Describing What We Learn at ID

by Irene Loomis

As a student at ID, I am always meeting new people who are curious about what I am studying. The answer is very different if I am talking to my Grandma, a new acquaintance, or a designer.

To find out how ID Professors describe what they teach to non-designers, I have started asking for responses to a sitation that we all find ourselves in.

Here's the scenario:

You are at a party at your neighbor's house. You start talking to a stranger who asks "what do you do?" You say that you are a Professor at the Institute of Design. The stranger asks "what is taught at the Institute of Design?"

Professor Stan Ruecker wrote:

"Okay, I think I could say that we teach a structured approach to innovation. So we teach design methods, how design can work better in organizations, and how design can take its place above the tactical level,  In my own case, I am interested in how we can design information so that it is more useful for interpretation, by which I mean not that we crunch the numbers and get an answer, but that we create patterns that encourage people to look at their information from more than one perspective. I am also interested in how design can improve communication among people who don't necessarily share the same mental frames."

This is the first installment in a series of responses from many ID professors.

2014 IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference - Day 2 Recap

by New Idiom

Guest contributor Alorah Harman is a design strategist at THE MEME design, a design innovation consultancy in Cambridge, MA.

Thursday was the second and final day of the annual IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference, and the program wrapped up with talks on building design as a core competency in large organizations, the need for human centered design in healthcare, and sustainability in a developing context.

The morning began with a conversation with Scott Cook of Intuit, led by Patrick Whitney. Scott revisited a common topic from the conference, contrasting analytical and intuitive thinking. He stressed that in his opinion, business schools are not developing the skills he's looking for in terms of hiring, particularly with regard to intuitive thinking skills. For the type of risk-taking and creativity he's interested in, he looks to design thinking branded institutions like the Scott also spoke about how to create an innovation-friendly environment inside of a corporation based on his experience as Intuit's founder. "Don't try to change the hierarchy, it's too hard." Instead, build a culture of experimentation-based decision making where good ideas can justify themselves with results.

Scott's colleague Kaaren Hanson, Vice President of Design Innovation at Intuit, followed up with a talk on her success catalyzing the formation of a strong design culture within the company within the past decade. Starting with a bleak snapshot of Intuit in 2006, when it was called in the press "where designers go to die," Kaaren shared the energizing story of disseminating design literacy throughout the company via strategic advocacy ("9 months of being pleasantly persistent") and internal training programs. Intuit was recently recognized as a true design company, or, as Kaaren ended her story: "where designers go to thrive."

In the late morning sessions we saw two different takes on developing design perspective in non-traditional areas. 

Bracken Darrell, president and CEO of Logitech, gave a talk on Logitech's initiative to become a more design driven company from the inside out, framing the discussion in the context of the impending internet of things era, which allows almost anything to be reinvented. Increasingly, he pointed out, a great design company must also be a great engineering company. 

Michael Brennan, CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michican told a powerful story of his personal journey using a design point-of-view as a means to create meaningful social impact. Feeling as though something was missing, he left a former executive position for a training program at the that would help him shape his current work improving lives across Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties in Michigan. He spoke to the audience about leveraging the power of informal networks, as well as his efforts to refine his own human-centered sensibilities. 

Following lunch breakout discussions, Patrick Whitney led another conversation with Gail Boudreaux, CEO of UnitedHealthcare and honored each of the last 5 years as one of the Most Powerful People in Healthcare. Gail spoke about the industry-wide imperative to shift the focus towards human needs and aspirations. She used the example of the UnitedHealthcare Sherpa program, an outreach service designed to assist individuals recently diagnosed with cancer, as an example of an initiative that has come out of UnitedHealthcare's interest in developing human-centered design literacy internally.

Next we heard from Gail's colleague Ryan Armbruster, original creator of the groundbreaking SPARC Design Lab at Mayo Clinic, now Vice President of Innovation and director of the Human Centered Design Studio at UnitedHealthcare. In his talk, Ryan emphasized that something is wrong with an industry when when 2/3 of physicians feel negatively about their profession and 1 takes their life everyday. He stressed that while complexity of the healthcare system is a reality we have to deal with, we can do more to introduce empathy into the industry, shifting the focus from technology back to people. ("Healthcare has a bad case of 'theres-an-app-for-that' syndrome.") Speaking on his work at the Human Centered Design studio, he spoke to the importance of the 'caring' part of care. "When you do care, you make better outcomes."

Anijo Punnen Mathew and Stan Rueker took the stage next for a playful "dueling viewpoints" session inspired by their respective work as professors at ID. 

From information as a new material to place as the next technology frontier, they discussed their different areas of interest (with Anijo interested in information layers and media convergence and Stan in tactile interfaces and humanities visualization) and shared about specific projects developed for the city of Chicago.

Finally, Jamshyd Godrej, chairman of the board of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited and president of World Wide Fund for Nature, India, wrapped up the day by drawing the focus to globalization and sustainability. Jamshyd particularly shared perspective on green design of buildings in India. While in the US many buildings are already built and retrofitting is extremely important, in India, he says, only 10% of the buildings required for 2050 have been constructed. Therefore, retrofitting is insignificant compared to the need for developing sustainable buildings from the ground up.

Following the day's program, participants were invited to a special viewing of ID students' final projects for the semester. Over at 350 N La Salle St., attendees from diverse organizations and backgrounds had a chance to browse a large gallery of design work and interact with students and faculty, a fitting way to wrap up a rewarding conference. 

See you next year.

What do we do when classes are over?

by New Idiom

In this video produced by ID student Paul Sheetz, students talk about their experiences in summer internships and immersion programs around the world. Check out what students do when they have a bit of "free time."

Creative participation

by Wojtek Tusz in

I recently participated in an interesting experiment during one of our class sessions in Managing Interdisciplinary Teams taught by Jeremy Alexis at the Institute of Design. The course puts graduate students from ID as Team Leaders in the IIT Interprofessional Projects Program otherwise known as iPRO. Week by week we are introduced to various leadership techniques as well as exposed to actual team dynamics through interactions with undergraduate iPRO teams in the program.

The experiment was a prototype of an exercise meant to reduce boundaries of participation for interdisciplinary professionals from fields not typically associated with creativity or creative "doing". It was designed by Shiyi-Li who facilitated as well. Short (~3min) clips of music were played and participants were encouraged to explore the different tools available to express what they were hearing. After completing 4 sets (songs) of drawings we shared our creations and discussed the way the experiment unfolded. 

Here are some images of the exercise with captions of some of the things that we learned from our experience. 

Images by Wojtek Tusz 

Welcome new and returning ID'ers

by Wojtek Tusz

Another exciting year at the Institute of Design has kicked off with weeks of orientation and the ritual "class shopping". On behalf of The New Idiom I would like to welcome all new and returning students. There are many exciting changes going on in the school as well as very exciting research and projects going throughout the semester. We will do our best to bring some of our thinking to the virtual space and hopefully inspire some new level of thinking in your everyday.  

As a little taster check out some of the work that our colleagues Knowl Baek and Keta Patel did over the summer with fellow designers at Moment NYC

"We are exploring emerging technologies, and environmental interactions leveraging heads up displays, specifically Google Glass, and design a new visitor experience at the Bronx Zoo. The new service will enable park visitors to access headsets, navigate the zoo, explore animal habitats, and stay connected with their party" -says Knowl a second year student @ID

Enjoy and for all new students make sure to follow the blog via your favorite RSS reader or on twitter @thenewidiom

-Wojtek & Adam

New Idiom Co-editors


Failing Well

by Laura Mattis

I have been hearing a lot about resilience lately. It's the core topic of Andrew Zolli's book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, the central theme of PopTech in 2012 (directed and curated by Zolli) and the theme of this year’s Compostmodern conference about design and sustainability. What’s so interesting about resilience?

For me, it’s the implied optimism. Even when everything “goes down the toilet”, you know in the end that things will work themselves out. The natural world adapts and evolves to changing conditions; for example, coral reefs documented as completely destroyed could be thriving in 10 years time. We can expect little to stay unchanged for long.

Designers and engineers have had to confront these issues head-on, especially in planning for the degradation of parts and materials. What designers create won’t last forever and as long as we make products, there will be a weak link and failure point somewhere. The key question is not if it will fail, but when. WIRED magazine explored this issue in depth with Ford and their own dangerous issues of gas-pedal hinge reliability and fallibility.

Designers are frequently challenged to create the next best thing, but we should be reframing the problem. In a world where we can build anything, have you ever considered what would happen if our old products could find a life after our desire and use for them is gone? Design is all about "failing early and failing often" and is comfortable with ambiguous answers.

Next time you’re considering a design solution, I’d like to offer these thought-starters:

  • What if failure became a problem that was solved for instead of avoided?
  • Instead of failing early, what if designers built products to fail well at any point?
  • What about a future where products are easily fixed or could fix themselves, no matter how complex they are?
  • Over time as a product fails, can it become another, different usable product?

That’s sounds like a greater and more exciting challenge to me than creating the next big thing. Designers are optimistic people and I think people and product resilience fits well with our M.O. The ability to embrace failure is what makes the design process unique so let’s take it to the next level.

If we fail, we’ll just adapt to make something better, right?


recruit ID on the way...good luck everyone!

by Wojtek Tusz

We would like to wish all our fellow ID'ers good luck landing their dream summer internship or full time job. We are keeping our fingers crossed for all of you. Special thanks to our ID Student Activity Board co-chairs Maggee Bond and Sarah Ekblad for providing the much needed, New Bauhaus inspired, breakfast sugar and caffeine boost on Day 1. :) (Illustrations by the one and only John Trotti)

The bi-annual recruitID event attracts companies from around the world for a three day opportunity to interview and network with the Institute of Design students and alumni. Companies represented this year include Microsoft, Facebook, SC Johnson, Nurture by Steelcase, United Health Group, Yahoo, Goodyear, Jump Associates, Moment (NYC), Artefact Group, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Teague, Thoughtform, Morningstar, Siren Interactive, MJV Technology & Innovation (Brazil), Aquent,, ClearStory Data, Design Concepts, fuseproject, IA Collaborative, Inflection, Johnson Controls, Lancaster General Health, Lincoln Financial Group, Sears, Thrive and Trek Bicycles.

On behalf of all the ID students we would like to thank all the companies and recruiters represented at this year's recruitID for their new and continued support of Institute of Design graduates.

And finally a special thanks to Ashley Lukasik, Raina Russ and the rest of the faculty and staff in their support leading up to and during this event.