Origami and Design-Thinking in the Law

Engineering Design Lab

I visited an engineering design lab this week to see how other design labs function. The experience was a revelation.

The lab I visited was within the university where LawX will be housed (to be announced later this month). The head of the lab, an engineering professor, gave me a tour.

The lab was messy. Paper was everywhere. And students were spread across the space, meeting in small groups or working on their own.

There were several projects in progress. All of them were incredible. But one project stood out. The lab was designing medical instruments that could shrink to fit through small incisions. The smaller the incision the better for surgery–easier recovery and less chance of infection. Often, the size of the medical instruments determine the size of the incision. The goal of the project is find a way to fit big instruments through small holes. Seems like an impossible task.

The lab, however, used origami folding principles to find a solution. The lab director showed me a medical pincher about half the size of my fist that could fold and fit into a space less than a centimeter wide. It was incredible. He gave me a 3D printed prototype, which I haven’t stopped playing with since.

I asked about how the lab arrived at this solution. (Who would have thought to use origami?) The lab director said its imperative that you don’t start the design process with the solution already in mind. You must be open to what the best solution might be. The lab never would have thought about using origami had they entered the design process with a preconceived solution.

Application to LawX

Our first project is to lower the default rate in Utah.  We want to make it easier for pro se defendants to answer the complaint. I had considered building an automated software to alleviate the problem. But coming into the design-thinking process with this type of preconceived solution would surely stymie the process. We need to be open to a wide range of possible solutions.

Adopting this open mindset has already given me several ideas for how to solve the problem.  We could, for example, work with the Utah Judicial Commission to require a plaintiff to include (1) a pre-stamped and addressed envelope to the proper court, and (2) a copy of the complaint with a line after each allegation that gives the defendant three options: admit, deny, and I don’t know.  All the defendant would need to do is circle the appropriate answer for each allegation, put the answer in the envelope, and mail it.

It will be interesting to see what our team of students come up with. We will be searching for the most efficient, effective solution possible. The goal will be to impliment that solution by the end of the term.  If that requires software, we will build it.  If it includes lobbying, we will lobby.  Who knows, we may even use origami.

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