Written by DesignThinkers Group Team
We knew five years ago Detroit would recover. DesignThinkers USA managing partner, Marc Bolick, thought, “From the bottom, they can only come up, and when they do, they’ll come up fighting.” It’s a revival and we want to be part of that.
Known by many names – Hitsville, Motor City, and The D – none is more apt than “America’s Comeback City.” The scrappy, historic and forward-thinking town has been down but not out. Detroit is brimming with local and innovative talent ready to overcome the challenges of the present and the future.
That’s why the Lawrence Technological University (LTU) Collaboratory, a business incubator and accelerator, engaged DesignThinkers USA to help cultivate the wealth of homegrown ingenuity. Our team, led by DesignThinkers service designer and Detroit native, Terri Burch, has partnered with LTU for over a year to craft a distinctly Detroit approach to design thinking and innovation leadership. Terri is devoted working with change agents to facilitate collaboration and strategic decision-making that power innovation.
From the Model T to Motown, Detroit has a rich history of innovation. Iconic and inspired architecture bring the city to life and earned it the UNESCO City of Design recognition in 2015. It was the first U.S. city to receive the award. At the same time, economic downturn, like a piston in a V8 engine, has pounded Detroit. An influx of outsiders now looks for opportunity amid the vestiges of a once robust industry center, while the spark of resilience pushes natives to make their city rise again.
Some ask, “How can we save Detroit?” The better question is, “How can we help the city do what is does best?” That’s where DesignThinkers and the Collaboratory come in.
The Collaboratory is an incubator and accelerator for small manufacturers and other businesses looking to lead through innovation. We’re helping the group enhance its model with empathy-driven, human-centered experimentation. With Detroit’s history under our hood and its innovative DNA in our fuel tank, we set to work helping the Collaboratory more deeply understand the business community’s needs and strengthen its innovation muscle.
To that end, we conducted surveys and focus groups to better understand the region’s specific design needs. Our analysis uncovered a need and desire to redefine innovation beyond the parameters of traditional manufacturing while better coordinating the activity around that notion.
We translated our findings into strategic design outlines for the Collaboratory’s programming. During three early morning breakfast sessions that were free and open to the public, we workshopped topics found in our research. Wonderfully, the connections and relationships built at these events drove their popularity.
Finally, in June, a diverse group of community stakeholders spent an entire day Customer Journey Mapping with us, diving into intricacies of what their customers experience and how to respond to their needs through human-centered design.
It can be easy to look elsewhere for answers when there are problems at home. But the best solutions often can be found in your own front yard; it only takes a new perspective to see them.
“Detroit moves the world forward,” Terri says. “Think about the art community, design and manufacturing in the auto industry, some of the leading architects were developed here and created some beautiful spaces in the city. Excellence around design is an opportunity for the community to come together.”
Detroit is holding its own. Its people and businesses are making a way. We’re excited and honored to be part of that process. Our goal is not to tell them what to do, but rather to help them take their best to a new level by getting to the heart of what matters to the people of Detroit. As with all people everywhere, it’s their change to own.