This summer, in between internships, summer courses and getting some well-earned rest, a couple of freshmen have chosen to add a little more to their plate – putting their design thinking tools to practice in the real world. Over the period, they will spend time with business owners and project managers within the Accra cosmopolitan area to help optimize their services to clients.

One of such students, Audrey S-Darko ‘19, will be working with Café Kwae, an upscale diner located in the Airport City area. Audrey and her teammates hope to help Café Kwae owners understand their clients’ experience and guide them to implement the lessons to improve their overall customer experience.

“Our goal is to undertake an exploratory research project to develop a concept that will appeal to Café Kwae and then go ahead to execute it,” Audrey explained. “We hope to help the owner understand user experiences in a café setting in the developing world by creating a research protocol and working together with her on the research focus by employing the design thinking processes. In doing this, the use of various research methods, technology and analysis frameworks will come to play to help Café Kwae gain competitive advantage by adopting a customer-centric approach.”

The summer projects are part of a number of ways Ashesi’s young D:Lab is working at creative problem-solving. Led by Gordon Adomdza, the team at Ashesi hopes to provide a space for creative problem solving using design-thinking techniques. “When I joined Ashesi, I wanted to keep my design thinking experience hot,” said Gordon Adomdza, Senior Lecture at Ashesi. “Having engaged with the MIT D-Lab folks for a while, it was clear that a design lab concept was one of the ways of growing and sustaining my experience in design thinking. So at Ashesi, we have combined design thinking with design making to form the D:Lab. The D:Lab is also important because a lot of creative work occurs outside of the classroom and is often multidisciplinary. There just aren't many ways of achieving multidisciplinary creative work on a university campus if you don't do a lab.”

At the heart of D:Lab’s experience, is the mission to raise creative problem solvers first among the students in Ashesi. Part of this goal led to the creation of another arm of the D:Lab; the Content Series, an after-hours platform where students give lectures and lead in projects they find interesting. “The Content Series aims at increasing the level of design thinking capacity building within the Ashesi community,” said Theodore Phillip Asare ‘15, a D:Lab Coordinator. “We hope to create a culture of design thinking where everyone talks about and applies it. We also believe that the best way for students to learn the concepts is for them to teach the concepts.”

Besides creating multiple opportunities for building a community around design thinking within Ashesi, the D:Lab is engaged with a number of organizations to help tackle everyday problems in Ghana and around the world. From working with Burro Brand to learn ethnographic research methods for doing work in rural communities to exploring ways of increasing solar adoption with Stadler RE from the Netherlands, the D:Lab is actively gaining traction to be a hub for creative problem solving.

For now, Gordon and his team aim to build capacity, working on essential choice projects that help them reach this goal. “Long term, we want design thinking to be the default approach to problem solving at Ashesi and the rest of Africa and we want to be a thought leader in Africa for that.”