The Denisonian

Robert Abbott brings new design-thinking to Denison

Graphic design and design-thinking – they go hand in hand, right? For some people, design-thinking might seem like nothing more than a buzzword, but for Robert Abbott, one of our newest entrepreneurs-in-residence at Denison, design-thinking has been an integral part of his career path.

“I’ve been doing a form of design-thinking my whole career,” Abbott said. Abbott, 54,  started his career in graphic design after graduating from University of Northern Iowa and moving on to Rhode Island School of Design to get his MFA. Abbott then moved to Granville in 1996 and founded his design company, Context Digital, in 2014. He describes design-thinking as a way to tackle big topics  and to “really dig into the issues that matter most.”

Design-thinking is a form of working through problems that, starting with empathy, focuses on understanding the problem through multiple perspectives and then using that mentality for larger, more concrete application. At Denison, Abbott and another entrepreneur-in-residence, Lisa Clark, put this form of thinking into action through the Red Frame Lab.

For Abbott, however, design-thinking at Denison is more than just applying the same set of principles he’s been using for the past several years. It is an opportunity to impact students on multiple levels. Abbott has “long been interested in academia and the kinds of discussions we can have,” he said. A believer in the liberal arts, Abbott believes that students will be “better prepared to look at different problems.” With a child in Granville High School who will be starting to applying for colleges soon, Abbott emphasized that this kind of thinking has been on his mind especially as of late.

Abbott is excited about the opportunities for the Red Frame to have an impact on campus and in other settings.

“I was asked by Denison Enterprises…they’re looking to bring [Box-It] back to life this year,” Abbott said, giving just one example of how the Red Frame is already making an impact in Denison organizations.

Abbott also pointed out that while this isn’t a groundbreaking idea – other schools across the country, including Stanford and Harvard, have also created spaces similar to the Red Frame Lab for design-thinking – he emphasizes that Denison has a great opportunity to champion it for itself as students start to utilize the lab more.

“[Design-thinking] is not something Denison created…the challenge for Denison is creating an ownable version of it,” Abbott said.

With the help of Abbott, his colleagues and students, the Red Frame Lab will continue to use design-thinking in a context relevant to Denison and in a way that students can articulate as they move on after Denison, as well.

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