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The d.studio: Giving students a vital new component to add to their business toolkits

When Peder Sande and his classmates were tasked with helping Concert Properties reduce the carbon footprint of its rental properties, they began by looking inside renters’ refrigerators.

Not exactly the customary approach — but this was no conventional business course.

“I had never done a project like that where the professor said, ‘take all the time you need to sit and think and talk and listen to people,’” Sande says. “We had the time to really observe the problem, collaborate and eventually come up with the insights necessary. We looked at everything.”

Sande, in his final year of a Bachelor of Commerce degree, was participating in the d.studio — an innovative experiential learning initiative launched at the Sauder School in Fall 2010. The d.studio aims to give students a new and critical component to enrich their business toolkits as well as a better understanding of how design thinking can be used.

“Design thinking is a way of thinking that’s completely different from that analytical, linear way we’re used to,” says Sande. “It lets you quiet your critical voice. It allows ideas to be unleashed in the most efficient way possible, enables collaboration, and cultivates creativity and empathy. Ultimately you pick the best solution after you have picked everything apart.

“You can use design thinking everywhere and in every course — it’s like a Swiss Army Knife!” he says.

Design thinkers observe the world, identify patterns of behavior, generate ideas, get feedback, repeat the practice, and refine until they’re ready to take their product, service or process to market. Design thinking is called “human-centred” because it starts with the people for whom others are designing and want to affect with their solution.

Moura Quayle, BC’s former deputy minister of advanced education and former dean of UBC Land and Food Systems, brought the d.studio to life at the urging of Sauder's former Dean, Dr Daniel Muzyka.

“Design thinking isn’t the silver bullet,” says Quayle. “But it is a way of expanding your world view and how you think about and address complex problems. To think we can use the same tools we used a decade ago just isn’t realistic.”

Ronna Chisholm, a Sauder alumna (BCom ’89, Finance) and Leslie Wong Fellow, believes wholeheartedly in the value and impact the d.studio can have at Sauder and in the business world.

“There is a huge void of business graduates and middle managers that don’t have this understanding and don’t even know the conversation is going on,” says Chisholm, co-founder of dossier, a design company that specializes in “birthing” brands and business ideas.

As an advisor to the d.studio, she is helping spread the word about the initiative and hopes to play a further role as it unfolds.

As for Sande, he says the d.studio has “fundamentally changed the course” of his life and calls design thinking an “asset” that he will use in all future endeavours.