David Kelley, founder of industrial-design firm Ideo, is making headway in his dream of transforming design departments from that quirky corner where everyone wears clunky shoes to a central part of the product development team.
Kelley now heads up the Institute of Design at Stanford. The institute, which started in 2004 and will get its own building as soon as the construction gets finished, gathers professors and students from different departments--sociology, electrical engineering, etc.--and over a semester different groups try to develop prototypes and products with a particular emphasis on human factors, or the way people might actually use them.
One recent project, for instance, revolved around a system for distributing water in rural communities in India. Other class projects have focused on new cellphone technologies.
"We're calling it the D school to make fun of the B school," he told an audience at the AlwaysOn conference at the university this week. "It is a complete flip for design being in the backwater to design being a straight line to innovation."
Much of the work in design revolves around observing people. Toy makers, for instance, will give individuals in focus groups money and then let them loose in a room filled with prototypes and toys already on the market.