Pathways to innovation at the University of Tor Vergata

Today, where the complexity of problems requires a “SMART” and creative solution, the University of Tor Vergata experienced a Design Thinking workshop held by artist and designer Manuel Grillo, which saw students actively collaborating on a problem assigned by the lecturer revealing the crucial importance of a user-centered mindset that diverges from the given problem and approaches it as an opportunity.

Initially born as an approach to product design at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design in Potsdam, Germany, Design Thinking has gradually evolved to embrace a wide range of disciplines and problems. The fundamental idea behind this concept is the importance of focusing on the human experience, embracing empathy, experimentation, and the solution of
complex problems. Its evolution has been the result of a growing need to overcome the limitations of traditional design and adapt to the changing needs of the modern world.

The workshop, enabled students to discover the essential principles of Design Thinking, but more importantly to apply them to real, concrete problems. Divided into two groups, the students were thus asked to solve two complex challenges: how to ease the transition to the working world for art students and how to promote the sale of an emerging artist’s work in an increasingly
The first phase of the process, “Empathizing,” pushed students to deeply immerse themselves in the experiences and needs of the end recipients. Through the Perosonas, Interview and Empathy Map technique, it was possible to develop an in-depth understanding of the challenges and aspirations of the users at the center of the survey.


The sensitivity gained at this stage laid the foundation for a more thorough and accurate analysis of user needs, thus offering a more comprehensive and holistic approach to problem solving.
From there, the “Problem Definition” phase took shape, with students working to identify the central nuances and challenges that required an innovative solution. The beating heart of this phase was the ability to identify and formulate the problem clearly and concisely, thus laying the foundation for the next steps.

It is at this stage that the brainstorming technique played a key role in enabling students from different professional and biographical backgrounds to collaborate together. Open-mindedness, the ability to actively listen, and a flair for innovation have become crucial skills for dealing with complex teamwork challenges and developing creative solutions and
During this phase, the emergence of financial difficulty posed a significant challenge for participants.
In fact, the problems identified were summed up in the lack of funds as the main reason for the failure to start entrepreneurial projects. Specifically, in the case of both the student looking for work and the emerging artist who wants to get
know, the lack of funds would cause the inability to get up to date, to create public relationships, to travel to attend events and fairs, to which are added the obligations due to possible family situations, for those students, who, forward
over the years, they find themselves with children, a home and a job.
After a brief stalemate, rather than give up in the face of this barrier, the group took a bold approach by turning the problem into an opportunity. In the “Ideation” phase, the use of free collaborative solutions, such as the use of Facebook groups or the creation of thematic forums, was thus opted for to overcome the lack of funds. This solution, allowed thanks to
also to the tools that the Web provides us with, which makes, of union, strength, has paved the way for a new perspective, enabling students to share valuable knowledge and contacts, totally free of charge. This creative approach made it possible to read the problem from a new point of view, introducing the concept of gift, reciprocity, and sharing into the discourse.
The next steps, the Prototyping phase, necessary to translate abstract ideas into concrete and tangible solutions, and the Testing phase, to test the effectiveness of the solutions were carried out individually from a teaching handout provided by the lecturer.


The lab results are still being evaluated.
It should certainly be emphasized, that the laboratory provided the necessary framework through which to frame the technologies addressed in the curriculum
on Digital Fabrication for Art carried on during the Master’s program, which has seen 3D Printing and Coding covered in previous classes.
This intertwining of difficulties and opportunities made the course on Design Thinking a test of students’ ingenuity and flexibility, but also
of the teacher himself, highlighting the ability to transform obstacles into opportunities if not for innovation, certainly, for growth.
The hope, that these activities by allowing the transmission of not only theoretical, but also and above all, practical know-how, can, in a world increasingly
“digitized,” be helpful in meeting the challenges that in the future, complexity will bring before us.


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