Justin Ferrell

Attendees at the upcoming Elevate! conference will leave with takeaways that not only help drive revenue and audience strategies, but also show how new organizational approaches have positive impact on customer experience and products.

Justin Ferrell, strategic partnerships lead, Institute of Design at Stanford, will speak about how the way humans work together directly impacts what we are able to produce and how we resonate with consumers.

We asked Ferrell about his work at the Stanford d.school and what he will present at Elevate!:

First, tell us a little about what the Stanford d.school does and how it has grown.

At the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, aka “the d.school,” we build on methods from across the field of design to create learning experiences that help people unlock their creative potential and apply it to the world.

We teach Stanford students from across the university, offering about 75 courses per academic year. The d.school started about 15 years ago, and the number of classes we offer and students we teach has grown each year. Our project-based and experiential classes bring together students from all seven schools at Stanford to collaborate and tackle real-world challenges. We offer classes for all types of students, whether they’re pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. Some students are seeking to become experts in design and others are looking for skills they can use to amplify impact in their field of study.

Can you share a little about your background?

After getting a journalism degree from Northwestern, I spent 15 years in the industry, the majority of that time at The Washington Post. I started as a news editor, and over the years became an art director, then a design director. When the newspaper and website merged, I became the first director of digital, mobile and new product design. It was a very messy time, and that’s when I got involved in organizational change, hiring the first developers into the newsroom, and helping people work together across disciplines.

Working on org design led to my interest in the d.school, and I became a JSK journalism fellow at Stanford in 2011. After a year taking classes at the d.school, the executive director asked me to start a fellowship program here, and I’ve been at Stanford ever since.

How does the way we work together directly impact what we produce and how we resonate with consumers?

Internal communication (who works with whom, and how we work together) determines what we create, and therefore how that output communicates with the people we serve.

With design thinking, we bring together multidisciplinary teams to create something they couldn’t make on their own or by working in silos. The core of creativity is diversity, but most of us like to work with people with the same interests and skills as us. There’s nothing wrong with that, if what you’re after is incremental improvement on what already exists.

But working with people who are different from you – building together, and valuing and testing different opinions and ideas – is what leads to breakthrough outcomes. So as an educator, I focus on people and how to work, knowing that creative outcomes emerge from those interactions.

What are some trends you are seeing with design thinking? Are the best companies using these today?

Many companies are learning the skills of design thinking (and there are examples seemingly everywhere online) because at its core, it’s a way of working that helps you understand people in their context. As technology continues to rapidly change human behavior, “user experience” is becoming ubiquitous. In order to reach people where they are, we need to understand what they think and feel, to learn what’s meaningful to them.

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