i4Education, OSU-Cascades Innovation Co-Lab and national experts bring new tool to design thinking process

Until now, problem-solving through design thinking has often been a tricky process and a difficult skill to learn. Organizations seeking to innovate often bring team members together for design thinking training that requires space, facilitators and pulling employees from their day-to-day responsibilities. During the pandemic, the innovation process faced new challenges, as teams moved away from in-person interactions to online design exercises that left many participants feeling disengaged.

Thanks to a unique collaboration rooted in Central Oregon, there’s a new approach underway to design thinking and creative problem-solving, and it’s shaping up to be a game-changer. The partnership includes Central Oregon’s non-profit i4Education organization, the OSU-Cascades Innovation Co-Lab, and national thought leader and educational designer Katie Krummeck. As design educators, their mission is to bring together human, financial and technical resources to build the creative capacity in people, young and old, resourced and underserved. They believe that through building people’s creative confidence, we can work together to address the challenges faced by the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world.

DreamUp is a design thinking and innovation game that empowers teams to identify and solve real-world problems. Through creativity and collaboration, players reimagine daily life by solving everyday challenges like finding better ways to transition from work to home without a commute, reimagining Saturday mornings, connecting beyond Zoom, or even dealing with leftovers.

The brainchild of Krummeck and design colleagues Gray Garmon and Eugene Korsunskiy, the DreamUp game was under development to make the innovation process more fun, engaging, and accessible. When the pandemic hit, the three came up with the idea of creating a virtual version of the game to foster more engaging opportunities for learning and practicing design thinking online.

“We often facilitate crash courses to introduce people to the design thinking process,” said Krummeck. “What we’ve noticed over time is that people have a really fun experience connecting with others they don’t know. We’ve seen all of these people really light up from that connection of interviewing and designing for each other, so we started wondering if we could bottle that energy and excitement and put it into a virtual game format.”

Krummeck had been working for several years with i4Education, the innovation arm of Central Oregon’s High Desert Education Service District. Together, Krummeck and i4Education Executive Director and HDESD’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Anna Higgins, decided to partner to make DreamUp a (virtual) reality.

“We knew we had the perfect partner in the Innovation Co-Lab at Oregon State University-Cascades,” said Higgins. “They would be able to take the foundational work Katie and her colleagues had created and develop and test a virtual game format.”

The OSU-Cascades Innovation Co-Lab is a department of Oregon State University-Cascades that helps companies and nonprofits build new products and services. The Co-Lab provides, consultation, one-on-one coaching, group coaching, space, and a team of student interns to solve problems while learning real-world skills they need to enter the workforce.

With leadership from the Innovation Co-Lab’s Executive Director, Adam Krynicki, and Innovation Advisor, Program Coordinator and Senior Computer Science Instructor, Yong Bakos, the virtual DreamUp team began bringing computer science students on board.

“We asked the students to take the requirements from Katie and choose the tool needed to make DreamUp virtual. They chose the right tool for the task despite being totally new to it,” said Bakos.

Krynicki added that it was no surprise.

“If you give students opportunities to prove themselves, they will rise to meet the challenge. It’s really wonderful to watch these students self manage and become autonomous,” said Bakos. “Step by step, they take on harder challenges and once they have the experience, they know how to take on the next challenge which is the way careers work.”

According to Krynicki and Bakos, the Innovation Co-Lab students initially began working autonomously on the project of building the DreamUp game with limited coaching. Then, with coaching and experimentation, they explored potential code options and computer languages and made a recommendation for the code. After receiving feedback, the students utilized programming techniques to build the game, while communicating along the way using the project management communication and messaging tools Slack and Basecamp.

“This project was a fantastic opportunity to practice developing software in a team. It’s been a lot of fun throwing around our ideas, implementing them, and seeing what sticks,” says OSU-Cascades student and design team member Ethan Barker. “Working on Dreamup has provided us with invaluable experience working in a new web framework, a new language, and a whole new programming paradigm.”

Barker added that the project also served as a platform to implement software engineering principles and practice client communication skills.

“I’m excited for others to play DreamUp! It’s a great tool for idea generation while also being a creative team-building game that’s tons of fun to play,” said Barker.

The team is nearly finished with the functionality of the online innovation game and the next steps are user testing and polishing the user interface. i4Education will launch and further test the game with local community champions, educators and students.

“The DreamUp project is a shining example of innovation and partnership,” said Higgins. “It’s organizations, institutions and experts coming together to make everyday innovation accessible and possible. It’s been extraordinary to be part of this process.”

“Working on the project was a great way for me to get experience creating a real product that a client will be using. Making DreamUp has given me practice with client communication and teamwork; it was also a great, hands-on way for me to learn a relevant, new tech stack that’s seeing use in the field. I hope the software will be a fun and inspiring game that helps its users practice their design thinking and come up with great ideas,” said OSU-Cascades student Amber Kolar, who also served on the Dream Up design team.

Ian Snyder, another member of the OSU-Cascades student design team agreed. “This project has been an enriching experience that has helped me learn how to bring an idea to life. I gained a lot of experience working with a team to tackle tough design choices. I hope the software helps people build connections with each other,” he said.