ENGINEERING NEWS

Segal Design Institute Hosts Chicago Ideas Week Lab

Thirty participants attended the sold-out lab, “Designing a More Authentic Life," led by Professors Bruce Ankenman and Pam Daniels

Participants in the lab, "Designing a More Authentic Life," engaged in various design projects. Credit: Rob HartParticipants in the lab, "Designing a More Authentic Life," engaged in various design projects. Credit: Rob Hart
During the lab, participants showed photos of their 10-year-old selves for a design activity. Credit: Rob HartDuring the lab, participants showed photos of their 10-year-old selves for a design activity. Credit: Rob Hart
Pam Daniels, clinical assistant professor at Segal, led discussions with the lab participants. Credit: Rob HartPam Daniels, clinical assistant professor at Segal, led discussions with the lab participants. Credit: Rob Hart

Inspired by its popular class, “Designing Your Life,” Northwestern Engineering’s Segal Design Institute hosted the first of 90 Chicago Ideas Week labs on October 15 with a session called, “Designing a More Authentic Life.”

Bruce Ankenman, Segal’s director of undergraduate programs, and Pam Daniels, clinical assistant professor and design innovator in residence at Segal, led the sold-out session focusing on using the design process to create a more joyful and authentic life.

Pam Daniels“I hope people emerged with a sense of different ways to look at things and a little more creative confidence to go out and play and try some stuff,” Daniels said. “Practicing learning by doing is really valuable.”

Participants received an introduction to design thinking and started the lab by showing photos of their 10-year-old selves to partners. The first design task was to build something their partner’s childhood self would enjoy. Within a few minutes, lab participants created dioramas, toys, and costumes.

“It’s nice to sort of go back and remember when we were younger and didn’t have a lot of inhibitions with ideas or creativity,” said Heather Signore of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. “I thought it was very interesting. I’d like to apply this to my life soon.”

Students in the 10-week “Designing Your Life” elective course participate in the 10-year-old-self activity as well as a range of other experiences. The course, inspired by Stanford University’s class of the same name, was first offered at Northwestern in fall 2016 and features hands-on assignments, guest speakers, mentorship, and seminar-style discussions revolving around using design thinking to address life’s challenges and opportunities.

Bruce Ankenman“I always like to push the balance of confidence and humility,” said Ankenman, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and Bette and Neison Harris Chair in Teaching Excellence. “Confidence can easily become arrogance. The goal is to gain the confidence to try new things, while recognizing that the designer doesn’t know everything and needs to be empathetic.”

During the two-and-a-half-hour lab, Ankenman and Daniels shared their experiences taking different paths throughout their lives. “I think the concept of ‘it’s OK to fail’ still becomes harder when you get older, so hearing their stories about how they didn’t immediately find their passions and had to try two or three things was super helpful,” said Anke Faber of Lincoln Park in Chicago.

The group learned about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen R. Covey’s concept of “big rocks,” those values that are most important in a person’s life that serve as a foundation, then filling the gaps with other interests and tasks. The group of more than 30 participants collaborated with each other to identify their own big rocks and posed questions to find solutions to challenges in these aspects of life.

“This was very relevant and timely for me to think about,” said Jessica Wynne, a Chicago Ideas Week volunteer from Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. “It changed the way I think about my daily life.”