I use design as a probe for conversation.

Prototypes are a useful entry point to vulnerable conversations. People can share personal stories through feedback directed at a sketch or image.

When California Community College had an opportunity to design a new online college, its chancellor came to IDEO because he envisioned more than a set of online classes. His goal for the college is to create economic mobility for working class adult students by preparing and placing them into growing, in-demand jobs through flexible degree programs tailored to their already busy lives.

My IDEO team traveled across California to meet with working adults in their homes. Using sketches to guide hours long conversations about their experience with higher education, we learned that many of them see online colleges as scams— online programs that over promise, and under deliver.

 
Danielle a mother and medical transport driver for a local hospital in central California, responds to prompts asking what she wants learning to enable in her life. Her face has been covered out of respect for her privacy.

Danielle a mother and medical transport driver for a local hospital in central California, responds to prompts asking what she wants learning to enable in her life. Her face has been covered out of respect for her privacy.

Danielle, a mother and medical transport driver for a local hospital in Fresno, gave us feedback that led to key insights in creating this new college:

Showing proof points in jargon-free language is essential to establishing credibility with our audience. Show, not sell, the promise of this college.

Provide a connection to potential employers in order to prove the new college is a worthwhile option.

She believed a popular tuition model, where students pay only after graduating with full-time work in the form of a percentage of their salary for several years (known as an Income Share Agreement), was “too good to be true,” after a massage school she enrolled in had also promised a job after graduation. Instead, she graduated in 2010 with no jobs to be found, a degree, and $10,000 in student debt. She recalled, “I did everything I could to get a job and… even to this day [the school] wants more money to jump start my career.”

 
One of a series of paper prototypes we used to start conversations about how people want to pay for education, and how they’ve been burned by large tuition payments with no guarantee of work after graduation.

One of a series of paper prototypes we used to start conversations about how people want to pay for education, and how they’ve been burned by large tuition payments with no guarantee of work after graduation.

Danielle’s story inspired us to create signature digital experiences that connect students to potential employers early, and offer them opportunities to learn as they complete real work for employers.

As the pilot program of this new online college launches this fall, our clients have taken the helm of bringing this college to life.