I knew I was in the right place when I heard someone exclaim, “Yay! We have more Post-Its!”

The place was the Brown Design Workshop, and the Post-It enthusiasts were hard at work prototyping wearable technology products as part of an all-day event titled “From the Bottom of My Fuel Cell.”

Students hard at work in the design space. (Can you spot yours truly?)

Students hard at work in the design space. (Can you spot yours truly?)

The event, which brought together Brown and RISD students with designers from renowned firm IDEO, was an intensive exercise in the creative process: following a discussion of the state of wearable tech and group brainstorming on possible innovations, students sketched, modeled, and prototyped their ideas using the materials on hand, sharing and critiquing their work along the way. When I stopped by in the late morning, the groups were working on prototypes in preparation for a “shareback,” when they would present short pitches.

IDEO presentation—the process

IDEO presentation—the process

IDEO is famous for its “human-centered design” approach, and walking around the room, it was clear that each group was engaged in complex considerations of human needs, desires, and realities. Students were given profiles of the people they were designing for, and as they mapped their ideas, big themes like intergenerational communication served as the starting points for their processes. I sat in on one group as they generated ideas around this theme, starting with basic human impulses and using each team member’s specialized knowledge to help narrow ideas. As they talked, new connections and details emerged. In the end, the group imagined a device that could connect grandchildren with their grandparents while honoring the relationship each has with technology. For example, while a grandchild might be comfortable with digital media, a grandparent might prefer a physical keepsake. The design reflected this distinction by incorporating elements like 3-D printing into digital communication.

Prototyping away!

Prototyping away!

As I listened during the shareback, I was struck by the sheer diversity of the discourse, and by how all the conversational fragments ended up forming a cohesive whole in the form of design. In a compressed timespan, I heard students offer insights from biology, sociology, computer science, geography, psychology, and more, using these lenses to specify the details of their prototypes. The combination of diverse skills and perspectives enabled the students to design products that would be both novel and useful—a truly creative achievement.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Kwack.