Scout Design Studio, Building Creative Collaboration at Northeastern

Tucked away in room 307 of Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media, and Design (CAMD), students busily tap on their computers, answering emails from clients, changing graphic attributes, or browsing for artists on Spotify. The feel is one of free-flowing collaboration, where both aspiring designers as well as students from seemingly unrelated disciplines interested in learning about design principles can interact. While the space is quite small relative to the number of people working in it, this has been a welcomed sign of growing interest within the university community and beyond.

Scout is Northeastern’s only entirely student-led design studio on campus and has been formally in operation since spring 2014 when its current office space was secured in Ryder Hall. The students who created this group intended to foster an active and engaged design community at Northeastern through meaningful exposure to client work, speaker series, and interactive workshops.

The impetus for the creation of Scout was initially to provide a way for students to experience the way in which design can be knit into the entrepreneurial world. At the time, there were few opportunities for collaboration and creative interaction between students. In an attempt to fill this void, Scout was created and began as a small group of about 10 friends with the same goal: to make design a more tangible and accessible resource for students to engage with in practical ways.

“A hugely important experience that Scout provides is direct interaction with clients,” said Brennan Caruthers, operations director at Scout. “Our teams have weekly meetings with clients and get to have feedback from them directly and basically see how it works in the real world.”

As Scout has continued to grow its brand on campus and Northeastern has enjoyed a boost in its rankings, the talent pool available to the studio has improved, leading to a steady growth in its membership. The team at Scout takes on a number of project contracts each semester and annually, depending on the type of work. Applications for the Scout Studio program are accepted each semester and typically involve commercial clients. Some examples of past clients include local coffee shop Commonwealth Coffee Co. and photo-sharing app Blurr.

In many cases, much of their work is sought after by current Northeastern students and alumni who want to build their businesses. This creates an encouraging cycle of collaboration between current and former students, strengthening relationships and allowing students interested in the world of design to get a feel for the practical dimensions associated with it outside of the classroom.

Another program offered by Scout is Scout Labs, an annual social innovation initiative, leveraging human-centered design thinking strategies to devise timely solutions to social issues in the Boston community. The interdisciplinary team behind this work engages in a yearlong endeavour in close collaboration with other departments at Northeastern, local businesses, community based organizations, and the people of Boston.

Scout’s approach involves defining the challenge, empathizing with those impacted, ideating, iterating, and implementing. Throughout the process, this aspect of collaboration across disciplines, industries, and community lines has often emerged as a considerable challenge that involves a steep learning curve. Molly O’Neill, executive director at Scout, sees this challenge as an opportunity for growth that encourages members to become conversant in a wide range of fields that design ultimately touches.

“You’re talking to a lot of people outside of CAMD and outside of the design world,” O’Neill said. “Being able to articulate the importance of design in other areas [of expertise] and making the stories real. I think that has been a really valuable thing.”

Presently, Scout has around 40 members divided across seven operational teams. While this division of labor does allow for a more organized approach to the execution of projects, a prevailing sense of open conversation and brainstorming filters through Scout’s intimate office space. Team members work remotely or in the office, allowing for Scout to host regular drop-in office hours that serve as opportunities for the wider Northeastern community to get advice on design strategies.

This reciprocative component of Scout’s work is a model that encourages a continuity of values between people, and positions design as a shared resource open to all. With a keen eye for detail sharpened by empathy, design has the power to change the social dynamics that exist around us.

“Design at its core is about being very deliberate and thinking through why you are doing something…design has so much practice and useful function,” Caruthers said.

Featured Image by Alessandro Zenati / Heights Editor

March 23, 2018