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Northwestern University

Connecting Chicago to the Classroom

Chicago Ideas Week inspired city residents to think, dream and connect during October 17-23. Eleven students enrolled in courses at the Segal Design Institute were among the crowd, thanks to support provided by the Norman Fund.

The seven-day festival brings leaders and innovators together to discuss the insights transforming science, technology, the arts, education, and leadership today. In addition to these thought-provoking conversations, Chicago Ideas Week partners with businesses and organizations throughout the city to offer hands-on “Labs” where attendees can learn new skills.

The result? Attendees walk away motivated to stay curious – and those eleven Northwestern students bring that motivation back to their classes here at the Segal Design Institute.

Hua Chin, a student in the Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) graduate program at the Segal Design Institute, attended a panel discussion called “Creativity at Work” featuring Linda Cohn, anchor at ESPN and host of The SportsCenter Podcast, Tinker Hatfield, Vice President of Creative Concepts at Nike, Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, and Billie Whitehouse, the founder and CEO of Wearable Experiments.

The panelists told the audience at the Cadillac Palace Theatre how they bring creativity to work every day. Chin was particularly inspired by something that Whitehouse said:

"I don't want you to put the technology before the human experience. You have to actually sit there and study people. You have to understand what makes us truly human. It's things like intimacy. It's things like shelter and warmth. It's things like human to human connection. If you design for those areas first, and then use technology, you're gonna have really, really beautiful ideas."

Chin said, “To me, it's amazing that the human-centered design principle, which I'm learning at EDI now, is truly believed by a successful entrepreneur. This talk [got me to] rethink the relationship between design, technology and human beings.”

Julia Savich, a student in the EDI program, also found the theme of human-centered design present in a Chicago Ideas Week Lab called “Beyond the Brewery” hosted by MillerCoors.

“The creative viewpoint MillerCoors shared with me is applicable to my studies at Segal because it showed me that there is room for innovation no matter how rooted in history a product is or limited a field appears,” said Savich. “MillerCoors also shared the value of cultural research when creating a product. You must understand your consumers before you can design a desirable product for them.”

When it comes to drawing connections, one of our students got to try his hand at it quite literally. Sergio Marquina, a student in the EDI program, attended a Chicago Ideas Week Lab called “Think Like Ink” hosted by the Ink Factory, a team of artists who capture ideas in real-time using visual note-taking. They listen, synthesize, and translate the spoken word into a visual language in real time while playing with typography, color theory, composition, type, and scale. Marquina practiced his visual note-taking skills during fun exercises with the Ink Factory team at their studio in Bucktown.

Marquina said, “The Ink Factory is bringing a whole new form of communication to companies around the world, and, much like Segal, they’re actively trying to push the boundary of innovation. Graphic recording is a very versatile tool and I look forward to applying the skills I learned at Segal.”

Pratap Jayaram, a senior studying Theatre and Human-Centered Design (a custom major that he developed to loosely mimic the EDI curriculum), attended a panel discussion called “Business in Motion.” Panelists discussed how a business pivots from a static organization to one that is innovative and purpose-driven. Speakers included Maryam Banikarim, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Nick Kokonas, founder and CEO of Tock and co-owner of The Alinea Group, and Don Thompson, former president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation.

He said, "Attending [Chicago Ideas Week] gave me a better understanding of how human-centered design thinking can be applied on an organizational level. I heard stories about familiar themes of human-centered design taking shape on a company-wide level, and I learned new strategies for creating positive experiences that I never would have expected.”

Maggie Hsu, a student in the MMM program jointly operated by the Segal Design Institute and the Kellogg School of Management, was also in the audience during that “Business in Motion.”

Maggie said, “What’s even more interesting than eating at Alinea? Listening to its co-owner tell the story of how the experience was designed.” She added, “The ‘Business in Motion’ panel brought topics from my coursework at Segal to life. They may not say the words ‘design thinking’, but the strategies each speaker presented proved that empathy and iterating quickly are fundamental to success in today’s business world.”

Joseph Wain, a senior in the Manufacturing & Design Engineering (MaDE) program at the Segal Design Institute, attended the same event. He found connections to both his coursework at Segal and his role at The Garage, Northwestern's hub for student entrepreneurship. Wain is currently part of The Garage’s residency program for budding entrepreneurs.

“My main takeaways [from the event] are the differentiating power of a thoughtful user experience and the impact of a diverse workplace,” said Wain. “As I move forward with my Garage residency, I will research and apply the ideas the speakers touched on.”

Anetta Siemianowicz, a sophomore pursuing a double major in Mechanical Engineering and MaDE, attended a talk called "Science of Choice” at Chicago Ideas Week. There, she gained insight into how to work better with her peers on collaborative projects at the Segal Design Institute.

“While I received relationship advice, got tricked by optical illusion, and learned a lot about well, choices, my favorite speaker was Sheena Iyengar. She made me realize that we are all actually very similar and that we make choices that we think are unique,” said Siemianowicz. “[Sheena] made me realize that, especially since so many things at Segal are group-based, in the end we all really want the same thing. It has definitely changed the way I’ll approach how I work with my peers.”

Kim Hoffman, the Associate Director of the Segal Design Institute, sees Chicago Ideas Week as an opportunity for students to move beyond the classroom.

“Through Chicago Ideas Week, we want to encourage Segal students to connect with the amazing people, ideas, and projects we have access to as Chicagoans,“ she said. “We hope our students find that the connections they made off campus will enrich their future work on campus, perhaps in ways they never expected.”

Support for Northwestern students to attend Chicago Ideas Week was generously provided by the Norman Fund, which exists in part to "maximize student participation in the human interaction side of design” and provides small, rapid allocation of funds to Northwestern students for human-centered design projects and participation in external conferences.

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