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On Wednesday December 12th, I had the pleasure of visiting the University of Wisconsin main campus in Madison, Wisconsin to witness student final presentations in a new design innovation course. The new Design Driven Innovation course led by Professor Anne Massey featured a retail industry design challenge shaped together with SAP Executive Andrea Anderson from SAP Labs.

Many University of Wisconsin campuses across the state are active participants in the SAP Next-Gen for Universities network and teach technology related topics. In this case, the school is embarking on new design innovation offerings to expand its real-world project-based learning courses. This particular course is offered at the undergraduate and graduate level in the Wisconsin School of Business.

OTM 365-Design Driven Innovation gives undergraduate students a foundation in basic design thinking practices and challenge how they use these methods to encourage innovation. Historically, design thinking was predominantly used in product development, but its application has expanded to services, strategy, and organizational change initiatives.

“Design thinking is about harnessing your creativity to solve problems that rational methods won’t necessarily solve, particularly in a climate of ambiguity and uncertainty,” Massey says. “Students will gain confidence as they learn how to use the design thinking tools and approaches, and from working together in cross-disciplinary teams—just like in a real-world scenario.”

The first half of the course covers the design thinking process, including basic methods, tools, and techniques. Simulated exercises are used to help students apply and give context to what they are learning. During the second half of the course, participants are placed in teams to work collaboratively on a real-world design challenge sponsored by SAP. The course is designed to include students from cross-disciplinary fields of study (e.g., engineering, business, design) to mimic the complexity of a real firm’s organizational setup and project. The design challenge was targeted at aiding retailers to encourage additional in-store buying and two SAP customers, Kohl’s and Land’s End, served as judges for the final presentations along with SAP.

While visiting campus, Andrea and I had the opportunity to meet with faculty and tour facilities related to design innovation in the School of Human Ecology and College of Engineering. The university offers many wonderful interdisciplinary learning opportunities for students and we hope to continue working with the school as they prepare students for the future of work.
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