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 d.school. 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 d.school 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.