COMP_SCI 397, 497: Innovation Lab: Building Technologies for the Law



The Innovation Lab is an interdisciplinary course designed to immerse students in the innovation process. This course focuses on the legal, business, technical, teamwork, design, presentation, and other skills involved in that process. Students will work as part of a multidisciplinary team to explore a problem relating to the legal profession, understand the stakeholders' needs, brainstorm, prototype, and test ideas, and iterate through the develop.

Our process combines user and audience research, design thinking, critical and analytical work, iterative building, storytelling, new technology, and a healthy dose of experimentation--often within the confines of a single, specific problem. 

Each quarter, we create multidisciplinary teams of Northwestern students, faculty, and professionals to collaborate on projects we believe are important for the future of media. That could mean everything from making obscure data more available to journalists to solving questions around how to best navigate space in virtual reality. The Lab places students at the center of these important problems for 10 weeks. We work together to identify problems and to find solutions.   

The class is a team-based, cooperative lab experience for students who want to create and explore new tools, stories, story forms, and physical devices. We expect students to spend at least six hours a week on the project outside of class, preferably with their team.   

Students are at the center of each project, determining the best roadmap based on research, creative work, and iterative design based on user testing and interviews. Each project we're tackling this quarter, then, has its own set of milestones, some of which will be generated by the students. Final project will also vary in nature, but each final presentation will include a demo, supporting materials (a Github repository, prototypes, and/or technical documentation, depending on the group. Whenever possible the Lab tries to work in the open—we're open-sourcing not only our code, but the thought process behind our work.

The Lab is designed to facilitate collaboration, productivity, and project-driven learning. We follow an agile development process that includes design-based research, scrum, structured critiques, pair research and programming, and code review.   

All students will work in teams with responsibility shared among members. In particular, students work in cross-functional teams. Our expectation is that all team members will participate in the framing, architecture and implementation of projects. 

When a group presents to the larger class, students are expected to explain what they did, why they did it, and how it addresses the user needs identified by the team. Students are not required to put together a slide deck, but structured presentations are a must. Our meetings will move quickly, so we aim to make the most of our time together. All team members must present at least twice during the quarter.   

At the end of the quarter, students will present a working prototype or researching findings, as well as a companion piece that details their process along the way.
  • This course fulfills the Project or Technical Elective area.

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Kristian Hammond & Prof. Daniel W. Linna Jr.