The University of Rochester’s strategic plan called for community service learning, conducting research with impact, and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. At the same time, the campus libraries sought to contribute to these goals while positioning libraries not just as a place to access information individually, but rather as a hub for creative, collaborative student projects. Out of this confluence, an idea for the library to create a new kind of innovation space was born. But what kind of space? For what kinds of projects? With what sorts of services? With what staffing model?
brightspot worked with the library, the university, and the local innovation community to answer these questions using design thinking to uncover needs and collaboratively imagine new ways to meet them. First, we mapped the local innovation ecosystem on campus and beyond to identify gaps and opportunities. Then we engaged students, faculty, and staff through interviews, town hall meetings, and workshops. From this, we crafted the vision of what became known as iZone: a pre-incubator where students go to explore ideas for social, cultural, community, and economic impact by building skills, accessing tools and resources, getting advice, and connecting with a community of collaborators.
To explain how to address the research findings and achieve this vision, brightspot created iZone’s design brief that identified the future spaces needed and how they should be organized, imagined the future service offering and programs that would activate the space, and forecasted the staffing needed to operate the space and deliver the services and programs. Finally, we advised the libraries and their collaborators on how to pilot programs in order to test ideas, build momentum, and make the case for iZone.
Informed by this brief and designed by Holt Architects, the Barbara J. Burger iZone opened in 2018 and has been a great success, already becoming a fixture in the community for its innovative programs like “screw up” nights, which promote risk-taking, and its student fellows, who facilitate programs and consult with individuals and teams to help them explore and develop their ideas.