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Bringing 30 years of industry experience, new director seeks to grow collaborative innovation minor

Author: Carrie Gates

Tim Morton Classroom 6Tim Morton

Tomorrow is always going to be faster than today — from the way people interact to the speed at which businesses and global expectations evolve and new technologies emerge.

And Tim Morton sees diversity and collaboration as the keys to keeping up — and thriving — in these rapidly changing times.

“At some point, the best practices, the established methods companies lean on will be obsolete,” Morton said, “because you can’t keep doing things in the same way with the same people and adapt to what’s going to come.

“That’s why diversity is critical. If someone doesn’t come from the same background as you, they’re going to have a different way of thinking. Diversity is really where innovation happens.”

With nearly 30 years of experience in design leadership, Morton joined the College of Arts and Letters faculty last spring as director of the collaborative innovation minor and associate professor of the practice in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

Morton, who most recently served as director of industrial design at Newell Brands — a global consumer products corporation that includes brands such as Rubbermaid, Calphalon, Graco, Yankee Candle, and Mr. Coffee — said he is excited about sharing his experience with Notre Dame students.

Tim Morton Classroom 3

“As you go through your career, your mindset shifts on how you can effect change,” Morton said. “I’ve gotten to a point where I realized I really enjoy the leadership and collaboration aspects of what I do and I wanted to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained.

“I’m looking forward to building on the great work that’s already been done here, while at the same time, bringing in some of the latest trends in the industry.”

Amplifying curiosity

Morton was drawn to Arts and Letters, in particular, because it encourages collaboration across disciplines and fosters a diversity of experience and thought in its students.

“The atmosphere of cross-disciplinary collaboration here — along with a strong sense of community and responsibility — is unique and very beneficial,” he said. “And nowhere is that more evident than in the collaborative innovation program.”

The minor, which centers on the principles of design thinking as an approach to solving real-world problems, was introduced in 2015 and has grown rapidly since then. It draws students with a wide variety of majors from across the University — with more than 65 students taking the introductory Design Matters course last semester alone.

“The program’s success shows that there’s a real need and a desire for it,” Morton said. “And that’s because it’s reflective of what happens in the business world.”

The program asks students to challenge their assumptions and redefine success, he said.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach, and it can be a little messy,” he said. “We explore ways to share discoveries and ideas  before they’re fully formulated. We encourage students to recognize that the first time you try, you’re not necessarily going to be successful. It’s not going to be the first idea. It’s more about what you learn from each iteration. And that may be very different from what they’ve experienced in high school or even other courses here.”

Morton’s strategy to grow the minor includes building on its cross-disciplinary model and exploring collaborations with an array of other departments and programs— such as anthropology, psychology, computer science and engineering, business, and film, television, and theatre — that would allow students to take different paths through the minor, while still taking the same gateway and capstone courses.

“It’s about amplifying students’ ability to be curious,” he said. “The skills that students learn in the program — creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication — are in high demand in any industry or field they go into. By expanding our reach even further, we can help them apply those sensibilities to other industries.”

“It’s about amplifying students’ ability to be curious. The skills that students learn in the program — creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication — are in high demand in any industry or field they go into.”

Finding a starting point

Tim Morton Classroom 4

This semester, Morton is teaching Design Matters and Collaborative Design — the capstone course for the minor, which gives students the opportunity to partner with outside corporations on real-world challenges they’re facing.

Morton, who plans to continue consulting in the design industry, also hopes to expand on the program’s partnerships in the business world.

“Having a live project brings much more gravity to the challenge,” he said. “And I think the students can give organizations something that they can’t necessarily get elsewhere. Because students are just starting out, they don’t put themselves in boxes. So they bring a new perspective and new ideas — and we want to build on that.”

Morton has enjoyed connecting with Notre Dame students — and has been struck by their dedication and sense of mission.

“They are incredibly intelligent, motivated, and caring,” he said. “They want to make the world a better place. And I think this program really helps them find a starting point for how they can do that — while also helping them to be comfortable with not having the whole thing mapped out from the start.”

“Notre Dame students are incredibly intelligent, motivated, and caring. They want to make the world a better place. And this program really helps them find a starting point for how they can do that — while also helping them to be comfortable with not having the whole thing mapped out from the start.”