Alice joined the Columbia Entrepreneurship team in February 2016 as our
Design Lead for the Design Studio@Columbia Entrepreneurship.

The Design Studio@Columbia Entrepreneurship encourages innovators to delve into the needs of a market segment,
frame customer problems, rapidly generate prototypes, and build viable solutions.
Through workshops, courses, and projects, the Columbia Design Studio brings diverse members of Columbia’s entrepreneurial community together to build innovative solutions to challenging problems, both local and global.

Get involved with DC@CE trainings and programs, and contact us at


Design Thinking 101: Why is Design So Important?

March 7th, 2016

Have you ever held a toothbrush, driven a car, or used a smart phone? If so, you have already come into contact with the power of good design. From high-tech websites to low-tech infant warmers, human-centered design leads to the creation of great products or services through a deeper understanding of people and their needs.

As most entrepreneurs know, the key to any startup’s viability is the quick and accurate identification of its customer base and a firm grasp on the values of its target market. By reaching out and engaging clients or customers on a personal level at the onset, a young company can develop a more customer-minded business platform, making it more sustainable in the long run.

The process of design is useful not only for building great products, services, or solutions, but also for pursuing a more creative and open-minded approach to life. Design behaviors – collaboration, empathy towards others, prototyping new ideas, and continuous improvement – are important when delving into any new experience. Our work in the Design Studio aims not only to create better and more innovative businesses, but also to bolster the creative confidence of the Columbia community and the excitement of jumping into the unknown.

How does it work?

Human-centered design is a creative process to glean insights and develop appropriate solutions for tough challenges. A few tips to start are below, but the best way to learn about design is to engage!

The goal of the first phase of the design process is to develop empathy for your users, the community for which you are creating a solution. Through intensive interviewing, studying ‘extreme’ users, and even following them through their normal routine for a day or two, this phase is focused on better understanding the problem by learning from people who experience it. By the end of your exploration, you will have seen the world through your users’ eyes and developed great insights that will help you build a solution that fits their context.

In human-centered design, your initial assumptions are generally never completely correct. After gaining deep user insights, it’s time to come back and reframe the information you’ve learned. What are your users’ needs? What deeper feelings are those needs stemming from? By better understanding the information you’ve gleaned, you can start to see where your ideas and solutions can fit into the bigger picture.

Developing a creative idea can be half the battle in entrepreneurship. Once you have more information on user’s needs, the idea generation phase of design brings you through brainstorming and ideation exercises to develop a lot (believe me, a lot!) of new ideas. This process uses creation confidence and great teamwork, and is as fun as it is useful. By the end of the generation phase, you will have a number of viable ideas as well as some that are just plain crazy.

A good idea deserves to be tested, and that’s where prototyping comes in. Prototyping is a way of learning more about the user by actually having them interact with an early version of a solution. Prototyping can take a number of different forms: from low-res drawings or products that a user can play with, to role playing specific scenarios to better understand how a user would react, prototyping provides insights that are far more valuable than just talking about an idea ever would be.
The process of innovation is never complete. As design thinkers often say, fail fast, fail often, and always improve. Your prototype will allow you to learn more about the user, and will most likely not be perfect the first time. Keep using your insights to develop better and better products, until you find one that perfectly suits the users’ needs.

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