iDiploma Challenge at the d.School

Almost a year ago, the Innovation Diploma facilitator team began imagining an intensive field experience at the Stanford d.School. While Mount Vernon has been a school steeped in design thinking for about six years, and while the iDiploma foundations are built solidly in design thinking methodology, we know that we can continue to stretch ourselves and grow capacity as strong practitioners and coaches of human-centered design.

What’s more, the Interim Term at Mount Vernon allows for a week of complete immersion into an experience, and we hypothesized that such immersion would be transformational for our current cohorts of innovators. So, after proposing to the K12 Lab the idea of a week-long, co-created challenge, we began collaborating with Susie Wise and Ariel Raz to collaboratively set the conditions for a design thinking field experience for the 22 student-learners and four facilitators of Mount Vernon’s iDiploma program.

The week has been truly outstanding. For our challenge, we established an initial frame of “How might we establish friendships and build community?” Actually, in the late fall, we brainstormed some possible frames, and the iDiploma cohort members worked through a selection of the challenge that most appealed to them. For our user base, we planned to design for the Stanford undergraduate students – people who have made a transition from high school to college and have been living this new-friendship-and-community-building change.

Throughout the winter planning and during the onsite experience, Ariel Raz has served as our chief facilitator. He is truly masterful as a designer and leader, and we are all the better for having worked with Ariel. Our co-facilitator is Durell Coleman, and we have learned so much from Durell’s rich experiences, as well. Additionally, we have enjoyed moments with a variety of d.School faculty and collaborators, all bringing something wonderful and unique to our skill building and problem-solving arc. The overall map of our week can be viewed on this Google spreadsheet. Overlaying our map, we have threaded the entire week with the “FailForward” lean. Instead of a relatively linear progression through Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test, Ariel recommended and co-crafted a flow that showcases prototyping in a more sophisticated way throughout the totality of the phases, which all rely on each other continuously.

What follows are quick summaries of what stood out to meet each day, as well as a photo gallery from each day of the experience. As I write this, we are soon to begin Day 5, which is concentrated on storytelling. Readers can also check out the milestone moments with this Storify collection of the Instagram shares.

Day 1

At the d.School, the design thinking process begins with Empathy. I am increasingly convinced that this is the best starting place for dt. At Mount Vernon, our DEEPdt process starts with “Discover.” After this return visit to the d.School for me, my brain (and our team’s collaborative brain) is spinning – in the best way – with the possibilities of reimagining a process flow that honors the wisdom of starting with Empathy.

Ariel and Durell mapped the DEEPdt process with the d.School flow so that our teams began the week with shared language and understanding. We oriented to the work space, which I still find evermore magical on my third visit. Then, we almost immediately entered the field work with empathy probes that utilized prototypes to do two things: 1) make some early insights with our users – the Stanford campus residents, and 2) get the “nerves” out with our design thinkers in a new setting, doing authentic design work.

On Monday night, we changed roles and became prototype testers for ED338, a d.School course working to create more innovative high school programs. The multi-cycle rounds with these prototypes provided us with first-hand experience as indirect users, and also gave us deeper knowledge about different types of prototype sharing. Such insights built our understandings about the mutually reinforcing phases of empathize and prototype.

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Day 2

On Tuesday, we began our day with a special visit from David Kelley. Because we are from Mount Vernon, this is about the highest celebrity/hero sighting we could have imagined. It was awesome, in the truest sense.

Then, we grew from an incredible session with Aleta. The session was movement and dance and improv, all wrapped into one, and Aleta guided us in developing empathy and prototyping and exchanging-leadership by using our bodies instead of our auditory voices. It was masterful and magical. The session culminated in four-person diamonds dance-leading each other to practice non-verbal leadership exchange, as well as a mindfulness segment that empowered us to support and encourage each other in this critically important work.

Throughout the afternoon, we were deeply immersed in observation and interviewing to get to know our users and their dorm-life and campus existences. Upon returning to the studio, we employed a number of tools to help us analyze and synthesize the data we had collected.

In the evening, we watched Extreme by Design, a documentary about a course – and so much more – at the d.School. Because Durell was in the movie, this viewing afforded us a deeper dive into the design-for-extreme-affordability field work and project development.

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Day 3

Wednesday was all about Define and Ideate. The purposeful and intentional scaffolding around clarifying user needs and insights stands out as one of the most powerful learning experiences that I have ever personally enjoyed. Ariel and Durell coached us all in more sophisticated and expert ways to develop POVs and translate those POVs into HMW catalysts.

Patrick, one of the Design Fellows at the d.School tested his Wayfinder prototype with us. Patrick, and his research partner Kelly, are working hard to transform the very foundations of the high school experience – to empower adolescents to truly learn who they are and want to be, and to rebalance the scale of overemphasis on content-learning that becomes memorize-dump-forget for all too many.

“Mo” joined us to add gasoline to the Ideate phase. Mo’s introductions to some new stoke activities were worth the entire week! As a team, we advanced as ideators in profound ways because of the collaboration offered from Mo, Ariel, and Durell.

And during lunch, we met Mark from Farm Hill, who provided us the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten and shared his story of starting his company in the Launch Pad course at Stanford’s d.School.

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Day 4

Thursday was all about prototyping. Again, the purposeful scaffolding and facilitation that our d.School collaborators provided helped us stretch and grow in fabulous ways. Our process-knowledge capabilities expanded exponentially with regard to prototyping techniques and context-setting for testing prototypes with users.

For me, I continue to feel the best “magic” happen when design thinkers share and test their prototypes with the users. A small army of users cycled through multiple stages of testing and iterating with the iDiploma crew. Building on the theme of the week, we deepened our understanding of how to use prototype testing as a richer, more high-res method of empathy interviewing. In fact, empathizing and prototyping are wonderfully entangled and virtually unseparate-able in my mind now.

In similar fashion to the previous days, the richness of the stokes pushed us immeasurably further in our sophistication of experiential prototyping. We are forever the better for this learning.

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A deep lesson in human-centered innovation. Thanks, @k12lab @stanforddschool

Yesterday, I enjoyed a magnificent experience at the d.School (The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University). To be honest, I feel a bit like an eight year old at Disney World for the first time. It’s magical, and I love that the reality only enhanced the magic, rather than diminishing it in any way. And yet, I also love that there is really nothing magic about it – the process and practice of design thinking is truly accessible to everyone and absolutely practicable.

Today, the adventure continues as we move into Day 2 of the “Intro to Design Thinking” workshop for educators, hosted by the K12 Lab. Our challenge focuses on designing for mothers of multiples.

When Susie Wise asked me on Monday why I was attending an introductory workshop, I responded that I always have plenty to learn, and I was most excited to see how they would approach a workshop promising to be an introduction. In addition to sharpening my skills as a practitioner, I would also be paying meta-attention to what they decided to focus on in a two-day, introductory experience. Surely, this would sharpen my facilitator know-how, as well.

Well, the learning for me was extraordinary. Whereas I generally try to pack ten pounds of flour into five pound sacks, the d.School never seemed to rush or hurry or overstuff. They concentrated on the essentials, and they really focused on the people present. For the first couple of hours, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, with a civilized start time of 9:00 a.m., and we worked with a variety of partners through a series of sparks to teach about engaging our creative confidence, to lean into failing forward, and to develop our empathy muscles further. We did not even begin the actual challenge until near lunchtime. And the most intensive direct instruction was so very purposeful around the ideas of interviewing and unpacking an interview.

And at the end of the day, there was a quick acknowledgement about the “mood meter,” and we shifted to wonderfully childish finger painting. We didn’t try to jam or pack another phase into the afternoon – the facilitators perceived we needed some human maintenance, and so we let that rule the closing hour.

That was a real education for me as a learner and as a facilitator. Go with your user. Don’t just cover and deliver because you have a curriculum to cover. I’ll work hard to follow that extraordinary example from my new teachers at the d.School.


Bo’s quick capture on Storify of highlights from the day. Plus a photo gallery below.

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What if…

What if we employed more “design thinking” into our programs in K-12 education in Atlanta? In “Innovation 101,” Carolyn Geer detailed a bit of Stanford’s (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) and founder David Kelley. What would it take to integrate more design thinking across curricula in our schools? How could we use design thinking as “connective tissue” among the curricula? To design potential solutions for identified community problems certainly provides glue that holds together what is typically thought of as history, science, math, English, art, etc.

How could a K-12 Design Lab for schools in Atlanta be grown right here in our surrounds?

Reminds me of Geoff Mulgan’s TED talk on studio schools.

Also reminds me of RE:ED #nxtchp2011.

Imagine the possibilities…