“The genius of play is that, in playing,
we create imaginative new cognitive combinations
and in creating those novel combinations,
we find what works.”

~ Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play


Design Making is meant to focus on the creative processes that take students outside of their comfort zones, eliminate barriers, challenge thinking and inspire new ways to solve unique challenges.

Innovation is about being brave, solving a simple problem in a unique way, or solving a complex problem in a simple way. We believe in the power of creative play and the power it has to inspire innovative thinking.

Basic Information

  • Mission
    To develop innovative thinking through regular creative practice.

  • Audience
    The One Design team, consisting of approximately 400+ designers across seven locations.
  • Budget
    For the first few years Design Making operated on a mindfully open ended budget. In 2018, we had a designated director for Design Making. In 2019, we were given an official budget of approximately $2,000 per location which would enable our ambassadors to create tailored programing.


In the summer of 2015, Bonnie, my Capital One colleague, created a biweekly workshop series that she called, Design Calisthenics. She added the event to the design teams calendars (there was about 60 of us at the time). In her words it was where “we come together as a group, away from our screens, to create things (models, sketches, logos. etc.) in a series of timed, creative sprints.”

One afternoon I attended one of her workshops. Bonnie had a mountain of materials on each table along with a topic. Her topic was to create something that represented who we were and we had 20 minutes to complete the task. There were magazines, tape, glue, glitter, scapes of balsa wood, fabric etc.

I had forgotten how much I had missed being creative with my hands. Not worrying about the outcome or how perfect it should look, but to create for the sake of creating. At the end of the half hour I felt refreshed and wanted more. So she and I sat down to talk about what her goals were with this new program.

I knew she needed help since this was side of desk and I wanted more hands on activities. I talked to her about the creative exercises I did in school. From the pattern assignments in high school, to the image association project for my design degree. I still have all of that work carefully stored at home. Why keep it? Because even at the time, I recognized its practical application of the skills I was learning. But as time has passed, I can see the immense value and the significant role it played and still plays in my creative evolution.

I work with people from a variety of backgrounds and the amount of formal art and design education varies tremendously. I immediately offered to help and gave her a laundry list of topics that I could and wanted to facilitate. In early 2016, Design Making was born. We pulled together a proposal and submitted it to our executive leadership to rally support.

Research & Discovery

Creative Calisthenics
During the summer months of 2015, six sessions were held at the West Creek offices of Capital One in Richmond, Virginia. They occurred every other Monday from 11am-12pm. Attendance ranged from 5-20 participants. Each session revolved around the tactile interpretation of a given topic. Topics included:

  • Happiness
  • Completion
  • The Never Ending Story
  • Identity Wars
  • Being Stuck
  • Pivot

Bonnie was meticulous in her documentation of each session. Tracking unique versus repeat attendees, photographing work in progress and at completion. She also solicited feedback after each session.

Overall, response was very positive. Words that regularly surfaced were:

  • Calming
  • Meditative
  • Refreshing
  • Inspiring

Attendees also expressed wanting more. In empathy interviews, associates loved the program but felt guilty attending. They didn’t

feel empowered to engage. So we began experimenting. Many of our office locations had well equipped maker spaces that quickly became glorified meeting rooms. Bonnie and I began to outline courses that could be conducted in these maker spaces using materials already in place. Design Making now gave relevance and purpose to those under utilized spaces.

Bonnie came from an architecture background. I came from a crafts background. Then we diligently researched the neurological and behavioral impact of hands on creativity on the brain. With my background as a college professor and my obsession with Legos, I understand the value of tactile interaction. We documented everything, tying Design Making to scientific research. Now we needed to be steadfast, patient and figure out a way to measure success.

I led the effort for in-house workshops at West Creek while Bonnie focused on external resources. We both worked with our ambassadors to coordinate and promote events. During this time we picked up our third cohort, Ed, an amazing illustrator and designer for Capital One. In 2017, having gained the support of our executive leadership team, we were asked to conduct creative exercises, once a month, during our team wide lunch meeting, WUT (What’s Up Thursday). In that same year, the Head of Content and Community Engagement, Design would also become the Director of Design Making. Anel filled out the team. Although it remained side of desk for Bonnie, Ed and I, Anel had time dedicated to take Design Making to the next level.

Ideation & Design

We tried a variety of course subjects, course formats, locations and timing.


  • Fundamentals of Typography
  • Smarter Smartphone Photography
  • Screen printing
  • National Portrait Gallery Sketching Tour
  • Stained Glass Workshop


  • Concrete Mold Making
  • PAM People & Money, post interactive installation
  • Wheel Throwing
  • Monster Project
  • Hand & Story: Narrative Design
  • WUT’s in Your Pint Glass? Beer Brewing
  • Glassblowing
  • Sign painting
  • Material As Motion @ Full STEAM Ahead
  • Build Your Own Toolbox
  • Sharpie Art Workshop
  • Making: Valentines for hospitalized kids
  • What’s Your Type, workshop with James Edmondson, founder of OhNoTypeCo
  • Printmaking
  • Three dimensional type construction
  • Flameworking
  • Arduino Boards – Simon Says
  • Lego birthday celebration bank build


  • WUT’s in Your Pint Glass, Dubble Miles Release
  • Design Making Toolbox
  • Secrets of Hand Lettering with Ken Barber of House Industries
  • Monster Project
  • Making: Valentines for hospitalized kids
  • Block printing
  • Mural Art at local hospital
  • WUT: Third Thursdays with Design Making
  • Holiday bicycle build for D.C. non-profit
  • WUT’s in Your Pint Glass, IPA Brewing


  • Beginning Bonsai (Pt.1)
  • Beginning Bonsai (Pt.2)
  • Monster Project


With Anel at the helm, we brainstormed. We worked through our S.W.O.T. analysis. We journey mapped and found our four pillars.


Exercises are grounded in human centered design concepts that enhance creativity, bringing new thinking to everyday work.


Unexpected, free thinking activities open up new connections in the creative brain allowing for inspiration to occur.

Creative Confidence

A regular practice of creating and sharing without judgment can assist in building creative confidence.


Design Making is for everyone, not just designers.

New events typically have a waiting list and in some cases we add additional sessions.

In 2018, we began conducting bi-monthly designer onboarding sessions for new design associates. Design Making provides associates with learning opportunities that also include teaching and team building. For example, we have a paper quilling workshop that will be led by an incredibly talented front-end developer with a fear of public speaking. The workshop has become part of her development plan to support her career growth.

Not every topic is going to resonate with everyone and it doesn’t have to. The greatest take away from this experience is understanding that not everyone is creatively satisfied in their role. This can be for a variety of reasons. However, Design Making can provide the spark they need for inspiration.


When you take notes using your computer, you really have to think about what you’re typing. Listening, just enough to catch the words. You aren’t processing what is being said nor what is being typed. However, taking notes by hand engages multiple areas of the brain. You have to listen, process what you’ve heard and then reinterpret it as you write. Memory takes hold.

We sit in front of an electronic screen for hours at a time, trying to force our brain to multitask, eliminating any chance of speed or efficiency. Regular creative practice can facilitate innovation. It won’t happen overnight. It’s a seed that must be nurtured. We have yet to have a comprehensive method of recording the return on investment. We hope over time the data connections will present themselves.

With approximately 25 ambassadors spread across 7 locations on two continents, the program is continuing to thrive and grow. Ed continues to organize events and workshops. Anel stepped down as our Director of Design Making to develop a Design Making program at PayPal.