Alumna Caroline Lu: A BusinessWeek "Best Bet" Credits CCA for Lessons in Design Thinking
Posted on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 by Jim Norrena
Last year BusinessWeek magazine ranked alumna Caroline Lu (MFA Design 2008) among the “twenty-one people who will change business." The industry-leading magazine also distinguished California College of the Arts as one of the “world’s best design schools,” for its commitment to a cross-disciplinary curriculum that "defies inclinations and shatters silos."
According to BusinessWeek writer Venessa Wong: “Around the world, graduates are emerging from interdisciplinary master's programs that integrate design, technology, and business." These professionals are trained in "design thinking," defined by Business Exchange (a website that allows users to create business topics, collaboratively aggregate content from the Internet, and connect with other business-focused users around these topics) as “a popular catch phrase for a more multi-disciplined approach to solving problems and tapping into authentic innovation.”
Wong admits no consensus exists on how to teach design thinking. "Should design schools create more business-focused creatives, or should business schools foster creative thinking in their MBAs?"
Enter California College of the Arts, where graduates like Caroline Lu do both.
Today Lu works as a successful designer/researcher at the Center for Innovation, a department within the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, tackling the ongoing issue of improving health-care delivery services. While she's undoubtedly on her way to even greater heights, she didn't hesitate for a second in recalling how CCA prepared her for her career—in particular how to maximize design thinking.
Lu admits she was lucky and privileged to have worked and learned alongside the 10 designers who comprised her Graduate Program in Design classmates. She points out it was a group of students who “wanted to make a positive mark in the world—be it for the environment, social justice, food, health, culture, or community.”
Not surprising considering the college’s mantra is to make art that matters.
Lu recalls two specific projects that shaped her ability to think with design in mind: The first involved then Graduate Program in Design faculty member Linda Yaven’s Teaching course, part of the program's core curriculum, which required selecting a site in the community and preparing a minimum four-class syllabus. Lu and her partner taught graphic design workshops in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District at the Central City Community Art Center, which caters to the area’s sizable homeless population. “I learned a lot about my style of communication and effectiveness as a leader through seeing the strengths of my partner.”
"Caroline Lu represents the best of design thinking," Yaven emphasized. "Hers is a people-centric ethos."
The second project took place at the San Francisco Zoo during Lu’s second semester, as part of Graduate Program in Design faculty member Raul Cabra’s studio course. Students relied on a process of investigative observation, first-hand experience, experimentation, and secondary research to reveal existing processes that promoted the zoo’s community-minded practices. “Our projects made visible to the public the many existing conservation efforts the zoo engaged in, such as the sustainable practices in growing vegetation for the animals, a cell phone recycling program that saves the gorillas, and a discounted ticket program for visitors who use public transportation.”
Each of the aforementioned projects highlights a fundamental ingredient BusinessWeek’s editorial staff attributes to a successful design school: the application of design thinking.
Design thinking is a way of inspiring young learners how to take risks without allowing themselves to be paralyzed by the fear of failure. From such inspiration stems a willingness to become involved in community and work toward solutions—be they aesthetic, cerebral, or physical—that affect lives other than one’s own in meaningful and thoughtful ways.
“The final semester at CCA,” Lu recalls, “marked a culmination of learned processes—from form making to user-research activities and topic framing—that would inform our thesis. I very much appreciated and valued Graduate Program in Design chair Brenda Laurel's Presentation course, which not only taught relaxation methods, but also how to craft and tell a good story. That course, in addition to Writing and Studio (which was our time to meet with our self-appointed thesis advisors), comprised a triad of courses that created relevant skills to move forward toward our thesis exhibition, presentation, and written paper.”
Lu further explains, “Having one-on-one time with advisors from different disciplines—including Martin Venezky [Design], Barry Katz [Industrial Design], Ethan Watters [Design], and Linda Yaven [MBA in Design Strategy]—helped build my message from something ‘bo-ring’ to something empathetic and user-focused. They helped me declutter the scatter that was in my mind, in my words, and all over my studio desk. They are an inspiration and I will always consider each of them my lifelong mentor.”
As for what Katz, also a professor in the Graduate Program in Design said of Lu: "We are immensely proud of Caroline. She has stretched the boundaries and exemplifies the transition from designer to design thinker."
Graphic designer. Design thinker. User-focused problem-solver. Humanitarian strategist. Caroline Lu is all of these things and more. BusinessWeek recognized in her something even bigger than accomplishment—the potential to accomplish more.
Design thinking and students like Caroline Lu are exactly what make CCA one of the 30 best design schools in the world.
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