How students at Macromedia University use design thinking processes to solve real problems
Design professor Oliver Szasz and his colleagues at Macromedia University face a daunting task: to prepare students for a digital world that seems to be changing every day. “We’re in the middle of a technology wave that is unprecedented,” says Oliver, who is head of the design thinking master’s program at the university’s Munich campus, one of five locations throughout Germany.
Macromedia University is one of the country’s leading private universities for media, communications and design. By keeping pace with digital transformation, the university ensures students are equipped with the right skills to adapt to any technology change they’ll face in the future. “We prepare them for continuous learning,” says Oliver. “Times are changing so fast we can’t rely on fixed information any longer.”
Design thinking is one-way students develop the skills needed to become flexible and adaptable learners. Nureva visual collaboration solutions enhance their experience by bringing a new level of interactivity and engagement to the process.
Adding a dynamic dimension to sticky notes
Oliver first saw the Nureva™ Wall and Span™ software at a design management conference last year and knew they were exactly what he needed to make his design thinking classes more efficient.
Design thinking is a framework for human-centred problem solving that transcends disciplines, applying design methods to the innovation process for any type of business. Initially, he saw Span software as a replacement for paper sticky notes, which are common, low-tech tools used to make information and ideas tangible and easy to interact with.
Using sticky notes was a great way to maintain control of the process. But, he says, it wasn’t very efficient or dynamic. Once a wall or whiteboard was full of paper notes, the space was unusable to other project teams, and since the information was static, it was difficult for ideas to evolve.
That changed when students started using Nureva solutions. Now, all that complex information could be displayed on digital sticky notes and projected on an interactive surface. Students use their hands to physically interact with the material on a large digital canvas, grouping, combining and adding to ideas as they go. They can also contribute information and ideas from their laptops or personal devices from anywhere. “It’s a fantastic tool for teams that work creatively.”
Thinking visually sparks fresh ideas
The Nureva Wall and Span software not only make using sticky notes more effective, they enhance the entire design thinking process. Oliver says seeing everything together on a large digital surface helps students evaluate and correlate research data and get a complete view of the entire process to determine what’s working and what’s not.
“I think it’s really a fantastic tool because it triggers a sort of visual thinking – it’s a different way of thinking, using a different part of our brains. We’re not just relying on words.” Students can still write words on the digital sticky notes, but can also add drawings and graphical tools like mind maps.
One of the unique aspects of Macromedia University is its practical connection to the real world of business. Students work on research projects for some of the country’s top companies such as SAP, Bosch and BMW. The projects focus on finding solutions to the challenges companies face trying to deal with the impact of digital change. Companies look to the students for fresh ideas to “innovate new products, services and systems that really make a difference in people’s lives,” says Oliver.
When the Nureva Wall was installed in February, students took to it right away. They’ve even started using it to present their research findings to industry clients. Instead of passively listening to presentations, clients can now step up to the wall and get actively involved by interacting with the information and adding their own ideas. “This is something completely new,” says Oliver. “It’s not just a conversation that’s happening, it’s an interaction.”
Seeing the potential for greater engagement
Currently, the university’s only Nureva Wall is in the design thinking lab, an open collaborative workspace used primarily by the design department. But the system is attracting so much attention, Oliver thinks professors in other departments will soon start using it for their own classes.
“They’re very, very curious about what’s happening in this room. It’s like a mystery or something,” he jokes. The more his colleagues see the system in action, the more they realise that adding a visual and interactive element to teaching is an effective way to engage and motivate their students.
With positive reviews from Munich, the university’s campus in Berlin is the next on the list to install a Nureva Wall, and that implementation is currently in the planning stages.
Keeping up with steady change
Staying ahead of the ever-changing technology curve means continuing to evolve curriculum and explore new and better ways to prepare students for what’s coming. To do that, Macromedia will rely on flexible technology products like Nureva visual collaboration solutions and dynamic methodologies like design thinking to help students become the complex problem solvers and innovative thinkers businesses will need to be successful in the new digital world.