Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 2.38.42 AMWe had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph King, the inspiring and talented filmmaker of Extreme by Design, a documentary film. Design for America has had the exclusive opportunity to pre-screen the film at its studios around the country. The film itself focuses on a team of college students from the Stanford design school and their experiences as they engage in the process of designing products that address huge issues for the world’s poor. Watch the trailer here!


Could you share with us a little about yourself as a filmmaker?

I spent most of my career as a print journalist and worked with several national magazines and was with the Wall Street Journal for ten years. My interest in filmmaking took off through my concern about climate change, as I felt that journalists and scientists weren’t truly getting through with the issues at hand. I quit journalism and went on to attend film school.

Through Extreme by Design, I hope to help spark the design movement and broaden it to embrace social enterprise, the engineering profession, and anybody who is interested in science, technology, and art.

How did you get involved in this project?

I made educational films at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. While working there, I heard about the course called Design for Extreme Affordability and saw the potential for a great documentary. The prototypes are visual, the students travel overseas, and the design thinking process was something totally new and fascinating to me. I audited the six-month-long course cycle at Stanford and was with students from various disciplines including studies of science, medicine, business, design, and more.

By the end of the course, I was smitten by the design process and drawn into the spirit and fearlessness of those students as they work as designers and social entrepreneurs. I would personally consider them heroes in what they do.

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How did you get connected to Design for America?

The Stanford d.school (Institute of Design at Stanford) has helped me to connect to student populations, and one of the organizations that they thought was particularly good was DFA. My initial goal was to have as many screenings of Extreme by Design as possible to people who might already interested in the subject matter. I proposed this idea to Liz Gerber and Sami Nerenberg of DFA and it was immediately embraced – we planned to organize screenings with all of the DFA studios at various universities.

With each screening, the film has been streamed online via Vimeo, and I would engage in a Q and A session through Skype at the end. That’s been a lot of fun. It has also been like market testing for me with friendly focus groups through DFA.

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What’s been some of the response towards the film?

I have heard that the film helps to explain this broader concept of design, especially to the many people who are not familiar with it or those who thought of it as limited to just industrial design. Many at the DFA studios feel that it is a helpful intro or method of recruitment to new people; it propels them into thinking about what they might like to do with design. Overall, people report that they feel inspired by the film and by the strong, relatable characters.

What plans do you have moving forward?

PBS will broadcast the film later this year, which is very exciting.

In order to reach people from ages 12-25, we’ve created what we call the Watch + Design workshop – we developed with educational partners at the Stanford d.school. So far, we’ve run various versions of the workshop a dozen times for 350 students, parents and teachers in the Bay Area, Atlanta and Portland.

The Watch + Design workshop uses the film cut into three parts, and there are four design thinking steps (Frame, Imagine, Make, Test) in between the sections. By the end of it, the participants not only have the role models from the film but also have a prototype that they can hold in their hands from the design challenge. The idea is that the film-viewing enhances the design engagement and vice versa. The workshop seems to be working very well, and we want to continue and test it for ages ranging from 6th grade to the university level.

All in all, I’m excited about everything that is happening with Extreme by Design, and I feel that the film can be a lever to help get more of this design process into schools.