Students in Rome step up to the Design Thinking Challenge

Author: Peter Di Re

On April 6, 2022, the Rome Global Gateway welcomed partner and founding member of IDEO, Dennis Boyle, who, in turn, invited students in Rome to participate in the exciting Design Thinking Challenge.

Unnamed 1

Design thinking is a creative and human-centered approach to problem solving, and Boyle is one of the most important design thinkers in the United States. He also happens to be a Notre Dame alumnus, having graduated in 1975 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Boyle went on to create IDEO, a successful global design company based in Palo Alto, California, where he still works as a partner.

Boyle began the event with a presentation that taught students about design thinking and how it can be applied in a variety of fields. For example, IDEO was tasked in 1980 with developing a mouse for Apple’s groundbreaking desktop computer, Lisa. Currently, Boyle works with medical and consumer healthcare industries.

Boyle soon transitioned to the hands-on part of the event. The audience was split into two groups that were given prompts with potential problems that could be addressed through design thinking. These problems pertained to Casa Scalabrini 634, which students in Rome had recently visited as part of their Community-Engaged Learning course. 

Students in the groups were first asked to reflect individually on their problem. They were eventually allowed to share their ideas with their groups. Group members discussed each idea open-mindedly and built off one another to form new ideas. After a while, Boyle asked the groups to distill their brainstorming into two or three final ideas to present to the other group in the audience. Boyle assessed these solutions and even considered how they might be implemented in order to make a real contribution to Casa Scalabrini 634. Lastly, Boyle offered some concluding thoughts on this process and reflected on its significance.

Img 5307

“Overall, I thought everything went smoothly. At first, I thought I was just going to be lectured by a professional in the field, but it ended up being much more engaging than I had imagined,” commented Nick Clarizio, a student abroad in Rome for the spring semester of 2022. He was pleasantly surprised, finding that design thinking could be useful in his studies.

Clarizio is a junior studying anthropology. As part of the Rome International Scholars program, he is able to pursue an independent research project while abroad. Clarizio chose to focus on the persistence of migrant food traditions in Rome. Interestingly, he found that design thinking is in many ways connected to anthropology and even to his research. 

“The issues that are nestled beneath the questions we addressed in the Design Thinking Challenge are the kind of issues that require an intimate and personal lens,” he said. “ It’s all well and good to have knowledge of the hard sciences, and of course you need that sometimes, like with IDEO’s medical work; but to actually find those issues you need to be with people and talking with them.” 

In addition to gaining insights related to his research, Clarizio stated, “I gained a potential career path and also more conviction that what I am studying and doing can actually contribute to the real world, and that it’s not just something that exists in academia alone.”

Design thinking is not limited to any one field though. It is an approach that could prove useful for anyone looking to solve problems, since, as Clarizio concluded, “Unless you go out and actually see the issue, you don’t really know what needs to be done.”

Learn more about programs in Rome here.