Start of Main Content

BarnRaiseIn October, myself and five other MMM students headed to Chicago for two and a half days to participate in BarnRaise, an annual design workshop held at IIT Institute of Design.

The MMMs are always looking for new competitions and workshops to participate in; it gives us the opportunity to apply our thinking, learn new design techniques and network with professionals and students passionate about design innovation. I participated in the Rotman Design Challenge in Toronto last year, and I’m starting to run into a lot of familiar faces at these events.

There are two unique aspects to BarnRaise:

1) the two-and-a-half day design sprint format

2) the social impact focus of each challenge.

At event kickoff, each MMM was assigned to a multidisciplinary team of design students, MBA students and professionals, and then paired with a design firm and Chicago non-profit. My client was Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), and our challenge was to develop a new communications strategy to reach out to low-income renters. MTO is a 27-year-old grassroots organization whose mission is to find workable solutions to Chicago’s affordable housing crisis.

The context of the challenge was fascinating, and our team was eager to learn as much as we could from our client. After a comprehensive Q&A with MTO to understand their unique business situation and their tenants’ needs, we got to work.

Using the Discover/Define/Design/Build/Pitch framework, we set off on an ambitious two days of needs finding, concept building, prototyping and pitch development. We gathered around white boards to develop and debate journey maps, business model designs, constituent networks and value propositions, while our client made himself available for real-time brainstorming, feedback and question answering.

Half way into day two, we sat surrounded by four concepts the team had narrowed down from dozens, feeling unsure about the direction we were headed. We constructively evaluated and built upon each others ideas as we walked around the room and reminded ourselves of our key challenge, our user’s needs and the nature of the constraints we were working within.

And then the mood in the room suddenly shifted. Our conversations went from speculative and evaluative to definitive and excited. We had moved our concept in a new direction that the entire team, including MTO, could rally around. The energy of the group skyrocketed and, within minutes, we split ourselves into groups to divvy up and complete the prototyping phase. In small teams we designed the graphics and branding for our program, built a prototype out of foam core and sketched pages of storyboards that brought multiple use cases to life.

I was amazed by the creativity and efficiency of the group as we drove towards our pitch deadline. The workshop culminated in a public exhibit and a three-minute pitch presentation to local professionals and the BarnRaise Community.

There is no one who can summarize the end result better than Philip DeVon, our Metropolitan Tenants Organization client and essential partner.

“I think it’s critical for you all to understand how important work like this is,” DeVon said. “What you helped create over the past few days is more than cool prototypes. You’ve helped us create actionable steps to reach more renters, and that means you are changing (by improving!) the quality of life in our great city. I can’t express enough how grateful we are for your teamwork, ideas, and positivity! We will be taking your ideas and running with them.”

Shelley Hughes is a second-year student in the Full-Time MMM Program. She is President of the Design and Innovation Club and Co-Founder of the Kellogg Wilderness Club. Prior to Kellogg, she worked in marketing and advertising, and this summer she interned at Unum in their consumer innovation group.