“Develop empathy for others and make things tangible as fast as possible.”
Glenn Fajardo is a design educator at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (also known as the Stanford d.school). He also curates TEDxPeacePlaza, has contributed to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and is an independent consultant working with nonprofits. Glenn has been considered “the messy problems guy” as he has been the go-to person in his work to solve problems by using design and design thinking.
Connect with Glenn Fajardo:
Pluriverse Publication Chapter: Glenn Fajardo
Download a PDF Layout of the Glenn Fajardo chapter of the Pluriverse Publication.
Our upbringings, our travels, our identities all have an effect on the work we do, and that is the same for Glenn Fajardo. While Milwaukee, Wisconsin is where Glenn was born and raised, he has traveled all over the United States, living in Florida, California, and Washington D.C. The experience of living all over the United States, in different regions of the country, as well as being the son of immigrant parents from the Philippines, all mold his way of thinking.
Glenn believes that place and identity can greatly impact a designer’s work, as his own perspectives have been influenced through his experiences of living in many places and experiencing different cultures. Throughout his career, his perspective has evolved into a more conscious and mature version than that of his younger self. Glenn’s undergraduate degree in Nuclear Engineering Sciences and his Master of Public Policy have been key factors in the development of his perspective on design. He is now more aware of the subconscious decisions he used to make and uses this awareness as an asset for design. This newfound consciousness includes looking at processes in terms of lateral and abductive thinking. Glenn has been able to amplify the intentionality of his decisions and look at the different layers that lead to a solution or goal.
Through his work for non-profits like TechSoup Global and his work as an independent consultant, Glenn has had the opportunity to use design thinking through the lens of social innovation. During his time at TechSoup, Glenn worked closely with NGOs in over seventy countries and aided them in their access to technology and the amplification of their social impact. This allowed him to see the direct impact of design thinking on social ventures, and how this affects the greater scope of things. This was especially noticeable when working with people of different cultures and locations, because the cultural differences and barriers were used as an asset rather than as a limitation.
When discussing his strengths as a designer, Glenn listed the following: learner, relator, achiever, futuristic, individualization. These strengths were why he was the ideal person to fix “messy problems”, earning a title from one of his former bosses as “Our messy problems guy”. He uses design thinking to get from Point A to Point Z, as well as encouraging others to use design thinking in order to create synergy and make things work more seamlessly. He believes cultural differences and different opinions can help advance problems when the correct approach is used and handled correctly, all with the goal of creating something that would not have happened otherwise. This also relates to Glenn’s introspection into his awareness of the layers of design, because he is able to see how doing this makes empathy a factor of design through the consideration of different perspectives and ideas.
Glenn describes design and design thinking as a process that makes useful things. He believes that everyone can design, using the analogy: “Cooking is a form of design. You can cook at home, just like a chef can cook at a five-star restaurant. The difference is in the quality and skill difference between them.” Glenn’s advice for non-designers was simple: “Develop empathy for others and make things tangible as fast as possible.” Similar to his analogy of cooking as a form of design, it is important to remember that regardless of skillset, empathy and tangibility are key to creating a better product. He also stresses the separation of personal opinion versus what is really happening, and ultimately, learning to listen and observe others. Separating your opinions will help other people understand your perspective more clearly and will make working with anyone easier, just as much as listening and observing others will.
Glenn’s idea of design being a tool used to make useful things turns design into a universal language that can be used by anyone. When everyone uses design as a tool and people pool their knowledge to consolidate ideas and perspectives, a greater product is created, and a greater good is served. This goes hand in hand with one of the main concepts of Designs for the Pluriverse, by Arturo Escobar, because he reaches the conclusion that in this world design is used more for a capitalist end, when, instead, it should be used for more collaborative approaches that will positively impact a greater number of people. These ideas, and this conversation with Glenn, only further the importance of design thinking and how it can be used to improve our lives as an individual and what we can contribute to the rest of the world. Our contributions to society and social innovation will increase when both our empathy and listening to other perspectives increase as well.
The Hello from the Pluriverse Podcast aims to open up and create a space to have conservations about the pluriversality in design.
This podcast is a project of the Design Thinking for Social Innovation Program at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University.
Executive Producer: Lesley-Ann Noel, Ph.D
Hello from the Pluriverse 2020-2021 Student Team
Hello from the Pluriverse 2019-2020 Student Team