Kaplan Institute director Anijo Mathew hosts presentation on design thinking

Technews Writer
Fri Mar 23, 2018

An associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design (ID) and the academic director of the Ed Kaplan Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (abbreviated hereafter as “Kaplan Institute”), Anijo Mathew, in collaboration with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) at Illinois Tech, presented a design thinking-based lunch event on Monday, March 19 in Hermann Hall. A school of thought and methodology that is designed to provide solution-based, human-centered approaches to problems (both current and in the future), design thinking will play a pivotal role both in the future of business and technology and in the new Kaplan Institute building.

            Before Mathew took to the stage, CEO’s student members first introduced themselves and the organization as a “global student organization dedicated to informing, supporting, and inspiring college students to be more entrepreneurial and seek opportunity through enterprise creation.” To that end, CEO also discussed its upcoming Entrepreneurship and Innovation Day later in April. A full day of networking open to students and every member, this upcoming event promises to host professors, startup founders from across Chicago, and other possible mentor figures, as well as prizes for participating students and teams. CEO’s ultimate goal of creating a culture of entrepreneurship and bringing students from every discipline together presented a natural segue into Mathew’s presentation.

            Mathew opened his presentation on design-led innovation with a biographical look at his educational and professional background in architecture, technology, and computing. He stated that his current research allows him to marry the three fields together as his work questions the meaning of space, that is, the creation of memories within a physical place and how technology plays a role in neutralizing that narrative. Mathew discussed how the principles of design thinking is changing the world of business, and how, as the director of the Kaplan Institute, he believes that his experience with both innovation and entrepreneurship will allow him to develop a community based around these concepts, centered around the upcoming Kaplan Institute building, due to be opened in fall of 2018.

            The physical Kaplan Institute building was the subject of the next portion of Mathew’s presentation, where he described the various spaces and experiences he has planned for it. The entire second floor of the building will house the studio space of ID, bringing a “new, renewed energy to Mies Campus” as these graduate students currently operate entirely at the Downtown DTC). Bringing the studio culture and professionals of the ID to Mies Campus will also bring a new sense of exploration and innovation to the students of Illinois Tech.

The move of the ID will synergize well with the innovation and entrepreneurship focus of the building’s first floor. In Mathew’s own words, he “does not want to create another incubator.” Instead, he wants to create the spaces needed to foster creative ideation among Illinois Tech’s community members. Based on the three legs of entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership, Mathew is not solely interested in creating students that start businesses, but rather he visualizes equipping students with the tools and resources to adapt to the changing nature of the world and remain leaders in it.

To that end, Mathew seeks to bring about these sorts of behaviors and ways of thinking through physical spaces both in the Kaplan Institute building and around both the Mies Campus and DTC. Among these spaces are modular “crash pods” funded by both Steelcase and Microsoft. These pods (planned to be both in the Galvin Library and at the DTC) would enable innovation by having the technology and group work space necessary for ideation, development, and storytelling - all vital aspects of the design thinking process. In addition, Mathew also proposed “base camps” at both the Kaplan Institute building and possibly inside of Hermann Hall for making prototypes of design ideas. Finally, “incubation spaces” at the DTC would have the tools to help student teams take the final step to becoming real companies.

The final portion of Mathew’s presentation concerned the Four Square Model of design thinking, based on the two dimensions of real versus abstract and knowing versus making. Using numerous real-world examples of companies that have successfully applied design thinking principles, Mathew laid out four steps, or squares, within the model. The first square is to study users and their contexts. The goal of this steps is to understand the world as it is: why do people use products and how do they use them? This step will allow proper understanding of problems and lead to proper ideas. Without either, an enterprise will likely be doomed to fail. The second square of the model is to frame the insights gained from studying users and their contexts. This square will lead to the development of a model of the world as it is; from this model, ideas and variables can be manipulated to gauge their overall impacts. Step three of the model is to then explore concepts and solutions to see a model of the world as it can be. Finally, in the fourth step of realizing offerings, the designer will actually go about creating the world as it can be through enterprising ideas and offerings.

The application of the design thinking mentality will play a strong role in Mathew’s leadership of the Kaplan Institute, especially once the building and its accompanying spaces come online later this year. As the world continues to seek innovation, Illinois Tech is conditioning itself and its students to be ready to face these worldly demands head-on.

Appears in
2018 - Spring - Issue 10