D.School Stanford University | Start small, and start now !

 This post was written by Andrea Paoletti

I visited the D.School at Stanford University one month ago (if you are in California and you are interested to visit it they host a tour every other Friday from 11:00AM – 12:00PM!), but I have waited to write about that visit as they have just created a new website that I want to share with you.

The D-school is an educational institute focused on transforming people, where they learn by doing. They don’t just ask our students to solve a problem, they ask them to define what the problem is. Students start in the field, where they develop empathy for people they design for, uncovering real human needs they want to address. Then They iterate to develop an unexpected range of possible solutions, and create rough prototypes to take back out into the field and test with real people. Their bias is toward action, followed by reflection on personal discoveries about process. Experience is measured by iteration: students run through as many cycles as they possibly can on any project. Each cycle brings stronger insights and more unexpected solutions.

This  method has found its physical expression in the new building. “Creativity follows context,” says d.school director George Kembel. “If I want an organization to behave in a certain way, I need to design for that.”

From a collaborative point of view the d.school has some amazing and innovative spaces that can be used in a huge variety of ways. It’s the best I have seen so far. They have started all the activities in a one-room trailer on the outskirts of campus,  and after a year they began a series of moves that guided them through the process and they became a vital learning experience 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.

They have learned that 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.

The school was designed by  Scott Witthoft and  Scott Doorley (directors of the school’s Environments Collaborative), along with Dave Shipmen of Steelcase and is designed for idea capture.

Rooms are configured to avoid a sense of hierarchy and spaces can be rearranged endlessly with sliding partitions, furniture on wheels, rolling stools and pushed-together tables. There is a  gallery-meets-workshop mash-up where you see what somebody else is up to, and build on the ideas of others.

There is also space for a small room, furnished only with a big white ottoman, all painted in whiteboard paint.

Juxtaposing a messy, low-tech space with an high-tech one provides transitional spaces in order to create a constant theme of surprise. Design students, who venerate the perfect objects created by their professional idols forget that innovation is a messy, imperfect process, plagued with fits, starts, and failures, but here they can have a real experience of that!

I liked their deliberately annoying periodic tables.They are designed to keep people moving: a little too small for four students to use comfortably and a little too high for sitting. They wanted to put students in a slightly uncomfortable position to push them into adapting to slightly uncomfortable behaviors. I think it is smart indeed!

I love the way they choose to open share they expertise and if you are interested you can download three do-it-yourself guides to making some of the artifacts students use most: a rolling white board “Z-rack”, adaptable foam cubes, or quickly-configureable “T-walls”.

They think the most important factor in creating a space for innovation is just to start.  So take this advice: start small, and start now!

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