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Human Centered Approach = Key to Become Creative

As part of the coursework for Legal Problem Solving (LPS), all students contribute a post to this course blog. Students develop posts from a weekly journal entry, which also is required coursework. The purpose of journal entries is to invite deeper, personal reflection on the subject matter in LPS, reflection being a key component of content understanding and mastery. This course explores how human centered design and other creative problem solving methods and mindsets inform three areas: (1) the delivery of legal services, (2) how we solve clients' (legal) problems, and (3) how law students can intentionally shape their professional journeys. Each student post will touch on one or more of these three areas.

This LPS post is by Alan Gao, Vanderbilt Law School class of 2018.

It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For design thinker it has to be ‘us with them.'


– Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO

Before taking this course, I have never thought I am a creative person. Well, I admit that I was quite "creative" in first grade in primary school where I could easily come up different nicknames (which is quite mean) for my classmates and I lost most of my "creativity" after the teacher told me not to do so. And I remember that I have used my creativity once when I was in third grade, after watching my mom use a knife to remove fish scales, I decided to create a tool for my mom to help her remove fish scales safer and easier. Here is what I did: I found two beer bottle caps and fixed them on a piece of wood board, the edge of the bottle cap could remove the fish scales easily and it is safer than knife when removing the fish scales. I felt proud when my mom said the tool works well and decided to keep using it. Unfortunately, for a long period of time thereafter, I did not have any other "creative" thoughts that could make me feel proud again.

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The middle school and high school study are stressful, I had no time to think things other than the major subjects (Chinese, Maths, English, History, Geography, and Politics), which are the subjects to be tested in the college entrance examination (“gaokao”, like SAT). The students (of course I am one of them) are required to give the only (correct) answer in the exam. The college study did not inspire my creativity as well. The statutes of all kinds of law, to me, were like invisible boxing ring ropes that trapped me on the stage.

After fourteen years, in my final year at Vanderbilt Law School, I “creatively” chose a new course called Legal Problem Solving this semester. Hoping that I can learn some useful tips about solving legal problems and put them into practice after I graduate. However, I soon realized this course was "a little different" from what I thought.

The first week's assignment of LPS was to read a book called Creative Confidence. This is a "storytelling" book which introduces different people's story about how they became creative. And it made me think if I could be a creative person as well. Among the stories in that book, I was impressed by Doug’s MRI design story: by using a “​human centered approach” Doug changed the MRI machine into a fantasy world for children. It reminds me the tool I made for my mom when I was in primary school and prompts me to think how can I use a "human centered approach" to become creative again. After the class discussion, I feel like a "human centered approach" is not a skill for people to get or to learn, it is more like a map that leads people to regain their creativity.

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Soon after human centered design was introduced to me, I got an opportunity to test it. It was a weekend before (or might be one week after) the fall semester started, I was working at the law school library circulation desk. At least four 1L students who came to the circulation desk in two hours asked me how to connect the law school library printers to their laptops. (Thank you, law school website designer.) The Law school website was redesigned last summer, so it was quite hard for 1Ls to find the instruction of printer connection. And I could feel how frustrated they were when they finally made up their mind to print out the first day law school reading assignments but found out they could not connect to the printer. I thought maybe I could do something, just like Doug, to help (save) them.

I went to the law school website, found out the instructions of how to setup connection between laptop and the printers, downloaded the instructions, made several copies of the instructions and printed out “How to connect VLS Printer to your laptop” in large font, and put the copies on the circulation desk. Within ten minutes, a student came and picked up a copy. On the next day, I found several copies were taken and only two copies left. I felt happy and even a little bit proud since I helped some people through what I did. I know it is not creative to merely print out some instructions for printer connection, but I would definitely not do this if I did not read Creative Confidence. I know 1Ls could print out documents through the library’s computers anyway, but Doug’s story inspired me to do something when I thought it might be helpful for these 1Ls and what I did would make their first day at law school easier.

There are methods and tools introduced in Creative Confidence that teach us how to become creative, but I think the most important thing it taught me is to use a human centered approach and to be confident about putting my ideas into practice. Indeed, I think we all can do more to make our life better, but in most situations, we just willfully ignore these better ideas and tell ourselves that we are not creative person. There are moments in our life when we will speak to ourselves that “this would be better if…”, but in most of times we just let such “flash thought” pass and stay status quo, which makes us feel comfortable (by making no changes). However, after reading Creative Confidence and participating in the class exercises and discussions, I start looking for the problems and using a human centered approach to consider what is the better solution for that problem. Even when no “problem” is presented, a human centered approach made me think whether there are better ways to serve others’ need.

I am grateful that Creative Confidence introduced a "human centered approach" to me, which is like a key to the world of creativity. A human centered approach also encourages me to be proactive in my life and makes me believe being creative should never be a burden in our life, it should become one of our personalities. With the confidence to be creative and the ability to think in a human centered way, we can solve more problems and make this world a better place.