Lab_ImpactTriangle_03News Inside the Lab

Dear Education Design Lab Innovators,

As I head home from the Stanford’s first ever K-12 Design Summit, I am struck by how the Bay Area is so far ahead of the East Coast in embracing design thinking.

Even our journey was filled with examples of good design. The mid-budget airport hotel, Aloft, punches above its weight class by creating instant lobby community for lone travelers with a live band and mood lighting. The Virgin America check-in team has lowered the counter, added a table lamp, turned up the music, and created a Broadway meets MTV safety video that I keep watching on every flight. When design and business play well together, the impact is palpable.

Hipster playlists aside, I am most impressed by the promise design thinking holds for education. And was so pleased to hear David Kelley suggest the same. In the 20 years since he formed the and  co-founded the design consultancy, IDEO, design thinking and human-centered design have changed product design and service and experience design, but perhaps design thinking’s greatest potential is coming into focus now as we start applying it to “human potential design,” i.e. as a learning tool for students of all ages to build the “21st century skills” we hear most of us lack but need to thrive in our hyper-connected world. Kelley told a group of educators invited to the Summit (#DTK12) that Stanford’s president now wants him to figure out how every Stanford student can graduate with “creative confidence,” the title of the Kelleys’ new book.

75 of us were invited by Susie Wise and her amazing team to help think about how to spread design thinking as the creative confidence tool for everyone not lucky enough to be a Stanford student.


Leticia Britos Cavagnaro of the Director of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) program told us the four behaviors of great innovators—questioning, observing, experimenting and networking—map very well to the design thinking process. Epicenter has 110 young innovation fellows on college campuses around the country spreading the power of design thinking to problem solve in their school environments. Gina LaMotte has Texas on fire, bringing eco-Rise to 60 K-12 schools where kids work through a curriculum-embedded design processes to make their schools more eco-friendly.

In a small, but growing, movement, design thinking is being applied by teachers in the classroom to build critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and problem solving skills. These leaders are even tackling big, systemic design challenges like how to bring very low-cost private schools to developing countries.

A small group joined me to contribute to the Education Design Lab’s work designing multiple pathways after high school into the professional workforce. We talked about finding employers willing to hire brave, alternatively credentialed young people as the keystone to disrupting the exclusive, expensive 4-year degree.


While former head of Google Product Experience, Tom Chi, was fascinating as he described and encouraged the rapid prototyping mindset that produced Google Glass in 12 weeks (and my mind raced with the potential of our future workforce if we all had that skill set), the big aha of the Summit for me came from Michael Barry, who sheepishly told us he is most famous for inventing Pull Ups (which were introduced when my kids were in diapers, so thank you, Michael.)

A mechanical engineering professor, Barry teaches design thinking to Stanford undergrads and decided to run a quick design process around “How might I get my students to show up on time for class?” He’d already tried guilt, to no avail. At least half the class was arriving up to 30 minutes late every week. What the design process uncovered was that his students valued the experience they had as a group in his class, but that the “experience” wasn’t really valuable until all the students were there. The harsh reality is that they weren’t valuing his lecture time in the beginning (by contrast, we found him highly engaging as a “sage on the stage.”) One student summed it up for him: “We’re like the bride, and the wedding can’t start till we get there.”

Barry’s takeaway: that if we are educating millennials, the role of even the traditional university has changed to that of “wedding planner.” With so much information in the palm of their hands, students don’t value being lectured, the teacher becomes the designer and facilitator of a live learning event to supplement the personal learning our students are managing on their own. We are curating learning experiences, in which we as wedding planners are facilitators and maybe coaches, but maybe not lecturers.


My takeaway: First, as a mother of college kids, I want to shake a few of Barry’s students out of their over-entitlement. But, if you think of them as “extreme users” setting the trend of what is to come even on the most traditional campuses, the implications for the future of teaching are huge. It implies different skill sets for faculty, different venues for learning, different assessments to measure success. At the Education Design Lab, we will be trying to wrap our minds around this and other design challenges this fall.

We’ve enjoyed partnering with Georgetown University and George Mason University this summer and we will be teaching this year at the Academy for Innovation in Higher Education Leadership at Arizona State and Georgetown Universities.

In the meantime, I may apply to Stanford as a really old undergrad. I would love to be a bride at that wedding. I might even show up on time.

Kathleen deLaski &
the Lab Team