It’s the end of the week. A few interaction designers, some software engineers, a handful of consultants, and more slowly trickle out the door, with bags on their backs and weekend plans on their mind. The lights click off around SAP’s Palo Alto campus, and each of the nine buildings softly settles into its weekend slumber.

On Saturday afternoon, a burst of energy pours into the Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC) in the form of thirty young, notebook-toting students hailing from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong. They comb through the area with widened eyes, admiring the modular whiteboard walls and eagerly trying to decipher the many colorful drawings and notes that cover them. “From the moment they walked in, the students were just so excited to see the space,” comments Eliad Goldwasser, Senior User Experience Designer on SAP’s DCC team. “We come here every day. Sometimes we take it for granted and forget it’s such an innovative place to work.”

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Over the last few weeks, these budding entrepreneurs have been participating in the VIA Program, whose mission is to bridge the American and Asian communities by hosting experiential and innovative learning opportunities for students. Having already formed six design teams within the program and finished their projects, the students now turn to the DCC in hopes of gaining insights for future design pursuits and discovering what design thinking looks like in the real world.

Janaki Kumar, Head of the Design and Co-Innovation Center at SAP in North America, kicks off the design thinking workshop with an introduction into the DCC’s role in the enterprise software design industry, and a deep-dive into a few major design thinking methods practiced in the DCC, such as building personas, creating story-boards, and developing user journey maps.

“Businesses are only becoming more complex. In order to be prepared to face real world challenges, it’s important that students learn how to become ‘systems thinkers,’” reflects Janaki. “The students knew about design thinking coming into our workshop, but we were able to add a new layer onto their knowledge – we brought in ‘systems thinking.’”


Eliad follows Janaki’s presentation by sharing a corporate example of the DCC’s design process, and then I step in with a social example related to an internal LightHouse Innovation Project.

“When we first learn design-thinking, we learn to focus on individual users. Sometimes we get stuck later, when solutions to social issues engage so many more stakeholders,” explains Yi Zhang, the Director of VIA’s Social Innovation Programs. “It was so useful to learn through the workshop how to step back and understand the needs of the whole system – how to see both the forest and the trees.”

Lily Wang, a student from Taiwan graduating next Spring, echoes Yi’s thoughts: “I loved learning from real case studies and hearing about how the SAP team uses design-thinking in real life. It helped me understand the whole process so much better.”

The end of the workshop carries a strong interactive component – Janaki, Eliad, and I float around the room to chat with various design project teams about their experiences engaging with the design process, as well as about how the new tools we shared with them today might play a role in their future pursuits.

At four in the afternoon, the workshop concludes, the students part, and SAP’s Palo Alto campus quiets down once more for the weekend, but an invisible energy still seems to linger in the air of the Design and Co-Innovation Center at SAP. While the students are brainstorming for their next projects, here at the DCC, we’re thinking about the future, too – one that might involve sharing and celebrating the design thinking methods practiced at SAP with many more budding entrepreneurs.

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  • Esther Blankenship   6 years ago

    This sounds like such an interesting program. Thanks Katherine for sharing this!