Caribbean professor promotes design thinking for region post-COVID


Caribbean professor promotes design thinking for region post-COVID

Observer senior writer

Sunday, April 19, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has added new meaning to the cliché, “changed the world forever”. Governments, giant corporations, small businesses, and families have restructured to meet the challenges of a killer disease which has caused more than 125,000 deaths worldwide.

Trinidadian Dr Lesley Ann Noel, whose mother is Jamaican, is professor of practice at The Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, specialising in the field of design thinking. She believes this method can be utilised by Caribbean governments preparing for the aftermath of COVID-19.

“Education is an area in which design thinking can be used in the region. For example, a community could design an after-school programme that addresses a local problem, and then a government agency could support the implementation,” she told the Business Observer.

A graduate of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Noel completed her PhD in Design at North Carolina State University in 2018. She started teaching design in 1998, and has taught design thinking since 2010.

Noel describes the latter as “a methodology that is centred around solving problems by focusing on the needs of the people most affected by the problem. It borrows both the processes and ways of thinking that designers use to research and solve problems”.

Some of the biggest brands in the world have used the platform to expand their product and improve relationships with customers or clients. They include Nike, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and IBM.

Though she has lectured classes in design thinking at The University of the West Indies' Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business in Trinidad and Tobago, Noel thinks because it is relatively new, it has not caught on in the Caribbean.

She noted that as the world prepares for life after COVID-19, this would be an opportune time to get acquainted with the concept.

“All service-related businesses in the Caribbean will have to redesign their services — including banking and insurance and even our tourism and cultural products with the imminent collapse of the cruise ship industry, or if the large gatherings [carnival, jazz festivals] are going to be curtailed post- COVID-19,” she said.

The tourism sector, lifeblood of many Caribbean countries, has been hard hit by COVID-19. Major hotel chains like Sandals closed, as travel from giant markets like the US and Europe were suspended.

Noel used her adopted hometown of New Orleans as an example to reinforce the effectiveness of design thinking after a disaster.

“The life-changing effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans created both a need and an opportunity to redesign many aspects of human living. I've seen several examples of design thinking being used here post-Katrina — everything from communities and individuals creating and improving after-school programmes to better cater to education needs, to my centre at Tulane working with law enforcement and community members, using design thinking to improve relations between the police and the community,” she explained.

New Orleans is one of the COVID-19 hot spots in the US, with more than 21,000 cases reported and over 1,000 deaths.

Professor Lesley-Ann Noel will share the principles of her profession this summer at The UWI campus in Trinidad and Tobago, through her course, Introduction to Design Thinking.


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