Doreen Lorenzo Speaks at TEDX on Why Design Education Needs to Evolve

In a Design Thinking TEDxUT Austin address, Doreen Lorenzo explained how and why she landed in higher education after having run companies for the past 30 years. While serving the university, she stated that she hopes to develop students into empathetic and critical thinkers, who learn to make mistakes and lead in the new creative economy. 

Over the years, she noted that she had hired many students out of college who rose up through the ranks, only to find they weren’t as successful as their employers wanted them to be. Business had changed over the years, and the need to interact at a rapid pace and to work in multi-disciplinary teams to get anything done had become paramount. 

Lorenzo explained that at UT, the university has two goals: One, to prepare students to live and work beyond the 40 acres and two, to change decades-old convention in higher education learning. A diploma is “just the price of entry, businesses now want more.” And the answer to achieving those goals is the concept referred to as “human-centered design” and the way to get it done is called “design thinking.” 

UT has designed a curriculum that is responsive to the market. In the design thinking program, they have hired industry professionals to teach the students as well as a “serial entrepreneur” to bring a unique skill set to the creative teams. Students have embraced these changes. The professionals who are teaching the design thinking courses know where the trends are going and how to keep the students competitive and creatives need these skills. 

At the core of the program, the students are learning empathy. Human-centered design is often confused with the visual aspect of design. However, it is actually a methodology that designers have used since the 1960s. It aims to answer a series of questions, including the problem, and an interdisciplinary team goes through several phases including discovery and failure, in a rinse-and-repeat cycle, until a human-centered solution emerges.  At the core is the understanding that there’s never one way to solve a problem and empathy is a huge part of it. Empathy is not sympathy, but rather, understanding people at a deep, personal level. 

In closing, Lorenzo referenced the “F” word, failure. She explained that mistakes are about learning and students need to understand that making mistakes is part of continuous learning. The road from childhood is filled with wonderment and learning. At UT, design thinkers have a job to do: to make sure the right environment is created and to give students the right information. The pace isn’t going to slow down; students need to learn how to work in today’s world.


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