SMITHFIELD, RI - Nearly a decade since it was founded by a group of forward-thinking faculty, Bryant’s IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) program continues to break new ground as organizers apply the design thinking principles they teach to evaluate and enhance the program each year.
This year the IDEA leadership committee, led by Director Allison Butler, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, added a slate of new challenges to develop solutions for the “greater good.” The goal: to make an impact beyond the boundaries of IDEA.
"We’ve done a significant revamp to add more projects that solve real-world issues of importance such as community service, sustainability, health and wellness, mental health, and civic issues such as elections and politics,” says Butler.
"Above all, we want you to think about empathy—about the people connected to the design challenges that you solved, about the people connected to your communities and to your life."
An immersive, boot camp-style experience, IDEA 2020 challenged the entire freshman class to let go of familiar ways of learning and use the design thinking process to develop creative solutions to real-world problems. A product innovation method used by many of the world’s most successful companies, including Amazon, Google, Apple, and Tesla, design thinking employs a human-centric approach that focuses on how big problems affect real people. IDEA sponsors Amica Insurance, Citizens Bank, CVS Health, and EY, are also design thinking companies.
Each year, for three-days (and two late nights) the entire Bryant campus resembles a Silicon Valley start-up environment as students move out of their comfort zones and into each step of the design thinking process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.
“It was moving to witness the compassion that students had for the people they encountered during the field research and throughout their projects,” said IDEA Faculty Mentor Jennifer Horan, Ph.D. “Their genuine desire to help only deepened as they learned more and developed their ideas.”
“It’s truly incredible what you have accomplished in just three days,” Butler told the group of 820 newly minted design thinkers at the program’s closing ceremonies.
“When you think of design thinking, in addition to the useful skills and tools associated with this methodology. Above all, we want you to think about empathy—about the people connected to the design challenges that you solved, about the people connected to your communities and to your life. We want you to think about what you personally can do, now that you are equipped with these powerful new capabilities.”
2020 “Design thinking for good” challenges
Here are some examples of this year’s “design thinking for good” challenges, as well as proposed solutions, and student reflections on the IDEA program overall:
"Coming up with [wild] ideas was difficult because we were not taught to think like that in school. By thinking outside the box, it made us think like innovators.”
Voter engagement: How might we increase voter engagement, registration, and turnout in the 2020 election?
A group of students working on this challenge developed a Braille ballot with accompanying audio, aimed at making it easier for the 3.4 million legally blind Americans to vote.
“The IDEA process was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s an intensive process – you’re with this group for almost three days, building a project from scratch, incorporating all kinds of skillsets that we haven’t used before.” - Mark Shaghalian ’23
Solutions for hunger in the community: How might community food pantries/meal kitchens better serve the community members who utilize their services?
After talking with individuals at a local food pantry, students sought to destigmatize soup kitchens by developing “The People’s Kitchen” concept. They designed a space with a dedicated area for cooking classes, a room with showers and laundry facilities, and a community rooftop garden.
“I like how we all contributed ideas as individuals and came together to vote on the best ideas as a team. It was a good way to eliminate the top-down power structure that so often happens in group work.” - Margaret Adams ’23
Helping people eat healthier: How might we make healthy food more accessible to all people?
A “virtual nutritionist” was the solution from a group who tackled this project. They created a tablet that would attach to each shopping cart, providing real-time access to nutritional information. Customers would use the tablet to scan and compare products, view recipes, and make smarter buying decisions.
“During the three days of the IDEA Program, I met a group of students who quickly became good friends. In working together, we were not only able to learn about the important design thinking process, but also create a project we were extremely proud to display to the judges on the final day.” - Jordan Gervasi ‘23
“The key was to be fast-paced, with an ambitious goal, and judgment-free.” - Moises Almansa ‘23
The benefits of thrifting: How might we encourage more people to go shop at thrift stores, which supports repurposing and sustainability?
“Nifty & Thrifty” is the sustainable solution students proposed to address this challenge. Their idea is to create a mobile thrift store that caters to budget-conscious college students.
“The IDEA program was an experience I will never forget. Coming into the program Monday morning I was a bit skeptical, but as the day progressed, I realized that IDEA has a lot to offer. The most challenging part in my opinion was the brainstorming. Coming up with [wild] ideas was difficult because we were not taught to think like that in school. By thinking outside the box, it made us think like innovators.” - Ben Frazier ‘23