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Highlighting Creativity in Research

The Research as Design team: Adam Royalty, Marilyn Cornelius, Amanda Cravens, Nicola Ulibarri. (Not pictured: Anja Svetina Nabergoj). Courtesy of Jess McNally.

We, E-IPER PhD students Amanda Cravens (2nd), Marilyn Cornelius (4th), and Nicola Ulibarri (1st) are collaborating with lead research investigator Adam Royalty and visiting scholar Anja Svetina Nabergoj at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) to explore the intersection between research methodologies and design thinking. As refined and taught by the d.school, design thinking is a framework that focuses conscious attention on the process of creating and innovating. The project, Research as Design: Integrating Design Thinking into Interdisciplinary Academic Research, promotes a process that hybridizes research and design.

Like the design process, which starts out with the designer carefully observing the world to find unmet needs, the initial idea came from observations that we made last year while taking d.school classes. We noticed (1) that the d.school has a pedagogy for teaching people how to have great ideas; (2) that this pedagogy is applied primarily to commercial and social entrepreneurial challenges outside of Stanford; (3) that successful senior scientists and interdisciplinary scholars use innovation methods that are familiar to designers, but rarely pay explicit attention to the process of how their ideas developed; and (4) that many graduate students receive training in how to design studies once they have good ideas, but rarely receive mentoring about the more creative aspects of their advisors’ research process to arrive at those good ideas. Thus the basic premise behind Research as Design was born.

With our collaborators, we aim to highlight the role of creativity in the research process and to increase its prominence in graduate education through two related activities. First, in an academic study, we videotaped the conversations about interdisciplinary research design between faculty and new PhD students in one of E-IPER’s core courses. Through qualitative analysis and coding of the videos, we will test our hypothesis that interdisciplinary researchers are indeed using an innovation design process similar to that of the d.school, even if they would not consciously define their activities using d.school language.

Second, our team has developed a one-day experiential workshop that introduces graduate students to how design thinking may be used to better inform their research. At the first workshop in April at the d.school, 36 participants from over 20 departments in six Stanford’s schools came together to explore and practice techniques for problem finding and framing, ideation and brainstorming, prototyping, storytelling, and team building. Our team collected feedback from participants in order to iterate the curriculum for the next workshop, likely to be held this summer. We also produced a resource packet for participants to take home for future inspiration. Workshop participants enthusiastically offered ideas for ways to expand this conversation in the future as the team continues to explore how a playful, creative mindset towards one’s research can produce better scholarship.

Submitted by Marilyn Cornelius, Amanda Cravens, and Nicola Ullibarri