Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Fall 2010

Design Thinking in Switzerland


Photo by Jeremy C. Wilkins

By David Clark

In his book, Change By Design, Tim Brown, CEO of the consulting firm IDEO, identifies innovation as “nothing less than a survival strategy.” He goes on to describe the inextricable connection between innovation and “design thinking” where “technical, commercial and human considerations” are brought into focus to create new “products, processes, services, interactions, entertainment forms and ways of communicating and collaborating.”

This summer, I began a journey with a group of students from Utah State University to explore these concepts in the cities, villages, streets, mountains, castles, businesses, factories and sanctuaries of Switzerland.

Students from the Caine College learned to apply business principles and students from the Huntsman School were challenged to let the “artist within” emerge.

Under the direction of Dr. Robert Winward of the Caine College of the Arts and Dr. Chris Fawson of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, we traveled, visited, observed, discussed, worked and played in settings where design thinking was continually emphasized. We considered the evolution of athletic equipment at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. We contrasted renditions of masterworks played on an organ installed nearly 800 years ago in a small church with those performed on a magnificent new organ designed by an international team of craftsman in a massive cathedral. We rode in solar-powered boats on Lake Geneva and considered the prospects for sustaining and expanding this unique business. In Zurich we visited Freitag, a company that produces upscale carrying bags out of discarded truck tarps and in Weil-am-Rhine, Germany, we confronted modern architecture and tested the form and function of the furniture designs of a company called Vitra. At various sites we considered art, culture, philosophy, history and science. With each stop the students were assigned analytical and creative tasks. Students from the Caine College learned to apply business principles and students from the Huntsman School were challenged to let the “artist within” emerge.

The significance of the combination of art and business students was illustrated through a project where teams were formed and assigned to create new ideas for school lockers. At the end of a long day of work, the seven teams presented an impressive array of innovative designs for lockers that incorporated bold shapes, colors, materials, technologies and human-centered features. Each of these designs could become the foundation of a novel business opportunity.

Student by the water

Photo by Jeremy C. Wilkins

Woven through the entire trip were chances for personal introspection and enjoyment. Over three days and two nights at the St. Bernard monastery and hospice, we meditated, learned and worked in very difficult conditions to complete a service project. In the Lauterbrunnen Valley we stood at the base of famous alpine peaks such as the Eiger and the Jungfrau and wandered through mountain villages that could well have been movie sets for the “Sound of Music.” In Bern we stood on the street in the shadow of the clock tower where Albert Einstein realized that time and space themselves were not, after all, absolute. At the end of our journey we all began to realize that our non-static world affords each of us the chance to create, to innovate, to cooperate, to improve and to capture and add value in any setting or circumstance. Design thinking is now forever etched in our minds as more than a strategy to survive. To our Design Thinking in Switzerland group, it is a strategy to thrive.