College hires Ric Grefé as part of pilot design-thinking program

This fall, the College hired Richard Grefé as the Design Thinker in Residence as part of three-year design thinking pilot. The College’s design thinking program, which has been in ongoing development for several years, focuses on human-centered methods for problem solving and innovation rather than more traditional business methodologies.

“Design thinking is simply a technique that encourages creativity and risk-taking in addressing difficult and complex problems, always seeking outcomes that are human-centered,” Grefé said. “It can be used to provide experiential or project-based learning, for encouraging new approaches to solving old problems or to help students explore ways to use the power of their Williams education in solving social challenges.”

Grefé will serve as a liaison between students, faculty and staff interested in approaching problems with design thinking, educating the community on this innovative problem-solving style. The more detailed specifics of his job, however, will develop and grow to fit the needs of College community throughout his tenure.

“One of the virtues of having a newly developed position is that the role itself emerges as you discover the needs and wants of your stakeholders — faculty, students, staff, institution, community,” Grefé said. “I anticipate I will be serving as an advocate, a missionary, and a coach for challenges of all types.”

While Grefé has many long-term goals and ideas for the design thinking pilot program, he has spent the majority of his time thus far developing a Winter Study course for students and communicating with various faculty and staff.

“With three weeks in the position, most of my time is spent listening and planning a Winter Study course that may travel to the Stanford School or the IBM design studio in Austin,” Grefé said. “I have begun conversations with individual faculty who are interested in testing ways to introduce design thinking charrettes in their courses and students who would like to use these techniques in projects …[and] several administrative departments have also approached me to help them reimagine services.”

Before coming to the College, Grefé served as the director of AIGA, the professional association for design, for over twenty years. He has also taught and/or developed design thinking programs at Wesleyan University, Harvard Business School and Yale School of Management. While he enjoyed his past work, Grefé said his choice to join the College community was an easy one.

“Exploring an opportunity at Williams became a natural [choice]: a liberal arts college that respects diversity of opinion and perspective; students exposed in terms of both breadth and depth to a variety of academic disciplines; an enlightened approach toward exploring how design thinking might be made available to faculty, students and staff; and a setting that allows one to escape from the distracting intensity of global hubs while giving up little in terms of cultural exposure,” Grefé said. “The Williams community is extraordinary: bright, thoughtful, curious, accomplished. If one is seeking stimulation, engagement and service, all in a valley that gives you the chance to pause regularly to reflect on nature, there are few places to compete with the Williams experience.”