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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. 



After a week of working and gathering knowledge and inspiration from different sources, our students are ready to share their reflections on their hopes and concerns for their time in the program.

¨I am excited about what I might learn and apply it to learning innovation in Nigeria and across Africa in the future¨

By: Anwulika Okonjo
I am most excited about working on issues that affect students and the future of learning. I think this is a really important area that hasn’t seen much serious innovation in a while, but there are so many possibilities. I’m excited about what I might learn and how I could apply it to learning innovation in Nigeria and across Africa in the future. Coming from a place where people’s narratives are often distorted or their voices are typically ignored, open design matters a lot to me because it centers on the experiences and perspectives of the people we are trying to help.
Unfortunately, a lot of initiatives that are intended to improve people’s lives often end up doing the opposite because they don’t actually take in what the people who they’re trying to help think about the project (as crazy as that sounds). One of my favorite things about human-centered design/open design is journey mapping and designing impact measures. I think re-imagining learning means taking a different approach to understanding student’s journey through educational institutions and beyond, and rethinking what the purpose of learning is and what it means to be a teacher or student. It means coming up with new ways of assessing the impact education has had on people beyond their income post-graduation or their job position.
I’ve personally had a really unique journey at Duke, and I would say that my education and time over the last few years has extended well beyond the boundaries of Duke’s physical campus. I want other students to also feel like even if they made some mistake, they have a strong understanding of who they are and what they want to become once they leave Duke. And they feel fully equipped with the skills and resources they need to do whatever they want to do

¨I hope our project has an immediate impact on the status quo¨

By: Marcus Ortiz

If you are a student, it should not be hard to remember the last time you dozed off during a lecture. It happens to everyone. Maybe you were still worn out from having a bit too much fun the night before, oftentimes though, it is the fault of the current education system. A student being disengaged during a lecture frequently highlights the faults of the education system we have conjured up rather than a student’s personal habits. The education system we have built is similar to Frankenstein’s creature, random parts that are collected for the sheer necessity to create life, but no regard for the creature’s connection to humanity. We have built up education by slowly adding up parts, not building it from the ground up, disregarding the humanity of education: to liberate through critical thinking.

The current state of the world has given us a unique opportunity to take a thorough look at the education system and try to redesign it from square one. With Open Design focusing on this subject at such a critical time, saying I am excited for what is to come is definitely an understatement. Specifically, I am quite eager to delve into improving equity in education. Growing up as a minority in a financially disadvantaged household, the importance of equity in education has struck quite close to home.

I hope we as a team can encourage the importance of equity in not only Duke’s education system but all. Though I obviously hope our project has an immediate impact on the status quo, if there is anything I learned during the first week, it’s that this process can not and should not be rushed. Therefore, to reflect on expectations, I would be contemptuous if the immediate effects are not groundbreaking, as long as we inspire and set foundations for others to continue working through this very convoluted situation. But to sum it up… I can’t wait for the coming weeks!!!

¨I believe that within these tumultuous times we have the possibility for our ideas and plans to truly be implemented¨

By: Zsofia Walter

In OpenDesign+ I hope that we can achieve real and true change at Duke. As a group, we come from different backgrounds and have various interests, so collectively I believe we can consider many aspects of the problems we approach and create feasible solutions. Most importantly, I believe that within these tumultuous times we have the possibility for our ideas and plans to truly be implemented, not just considered. 

Higher education and its role in our society is something I have thought a lot about, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see that all of our group members seem to have as well. It has been incredibly enlightening to hear everyone’s perspectives and thoughts. I always felt that our content-driven method of teaching was lacking, but didn’t know what would be better. Learning about the banking vs co-intentional problem-based approaches to teaching have shown me how there are many different ways to teach.

Although the banking approach may make sense at a lower level, it does not develop the problem-solving skills necessary for most jobs. In the wake of moving all teaching online, it has made me realize we should utilize in-person time with professors in a far more meaningful way. In the world of Google, all the information we could ever want is at our fingertips. To truly make an impact on our students, we have to teach them how to work through real-world problems and how to work together.

¨I feel like everyone is passionate about the need for transformation in higher education¨

By: Arya Patel

I am very excited to be a part of a diverse and thoughtful team in OpenDesign+. The team dynamics and discussions have gone above and beyond my expectations.  I feel like everyone is passionate about the need for transformation in higher education, but at the same time are motivated and informed by very different experiences. The format in which we are learning, developing ideas, and brainstorming through open-source values is very transformative in the design process. We are integrating ideas and opinions from diverse students, professors, faculty, and staff from Duke and experts in education outside of Duke, in addition to both classic and cutting research and paper on innovative educational reform. 

Beyond the deep and broad exploration of the core of the topic at hand, OpenDesign+ has also given a lot of insight into design practices such as convergence and divergence. As a student, I am wired to constantly focus on convergence to whittle down ideas and bring them close to my reality. However, I am in awe of the value – and difficulty in practicing- divergence. Seeing beyond the societal and hierarchical norms that I am already very embedded in and thinking of ideas and concepts that once seemed far from my reality had provided me an opportunity to not only challenge my critical thinking and preconceived notions but also given us idealism as a tool for change. To  “think outside of the box,” we first must realize the box we are in, and then poke holes in it to let the light in from the outside. 

¨I think documentation is crucial to building coalitions of support around innovations¨

By: Drew Flanagan

I have and continue to be most excited about the prospect of us making meaningful change as it relates to learning at Duke. I have found our “understand” phase particularly intriguing because it has given me the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges, expectations, and assumptions that exist within our current educational model. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reconsider some historic practices and conventions as well as ask the questions: why do we do what we do and is it the most effective way to reach our goal?

As we continue to think about our work beyond the “understand” phase, the concept of “showing your work” is a value of open-source design that has connected with me. I think documentation is crucial to building coalitions of support around innovations. Learners and teachers alike want to be able to understand the reasoning for doing something. This makes design human-centered rather than process or outcome-oriented. “Showing your work” also allows people to build off your findings, which ultimately leads to more innovation and robust discussion about what educational models can and should look like.

I hope to work with my team to design something that can have a tangible impact on the experience of students and faculty (the users) this Fall. I think the area of biggest opportunity is how to balance the hands-on and interaction specific portions of learning with the content-driven piece. To me, content does not always need to be delivered face-to-face – in some cases, like a lecture, for example, in-person delivery is inefficient compared to video modules or other modes. However, when we do not deliver content in-person, there is a loss of some of the by-products of interaction that increase engagement and intellectual curiosity. I think there is room to balance efficiency with purposeful interaction going forward. I think the flipped classroom is something worth further exploring.

I’m looking forward to continuing our “understand” phase into next week and more thoughtful conversations with stakeholders.

¨This challenges me to gravitate away from instinctively coming to solutions first¨

By: Sanya Uppal

I am most excited about finding our opportunity space after the series of speakers and readings we have interacted with. Our discussions had a focus on rethinking the traditional banking approach of learning and it was great to find this mirrored in our conversations with individuals who make these decisions at Duke. Realizing that faculty and administration are also deliberating and debating our current definitions of educational learning has definitely inspired and motivated me to comprehend, brainstorm, and create reforms to the existing system.

I have found the emphasize and understand phase, which focuses on effectively discovering, analyzing, and visualizing the problem at hand, as a great avenue of exploring these ideas. I have come to realize how crucial this phase is as it forms the foundation of the design process and the basis of our work. This challenges me to gravitate away from instinctively coming to solutions first.

To me, re-imaging learning involves redefining the existing forms of standardization and measurement of success in our education framework. Contemplating in this big picture way is extremely encouraging and inspiring. Professor Timke’s discussion on thinking about bricolage or quilting things together, made me consider how we could approach our re-imagining process by incorporating some concepts from the old framework while creating new inspired ones. I hope to provide not only tangible support and outcomes in my team but also create an environment of deeper reflection of our goals by assimilating some of the ideas we have discussed and been exposed to over the past week. I believe these outcomes must encompass open-source values – a collaborative and easily accessible adaptable framework that is equitable in its formation and application.

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