Square Dancing at Design School?
At the Stanford d.school From Play to Innovation or "Play Class" is a design course that teaches students to integrate play into their everyday lives. Play is a natural state of behavior in all animals that involves movement, fun, and collaboration. With its large open spaces, the d.school offers an ideal environment for play. Students are able to dance, move and interact with each other which is a vital part of play. -- Matt Sullivan
Play Class Is In Session
Play Class is taught by Brendan Boyle of IDEO, Stuart Thompson a Stanford professor of Neuroscience, Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Play, and myself, Matt Sullivan, of the Stanford Graduate Design Program. In true design thinking form, Play Class brings together students from all backgrounds ranging from philosophy to electrical engineering to business. This rich mix of backgrounds is perfect for stimulating innovation.
Fun and Games
In a Play Class exercise, Over and Back, students learn to rapid prototype with limited resources. In Over and Back, teams of students make a device to transport a ball over and back across a line as many times as possible using found objects such as Play Doh, a ping pong ball, a deck of cards, a balloon, and string. The d.school offers collaborative learning spaces where teams can get together, share ideas,and make quick mock-ups of their ideas to get feedback. d.school resources such as the prototyping lab and computer lab give students the ability to turn their concepts into tangible ideas.
Theater in the Round
With its collaborative spaces and safe environment, the d.school offers an ideal environment for designers to act out their ideas and really get into character. In Play Class, students use the large open atrium for shooting video to illustrate an idea in action, and to get feedback on ideas by encouraging strangers to test prototypes of products.
Silliness Required
In Play Class, integrating movement into everyday life is a big part of what we do. Students actively investigate the human "state of play" to reach an understanding of its principle attributes and how important it is to creative thinking. The d.school offers a space where doing things different and acting silly is not only accepted, it is encouraged.
Ideation and Prototyping
Design the Phone of the Future was an exercise where students used the design process to come up with ideas of what the future of cell phone technology would look like. The d.school offers students the ability to rapid prototype out of just about anything whether it be straws and aluminum foil to wood and vinyl to computer animation. Ideation through rapid prototyping is a big part of Play Class and the d.school.
Movement and Dance
Frank Forencich, author of Play as if Your Life Depends on It, Exuberant Animal, led a movement workshop for Play class. The purpose was to explore play behavior, its development, and its biological basis through movement and dance. The modular furniture at the d.school was perfect for the workshop because it enabled the class to transform the space from a classroom into a dance studio.
Sketching Studio
Sketching and story-boarding are pivotal parts of the design process. The storage bins with thousands of markers and rolling white boards in the d.school enable students to turn the classroom into a sketching studio where they can easily communicate their ideas.

-- Matt Sullivan is part of the teaching team for Play to Innovation at the Stanford d.school. Currently he is a graduate student in the Stanford Joint Program in Design, where he is pursuing his interests in using design thinking to make the world a better place.