Skip to Content


The latest news and stories from Duke’s innovation and entrepreneurship community

Student Blog: OpenDesign+

Hello world, my name is Justin Koga and I am a Duke Senior studying Public Policy. This summer, I participated in Duke’s new OpenDesign+ program; an experience where my student peers, esteemed Duke I&E faculty, and I leveraged design thinking to solve some of education’s most pressing issues either caused by (or exacerbated by) the COVID-19 pandemic.

What truly made this program so special can be captured in its name, Open and Design. Inspired by open source software philosophies, OpenDesign+ taught our cohort how to design solutions that were meant to be iterated upon, communicated to stakeholders with diverse perspectives, and ultimately shared with many people in order to scale the biggest possible impact. We used a number of qualitative research methods to deeply understand our problem, and throughout this process, leveraged the principles of “open design thinking” to develop ethical, human-centered, and inclusive solutions.

Our team leaders—Anna Jacobs, Kevin Hoch, Aria Chernik, and Diana Ramírez—provided our 11-student cohort with an incredibly robust framework to fully immerse ourselves in the practice and application of design thinking. I felt like Tom Hanks from the movie Big during this program! Although I didn’t magically become the stakeholder (like Hanks when working for FAO Schwarz), through researching, reflecting, interviewing, and brainstorming, I came very close to understanding the nuanced perspectives needed to identify a problem and eventually come up with a solution. OpenDesign+ gave me the tools to be able to walk a mile in the shoes of my target audience and fully understand the core roots of the problem that I sought to tackle.

During this 6-week-long cohort, my small team of 3 Duke students designed around the topic of online learning. As a team, we all agreed that our abrupt transition to online for the 2020 spring semester didn’t necessarily deliver the same comprehensive experiences that made our Duke education so special. We wanted to figure out how we could replicate the in-person college learning experience in an online format, and perhaps make online learning even more robust than what we experienced previously. After all, with great disruption comes great opportunity for innovation.

After religiously following the first steps of the design process and conducting nearly 100 interviews with our stakeholders over the first 3 weeks of the program (students professors, and industry professionals), we discovered our main “problem”: as online learning currently stands, there simply isn’t a way to replicate the communication and community that exists in a physical classroom. During the 4th and 5th weeks of the program, my team worked hard to develop a solution to this problem.

Here’s what we came up with: 1) a metric to allow professors to gauge the level of understanding in a virtual class (ability to “read the room”) 2) an interactive forum that allows students to apply curricular learnings to a more social setting 3) an open-sourced forum that allows Duke students and professors to co-create best practices for online learning. As a team, we really felt that these 3 areas were key to ensuring a better future for students and professors especially as education trends towards an online paradigm. You can learn more about our project here:

The beauty of this program is that I’ll be able to apply the principles of design thinking to any of my future endeavors. I’m grateful to have participated in OpenDesign+, and I look forward to implementing what I learned in my academic and professional spheres. I’m particularly interested in how Extended Reality (XR) might be able to advance many of the processes of open design thinking. In the future, I can see the widespread use of VR and MR technologies in facilitating bias training, aiding in deep market research, and importantly, shortening the lead time of being able to understand one’s stakeholders. I’m excited for this future, and I believe wholeheartedly that XR technology may lower the barriers to design thinking and actually allow people to viscerally experience the process of walking a mile in their target audience’s shoes.

Justin Koga is a Duke senior majoring in public policy and was a member of the 2019-2020 StudioDuke student cohort. He is an avid technologist, cyclist, cellist, and guitarist. In the future, he hopes to use technology to make the world a more equitable and accessible place.

Related Stories

Duke Student Founders Showcase Tomorrow’s World-Changing Ventures

Strolling from table to table at the 2023 Duke Startup Showcase in April, you could sample authentic Middle

READ MORE about duke student founders showcase tomorrow’s world-changing ventures

Inspired Foody Emma Leventer Shares Her Recipe for Business Magic

Emma Leventer ’19 is founder and CEO of Cuiscene Studio, which provides food photography and video, brand development

READ MORE about inspired foody emma leventer shares her recipe for business magic
Back to top