Published 01/13/17

Bryant IDEA marks five years of teaching design thinking methods used by IDEO, Apple, Google

SMITHFIELD, RI — Bryant’s Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA) is new way of teaching and learning that has catalyzed a movement at Bryant. Now in its 5th year, IDEA has evolved to far more than a design thinking course for students. It’s part of a larger institutional initiative to reimagine higher education through design thinking and innovation.

Bryant’s IDEA program is an rigorous and immersive, three-day design thinking boot camp. It’s a foundation for learning that enables first-year students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and prepare for the rest of their Bryant experience and for successful lives and careers beyond college. Each year, a faculty team has refined the program to optimize student learning. This year Bryant’s award-winning Academic Innovation Center (AIC), opened in September, was a program hub.

The 2017 IDEA program began Monday, January 23 at 9 a.m. and continued morning and night through Wednesday, January 25, with a closing program at 4 p.m. Brainstorming, storyboarding, and prototyping took place on campus, and students conducted field work and research at locations throughout the region.

Here is the Complete IDEA schedule.


                                        The Bryant IDEA Blog     IDEA @ 1     IDEA @ 2     IDEA @ 3     IDEA @ 4    


“Our mission is to educate and inspire the innovative leaders for the future,” said Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley. “Through innovations in what we teach and how we teach it, IDEA creates the foundation for students to learn how to think and apply what they’ve learned in creative ways that generate significant positive change.”

Design thinking

According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO in Palo Alto, CA, design thinking “transforms the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy.”  It is a methodology used by the world’s most innovative companies to develop solutions that create value for individuals and organizations.

The IDEA process guides students through the three phases of design thinking: inspiration, ideation, and implementation, followed by iteration. The course focuses on encouraging innovation and creativity across all disciplines, and students work in teams charged with generating creative solutions to real-world situations in everything from the arts to social services to the business sector.

Replicating Silicon Valley

“We’re teaching students about design thinking, but there’s a much bigger take-away,” said Trustee Professor of Management Mike Roberto, D.B.A., IDEA’s co-founder and director of Bryant’s Center for Program Innovation. “There’s a different way of teaching and learning that’s not about professors lecturing to their students or case studies. We create a start-up atmosphere as we try to replicate Silicon Valley for three days.” 

A new way of teaching, a new kind of space

It was the IDEA program that led Bryant leaders and faculty to recognize that this new way of teaching would require a new kind of space. What came next was a five-year design thinking process that resulted in the new Academic Innovation Center. The new space provides the classrooms, breakout rooms, whiteboards, and technology, similar to spaces at IDEO, Apple, and Google, enabling students to fully experience an energizing and productive creative process.

Failing fast, moving forward

Bryant’s entire freshman class participated in projects at 34 field locations where they conducted research and documented their observations. Then it was back to the AIC for ideation, experimentation, rapid prototyping, failing fast, iterating, and moving forward. They synthesized their ideas into a five-minute presentation to a panel of judges without the aid of poster boards or PowerPoints. Students were on the hot seat as they presented their proposed solutions and also the thinking that led them to their conclusions. Participating businesses included: the New England Patriots, Johnny Rockets, Warwick Mall, Bass Pro Shops, Yawgoo Valley Ski Area, and the RI Blood Bank.

How the magic happens

IDEA is a daunting process for anyone, but especially for first-year college students accustomed to assignments where there is a “correct” answer. The IDEA program gives them a blank canvas and a methodology to guide their exploration and discovery. There is no answer key. With design thinking, failure and iteration are built into the process. It removes the fear of getting it “wrong” and allows students to think beyond their limitations. IDEA taught Paige Reid ’19 (Harwinton, CT) that “you have to fail to succeed in the end.”

Alumni, mentors, and judges

Alumni and business leaders serve as mentors and judges. Bryant upperclassmen who have been through the program also serve as peer mentors.

“I had mentors and people who helped me be successful. It’s now my time to come back and help mentor the future leaders of our country,” said Jeffrey Fryer ’91, P ’19, Vice President and Chief Tax Officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a global biotechnology company that develops treatments for devastating rare diseases.

“IDEA is a community-wide endeavor where we celebrate and embrace intellectual curiosity and exploration,” says Provost Glenn Sulmasy. “Students, faculty, staff, and alumni are all learning to think differently. The alumni come back because they love the experience here at Bryant.”

A tradition of innovation

Design thinking is a term often associated with ground-breaking innovation in the areas of design, engineering, science, and technology. Bryant is thinking beyond those disciplines to apply this methodology to improving teaching and learning across the academic spectrum, and to creating value and growth for the organization.

Keeping with Bryant’s 154-year tradition of innovation, Bryant leaders and faculty continue to look ahead to ensure that students and the organization are well prepared to thrive no matter what the future holds. Higher education is changing, and Bryant is positioned to lead that change by developing curricula, pedagogies, and delivery systems that will prepare students for success, and create a legacy for generations to come.


Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., is a leading private university offering an innovative and uniquely integrated business and liberal arts education. The University's 3,700 undergraduate and postgraduate students study in an intensive and immersive learning environment that has been purpose-built for high achievement. Founded in 1863, Bryant is recognized as a leader in international education and regularly receives top rankings from U.S. News and World Report, College Factual/U.S.A. Today, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, and Barron’s