At the end of last semester, 40 students from a variety of majors across campus gathered in South Hubbard Hall for the inaugural Sandbox Solutions workshop. The room was filled with art supplies, whiteboards, sticky notes and creative minds.
Students from majors such as advertising, business, mechanical engineering and experience architecture formed small groups and awaited instruction from their guides. Their challenge? To use the foundations of human-centered design and design thinking to solve the complex problems of the art supply company Faber-Castell.
Media Sandbox Director and Journalism Professor of Practice Karl Gude, who teaches classes on creativity and problem solving, and Ross Chowles, academic specialist and professor of practice in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, guided the students through the unfamiliar process.
“Design thinking enables people to solve problems that have never been seen before, which is happening a lot because of the fast-changing pace of technology,” said Gude. “A solution to a complex problem is never one-dimensional. The more you have different kinds of brains [working on the problem], the more ideas you’ll generate.”
Phase 1: Brainstorming
To get their creative juices flowing, Chowles presented the students with a case brief and several prompts: How can you bring technology to the table? What if you ran the company? What’s an idea that would get you fired in real life?
They brought the ideas to life with Faber-Castell colored pencils and life-size sketch pads and began to construct the multidimensional solution they would need to present by the end of the weekend.
“The most creative people are those who don’t think of themselves as creative,” said Chowles. “When we think of creative, we imagine an artist or musician. Yet true creativity is finding solutions to needs. If you asked an engineering student is they are creative, they would say no. However, if you ask them to solve a problem, you’ll get fantastic solutions.”
A Unique Experience for Students
Students were challenged to transition away from traditional thinking and textbook learning and instead focus on practical application and implementation. While some were more familiar with the creative process than others, it was an exciting opportunity to solve real-world problems for all.
“With these workshops, it’s awesome to tackle actual problems with students like you to create a real solution, instead of [solving] the fake problems you get in class,” said Liz Pollack, a Mechanical Engineering junior. “With engineering, I feel like I have predetermined solutions and I just feel have to figure out how to get there. Here, there is no solution.”
Alumnus Jacques Chouinard ’17, now a junior copywriter at Doner, said workshops and activities outside the classroom are what helped him most in building his portfolio. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue his learning at the Sandbox Solutions workshop.
“I’d say my most meaningful takeaway from participating in the workshop is that if you place a solid team of creative people together (looking at you Ali Obermayer, Tanner Evans and Zhen Feng), they can come up with a ton of great solutions to a brand’s unique brief in a very limited amount of time,” said Chouinard.
On the final day of the workshop, the students presented their work to Faber-Castell’s CEO Jamie Gallagher.
“What we got today we couldn’t get on our own,” said Gallagher. “We saw some really tremendous work and we’re walking away from this saying thank you Spartans, thank you Media Sandbox.”
The prototype workshop with Faber-Castell will be the first of many for Sandbox Solutions, a fee-for-service program organized by Media Sandbox which aims to connect the university with industry. Sandbox Solutions will provide opportunities for all colleges and departments to invite companies, organizations and alumni leaders to tap into the creative problem-solving power of an interdisciplinary group of students.
“In a weird way, we’re like corporate therapists. Many organizations find problems that they’re unable to solve themselves internally,” said Gude. “This is a wonderful opportunity for them to go outside of their family and share these challenges with a group of brilliant young people who aren’t under the spell of the internal dynamics.”
By Rianna N. Middleton