aruliden works at the intersection of design and education to help shape tomorrow's entrepreneurs and drive unique insights for our clients. We believe students need more opportunities to learn about the role of design in problem solving – opportunities that will shape them into independent, critical and creative thinkers. For Back to School 2015, we partnered with Staples and Middle School students to use the design thinking process to develop a set of products for Back to School 2015. Through questioning their environment, collaborating with their classmates, iterating on their ideas and communicating with the client, we took students through the design process that we go through every day. We invited students into this process, because they have lived the better part of their life in the classroom – and they face the problems the products should solve for everyday. So, if they use these products in the classroom, why should they not design them? By integrating students into the design thinking process, we could collectively identify the core problems and generate solutions that would meet their discrete needs. To guide the process we utilized our innovation education tool kit of four boards and prototyping materials to aid in identifying and visualizing product ideas. The four boards enable the students to: 1) research the category 2) identify the problems 3) frame the solutions 4) define the big idea. Following, we collaborate on prototyping the leading ideas, defining colors, materials and finishes that will deliver on the wants and needs identified. Our team then took these foundational prototypes and continued questioning and iterating on the solution, to finally create a feasible product. The strategy of inviting students into our process to deliver real world solutions yielded 7 products that will be featured in Staples stores nationwide during the summer of 2015.
Problems and Solutions
Staples is one of the world's leading office product companies with over 1,500 stores in North America alone. They want consumers to know they can go to Staples for value, quality and choice; especially when it comes to their back to school offerings. For back to school 2015, Staples reframed their approach to design and put it in the hands of the consumer. It started with a simple question: if back-to-school products are used by students, then why should they not be designed by students? So we worked with Staples to turn the tables and partnered with two schools to come up with product ideas: Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, New York and the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
This strategy was two fold. First and foremost our mission was to use our expertise in design to partner with schools to integrate design thinking into education. We believe students must be immersed in environments that will enable them to develop critical, creative problem solving skills: skills to imagine the possibilities; find success in failure; and ultimately come up with solutions that will orchestrate change in the future they will live. We pushed unconventional curriculum, promoted creativity and confidence to encourage more women to participate in science, technology and engineering, and encouraged collaboration among the students.This high-quality instruction exposed students to the studies that better equip them with the skill set to pursue advanced studies and the confidence to be independent thinkers in every aspect of their lives.
The second mission of this strategy was to create unique product offerings that add value to Staples' business objectives as the go to source for back to school needs. Students are facing real challenges to be organized and manage their time and all the things they need for school. This was an opportunity for Staples to help students manage their everyday; to go from only providing the essentials, to products that will transform their school experience, speak to their individual needs and wants, and make learning easier. To make sure that product ideas aligned with this goal, we used a set of ranking criteria to determine success. First, the product must be exciting, generating emotional appeal and creating delight. Second, the product must be feasible, and have the ability to deliver on the features and functions the design promises. Finally, the product must be innovative, utilizing new forms and functions that are original and highly differentiated.
We worked with students to take them through research, synthesis, problem solving, ideation and prototyping. We then took their ideas, insights and designs through refinements into final product ideas. To make the most out of this opportunity for the students and Staples, the program focused on four product categories that are universal pain points among students: Carriers, lockers, lunch and homework. Students were split into groups of three and assigned one of the categories to design for.
The first phase of the process was going through research to reach a big idea. We provided boards that helped guide students through this process and served as a place to record quotes, observations, inspiration and images. Students were encouraged to dive deep into their assigned topic, learning about current products on the market, frustrations students experience and what is actually needed and desired in a product solution. Next, students synthesized their findings into 5 key problems that emerged, and then came up with 5 solutions that met those problems. Students then gathered images, textures, materials and forms that inspired them. All of this culminated into the students' Big Idea and presented their idea and the value it delivers to users back to the Staples and our team for feedback.
The second phase of the process was taking the big idea and turning it into a final product solution. Students took the feedback they were given and begin to prototype a product giving form to their idea. Throughout this process we encouraged the students to test the prototype in context and refine it based on what they learned. During this phase we checked in with the students to answer any questions and help them move their idea forward. This phase completed with students presenting their final product idea along with their prototype to the Staples team.
Through this entire process we set out to achieve two things: First, to bring students through the design process to give them the skills to be independent, creative, critical problem solvers. Second, to provide Staples with back-to-school products they can bring to market using insights from the students who will ultimately be using these products. We exceeded our desired results on both of these points. It was clear from talking to students and teachers at MS88 and the Ron Clark Academy that this project was unlike anything they had experienced. Throughout this process, the students were exposed to skills that they can take with them and apply to all aspects of their lives: It instilled confidence – the ability to communicate ideas to a group of people; it encouraged collaboration – the ability to work together, delegate tasks and see a project through as a team; it required making – taking ideas and giving them form while learning how to use math, engineering and critical thinking to achieve a desired idea; and it forced time management – the ability to plan and meet deadlines throughout the length of a project. All of this culminates into a skill set that students will take with them into higher education and employment. Real world learning for real world problems.
This is an initiative where everybody wins
It excited us as a jury. We engaged in a dialogue about ways the initiative could be improved upon, sustained, and scaled. We wanted to be a part of it.