East meets West

The d.school hosted a ground-breaking collaboration between students from Peking University and Stanford, as part of a new class on cross-cultural design. Together with an all-star teaching team, 12 students from Stanford and 12 from PKU explored the process of designing for users from a radically different culture.

As the class ramped up winter quarter, the PKU students traveled to Stanford for a workshop, then the Stanford students spent their spring break in Beijing. They explored the design thinking process, plumbed social science research on cultural differences, and began needfinding interviews and observations.

During Spring quarter, the students were turned loose in teams of four—with two students from each university—to work on projects for Google, Adobe, Panasonic and Chinese electronics-maker TCL.

As they returned home to conduct more user interviews in their home countries, teammates swapped data, synthesized it, developed frameworks and collaborated with each other to discover new meanings both within their own culture and outside of it. Students said the biggest learnings from the class were how deeply culture impacted not just the needs and the designs that flowed from them, but the design process itself. How does a cultural emphasis on harmony and perfection fit with rambunctious brainstorms and rapid prototyping? How can the process be adapted without being watered down?

Those questions will be explored even more deeply this year, with a second iteration of the class.