Love, beauty, religion, death and space

PaulBennett_MontoyaNotesIDEO Chief Creative Officer Paul Bennett spoke about design thinking to approximately 1,000 people at Kellogg on Tuesday, and his speech held significant relevance to students in the MMM program. Three of those students offered their thoughts on what they learned.

MONTOYA TRICE – 1st-year MMM student

I thoroughly enjoyed the speech because it reinforced what I have been learning in the MMM program. Good design is rooted in human understanding, and human-centered designers are needed now more than ever.

Mr. Bennett asserted that we are all designers. Heeding his call, I decided to take visual notes of the speech (which can be seen above).


RAY SU, 1st-year MMM student

I thought it was really refreshing to take a break from intensely focusing on individual aspirations and consider a broader perspective of our potential.

When I saw that Paul Bennett was coming to speak Kellogg, I immediately signed up. Although I did not know much about him, the title of his talk, “Love, Beauty, Religion, Death, & Space – Design’s Next Frontiers,” definitely sounded intriguing. The event was already built up in my mind, and then the professor who introduced Mr. Bennett asserted that the talk would be one of the most inspiring things I would ever hear.

I was definitely inspired.

The main message I took away from Mr. Bennett is that anyone who aspires to be a designer — which he claimed could literally be anyone — would benefit from taking a step back and reflecting on the impact of the solutions being designed. Here are just a few of the questions he posed.

How might we create things with love that people love back?

How might we use beauty and poetry as a business tool?

How might we go into the tough spaces and taboo topics with optimism?

Great questions, Mr. Bennett.

While those questions could be interpreted as “how do I make a difference in the world?” my takeaway was that design is a powerful tool that should be leveraged in tackling difficult issues that people face. So far, I have felt that many of the design-thinking projects in the MMM Program have been centered on addressing everyday, tangible problems. This makes sense, given that we can’t be expected to try and solve some huge, hairy problem right out of the gates. Mr. Bennett gives me faith that I am building a foundation and mindset to one day be able to face those huge, hairy problems head on.

Hopefully, as a future graduate of the MMM Program, I will have a deep understanding of — and the ability to apply — human centered design. That phrase, “Human Centered Design,” is thrown around a lot. Near the end of his presentation, Mr. Bennett presented a slightly different phrase: “Humanity Centered Design.” I thought this was really cool and summed up his talk quite well. It also reminded me of President Obama’s challenge to students when he spoke at Kellogg: How might we help others achieve their dreams as we pursue our own?

For first-year students, recruiting is in high gear. I thought it was really refreshing to take a break from intensely focusing on individual aspirations and consider a broader perspective of our potential.

Thanks, Mr. Bennett. You were worth the hype.


RON SINHA – 2nd-year MMM student

We don’t have to force design to be the verb it often exists as in a business context. We simply have to constantly challenge ourselves to look at the world in a different way.

An avid interest in drawing. A relentless pursuit of creating things. Paul Bennett invited us into his childhood memories for a glimpse into the beginnings of his understanding of and fascination with design. He reflected on his life’s most meaningful moments and how they impacted his perspective on design.

As I reflected on my own critical moments in life, I began to see parallels with Paul’s story. We don’t have to force design to be the verb it often exists as in a business context. We simply have to constantly challenge ourselves to look at the world in a different way.

It is this mindset that draws me to always understand why we do the things we do.

“…be unafraid.”

We are a species inclined to be biased based on our experiences, inclined to be defensive of our thoughts and ideas. Through his examples, both personal and professional, Paul demonstrated the resistance to judge as being a critical component of design. It is a gift to be put into a situation where one is an outsider. Having explored the world of acting in the past, I found this to be a particularly powerful message, as it resonated with something an acting teacher once told me: Your audience wants you to succeed. Similarly, approaching situations and people with optimism and hope will result in those situations and people approaching you the same way.

How might we use beauty and poetry … to amplify personal connection?”

Paul challenged us to strive to tackle with purpose and confidence not only business problems, but life’s problems. In doing so, we should embrace the elements so integral to our lives but that we often overlook, such as beauty. In one tangible example, Paul discussed hearing aids. Decades ago they were seen as invasive and depressing. Today they’re chic – they’re desirable. Why not take life’s worst circumstances and turn them into opportunities for magic? The salient point here is simple and encouraging: all it takes is being open to a slightly different angle.

Beauty is a business tool … that often is overlooked by organizations.”

I came to the MMM program here at Northwestern to be at this very intersection of design and business, to learn how to question with purpose whether business decisions were being made with the right questions in mind. Paul addressed the Northwestern community at large, but his message strongly parallels what I believe the MMM program in particular strives to do: seamlessly integrate the rigor of business analysis with the human-centered element of design to address our most pressing issues.

Design transcends agenda.”

Design is always a tricky thing to explain. It is not a standalone concept. Rather, it is in every aspect of our lives. Without acknowledging and embracing it, we just might be missing out.

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