GVSU announces Design Thinking Academy

Jenna Fracassi

The Design Thinking Academy (DTA), a newly established program at Grand Valley State University, is designed to teach students the collaborative, problem-solving experience of design thinking.

“The academy is a program—it’s a non-credited program—which provides the experience of learning design thinking and then applying design thinking,” said John Berry, director of GVSU’s Design Thinking Initiative and the DTA.

Design thinking is a human-centered, creative approach to solving challenges. Some of the elements this process relies on include defining the problem, considering and creating ideas, integrating feedback, and empathizing.

Many businesses and professionals utilize this problem-solving process to best serve their customers. Berry said through the academy, more than 25 organizations will be working closely with a cross-discipline group of GVSU students on any issues they may have.

Undergraduate students from all majors and colleges within GVSU can apply to the academy, though only 15 students will be accepted into the program for its initial year beginning in the fall of 2017. The deadline to submit an application, which can be found online on the DTA homepage, is Friday, May 5.

Once accepted, students will become DTA fellows. They will begin the program by going through a deep-dive session, which will serve as an introduction to the concept of design thinking. Then, they will be divided into small teams of students from different majors and be presented with a community-based problem to solve.

Chris Lopez, a junior liberal studies major at GVSU, participated in both a test pilot for the DTA and a design-thinking deep-dive. He said he has worked with Berry on design thinking for more than two years.

“(The deep-dive) is a very abbreviated version of what the academy will be doing: It’s five to six hours of just basically a crash course into design thinking,” Lopez said. “They teach you how to use design thinking, what it is, why people use it and then give you your own problem for the day to try to help solve that you work on, usually with a group of people.”

For the test pilot, Lopez said they formed a team of five or six students to work with Disability Support Resources (DSR) to address how GVSU accounted for students with disabilities. He said the process lasted about two semesters, during which time they interviewed students, people with disabilities, counselors and more.

Lopez described the methodology of design thinking as being very user-oriented, saying it allows you to really identify and solve the unsolved needs of the people you’re trying to help.

“For me, design thinking is boiled down to ‘How may I best serve you?’” Lopez said. “I think that’s really what design thinking gets at. You’re asking your user, your customer, whoever you want to help, ‘How can I better help you? How can I better serve you as a company, as a person? What would make your experience better?’”

Jonathan Cook, who graduated from GVSU in 2016 with a finance and accounting degree and now works for Google, described design thinking as a process that attempts to scale innovation.

“I advocate design thinking because of the themes I see inherent within the process, like it works best when you (bring) your whole self to the problem-solving process,” Cook said via email. “It encourages you to share that big, crazy, out-of-the-box idea because that usually is what leads the team to the best solution. It also emphasizes a team culture that understands, supports and builds off each other.”

Berry said through the academy, students will be better prepared for a career after college.

“Today’s working world requires individuals who are able to work collaboratively in teams, be able to have an empathetic understanding of those who they are serving and work with great flexibility within this complex world,” he said. “Employers are looking for students who not only have a particular skill set from their discipline major but have the additional skills of collaboration, interpersonal communications and creative problem solving.”

The academy will operate on both the Allendale and Pew campuses. Students will be able to participate in educational trips, as well as attend design-thinking sessions that will feature a variety of speakers.

For more information on the program or to apply, visit www.gvsu.edu/designthinking/design-thinking-academy-16.htm.