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Designing a brighter future

by Struck Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Perry

What do mental health, antiracism, alternative medicines, and the refugee crisis all have in common? My answer may surprise you: design. 

Design is the unexpected catalyst that has the potential to unlock solutions to these complex issues. Design Thinking is a problem-solving methodology that prioritizes human-centered design and creativity to devise innovative solutions.

Drawing from my experience implementing this transformational methodology at Struck, I had the privilege of co-creating and leading the development of the new Design Strategy course at the University of Utah. 

This course, the latest addition of the newly restructured BFA in Graphic Design, equips students with essential skills to excel in today’s workforce. As an advocate for design’s role in business, I have witnessed the need for designers to have a seat at the table, contributing their unique perspective and problem-solving abilities. 

Throughout the semester, I take students on a transformative path that nurtures empathy, strategic thinking, creativity, and rigor. They learn to embrace ambiguity, conduct human-centered research, and craft insights. I truly believe that these skills will give designers a leg up—my own career path is proof. 

By teaching students to focus on understanding real people’s needs, they learn to become an agent of positive transformation—mirroring Struck’s expertise with brand transformation. Through the creation of innovative design solutions, you can steer change and make a lasting impact—whether it’s a brand refresh or addressing real-word issues. It’s strategic, but most of all, it’s human.

At the end of each semester, the students present their final strategies. The room becomes filled with excitement as the culmination of weeks of dedicated and deliberate thought comes to life. “Awe-inspiring” is the best word I can come up with to describe their work. When you really put your mind, and your heart, into something—it shows. 

Now, here are a few highlights from the class.

Embrace Ambiguity

To start off, we embraced the daunting nature of challenges and encouraged students to see not having answers as integral to design thinking. Embracing ambiguity sparked innovation as we reflected on their attitudes and tools for navigating it effectively.

Embracing Ambiguity Worksheet that allows designers to reflect on their current attitude towards ambiguity along with the tools and approaches they’ve already developed to navigate it. 

Make People Your North Star

Each team tackled a specific strategic problem by framing it as a “How Might We” question. We use this format because it suggests that a solution is possible and it’s solvable in a variety of ways, which is the perfect frame for innovative thinking.

With these questions, their focus turned towards those affected by these challenges. Empathy became their north star, guiding them to uncover profound insights rooted in real needs and experiences.

Developing “How Might We” questions focused on mental health.

From Research to Insights

To create meaningful strategies, the students immersed themselves into extensive design research using the principles of curiosity, recognizing their biases and assumptions, and observing and learning from real people. They gathered valuable information through notes, observations, visuals, and testing. But we also emphasized that research is not just an item to complete on the team’s to-do list. Analysis became a means to empathize and share inspiring stories—leading to the creation of insights that connect the head and the heart.

Teams placed individual observations in a spreadsheet and color-coded them for visually identifying strong vs. weak themes in qualitative data from user research.

Students practiced “Analogous Inspiration” – a way to look for solutions in different contexts that may be applicable to their challenge or inspire new ideas.

Data shared during a final presentation about Health Equity.

Armed with these valuable insights, the students moved into their comfort zone: brainstorming solutions. They generated numerous ideas, critically evaluated them, and selected those with the most potential.

Share Inspiring Strategies That Matter

All that hard work led to some really remarkable solutions. The students shared in-depth stories which incorporated their findings, insights, and creative solutions, and their deep understanding of the people faced by the complex issues. Here are some of their final projects:

KEEP – An app and physical journal for refugees and immigrants as they navigate mental health.

THIS IS NOT JUST A COOKBOOK – more than just a collection of recipes; it’s a journey towards understanding, empathy, and positive change. Through food, stories, and shared experiences, the series promotes inclusivity, celebrates diversity, and empowers individuals to actively engage in anti-racist practices.

LUMINA 360 – an educational holographic projector designed to transform a classroom into an immersive, interactive learning environment. It allows the students to explore everything from historical events, art education, physical exercise and even scientific concepts in a hands-on manner. 

POCKET ADVOCATE – an AI-powered health support system facilitating clear communication between doctors and patients. 

LOREM – a Hybrid Work Accountability Robot that acts as a virtual assistant, promoting productivity, collaboration, and alignment with values.

The BIPOC Learning Initiative – establishes physical and virtual banned-book libraries to support uncensored education about racism.

As I reflect on the Design Strategy class, I’m so proud of the students who fearlessly took on seemingly unsolvable problems. They not only learned essential principles of Design Strategy, but also shared their personal stories and grew as empathetic, creative, and strategic designers. 

At Struck, we highly value these qualities and nurture an environment that inspires individuals to push boundaries and think innovatively. Just like the students, we believe in equipping ourselves with the skills to navigate and address multifaceted challenges with creativity and strategic acumen. Together, we are poised to make an impact in a complex business landscape and world.