At the heart of Legal Problem Solving: human-centered design (thinking) (HCD for short). Definitions of, and processes for how to "do" HCD abound. I center our coursework on the IDEO/Stanford d.school version for a couple of reasons. One, it's well-defined and many resources exist to support teaching and practicing it (see the Resources section of the LPS website for links). Two, it's the flavor used by Vanderbilt University in its Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience (DIVE) program, a multi-year initiative to imbue academic efforts across VU with HCD. Because we benefit from collaborating with DIVE events, it made sense to base our work on the same process.
I shared the following definition of HCD with students when I introduced the process and mindsets to them in Class #3. It's our starting point for exploring the phases of the design process, and a touch point as we move in and out and through the phases — because it's a circular process, not linear.
A process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.
I don't spend a lot of time talking at students about HCD. Because talking about it doesn't help one understand what it is or how to use it. After my brief introduction, I assign some reading (this year it was IDEO's Field Guide) for a deeper dive in preparation for doing. In the next class, we just jump in and start doing HCD.
We kick off the design experience with a sprint tackling a topic near and dear to law school students' hearts: "How might we reimagine the law school experience?" In 90 minutes, students go through the entire design cycle to create solutions to challenges identified by their classmates, starting with the empathy (discovery) phase all the way to getting feedback on prototypes created.
We follow a time-constrained process set out on 11x17 worksheets, to provide just enough structure to get us through the entire cycle in just under 2 hours. I observe that the experience is often both exhilarating and frustrating for students. Exhilarating because many feel the power of the process — such as when the empathy phase reveals something really interesting and meaningful — and it clicks for them, how HCD is so relevant to the work of a lawyer. Frustrating because the process is messy, ambiguous, without a clear "right" way to proceed. It feels very different from other law school work. And this doesn't sit well with everyone.
The design process and mindsets can invoke epiphanies. To wit, this is representative of the feedback I receive from students in the immediate wake of the first design sprint experience:
This year, we're rolling right from the first sprint into a collaboration with DIVE for a day-long design bootcamp that also kicks off the LPS capstone project to redesign the surgical informed consent process for a Vanderbilt U Medical Center (VUMC) clinic.
Open to the entire Vanderbilt community, the bootcamp brings together undergrad and grad students, professors from various disciplines, doctors, nurses, and others to explore through HCD how to enhance the patient experience at VUMC through the informed consent process. We kick off in a couple of hours. I'll be asking a student to share thoughts and insight about the bootcamp in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!
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