Africa’s first multidisciplinary design school has been formally launched at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking, commonly known as the d-school, aims to foster innovation and encourage fresh ways of thinking.
It is the first and only academic institution in Africa that focuses on Design Thinking for university postgraduate students and the private sector.
“Our vision is to be a dominant player, a driver of innovation and new outcomes. We aim to have a reach beyond UCT and, ultimately, have an influence in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world,” d-school director Richard Perez told launch attendees.
Design Thinking has emerged as a leading driver of innovation and new outcomes that integrates right-brain imagination and intuition with left-brain logic, analysis and planning. This creatively connects the dots to generate innovative solutions.
The school, based at UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), kicked off with a pilot Foundation Programme in Design Thinking last year, drawing postgraduate students from departments as diverse as civil engineering, multimedia, health and rehabilitation sciences and international law.
Teams of four, guided by a professional coach, worked on real world challenges – from an online networking and matchmaking platform for small businesses to a peer-to-peer car rental programme and a new form of banking services.
GSB director Mills Soko said the d-school was attracting cosmopolitan, engaging and interesting students.
“The d-school positions UCT in the leadership role of thinking outside the box, but it’s also an opportunity to redesign the curriculum, creating opportunities for students that they may not get at other universities,” said UCT Vice-Chancellor Max Price.
University scholars, as well as leaders from business, the public sector and community organisations will be able to take courses at the d-school at the GSB Breakwater campus.
The school was founded with funding and academic support by Dr Hasso Plattner, the co-founder of global business software company SAP. It follows the establishment of the Hasso Plattner Schools of Design Thinking at Stanford, in the US, and at Potsdam, in Germany.
Potsdam d-school director Professor Uli Weinberg said some people had been sceptical when the Potsdam school was set up ten years ago.
“We use playful tools, like Lego, to unlock innovation and creativity. But this is often when the magic happens. It helps people to rethink how they do things and how they run their businesses,” Weinberg told the launch.
At least 100 spin-offs and start-ups have emerged from the Potsdam programme. Weinberg said it had also helped small and medium-sized companies, as well as global technology and services company Bosch to come up with new products and systems.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology professor of industrial design Professor Mugendi M’Rithaa said problems of the twenty-first century such as urbanisation, migration and climate change could no longer by solved by looking through one disciplinary lens.
“We need to go beyond traditional disciplines to solve the problems humanity is grappling with.”
Perez said design thinking could also be used to tackle challenges such as food security and traffic congestion.
“Design can play a role far beyond designing an object, by driving new innovations and coming up with completely new solutions that have never been found before.”