Vital Ideation

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The Vital Ideation Olin College STU course logo.

Vital Ideation (for your everyday life) is a course designed, run and taken by the students of Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA. Vital Ideation focused on viewing the world through different "lenses" which could influence design and ideation.

A Vital Ideation description ad.

Looking Back[edit | edit source]

Ultimately, we consider the Spring 2008 offering of Vital Ideation a tremendous success. It was a great first step towards formalized student organized courses at Olin, running in parallel with another course, How Stuff Works. Here are some thoughts that we've had on different aspects of the course.

Outside Speakers[edit | edit source]

One of the key elements that made the course so successful was the outside speakers. Initially, we were worried that we would not be able to get enough interest for people to come speak with us. Fortunately, we found that this was not the case-- and not only that, but the lectures were extremely interesting, and each of our speakers was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and happy to speak with us. For those considering student run courses in the future, we strongly recommend having guest speakers come in. Keep in mind that this should be done as far in advance as possible. For our course in February through early May, we organized all speaker arrangements in late December and January.

Student Non-Participation[edit | edit source]

Several students dropped Vital Ideation during the semester, citing other work and inability to attend lectures and discussions as reasons. Many students did not blog regularly, and completed a large chunk of their blog posts in the last few days of the course. The lesson from all of this is that in future student-run courses, it's important to establish checkpoints early and often.

Student-run courses to a lesser and lesser degree suffer from being viewed as illegitimate by the school, but students still tend to view them warily-- and with good reason. Seeing someone a year younger than you try to organize a course that you're taking is far different from our usual PhD'd, MIT'd profs. For this reason, it's important for whoever is organizing the course to be on top of things early, confident in the direction of the course, and ready and able to tell others students that the endeavor is a course and should be treated as such.

Advisors[edit | edit source]

That segues nicely into advisors. It is extremely important to get an adviser who is interesting in the course and able to contribute. We were fortunate to have Lucy Dunne, a visiting faculty member, advise us. She came to almost every lunch lecture, and kept us on track at the end of the course. Our tremendous thanks to her!

In Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Organizing a student course is extremely possible. Not only is it educational in and out of the classes themselves, but it's rewarding to see the fruit of your work materialize in a learning experience for you and other students. So go talk to all those people you want to speak at your course, get a great advisor, and make sure students are on track to make some awesome work.

Best of luck!

Course Description[edit | edit source]

Expectations[edit | edit source]

Vital Ideation is a one-credit student organized course that will run during the spring 2008 semester. It will focus on viewing the world through a series of lenses, conveyed by outside speakers, that will inspire ideation in different directions. All students will be expected to attend all guest lectures, come to the weekly discussion and brainstorms, and carry an ideation notebook with them throughout the semester.

As a one-credit course, each student should work three hours per week on average. There will be, each week, a one-hour lecture, a one-hour discussion time, and an hour of personal ideation and blogging. The final deliverables for the course include your design notebook or excerpts from it, as well as a series of blog posts on each of the topics discussed. The blog will be kept at the Vital Ideation blog.

So here's the 30 second summary of what you need to do for VI and when:

  • All the time:
    • Carry a design notebook, and write in it with thoughts and ideas (especially those related to the week's unit)
  • Weekly:
    • Listen to our guest lectures, or talks on similar material online
    • Discuss the theme and brainstorm ways to use it in design with other people
    • Reflect on the unit and your thoughts and designs stemming from it in your blog.
  • By the end of the semester:
    • Organize and present highlights from your design notebook
    • Write a final reflection of the course and how it has made you think about your personal design philosophies.

Competencies Covered[edit | edit source]

Olin College employs a competency system. The following competencies were addressed by the Vital Ideation course:

  • Life Long Learning
  • Context
  • Design
  • Diagnosis

What is a "Lens"?[edit | edit source]

We've said a few times now that Vital Ideation is about viewing the world through lenses. Just what exactly is a lens? We consider it a way of seeing the world; or, more specifically, it is a way of filtering the world. It is a way of seeing components, it is a way of focusing. Our lenses allow us to focus our ideation to a specific manner, to a specific set of ideas.

Lenses are not brainstorming techniques. When someone designs something by looking at "designing for fun" or biomimicry (two lenses covered in the course), it is more than likely apparent what they focused on. When they explain the design, it is easy to see how their focus led to their design. However, with brainstorming techniques, the result is rarely connected to the technique is a significant way. Using bi-association, post-it notes, and personal stories to inspire design will lead to more ideas than those related to post-its and stories.

Who, When, What, and Where[edit | edit source]

Participants[edit | edit source]

The following students from Olin College took Vital Ideation, posted on the blog, and maintain a presence on Wikiversity.

Meetings[edit | edit source]

Our meeting times will be

  • Thursdays from 7 to 8 pm: group meeting for discussion and/or brainstorming
  • Tuesday and Thursdays from 12 to 1 pm: this time is reserved for potential guest lecturers

Speakers[edit | edit source]

  • Matt Jadud is a visiting professor at Olin College in electrical engineering and computer science. His interests include robotics, concurrent programming, human factors, and software design. We at VI will at some point attempt to establish a Matt Jadud Professor of Computer Science chair and award it to him, despite the fact that this stuff is usually done posthumously.
  • Steven K. Gold is a part-time entrepreneurship professor at Olin College. He is a serial entrepreneur and author of "Entrepreneur's Notebook: Practical Advice for Starting a New Business Venture".
  • Nina Fefferman is an epidemiologist from Rutgers noted for studying the outbreak of the World of Warcraft "Corrupted blood" virus, a software bug that had virus like effects in an online game world, and how reactions to mimic real life.
  • Brian Bingham is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Olin College.
  • Barry Kudrowitz to some degree defies classification. He is a PhD candidate at MIT, but also a professor there, a toy designer, writer, musician, and world-ranked slam poet. He knows a thing or two about having fun, and we plan on holding him hostage until he tell us all of it.
  • Ellen Thompson is Education & Program Director at the [Boston Children's Museum].
  • Richard Miller is the President of Olin College, a leading thinker on the future of engineering education, and a pigeon-racing enthusiast.
  • Ian Dapot is a designer at a local branch of an renowned international design firm.
  • Diana Dabby is an electrical engineering and music composition professor at Olin College. Before coming to Olin, she taught simultaneously at MIT and Julliard, and is known for her work in combining music composition with chaos mathematics.

Calendar[edit | edit source]

Unit Date Time (EDT) Speaker
Introduction to Vital Ideation 2/5 12:00 - 1:00 Matt Jadud
Sticky Ideas 2/14 12:00 - 1:00 Steve Gold
Ecomimicry 2/28 12:00 - 1:00 Nina Fefferman
Art and Engineering 3/4 12:00 - 1:00 Brian Bingham
Design For Fun 3/25 12:00 - 1:00 Barry Kudrowitz
4/1 12:00 - 1:00 Ellen Thompson
Design for the Next Guy 4/10 12:00 - 1:00 Richard Miller
Advertising 4/17 12:00 - 1:00 Ian Dapot
Radical Interdisciplinary Design 4/24 12:00 - 1:00 Diana Dabby

Units[edit | edit source]

Here are each of the units for Vital Ideation. We suggest that each speaker talk on the bullets given, but the actual form of the talk and in-depth content is completely up to them.

Everyday Ideation[edit | edit source]

  • carrying a design notebook
  • looking at the world from the perspective of design
  • a brief history of design
  • who designs, what they design, why they design it
  • a general background of design as it currently stands as a field

Sticky Ideas[edit | edit source]

  • based on Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
  • some ideas travel faster and farther than others; this week is an investigation of why
  • trying to make the things around us sticky
  • how do we make important things, ie. safety, public events, etc. sticky?
  • what is sticky now?
  • what things are difficult to make sticky?

Advertising[edit | edit source]

  • design that inspires us to give people our money says something; this week investigates that aspect
  • what are people attracted to in advertising?
  • how can we apply advertising to daily life, ie. group projects to business ventures
  • what are some of the best advertisements out there currently?
  • suggested resource at Word of Mouth Marketing Association

Biomimicry[edit | edit source]

  • we can learn a lot from looking at animals and plants and the way they interact; how do we apply this to design?
  • how does one generalize the behaviors of organisms into behaviors for devices?

Ecomimicry[edit | edit source]

  • we can learn a lot from looking at systems in the natural world; how can we apply this to design?
  • this week would be a study of everything from how the natural world recovers from disasters, how each biome maintains a balance, how evolution and “survival of the fittest” can be applied to design
  • epidemiology and design: the World of Warcraft “virus”
  • weather
  • translating natural distributed systems into useful design

Universal Iconography[edit | edit source]

  • 2-week unit
  • some things, from stop lights to the Coca-Cola logo, are recognized almost the entire world over; what are these things?
  • what symbols can people identify with immediately?
  • how do colors and shapes effect the way people think and feel about things
  • what makes a universal icon?
  • what is universal?

Modular Design[edit | edit source]

  • 2-week unit
  • many designed things can be broken down into compartments, individually analyzable
  • this is ECS 2.0, but from a design perspective
  • what things use compartments or “modular design,” and what similarities can be drawn between them?
  • how do modules function as a whole
  • how do we incorporate ECS ideas such as feedback, effort & flow, and compartments into design?

Design for Fun[edit | edit source]

  • 2-week unit
  • how can things be made fun?
  • what is fun?
  • how can a focus on fun be used to improve design?
  • since “fun” is an alternative for “payment,” making design fun is often profitable
  • the psychology of fun

Design for the Next Guy[edit | edit source]

  • 2-week unit
  • some things are designed so that the next person has the opportunity to modify them at will; in other words, some design in recyclable
  • the Stata center at MIT was designed so that the rooms were somewhat modular; they could serve either as a lab, a lecture room, an office, etc
  • Olin College was designed so that it could host a variety of types of engineering education, testing them for the rest of the nation
  • what are other things that are designed for ease of future designers?
  • what is easily customizable and prepared for future innovation?

Radically Interdisciplinary Design[edit | edit source]

  • combining radically different disciplines into one result
  • Diana Dabby has developed a method of music composition based on chaos mathematics
  • what other design uses ideas from extremely different disciplines?