Higher Education and Human Resources

‘Design thinking’ initiative debuts at Grand Valley

Initiative will add to the design ecosystem in West Michigan.

September 5, 2014
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Students at Grand Valley State University could soon be exposed to the collaborative problem-solving process necessary to think like a designer as a new initiative brings together existing curriculum, new programs and innovative partnerships.

Grand Valley announced it is launching a design thinking initiative this fall to pursue opportunities for students to experience collaborative problem solving to be prepared for the continually changing needs of the world today.

“Design thinking” refers to the human-centered approach to develop ideas, strategies, products and solutions while incorporating empathy, integrative thinking and collaboration.

Gayle R. Davis, provost at GVSU, said the new initiative will be led by John Berry, executive director and founder of Design West Michigan. The initiative will explore how to incorporate the innovative problem-solving process with existing classes and activities, while building new programs and partnerships with creative organizations.

Berry, who has more than 40 years of experience with the design thinking process, said the initiative at Grand Valley will introduce design thinking to students in all of the colleges of the university through a yet-to-be determined methodology.

“It might be through classes, it might be through some programs, it might be through events,” said Berry.

“The exploration is to discover the answer to that question. On a short-term basis, I would like to see an exposure to a broader understanding of what design thinking actually means. Design thinking is really a process — a methodology of looking at real needs and problems and creative ways to solve those.”

Thomas J. Haas, GVSU president, said the university recognizes the importance of providing innovative learning experiences for students.

“Design thinking brings another opportunity to our students to see how collaboration and creativity can benefit all their lives and the growth of their communities,” said Haas in a press release.

Although innovative and collaborative problem solving already exists at Grand Valley, Berry said the university’s interest in bringing it together under a common initiative is recognition of the value of the process and how creative solutions are the result of dissimilar disciplines working collaboratively on a common problem.

“If you think of the ability to have a whole range of talented individuals, regardless of the field, whether it is business, health care, engineering, or social services — that all could benefit by creative problem solving, creative solutions being addressed with real needs — then having people from those various ranges exposed to a creative process and working with designers becomes an exciting opportunity,” said Berry.

As the initiative begins this fall, Berry hopes to establish collaborative partnerships with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations that value the benefit of design thinking to expand an ecosystem of design-related entities and activities supporting each other in West Michigan.

Organizations he looks forward to working with include Start Garden and New North, which is an innovative center combining creativity and analytical thinking based in Holland.

The design thinking initiative will add to the design ecosystem in West Michigan, which will allow students to gain experience with innovative and creative problem-solving while enabling the region to grow, according to Berry.

“We are a much more complex society, and being able to have an understanding of the process of problem solving and bringing in individual talents and skills that people have, whether it is sociology, anthropology, or math, bringing those together through a design thinking process — really, it is pretty exciting,” said Berry.

“I think in West Michigan we have a good leg up, and I think through Grand Valley’s significant effort moving in this direction, it really does make West Michigan stand out in the very big world of design.”

In addition to leading the new initiative at Grand Valley, Berry is a member of the National Advisory Committee for Cranbrook Academy of Art and the executive director for Design West Michigan, an advocacy organization exploring design and creative community as an economic development initiative for the region.

Previously, Berry was vice president for corporate communications at Herman Miller and has served on the boards of numerous organizations including Michigan Humanities Council, OxBow Art and Artists School, Grand Rapids Art Museum and Kendall College of Art and Design.

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