Darden Opens a New Innovation and Design Lab

Posted by: Alison Damast on March 19, 2010

Hammers, glue guns and cordless drills are not items you’d normally expect to find in a business school classroom. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is hoping to change that with their new i.Lab, an innovation laboratory where students can learn design-thinking skills and hone their entrepreneurial ideas. The school officially opened the lab today, after more than three years of planning and $1 million worth of construction. The 4,000-square-foot space, which used to be a cafeteria space, will serve as the creative backbone of the school’s new “design-thinking” classes, a fairly new addition to the school’s curriculum, the school says.

The i.Lab will look radically different from most of Darden’s classrooms, which have a stadium-style seating arrangement. The new space has floor-to-ceiling-windows on one wall, a whiteboard that stretches for more than 30 feet and plentiful wall space for students to hang project drawing and prototypes of designs, according to a school news release. There are tall workbenches lined with items like Dremel carving tools and hammers, and shelves lined with everything from balsa wood to foam board and aluminum sheets.

Darden Professor Jeanne Liedtka, in the news release, says that the lab will help students become more open-minded about their approach to design.

“Schools have taught creativity for a long time. What’s new is the idea of systematically leveraging the tools from the design world to help Darden students be more creative, innovative thinkers,” says Liedtka, who helped develop the plans for the lab.

A number of courses in innovation and product development will be offered at the i.Lab, including one taught by Liedtka called “Corporation Innovation and Design Experience.” Another course, Bio-Innovation, will bring together students from Darden, the bioengineering program and the schools of medicine, architecture and nursing.

Darden is joining a small but growing number of business schools that are putting more of an emphasis on innovation and design. In the fall of 2008, New York University’s Stern School of Business opened up the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab and the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management is opening one, as well.

Readers, what do you think of Darden’s i.Lab? Should more business schools be going in this direction?

Reader Comments

Michael Plishka

March 20, 2010 4:18 PM

Business schools have been focusing on minimizing risk and creating convergent mindsets through their curriculums. This is definitely a step in the right direction as it will spawn more divergent thinking and create a better awareness for what goes in to making innovative products.

Kyle Hawke

March 20, 2010 4:45 PM

I was at the grand opening yesterday... it is an impressive space. The openness of the space does break the conventional classroom approach and the space alone will improve collaboration across classroom and entrepreneur teams.

But, at the end of the day, it's the people in the space, not the space itself, that leads to results. So hopefully this space is key to attracting the entrepreneurial/design-thinking student just as fancy football stadiums lead to fantastic recruits.

Dan

March 20, 2010 5:52 PM

As a current Darden student and having taken a course from Professor Liedtka (an excellent professor), I have high hopes for the new Innovation Lab. I think it's a great way to spur innovation and stretch the minds of our incredibly talented pool of students.

Paul

March 21, 2010 8:43 PM

This is a good way to spend a lot of money to help students in an obsolete degree try to learn some 21st century skills. Why not tell the students to go get degrees in engineering, architecure, or other meaningful skill set?

Irina

March 23, 2010 3:15 PM

I agree with Paul. Seems a little absurd.

PDubb

March 24, 2010 3:34 PM

To Paul and Irina,

An obsolete degree? Come on. This will be a great addition to the school. Good job.

PDubb

March 24, 2010 3:34 PM

To Paul and Irina,

An obsolete degree? Come on. This will be a great addition to the school. Good job.

Sue

March 26, 2010 10:57 AM

To Paul + Irina: ppl who go to business school already have those degrees!! business school shows them how to use the degrees to do good for other non-degree holders by means of a business!!

david kaufman

March 27, 2010 8:57 AM

I think this is fantastic move. Having design thinking skills is critical to moving any project forward and going through this experience will create a whole host of learning that would not happen any other way. Team work, advanced thinking, re-thinking, real life experiences that don't come any other way. Touche Darden, keep up the good work.

Conor

March 31, 2010 7:04 PM

@Sue You're so right. As an Electrical Engineer I had a hard time thinking outside my vertical. Getting an MBA has lead to me building a business that is lead with a strategic focus that I would never have had w/o attending Darden.

Rebecca

April 20, 2010 7:26 PM

Interesting article. I was just reading a related one about the intersection of b-school and d-school:
http://opensource.com/business/10/4/differentiated-mba

I'll be interested to hear what happens with Darden in the next few years.

Rebecca

April 20, 2010 7:27 PM

Interesting article. I was just reading a related one about the intersection of b-school and d-school:
http://opensource.com/business/10/4/differentiated-mba

I'll be interested to hear what happens with Darden in the next few years.

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