Design Intersections conference inspires creative change for Twin Cities

A conference co-hosted by the College of Design explored how creative thinking could be used to re-brand the Twin Cities.

Emily Mongan


Twin Cities students and professionals gathered on campus Thursday to discuss how design thinking could help re-brand the area.

“What does creativity and innovation mean to you as a citizen of the Twin Cities?”

John Foley, the executive director for 4FRONT — a Minneapolis based non-profit whose goal is solidifying the Twin Cities’ reputation as a creative center — posed this question to a group of roughly 200 people gathered at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management on Thursday for the 2012 Design Intersections symposium, co-hosted by the College of Design.

The symposium, titled “Tweak? Leap? What Does Design Thinking Demand?” invited professionals and students from a variety of different fields to engage in a day of keynote speeches and hands-on workshops that addressed the emerging field of design thinking, and it’s place in the Twin Cities.

Design thinking is a way of applying creative design elements to a variety of different disciplines, including business, healthcare, government and education.

The Design Intersections conference series is in its third year, but this is the first year it has specifically used design thinking as its main theme, said Virajita Singh, who co-organized the symposium.

“The reason it’s called ‘Design Intersections’ is that it’s about design intersecting with other things, so we’re hoping to attract people of whom these ideas may be of interest,” Singh said.

The event was led by professionals from KaosPilots and Knowmads, alternative business schools in Denmark and the Netherlands that specialize in challenging students to apply design thinking strategies to business-orientated projects.

After a morning of keynote speakers, conference attendees broke into smaller groups to collaborate their ideas to address questions like the one asked by Foley — how can the Twin Cities become a city synonymous with creativity and innovation, like Tokyo or Paris?

The small groups brainstormed and refined their ideas, using everything from magic markers to posting their thoughts on Twitter. The attendees then had the chance to vote on projects that will go on to be featured on 4FRONT’s website and possibly implemented in the near future.

Ideas Tweeted by conference attendees included better public transportation, improving cultural education and utilizing social networking to rebrand the Twin Cities as a global center for creativity.

During his presentation, Foley said Minneapolis and St. Paul have great creative potential.

“If we spent as much time trying to recognize creative talent in Minnesota as we do hockey talent, we would be world renown,” Foley said.

Senior management student Adam Moen was attracted to the Design Intersections conference for its unique approach to “marrying” business and design.

“I wanted to check out ways of getting business leaders to be more creative, in a less structured setting,” said Moen, who is currently applying design thinking techniques to an idea for a mental health website aimed at University students.

The conference continues Friday with a free workshop at the Weisman Art Museum that will apply the same design thinking to issues specific to the University of Minnesota.

Friday’s workshop was originally planned for just 50 participants, but organizers are now expecting almost 100 people to attend. The organizers plan on accommodating all who attend, Singh said.