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Matt Kressy and NEIA team member standing inside NEIA building

Problem Statement

This new school has the chance to redefine adolescent education as we’ve known it. Think of the customers involved with this enterprise: the parents entrusting the school with the education of their children; the students who know what works and doesn’t work for them; the teachers who have the room to innovate and try new approaches; the colleges looking for independent thinkers and creative problem-solvers; the employers in our fast-changing world. At every level, if we build a culture of empathy and compassion — of truly caring about what is needed and what works, while having the freedom to try and fail and try again — we’ll be educating students who are prepared to not only thrive at the top colleges and universities, but become leaders and visionaries in the interconnected, global work force they’ll eventually enter.

Proposed Solution

In the world of consumer product innovation, a seismic shift is occurring — one that puts the customers at the center of the design process. Known as “human-centered design,” the process connects design with the needs of the people who will ultimately judge and use the product. It’s driven by empathy. It replaces assumptions about users’ needs and preferences with actual information acquired from the field. It involves extensive interviewing and observing customers, deep research into existing products, and fast, iterative prototyping and testing. It is process-heavy and people-oriented, and it works. When the founders of the New England Innovation Academy approached me with the idea of creating a start-up school using human-centered design concepts we’re refining at M.I.T., I instantly grasped the implications.

Students today will be stepping into a complex, globally connected world that will require innovative thinking and collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches.

Matthew S. Kressy,
Founding Director MITidm

WHY human-centered design?

NEIA aims to develop highly motivated and empathetic innovators who work with a steadfast sense of purpose. To achieve this vision, the school embeds human-centered design into the fabric of its curriculum. Human-centered design is a creative problem-solving methodology that focuses on the needs of the people who will benefit from the designer’s solution. Built on a foundation of deep empathy, our curriculum produces innovators who create solutions that meet the needs of those they seek to serve, while positively impacting their lives in unique ways. Such a learning experience allows thoughtful, inventive problem solvers who gain the confidence they need to become meaningful leaders in our rapidly evolving world.

WHO were the members of the design team?

NEIA’s founding team partnered with Matt Kressy, Principal of Designturn Inc., and Founding Director of MIT’s Integrated Design & Management graduate program (MITidm) to make this vision of human-centered design a reality at the school. NEIA was particularly inspired by the pedagogy and culture of MITidm as a home to a group of ambitious human-centered designers with diverse work experience that bring new levels of creativity, imagination, and integrity to various sectors of society ranging from education to business. Under the leadership of Matt Kressy, I embarked on this exciting project along with Cory Ventres-Pake and Dave Ludgin, three other human-centered design strategists, this summer.


HOW did we create the human-centered design curriculum?

Creating a human-centered design curriculum required us to invoke the human-centered design process itself. Since the success of a project is contingent upon the satisfaction of the stakeholders, we began by defining NEIA’s primary stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, and administrators. We aimed to create solutions that not only aligned with NEIA’s vision, but that would also meet the needs of students, prove desirable to parents, and remain feasible for teachers to implement.

The Kind of School the World Needs Next

The first middle and high school that prepares innovators to shape the world through human-centered design. Our goal is to instill this human-centered design process into everything our young people do, so they grow up to be people who do not instantly jump to a conclusion or try to enforce an expert opinion, but rather leaders who ask questions and try to understand the needs and emotions of the other people involved.