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The d-school in Africa

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The home-base of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT is Cape Town, where there is a burgeoning ecosystem for innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups.

The locus of the d-school’s work is South Africa and the African continent. Here the context is complex and evolving. Inequity and social, economic, political and cultural diversity collide with opportunity. The resulting dynamic calls for ongoing innovation in the form of new solutions and outcomes, as well as new applications for existing solutions.

At the d-school, we believe it’s our responsibility to prepare students for meeting these challenges. We do this by creating exciting and exacting learning experiences that profoundly transform the way students work.

We offer a discipline that unlocks the creative confidence that leads to innovation. In the process, students learn tools and a process that they can apply to any challenge.

Our human-centred, values-driven and collaborative approach means that together we establish collective goals that contribute to achieving sustainability and user and community agency.

UCT d-school’s Design Thinking Model

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The established practices of our affiliate Hasso Plattner Schools of Design Thinking at the universities of Potsdam and Stanford serve as the foundation for the programmes of the d-school at UCT.

Building on this, we are developing a model in design thinking education that is uniquely suited to our needs for an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving in South Africa, and on the African continent. It is one we hope will contribute to the value of design thinking for other, similar settings that are characterised by diverse, majority economies.

Our students learn to work collaboratively in diverse and inclusive multi-disciplinary teams of five or six. Each team is closely facilitated by a professional coach while a lead coach designs and guides the programme. Students learn by working on real world challenges provided by academic, private and public sector partners.

The inclusivity of the teams ensures that a broad range of perspectives, skills and experience are applied to more effectively address complex challenges.

Our design thinking training enables students to develop empathy through understanding users - their values, their needs, and the environments in which they live and work. And their journey towards empathy begins with developing an understanding of themselves within the context and in relation to users. This is critical for developing a co-creative approach to problem-solving that can facilitate solutions that are relevant, effective and sustainable.

Immersion in user contexts, and co-creating solutions with user communities, are unique features of the learning experiences that the d-school in Cape Town aims to create for our students.

Who are d-school Students?

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Design thinking students come from all disciplines and typically aspire to become leaders in innovation. They are keen to learn to work in multi-disciplinary teams on transversal projects. They want to contribute to solving the world’s problems and to addressing challenges and opportunities in dynamic environments.

d-school students have, or wish to develop, T-shaped profiles.

What is a T-shape profile?

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A T- profile is often used by d-schools to select people for training. This profile identifies people as having two characteristics, and is considered a useful tool to illustrate these characteristics. The vertical line of the “T” represents the depth of skill or expertise in a particular field that an individual contributes to the creative process. The horizontal line represents the willingness to collaborate across disciplines. This willingness to collaborate indicates empathy, which suggests being able to imagine problems from different perspectives, and an enthusiasm for different disciplines, that facilitates transdisciplinary work. T-shaped people are skilled, creative and can work collaboratively.

Looking outside of one's own (academic) box is part of the Design-Thinking education at the Hasso Platter Institute of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town: Since innovative solutions to complex problems require several disciplines, it is beneficial for problem solvers to understand the global and South African context to help ease the understanding and allow for varying points of view. In order for us to attain better insights not only into your academic background and how it contributes to the South Africa context and professional experience, but also your in trans-disciplinary and teamwork skills, your creative competencies, and your life’s projects, we ask you to please complete the T-Profile on the next page. There is only one rule:
The vertical bar must be filled with relevant information about your academic studies and your background. In the horizontal bar you can map competencies, activities, and interests that transcend or do not relate directly to your fields of study. How and in what format you do this - as a text, drawing, collage, diagram or photo is completely up to you. What counts is that the most important facts about you must fit on one page. So go ahead and show us your personal T- Profile!

Learning Spaces - the d-school studio

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Learning design thinking is an action-orientated experience in which students learn through doing.

When they are not in user-contexts, interviewing, observing and co-creating with users, students work in the d-school’s studio space. Here students work in teams around high tables. They think visually and share ideas through notes and drawings on vertical spaces. Customised, flexible work spaces and furniture therefore suit design thinking in progress best. Couches, chairs, stools, tables and whiteboards are on castors for easy configuration of spaces, and craft materials and Post-It notes are readily available. These are spaces which facilitate collaboration and allow ideas to flourish.

"These are spaces
which facilitate
and allow ideas
to flourish."

Our Project Partners

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Project partners collaborate with the d-school by providing real world challenges on which transdisciplinary and diverse student teams work, under the supervision of professional coaches. They are are drawn from the corporate, public and academic sectors, and range from large organisations or administrations to start-ups. Project partners are available at key points during the programme to interact with student teams, and provide insights and feedback. In return, they receive insights into their users and user-needs, as well as potential ideas to solve the challenges they’ve submitted.

From 2017 private and public sector organisations will have the opportunity to commission the d-school to submit their challenges to design thinking programmes.