Doreen Lorenzo on Why We Need Design Ninjas

As part of a series on thought leaders in the innovation space for the Medium publication, Voltage Control, Douglas Ferguson spoke with Doreen Lorenzo about how she is helping to shape and educate the next generation of design leaders as the Assistant Dean for the School of Design and Creative Technologies.

Lorenzo opens the discussion by stating “Knowing that I wake up every day and go to work to support young people, our future workforce, is the absolute best motivating force in my life.” She then shares her excitement about higher education embracing the new economies of design, creativity, and innovation.

Asking someone to define innovation isn’t always easy. But Lorenzo answeres the question with ease: “Innovation is when something new and necessary is created. Innovation can be big or small.” She expands upon her statement by emphasizing the importance that details can play in innovation. Rather than an ‘a-ha!’  moment, updating the knobs on a piece of electronics or changing an interface can be just as groundbreaking.

When asked how companies should go about embracing failure, Lorenzo’s responds by throwing the F-word out of the equation. Instead, she advises her students to take a continuous learning approach.

Lorenzo is a proponent for prototyping but she recommends knowing the problem inside and out before looking for a solution. Lorenzo has observed that “80% of the time it isn’t the problem you think you’re solving for.”

Restructuring large corporations to infuse design thinking may not be easy, but Lorenzo believes it’s possible if leadership at all levels in the organization are on board and committed to the process. Retraining is instrumental, but organizations will still need to invest in who Lorenzo calls design ninjas, “the people that are experienced in how to then take [change] to the finish line and do all the work that’s necessary to make this stuff happen. You need experienced people that know how to get through the big hairy problems.” Without this investment, organizations risk failure.

Lorenzo is most excited about higher education. She notes that it’s ripe for change and innovation, moving away from the same curriculum that has been taught for 20 or 30 years and introducing new ways of learning.

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