L-Schools and I-Schools Should Take A Closer Look At D-Schools

According to the Wall Street Journal (watch the video) D-Schools are hot and B-Schools are not. The WSJ is acknowledging an important trendh within B-Schools that has been growing in popularity for a few years. While it’s true that a few forward thinking business schools, most notably the Rotman School of Business (U of Toronto) and the Weatherhead School (Case Western) have integrated design thinking into their curriculum, the vast majority of business schools are still offering the same traditional courses and career paths for their MBA students. Moving to a design thinking influenced curriculum makes good sense because more businesses are making use of design thinking and looking to hire those who can bring more of these skills to their companies. At my own institution, the Fox School of Business includes the Center for Design and Innovation, where the faculty are exploring the intersection of design and business, and exposing the newest MBA students to the design inquiry process, a variant on design thinking.

While the video does point out that some B-Schools are providing a mix of design thinking and business thinking, it emphasizes that D-Schools may be the new B-Schools. Students who may have opted for an MBA in the past now want to be designers – especially designers who work at companies like Apple, Google or Facebook. They want to mix their business knowledge with the problem solving methods used by designers. The Stanford D-School is probably the hottest D-School right now, and perhaps it’s no surprise that there are many connections between the school and IDEO. I have participated in several of the D-School’s one-hour webinars, and have learned some great things about design thinking from their faculty members.

It’s great that business schools are recognizing the value of design thinking – and that business people are recognizing the value of attending D-Schools. Perhaps now is the right time for L-Schools (Library) and I-Schools (Information) to take a closer look into this trend, and consider how to integrate design thinking into the curriculum that prepares future library professionals. I made this suggestion in a post a few years ago, and there was a mixed reaction – everything from “Who is he to tell us how to design our curriculum” to “Sounds like an interesting idea” to “I’m already doing this”. The lack of enthusiasm for my suggestion was likely owing to a lack of familiarity with design thinking. Courses on library instruction, human-computer interaction or usability studies may include some elements of design, but it would be completely different to integrate design thinking philosophy into the curriculum – so that every graduate has internalized the design inquiry process as a problem-solving methodology. As a result of that post, I was asked to participate in an ALISE conference panel focusing on design in the LIS curriculum – thanks to those faculty who were open to the possibilities. Clearly there is opportunity here. To my way of thinking, the first LIS program that successfully merges design thinking and library science will establish a distinct advantage in the field. As a starting point, take a closer look at how B-Schools are integrating design thinking into their curriculum and why they are doing it. Even better, make a visit to the Stanford D-School.

This post is not intended as a critique of our LIS programs. There are great programs turning out high quality graduates. I do think the LIS program that breaks new ground by integrating design thinking and philosophy into the curriculum will establish a real advantage over the programs that stay the course. We need LIS graduates with those traditional skills that prepare them for library work. We have a greater need for students who are savvy problem solvers. With the wicked problems confronting the library profession, we need colleagues who can design elegant solutions. Design thinking skills could help our future librarians be the kind of problem solvers and decision makers that can tackle any challenging no matter what area of librarianship is involved. That’s what design thinkers do – they figure out what the real problem is and design a solution. Perhaps some L-Schools and I-Schools will seriously look into the D-School trend, with an intent to use it as a model for future curriculum development. If the goal is to create better libraries, should’t it start with how we prepare future librarians? In the meantime, is it possible that more libraries will just start hiring D-School graduates? I think some already are or will do so soon.

How Design Thinking Could Improve LIS Education

As a library practitioner it’s rare to have occasions to speak with LIS faculty about the education of our future library colleagues. So I considered myself fortunate to be in that position recently when I attended the 15th anniversary celebration for the Internet Public Library (which I wrote about here), and a meeting of the re-accreditation advisory board for Drexel University’s iSchool, of which I am a member. Over the course of two days there were multiple conversations about what today’s LIS students need to learn in order to be well prepared for tomorrow’s challenging library environment.

LIS students still need to gain proficiency with important skills, such as the organization of material, reference work, subject specialization and digital development. No one argues that. But where the need seems more acute, and where there is less certainty about how to teach, is with the less tangible skills sets such as listening and observing, problem analysis or critical thinking. That’s where much of the conversation focused; what could practitioners share to help educators design a better curriculum for LIS students. That’s when it occurred to me. We should be talking about integrating design thinking into the LIS curriculum.

What would it mean to do that? Taking some cues from two advocates for integrating design thinking into the business school curriculum, let me synthesize some ideas from David Kelley (watch short video), a co-founder of IDEO, and Roger Martin. Dean the Rotman Business School. LIS education infused with design thinking principles would teach students to be more intuitive and creative and less analytical – aiming for more of a balance. Saying you want to teach students to be design thinkers means helping them to internalize a methodology that focuses on making innovation a more routine part of work. The application of the design thinking method incorporates many of those difficult-to-teach soft skills.

For example, the first stage of the design thinking method is empathic design – learning to put yourself in the place of the user. Let’s say that we currently educate students to ask reference interview questions aimed at narrowing the possibilities so that the librarian can impose a solution on the user. That may lead to giving the user an inappropriate or incomplete solution if we fail to adequately capture the true need of the user. Now imagine we were to educate LIS students to first think about the user and what he or she is trying to accomplish and the factors driving them to ask the question. The student would learn to understand the need for help from that user’s unique perspective. A design thinking approach to providing reference service might also encourage the use of more social techniques, from seeking greater input from colleagues to using networks to find the best solutions. Too often LIS students see reference as a “lone genius” activity when in fact the best results can emerge from an enlightened team of diverse experts.

Design thinkers are problem finders. Having a design thinking mentality in any library setting could improve the operation of the organization. Instead of focusing too quickly on solutions, a new generation of librarians would learn the value of thoughtfulness and patience in confronting complex problems. LIS programs teach skills for use in building solutions, but are they teaching a thought process that guides the application of the skills in different situations? A design thinking influenced curriculum could better prepare students to make good decisions in complicated or complex situations.

So how might LIS educators create a design thinking curriculum? There are few possibilities for getting started:

* Begin by having faculty read core materials about design thinking, and then exchange ideas about how the design thinking methodology could be integrated throughout the curriculum.

* Invite Roger Martin to speak at the next ALISE conference. LIS educators can learn how he is tranforming business education to include more balance between analytical left brain thinking and intuitive right brain thinking.

* Work with a design firm to create a prototype of a design thinking curriculum. Firms such as IDEO that traditionally design products now consult with organizations to help them transition to a design thinking organization.

* Involve current students and alumni in the exploration of a design thinking curriculum. Have the groups work together to explore how design thinking could improve the LIS learning experience for students and provide benefits to the employers who will hire them.

* Invite students from design education programs such as the d. school at Stanford University or the IIT Institute of Design to visit LIS programs to share perspectives on what makes their the learning process and the curriculum at their institution unique.

I would look forward to a future in which LIS graduates emerge from their programs as design thinkers (not to mention UX advocates). It would lead to a more innovative profession with a common tool for approaching the challenges of librarianship. As David Kelley puts it in the video, design thinking compliments how you normally think and work, but equips you with a methodology for a consistent approach to change and innovation. I believe that the first LIS program that declares itself the “design thinking iSchool” is going to set the standard for the future of library education. Is there a forward thinking LIS program that is ready to give this a try?

BTW, integrating design thinking into learning at all levels, including LIS programs, may be the wave of the future. Here’s an article that discusses integrating design education into K-12 schools.