Here in DFA, we rely on volunteer mentorship of design and business professionals around the country to support our teams. So we wanted to take a moment to recognize one of those awesome people here on our blog- Erin Liman! Erin Liman is an “Innovation Accelerator,” an entrepreneurially minded problem-solver who is passionate about increasing innovation capacity in organizations. Erin was nice enough to take a minute and answer some of our questions here about what it’s like to be a DFA mentor!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I founded InterPlay Arts to provide coaching services to start-up founders. I led the Human Capital Management user experience team at PeopleSoft, designing new recruiting, talent management and educational products, before joining a new design thinking consultancy within SAP. At SAP, I designed and taught design-thinking bootcamps at Stanford and HCI in Potsdam, Germany, and coached Stanford ME 310 “Design Entrepreneurship” for 3 years running. I was a Principal Innovation Catalyst with Intuit, coaching Product Managers across the company and facilitating action-learning sessions. The impact of these action-learning sessions led to the creation of Innovation is Social, a consulting company focused on developing innovation leaders while defining, designing and developing innovation projects.

This journey took me over 20 years. I’d like to help DFA students get there faster.

What got you interested in working with DFA students?

I jumped at the chance to serve as Stanford studio mentor. I think it’s so important to have a sustained relationship over a period of months rather than weeks or days. Innovation is challenging work, and it takes a while to get students working outside their comfort zone. Working with DFA students is a great opportunity to help them move from being intellectually interested in a topic like skin cancer or young teacher success in low-income communities and bringing innovations to address these issues to life.

I enjoy supporting them as they develop empathy, design, prototyping, critical thinking and team-building skills in the context of their projects. Pushing them from words and ideas to prototypes and learning. Swinging out beyond their comfort zone to test assumptions. Connecting them with people inside and outside the Stanford community to bring in new perspectives and facilitate building networks to forward their innovation.

Where do you see students as experiencing the greatest challenges in the HCD process?

  • Deeply understanding the people they are designing for.
  • Creating a really focused POV statement that they are excited about
  • Swinging out beyond the fear to come up with wild ideas to explore, mash, and build on.
  • Really exploring and testing an idea before switching to another, avoiding possible failure rather than experiencing it.
  • Getting out of their heads and into their hands.
  • Building prototypes as ways to engage their target users in conversation.
  • Engaging people who are outside campus, particularly people who might be “extreme” or lead users, or key people in a network to support their innovation idea.

What are some of the tactics that seemed to work well with students to help mentor them in the HCD process 

  • Creating an environment for honest, open communication about what’s working and what could be better.
  • Modeling risk-taking.
  • Short format lectures, followed by a warm-up, followed by an activity to forward the project
  • Hearing the other group show where they are and what they learned
  • Periodic group presentation and feedback sessions
  • Bodystorming the problem as a frame for ideation (see photo above!)
  • Bodystorming solutions, riffing playfully in skit format to explore other possibilities that appear by way of happy accidents
  • Guest speakers
  • More examples of design process within companies

We aim to continuously grow our network for professional mentors as well as provide more support for those entering into the DFAmily. If you’d like to get involved as a DFA mentor- learn more here and sign up in a studio near you! And stay tuned for more features on the great people that make DFA better.