Better business by design

Creating an innovation design ecosystem in Northeast Ohio

When I gather with regional colleagues and community leaders, we often talk about opportunities for greater collaboration and how we may coordinate efforts to both serve students better and contribute to economic innovation and vitality in our region.

Among the successful models we discuss is the research triangle in North Carolina, anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When you couple the collaborative intentions and capacity of our region’s research universities with Governor John Kasich’s vision of Ohio serving as a leader in the knowledge economy, the opportunities to leverage our assets and intentions toward a significant research and innovation hub are very promising.

Design thinking

Each of our research universities has particular areas of expertise. At Kent State, those areas include brain health, advanced materials (including our world-renowned Liquid Crystal Institute), and environmental science and design. Our vision for an “innovation design ecosystem” suggests design thinking will play a leading role in innovation not only at Kent State, but also throughout Northeast Ohio.

We are imagining a network that connects the many areas of design expertise across the university, including architecture, fashion design, visual communication, art and digital sciences to form a powerful central resource that will integrate cross-disciplinary capacities within the university and collaborate with other universities and industry.

As a problem-solving and visioning protocol, design thinking is key to leadership in today’s business environments. Unlike traditional strategies that often begin with something very similar to a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that is greatly dependent upon internal perceptions, design thinking calls us to a more intentional enterprise, turning our attentions outward to develop a sense of connection to our customers and constituent bases. Most importantly, it requires time for collective and individual thinking, a skill and asset so often acclaimed, but quite frequently not prioritized.

A knowledge economy vision

Effective problem solving rarely respects disciplinary boundaries. Multiple intelligences, design thinking and iterative processes are key to addressing grand challenges, product needs and policy alike. Rapid prototyping is a design thinking protocol that many business leaders find useful, particularly because it values failures as much as it does successes. According to Mark Mistur, Dean of Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, prototyping is not just for products and is often even more valuable as a process or service improvement tool.

According to Mistur: “Health care, for example, is an industry that can make great use of prototyping to test any number of improvement strategies. From reducing the incidence of staph infections to reducing errors in medication administration, prototyping may not reinvent the wheel, but it can be useful in identifying incremental improvements that combine to make a transformational difference.”

We are looking forward to the ways that Kent State’s vision for an innovation design ecosystem can galvanize creativity, spur economic development and catalyze successful collaboration across Northeast Ohio. And we are eager to grow partnerships with government, for- and not-for-profit business and higher education colleagues to embrace a knowledge economy vision that elevates this state and region to new levels of success and prosperity.

Beverly Warren oversees one of the nation’s largest university systems as Kent State’s eight campuses provide more than 300 academic programs to more than 41,000 undergraduate and graduate students from throughout Ohio and the nation, and from more than 100 countries.