenge worth tackling and wrestle with deeply-held assumptions.

    I had one, simple gauge for success: one person walked away recognizing the power of empathy in breaking through this incredibly sticky and broad challenge. While my lecture on empathy fell somewhat flat, I heard from a couple of students that they had a new understanding of empathy in relation to the traditional journalistic interview — a huge achievement, at least from my vantage point.

    Jae Rhim Lee, a d.school fellow, artist and former TED fellow, tests prototypes with students. (Emi Kolawole)

    Jae Rhim Lee (center), a d.school fellow, artist and former TED fellow, tests prototypes with students. (Emi Kolawole)

    The larger goal, however, was to have students arrive at new insights when it comes to information, media and, yes, the news. I say the “news” last because, the news is merely a subset of information and is expressed through media. It’s the media part I am particularly interested in. In all honesty, I don’t quite have my head around the size of the challenges — yes, plural — that exist for me and the d.school’s media design team in that space.
    Continue Reading

  5. February 12, 2015
    Students churn away on their ideas, implementing constraints and iterating on their ideas.

    Students churn away on their ideas, implementing constraints and iterating on their ideas. (Emi Kolawole)

    I am exhausted.

    The idea of writing this post is terrifying (nothing good can come of this level of fatigue), yet here I am. Before I launch into our third class, I wanted to take a moment to remember media critic and award-winning journalist David Carr. I was incredibly inspired by David’s work — especially this posting of a class curriculum on Medium. Aside from being a marvelous reading list, it hit me between the eyes as the future of what learning could and should be — shared.

    In that spirit, I’ll continue.

    Our third class focused primarily on an exploration of the latest in media technology and idea generation with a particular focus on constraints. We ran students through a lecture on experiments happening in new startups and established media organizations. Then we had students take ideas they came up with in the last class and go through a series of constraints.

    Remember, constraints can be fun.

    The ideas evolved, with some of the constraints leading teams down entirely new paths. We then asked each team to draw their idea, prompting to show, not tell. Then, each individual team member sat, heads-down to draw the idea for themselves, iterating alone.

    A team populates a whiteboard with new ideas during class three of "Redesigning the News Ecosystem."

    A team populates a whiteboard with new ideas during class three of “Redesigning the News Ecosystem.” (Emi Kolawole)

    When teams return on Friday (tomorrow, yikes!), they will be called on to prototype rapidly (one hour) and then test those prototypes with class guests. Continue Reading

  6. February 10, 2015
    Photo via Flickr user Sean McGrath

    Photo via Flickr user Sean McGrath

    I have a horrible secret: It is really difficult for me to listen to stories.

    The reason has always escaped me. Now, listening to one story, I think I understand why this simple act is so difficult for me. I am afraid.

    I am afraid of what the story might do to me emotionally and intellectually. I am afraid that, by the end, I may be permanently changed, and perhaps not for the better. I am equally afraid I won’t be changed. What a waste of time, to listen to a story that doesn’t change you.

    Here’s the story that taught me this not-so-small tidbit about myself. It is a story told by Hasan Minhaj about going (or not going) to the prom. In a heart-felt story, Hasan tackles fear, bigotry and one of the quintessential markers of adolescence: the prom.

    Continue Reading

  7. February 10, 2015
    Dave (foreground), Tyson (background) and Laura (left, background) sort ideas proposed by students during class. (Emi Kolawole)

    Dave (foreground), Tyson (background) and Laura (left, background) sort ideas proposed by students during class. (Emi Kolawole)

    If I hear that we need to think outside of the box when it comes to news one … more … time …

    Regular readers of the whiteboard know I am in the midst of teaching a class on Redesigning the News Ecosystem. The teaching team, aside from myself, is made up of Dave Wright of Twitter and Tyson Evans of The New York Times. Laura McClellan Pickel is our experience assistant (think teaching assistant on d.school steroids).

    We had a full-day of class on Saturday — it was so full, in fact, I have been in a bit of a fog since then. This post has been sitting somewhere in that fog, which is just beginning to lift.

    If someone ever tells you teaching is easy and anyone can do it, stare at them quietly for a moment and walk away. That person has no idea what they are talking about. Teaching is difficult, because it means guiding people through discomfort to new understanding. Nevermind we are trying to do so in a space where scores of people are banging their heads up against the walls of the box, hoping against hope that the walls will crack and eventually crumble.

    The class gathers around a whiteboard full of ideas ... lots and lots of ideas. (Emi Kolawole)

    The class gathers around a whiteboard full of ideas … lots and lots of ideas. (Emi Kolawole)

    Teaching this class has shown me that the “news” isn’t a box outside of which we must think, it’s an octagon, a thunderdome — it’s a cage. We can see the promise of a new way of thinking, we just have to fight a lot of old frameworks and mindsets in order to get out. Continue Reading

  8. February 9, 2015
    Photo by Flickr user Photo Cindy

    Photo by Flickr user Photo Cindy

    I want to write more. I do.

    But the thing is… writing is f#$%ing hard.

    But, as I sit here with knots in my stomach trying to tie up my first blog post on the whiteboard, I’m realizing that writing isn’t actually the hard part. In fact not only is it not hard, it’s kind of easy. ‘Kind of enjoyable.

    Actually, I kind of love writing.

    And to be honest I’ve always loved writing. I have notebooks filled with poems, prose, noodles, doodles, sketches and scripts. Not necessarily the kind that wins awards or gets A’s on essays – but I have writing. Lots of writing. So this should make it easier right?

    Nope.

    Because that is when my inner critic creeps around the corner of my cranium. Especially, and ironically, since joining the d.school. Continue Reading

  9. February 9, 2015

    Update: The Kickstarter is underway for this project. You can learn more about Girls Driving for A Difference and show your support through March 26, 2015. 

    The more time I spend practicing design thinking in the d.school, the more inspired I feel to share the methodology with others and take creative leaps in my own educational experience.

    Katie Kirsch, right, will be going across the country as part of "Girls Driving for a Difference", an initiative she co-founded with Jenna Leonardo, left.

    Katie Kirsch, right, will be going across the country as part of “Girls Driving for a Difference”, an initiative she co-founded with Jenna Leonardo, left.

    This year, my colleague Jenna Leonardo (’15) and I co-founded Girls Driving for a Difference, a team of Stanford students using design thinking to empower young girls across America to become leaders of social change. This summer, our team will be driving an RV across the country, visiting over 50 diverse communities, and coaching design thinking and leadership workshops specifically geared towards middle school girls. These workshops will be designed to give girls the tools, inspiration, and creative confidence to discover their purpose, enact social change in their communities, and envision their dreams for someday changing the world. Continue Reading

  10. February 6, 2015
    The class undertakes the first exercise of the class -- drawing their own and a generic news ecosystem. (Laura McClellan Pickel)

    The class undertakes the first exercise of the class — drawing their own and a generic news ecosystem. (Laura McClellan Pickel)

    The classroom will be packed, and all of the students are, in some way, interested in or passionate about what I and my teaching team members are passionate about: finding a radically new and better way to deliver news and information to people. Our class is appropriately called Redesigning the News Ecosystem, and this blog post serves two functions:

    • It is an attempt to capture process and outcomes from the first class meeting.
    • It is meant to tee-up an all-day class session tomorrow.

    This class is about using design thinking to explore users’ hidden needs via analogous experiences. The desired outcome: students who see the news ecosystem in a new, user-centered way rather than a market-driven one.

    One of our teams in class looking awesome (like all of our teams look). (Laura McClellan Pickel)

    One of our teams in class looking awesome (like all of our teams look). (Laura McClellan Pickel)

    I am teaching the class with two experts in the field: Tyson Evans of The New York Times and Dave Wright of Twitter. If you want two people at the bleeding edge of innovation in news, you can’t do better than Dave and Tyson. Our Experience Assistant (think teaching assistant, but with a specialization in designing great student experiences), Laura McClellan Pickel, is the glue of our team. Continue Reading