Each semester the University of Utah Multi-disciplinary Design (MDD) program works with various community partners to teach the design process to students. During the Fall 2016 semester, the MDD Introduction to Design Thinking class partnered with the Downtown Salt Lake City Alliance to explore new ways to energize and engage underutilized, urban spaces in downtown Salt Lake City.
“The class looked at a variety of options and precedents, ranging from large infrastructure plans, disruptive architecture, temporary events & spaces, fine art installations, light shows, sound installations, murals and community engagement,” said course instructor Tyler Bloomquist.
Working in groups of 4-5, students addressed the main challenge of the semester: finding ways to activate urban spaces identified by the Downtown Alliance (DTA). The approach was organized in design thinking phases, including observations & analysis, research, ideation, and implementation & final presentations.
“The opportunity that we had to engage with the students regarding underutilized spaces was a great exercise as it encourages students and our community to shift the thinking of spaces as parking lots or empty lots to envision more dynamic uses,” said Jesse Dean, Director of Urban Development, Downtown SLC Alliance. “Something we all took away with us was the optimism of the students as it was fascinating to see what each group came up with through each project.”
Students presented their design solutions at the Main Salt Lake City Library in November with members of the DTA available to offer feedback and comments. Among the ideas to activate unused spaces were a graffiti garden, outdoor night arcade, green spaces and park proposals, and a Utah adventure park. “The course was not focused on the execution of design but rather using design as a framework to think and address problems,” said Bloomquist.
The design thinking class involved about 90 undergraduate students from over 20 different majors. “We really believe in the impact of design to solve problems in any discipline, so It’s important to us that all undergraduate students have access to the design thinking process,” said Elpitha Tsoutsounakis, U Multi-Disciplinary Design Assistant Professor.