Top 10 of 2016, #4

Design Thinking and Teaching at MICA and Towson University  

One of the most significant advances in my professional practice this year happened when Brian and I were asked to develop a workshop on Design Thinking to augment MICA's Foundations of Design Leadership MBA/MA program.

Like most designers, Design Thinking has always been an underlying part of our work, and in advanced undergraduate design courses I've introduced the concept in an academic context, but this workshop was the first time I've attempted to teach the process in such a pure and intensive way (including to some non-designers). In addition, this was also the first time I taught a class of graduate students and the first time I collaborated with Brian (my partner in life) to develop curriculum and teach a course.

I learned SO much. I've always found teaching to be my greatest source of learning -- you simply cannot effectively teach something you do not understand in a deep way. In preparing the curriculum, Brian and I both taught one another, increasing our individual knowledge and reinforcing our strength as a team. We also thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I am so happy to say that the first workshop was a complete success. We were invited back for more, longer-term, workshops.

Teaching this methodology at the graduate level was so successful that I decided to bring some of the practices into my undergraduate classroom at Towson University. I taught 2 new-to-me courses last year, Typography II and Package Design. Teaching the students not only the concepts and principles of design, but giving them new tools to approach their projects in a structured way (individually and in teams) yielded results that far exceeded my expectations.

I'm very excited to dig back in next semester. We'd also love to bring this approach beyond the classroom, to connect more directly with the organizations we work with (and maybe some new ones!). Bringing everyone to the table and fully engaging them in the creative process to find new and effective ways to address challenges is one of the most rewarding things I've done. I am so excited to help more people learn how to connect to their inner design thinker -- even if they aren't "creatives" -- and work with one another collaboratively in this way. 


Design Thinking selfie. Brian and I truly enjoy leading these workshops together, and the students benefit from hearing our different viewpoints and approaches. 


Breaking the creative process into tangible steps and structured activities helps all stakeholders understand how to participate, while giving everyone a clear idea of the desired direction. 


In our workshops, to help participants understand Design Thinking in a comprehensive way, we work with them to find solutions for a given, shared challenge. In a four-day session this summer we worked with MICA students to address the challenge of improving the perception of Baltimore after the unrest this past spring. This was a big, BIG issue and I was honestly nervous about how the workshop would go. I shouldn't have been, though. There were challenges and tough conversations, we invited in community members to interview and help provide varied perspective, and some truly incredible and relevant creative concepting was done. The class (including Brian and I!) came out of the workshop with not only a comprehensive understanding of the design thinking process, but with a deeper connection to the community we work, learn, and teach in.


At Towson University I brought design thinking methods into the classroom to address a variety of short and longer term projects, including this fun "Starbucks Red Cup Challenge" where the students had 2 hours to address the perceived lack of cheer on the cups Starbucks had just released for the holiday season. With each challenge, the process proved to be more engaging and more successful than the last and over the course of the semester I noticed the students begin to independently engage the processes they had been taught to great effect. Most surprisingly, for the first time in over a decade of teaching, I found that I was able to get creative students to not only successfully work together in groups but to LIKE it! Working in teams can be a true challenge for any creative, but it is such an important skill to master. I'm already looking forward to next semester!