Make a space for innovation

The d.school started in a decrepit one-room trailer on the outskirts of campus. After a year, we began a series of moves into bigger and bigger temporary buildings, to accommodate growing student demand for our classes and projects. In 2010, we settled into our 35,000-square foot “permanent” home in the heart of campus. Initially, we dreaded the resource drain of the annual moves and the work it took to adapt each temporary space to our students’ needs. But they became a vital learning experience, and helped us create a process that allowed the d.school to actively “practice what it teaches” with design thinking by prototyping and iterating in rapid cycles to each new space, all with the intention of learning how environments can drive a culture of innovation.

As part of educational institute focused on transforming people, the d.school’s Environments Collaborative approaches space as a tool to affect student behavior in biasing toward action.  A consistent theme emerged: when manipulated intentionally, space can be used as a tool to fuel the creative process by encouraging and discouraging specific behaviors/actions and by creating venues for emotional expression and physical negotiation. With this disposition, the d.school and the Environments Collaborative explore the use of artifacts, arrangements and the actual physical space of a designed environment, to support the role of space as a teacher.

We’ve created three do-it-yourself guides to making some of the artifacts our students use most. Build a rolling white board “Z-rack”, adaptable foam cubes, or quickly-configureable “T-walls”. We think the most important factor in creating a space for innovation is to start: start small, and start now. What we learned from a year in the trailer formed the foundation of our approach to space; if we’d waited until we had a big, new building, it would have been five years before the learning process would have begun. Make your space!