A 2014 study by the Design Management Institute reveals that over the last 10 years, design-led companies have maintained a significant stock market advantage, out- performing the S&P by an extraordinary 219 percent. Business leaders now recognize that designers can contribute a lot more than sharp graphics and aesthetically pleasing products. The research and creative methods that designers use, commonly called design thinking, offers a framework for teams from across many disciplines to solve complex, systematic problems.
As design claims a seat at the table in industries such as business, health care, computer science and customer service, the College of Fine Arts expects to double or triple enrollment in the Department of Art and Art History’s undergraduate design programs over the next three to five years. The Design Division has also expanded its non-major course offerings to introduce more UT students to both design thinking methodology and the fundamentals of visual design.
The design program’s expansion coincides with three new college initiatives that foster collaboration with partners across campus. The year-old Design Institute for Health, a joint venture with the Dell Medical School is using design methodology to revolutionize the way health care is delivered. The newly launched Center for Integrated Design brings together faculty and administrators from seven colleges and programs at UT to foster opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning and collaboration through of design thinking. And a newly approved B.A. in design degree plan will allow more students to pursue a double-major in design to better prepare students for employment in a diverse and rapidly changing career field.
“Design to most people means an artifact,” said Doreen Lorenzo, who joined the college to lead the new center.
“Today design has taken on a larger meaning. We are moving more toward the methodology—sometimes referred to as design thinking—that’s always been in the design world to create products, services and reinvent systems.”
Formerly the president of global design firms of Frog and Quirky, Lorenzo is bringing her renowned leadership and industry connections into academia. She said the hallmark of the program is bringing in industry professionals to meet with and teach students. This fall’s “Introduction to Design Thinking” course is taught by Frog’s executive director of design research, Jon Freach.
“We are working across all schools in the university to work together and collaborate to solve the problems,” she said, adding that the college is working to build a Bridging Disciplines Program certificate in integrated design open to all UT students. “Nobody is doing what we’re doing here on this scale. I believe we can change the dynamics of the industry because we have so many talented students here.”
Design is everywhere
To describe the changes in industry, Lorenzo’s former colleague Mark Rolston, who founded Austin-based Argodesign, uses an example found in most households—a clock radio.
In the past, a designer would create an object with knobs and a sleek user interface. In today’s design challenge, the clock radio is no longer a tabletop item, but a voice- controlled, invisible piece of technology, Rolston said.
“The design problem has evolved from creating beautiful things to defining behavior and social engagement within a computing framework,” he said. “The problem is less about physical or visual design. It is now about engagement. It really complicates the challenge, but it’s also terribly exciting.”
Rolston spent years working with Lorenzo at Frog and said it is exciting to see someone so well-connected and respected in the industry join a university to help fill the gap between industry and higher education. When hiring designers fresh from graduation, he said he looks for people who can express their thinking through their work, as well as at least one useful talent that can be put to good use.
“For example, if a young designer can render beautiful screens or create smart wireframes, then they are more immediately useful. From that standpoint, they can learn to think strategically over time and begin to weigh in more deeply on the work. That’s where work ethic and humility come in,” he said. “Critical thinking and problem solving become priceless as they grow beyond those basic skills.”
Improving health care through design
The Design Institute for Health is taking design thinking into the complex realm of health care with the goal of designing each and every moment of patient-system interaction, said Lucas Artusi, a systems designer at the institute. The end goal is to apply human-centered design to every interaction from the moment a person makes an appointment through the duration of treatment.
“There are so many ways to create value and to make a patient feel seen and heard and taken care of,” he said. “Other industries do this already.”
The ambulatory surgical center set to open late next year in the UT Health Transformation Building will not have a waiting room. Instead, Artusi said patients will check in and go directly to their room, and that is their room for the entirety of their stay. Not only can family members stay in the room while the patient is in surgery, but all clinical and administrative staff come to the patient. Other systems they are currently redesigning include reimbursement, nursing staff organization and delivery of specialty care.
“There are so many ways to create value and for the patient to be seen and heard and taken care of,” Artusi said.
What excites him the most about this work is that the designers get to see it through. Typically, a design firm would present ideas and then a health care provider would determine what to implement of the plan and how. The Design Institute for Health will help the Dell Medical School execute on this new vision for healthcare at every step along the way.
“I like to think that whatever we create might not be the model, but it will be a model,” he said. “I’m also excited to see an institution the size of UT have the courage to invest heavily in all of this.”
More options for undergraduates
Undergraduates have the chance this semester to enroll in the new B.A. in design degree plan, which offers more flexibility in the curriculum than the existing B.F.A. in design. To encourage undergraduates to take full advantage of the wealth of business, computer science, engineering, architecture, advertising, textiles and apparel, and other design-related courses offered at UT, both the newly revamped B.F.A. degree and the new B.A. degree offer more flexibility than traditional design curricula do.
Students in both the B.F.A. and B.A. degree plans will now more easily be able to double major, study abroad and choose from a variety of design “supportive classes,” said Carma Gorman, head of the design division. Students who are interested in ethnographic research can take anthropology classes; those looking to improve their data visualization skills can take statistics; those interested in designing apps can take courses in computer science or from the School of Information.
“The new menu of supportive courses gives students the flexibility to take classes in other departments that overlap with their interests in design. What’s especially great is that taking those courses means students learn to see problems from new disciplinary perspectives. They also get used to interpreting and using the specialized lingo used by people in different fields, which is great practice for professional life,” Gorman said.
Gorman expects students to graduate from the undergraduate programs not only with excellent “making” skills, but also with traditional liberal arts skills such as thinking critically, writing clearly, making persuasive pitches, doing solid research and communicating effectively with others.
Gorman is particularly pleased that both degree programs now make it feasible for design majors to study abroad. “Living in another part of the world for a few months gives you a really different perspective on the world, and on design, too,” Gorman said.