Creating change: Missoula’s Holly Truitt teaching design lab at Stanford

Google designer-in-residence Elysa Fenenbock, left, and Holly Truitt studied community co-creation design at a Brittany, France retreat in 2018. Truitt will now teach a design class to Stanford University students on Jan. 11. (Holly Truitt)

Covering many disciplines and stoking entrepreneurial fires, consultant Holly Truitt of Missoula will teach a design class to Stanford University students on Jan. 11.

The course draws students from several majors, but it also applies to elected officials, educators, entrepreneurs with pet projects, and individuals simply looking to make change in their lives.

Truitt, who owns Holly Truitt Consulting, takes her success teaching design concepts at Missoula’s new public library-in-the-making and InnovateUM to the Stanford d. School in Palo Alto, California, where she and Elysa Fenenbock will co-teach the class.

Fenenbock is a designer-in-residence at Google.

Using a playing card technique that breaks down into self, business, community and global-focused categories, they prompt students to reflect on universal topics, such as navigating ambiguity, failure and the future.

“We hope students end the course with a deeper understanding of problem solving, transformation, and how to facilitate their own future design work building apps, businesses, works of art, plays, cities, or simply a life well lived,” said Truitt.

The course is equally for the not-so-creative and the intuitively creative.

“The fresh approach of our simple card and guide delivery system with its commitment to being playful, friendly and approachable is what captured the attention of the Stanford d. School,” she added.

Questioning an issue or concept is one way “designers” start to form context around an issue. For example, University of Montana graduate Kristina Simensen worked with Truitt and Holly Biehl of the Clark Fork Coalition to create a social change marketing campaign.

In the Truitt-led social marketing for social change course at UM in 2015, Simensen learned the importance of “listening as research.”

“Before starting a project, we need to ask the right questions – Why does this matter? To whom does it matter?” said Simensen. “Holly Truitt helped me understand that context is everything when it comes to impactful work, and in order to have that, you have to ask the right questions of and give a voice to stakeholders.”

Participants in Missoula’s AudFest Innovation Festival nail down actionable steps for individual prompts during a course in December. (Holly Truitt)

In a nutshell, working together for social change within a design can convert big challenges into big opportunities.

Simensen’s project goal was to encourage summer floaters to pick up after themselves – and to refrain from taking glass on the river – “in order to keep local rivers clean.”

Over the past 15 years, the annual Clark Fork River cleanup has produced 60,000 pounds of trash, according to the coalition.

“Trash in the Clark Fork river is a huge problem,” said Simensen. “Holly broke down this process of social change with an emphasis on who the target is and how to really motivate them to make a change in their behavior.”

For her part, Truitt’s UM course helped students design “for beneficial behavioral and social change” via projects that required action and collaboration with local nonprofits facing complex problems.

Students also worked on raising awareness about sexual assault.

In turn, Truitt now wants to parlay her past teaching success into achievement at the Stanford d. School.

“Insights from my previous teaching work were factored into the development of the Stanford d. course, as well as the design of the deck of cards,” Truitt said.

The creative card deck and course guidebook can help others as well, including elected officials who want to co-create better solutions with constituents; educators who want to introduce design thinking and action-based learning into classrooms; entrepreneurs who want to structure a promising product; and individuals who seek life change.

Locally, Truitt is eyeing a wider audience for such a design course.

“We would be delighted to bring the Stanford d. experience to the Montana University System and Tribal College institutions, if interested,” she said. “We are always looking for partners to co-create with.”

Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.