Month: August 2020


During the final phase of Open Design+ the students share their ideas about their 6-weeks journey and their take aways from the program. One common thought: design is not only intended for designers and the key to success is to engage with stakeholders from beginning to end.

“I thought I understood the design phase before coming into this program, but now I see that my understanding then only scratched the surface.”

By: Zsofia Walter

Coming into the design process it seemed simple. You just have to Understand, Create, Evaluate and Communicate. Four easy steps right? It seems straightforward, but in each phase you are constantly fighting your instincts. 

In the “Understand” phase you must try to eliminate your biases and truly listen to your user’s perspective, not implanting your own thoughts. You can’t simply choose the problem that you find most compelling and interesting, and even when you feel like you’ve hit on something meaningful you have to keep digging. In the “Create” phase it is crucial to remain problem-oriented and embody the “yes, and” mindset. You have to resist the urge to shoot down improbable ideas, but also not run with the first idea that excites you. Balancing these two sides and pushing yourself to keep brainstorming is critical to coming up with a great solution. 

In the “Evaluate” phase you must force yourself to reach out for feedback from as many stakeholders as possible, accept criticisms and be willing to adapt. At the same time it is vital to understand the perspective of the people you get feedback from. Without taking into account the perspective of a stakeholder, their advice could completely derail your concept unnecessarily. In the “Communicate” phase I have learned that less is more. Being able to communicate your concept in a simple yet effective way is necessary to get your idea out to as many people as possible. It’s not necessary to add every feature of the platform, simply the most important ones that allow your idea to be understood. 

I thought I understood the design phase before coming into this program, but now I see that my understanding then only scratched the surface. I see now that I can use design thinking and methodology to tackle any problem, not only in my professional but also in my personal life. This program has also shown me the real value in “soft” skills that I always found important but never knew how they were applicable to my career. I truly believe that with what I have learned about teamwork, open source methodologies and design thinking along with my knowledge of computer science and math I can create a real impact in any field.


“The most fulfilling aspect of the program was the diversity of opinions, interests, and experiences of the Open Design+ team.”

By: Sanya Uppal

Open Design+ has provided an extremely fulfilling and rewarding experience. The 6 weeks flew by, but it taught me three valuable things in that short time:

  1. Ask reflective and purposeful questions

This program highlighted the importance of asking reflective and purposeful questions in the design process. It provided direction and intention in an open-ended program. In the Understand phase, it was very impactful to understand which path my team was taking. In the Create phase, it determined a shared purpose that each member of my team was fully invested in and drove our ideation process. In the Evaluate phase, it helped us decide what feedback we value most. Most importantly, in the Communicate phase, it informed our narrative and gave us a compelling story to connect with our audience.

  1. Co-creation is challenging, but rewarding

Open Design+ constantly emphasizes the need to co-create – design with your stakeholders. However, over the course of the program, my team interviewed over 30 individuals and sent out surveys, which had dozens of responses. Having multiple stakeholders and taking into account the varied responses, hopes, and desires of each is a challenging process. But this collaborative innovation is what makes the design process so unique and rewarding. I learnt how to listen without judgement, adopt a “yes and…” mindset and consistently ask for critical feedback in order to improve and adapt my ideas.

  1. Learn from the people around you

The most fulfilling aspect of the program was the diversity of opinions, interests, and experiences of the Open Design+ team and the emphasis on engaging with stakeholders that represented different voices. It taught me the value of having diverse perspectives not only in the design process but also in my learning experience. I am grateful for the honesty, support and “open” mindset of the leadership team and the other amazing students in the program.


“I will take with me the relationships that I have built, the principles of design I have gained, and the passion I have shared.”

By: Kaelyn Griffiths

This process has taught me so much about open design and even more about myself. Coming into this program, I was skeptical that it would be a fulfilling experience because of the remote aspect, but I was quickly proved wrong. Within the first week, the leadership team and the other students created a comfortable environment that sustained throughout the remainder of the program. I can honestly say that I grew in so many skills, including graphic design, effective communication, working in a team, empathy, conducting interviews, and the list goes on. I had the pleasure of working with a team that always encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and speak up when I had an idea, whether it was articulated perfectly or not. Working alongside people who make you feel comfortable makes the world of a difference and this group has truly set the standard for future projects to come.

As far as my team’s specific project, it has been amazing to witness and lend a hand in such an exciting idea. I am hopeful that we expressed the need for our concept in a compelling enough manner that it inspires other people to collaborate on it and see the project through for the generations of Duke students to come. Moving forward, although I won’t be working as much on this particular project, I will take with me the relationships that I’ve built, the principles of design I’ve gained, and the passion I’ve shared. I can’t express enough how grateful I am for the opportunity to build such meaningful and authentic relationships with my peers and am looking forward to seeing how those relationships grow. In that same manner, the principles of design thinking that have been shared with me throughout this program have endless uses outside of these past 6 weeks and I’m hoping to incorporate this level of collaboration in everything I work on from this point on.


“Open Design+ helped me realize not only the true importance of problem-solving and design, but also the importance of empathy and the relationships that we form with those around us.”

By: Florence Wang

These past six weeks have absolutely flown by and in these weeks, I have experienced such a beautiful mixture of emotions, thoughts, and realizations.

From reading my past blog posts, it’s probably pretty evident that I’m an innate skeptic–I always have something to question and this skepticism was present at almost all the beginning stages of this program. I don’t often like to be proven wrong, but in this case, Open Design+ did, and I have never been more glad that I was wrong.

I’m not quite sure why, but when we were first introduced to the design thinking process, it felt almost unnecessary, superfluous even. I could not wrap my head around how convoluted and stretched out the entire process seemed. Looking back, I think it was because of my tendency to rush, to immediately jump to the solution, to let thoughts of feasibility hinder my actions and creativity. I was so caught up in this mindset of doing, of getting the job done, of being able to check one more thing off my list, that I lost sight of what is truly important when solving a problem to create tangible impact and change the lives of others for the better. Open Design+ helped me realize not only the true importance of problem-solving and design, but also the importance of empathy and the relationships that we form with those around us.

Each stage of the design process unlocked a different realization or skill for me. The “understanding” phase taught me empathy, patience, and the significance of perspective. The “create” phase taught me to think outside the box, to overcome hurdles, and the importance of collaboration. The “evaluate” phase taught me the value of co-creation, how to not get stuck on a singular idea, and to constructively accept feedback. And lastly, the “communication” phase taught me the beauty of storytelling, helped foster excitement, and enabled me to feel both validated and encouraged.

Open Design+ not only helped me develop my skills and a more nuanced perspective of design but also, helped me create some of the most genuine connections with the other people involved. I absolutely love my team members, and each and every one of them pushed me to reach beyond my comfort zone, offered me support when I needed it, and contributed to our project with so much passion and commitment. But these things apply to everyone who participated in this program. Everyone offered so much knowledge, perspective, and ardor that I have never witnessed nor been a part of before.

This has truly been such an amazing and informative experience that has made me look beyond what I had originally thought were limitations in my life. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity and will never view “design” in the same way as before. I now know that design is not something that is simply visual and one-dimensional. Rather, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a narrative, it’s the unraveling of a story. 


“Listening and iterating are equally, if not more important, than reaching an end goal in an expedient or rushed manner.”

By: Drew Flanagan

I have learned a lot going through the entire open design process.

I would say my number one takeaway is that, when designing, it is important to solve with the user-center problem in mind, not with the solution that you, the designer would like to implement. This is important because in order to produce a design that is effective, it is key that it aligns with the specific needs of the user. In the innovation space, it is all too common for designers to build with aesthetics or technology in mind, rather than the essential user needs.

One way I learned to be user-centered was to co-create. Collaborating with stakeholders is not simply a “step” or a “box to check” – it is a continued process. As my team designed, we constantly reached out to stakeholders for feedback and input. While this can sometimes be exhausting, it kept us grounded in designing a solution that specifically fits the community’s needs.

One of my most memorable challenges was when a stakeholder thought our team was not taking the most effective approach to solve our problem of focus. While many other stakeholders had helped us craft a particular way of solving, this stakeholder disagreed. It was a defining moment for our group because we had to decide the extent by which we embrace all feedback versus weighing the priorities of other stakeholders. We decided to only adapt some of the feedback from that stakeholder, recognizing that our solution could not solve all needs – we would have to be more specific in deciding who we exactly we were solving for.

From Open Design+, a main learning for me was to have an open mind. Listening and iterating are equally, if not more important, than reaching an end goal in an expedient or rushed manner. In other words, feedback makes for a more productive process and a better solution.


“Reflection is an integral part of purpose-finding”

By: Caroline Surret

My experience with Open Design+ has taught me several important lessons. 

Radical collaboration makes for impactful solutions.

Working with my team was the most joyful part of my Open Design+ experience. Throughout the process, we bounced off of each other, debated approaches to research and solution-finding, and grew a strong working relationship. Our team’s collaboration allowed us to think outside of the norm and work toward a better future for Duke, but collaborative action didn’t only exist within the team. In conversations with 40+ stakeholders, I learned the value of integrating as many perspectives as possible into the design process, and I truly believe that this radical collaboration led my team to lay the framework for an incredibly impactful solution.

Reflection is an integral part of purpose-finding. 

My team’s research was focused on the ways that students find purpose at Duke, and we learned that reflection is crucial to path-finding. This research insight has led me to reflect more on my own journey at Duke and I’m in the process of re-evaluating where I dedicate my time and energy. As I prepare to start a new semester, this reflective practice has been helpful in clarifying the courses and experiences that I want to dedicate my time to in the fall semester.

Negative feedback is good feedback too. 

The open design process taught me to turn negative feedback into opportunity for change and improvement. Throughout the design stages, my team was able to iterate quickly to address feedback, and we learned to love it. While it’s not always easy to hear, negative feedback is good feedback too. I am so grateful for the Open Design+ experience and all that it has taught me. As I look into the future, I am excited to integrate these lessons-learned into my personal journey at Duke and beyond.









The teams have been testing their solutions. Receiving feedback is the key to iterate and co-create a solution that responds to the users need. Regardless of the importance of testing, being challenged on the idea they have been working for weeks is not easy to handle. The students reflect on this process and their strategies to incorporate feedback, staying true to the essence of their solution and the problem they are solving.

“The evaluate phase has taught me the importance of asking insightful and intentional questions.”

By: Sanya Uppal

The evaluation phase has been one of uncertainty and unpredictability. Finding a method of testing and creating a prototype has involved a greater examination of our core purpose and introduced the component of feasibility. It has also involved a feeling of responsibility; how do we create a prototype, test and refine in a way that is meaningful for us and our stakeholders? This has been very impactful on my design thinking mindset and approach to our prototype iteration process. 

The evaluate phase has taught me the importance of asking insightful and intentional questions. When interviewing individuals or asking for feedback, this is important as it helps drive the conversation and gain meaningful observations. Furthermore, I have learnt how crucial it is to maintain a constant dialogue in our team as we receive feedback. Each of us on the team reacts to critique in our own way and extracts different information from it. Therefore, we have to consolidate and ensure that we are on the same page. 

Responses to our idea have been varied, particularly as each individual highlights a different aspect of our testing prototype that they consider valuable. Co-creation is our intention, but it has been difficult to consider contrasting opinions that all lead us into different directions. This phase has helped me understand which judgements should be in our feedback circle and how my team must collectively make this decision.


“The most difficult part about our interview processes has been selling our idea.”

By: Justing Koga

As we are nearing the end of our Evaluate phase, I’m most proud of the work we’ve done as a team. I think chemistry is often overlooked when considering project success — one person has the ability to derail the momentum of a workflow. I’m so excited that going into our final week in OpenDesign+, my team is moving at full speed. 

During the Evaluate phase of the open design process, the most difficult part about our interview processes has been selling our idea. We are developing a “read the room” gauge for students and professors during the online learning setting (as well as a couple other community tools). Our problem has been that we lack a cohesive, easily digestible summary of our ideation process and of our solution. Going forward, we will have to experiment with different storytelling platforms to best be able to present our work. 

For me, the most memorable learnings from the Evaluate phase of open design have been more social than anything: how can I best present my ideas and thoughts without disrupting the general flow of the team’s ideation process? This question is especially difficult in the online setting, but I truly feel that something like our “read the room” gauge might allow group/class members to be more cognizant of the state of the room. 


“The evaluate phase has taught me the importance of falling in love with the problem and not the solution”

By: Marcus Ortiz

The evaluation phase has definitely been a roller coaster of emotions. One second we were on a roll redesigning and reiterating, then, within an hour, the magic would wear off. Despite this, the evaluate phase has easily had the most impact on my design mindset.

It can be hard to let go of an idea. However, the evaluate phase has taught me the importance of falling in love with the problem and not the solution. In order to design and create “with” others and not “for” others, you must realize it is essential to include their opinions not only when defining the problem space, but also when creating and iterating. Oftentimes this means setting aside your pride. Although an idea may seem golden, if users say otherwise, it is your responsibility to step up and change the idea you thought was perfect.

Sometimes the hardest part is realizing you even have a biased connection to an idea. Subconsciously, you may end up asking interviewees questions that imply the answer you want to hear. It is only natural to want the original design to be perfect. Yet, this narrow mindedness severely hinders innovation. The goal of feedback is to see the solution from a different perspective, not to force your prospective on them.

However, despite the difficulties that come with fostering and utilizing feedback, our design has improved tremendously from the evaluate phase. Although we are still working out some kinks, I can not wait to present our design now that we improved our idea by getting some much needed feedback from professors and students. Now we just have to make sure we can communicate it right!


“I am now in a place where I welcome critique with open arms”

By: Caroline Surret

The evaluate phase of the open design process has made me excited to iterate towards a final solution. As a part of the evaluation process, my team will be running a series of workshops with incoming first-year students around purpose-finding. I am eagerly anticipating those sessions, as taking the time to reflect on my goals and pathway before I got to Duke would likely have been a very fulfilling experience–one that would have made me a bit less anxious coming into my first year. 

Besides those workshops, my team has been collecting feedback on our prototype pages via Qualtrics surveys. While it has taken some getting used to throughout the open design process, I am now in a place where I welcome critique with open arms and am very much enjoying reading through feedback and thinking critically about how to address the underlying assumptions of our project. 

Ultimately, the evaluation phase of the open design process feels very impactful because it is a representation of the value of co-creation. As we continue into presenting our work to stakeholders next week, I hope to communicate this moment of co-creation in a way that clearly demonstrates its impact on our solution and our team.


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