Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Empathy?

Disclaimer:  These thoughts, opinions, and observations are mine, and mine alone.  They are not the thoughts of my fellow Dash team members, only myself. 

I recently had the immense pleasure of participating in the 2019 Dash Hackathon in Helsinki (organized by the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society – “Aaltoes”) which is the largest design hackathon in Europe.  In this hackathon there were over 220 participants from 40+ different nationalities that came together specifically for this event. 

https://www.dash.design

I knew that this hackathon was going to be a gigantic time commitment to squeeze into my fulltime work and student schedule.  I imagined that I would meet countless new people and possibly make a new friend or two.  As time crept closer to the event, I ruminated about the design process and wondered how the actual process of designing would unfold over the course of the event.

This was the schedule for the Dash Hackathon (there were two additional prep events the week prior to this main event)

Now that the event is over, I can reflect that the element of this hackathon which took me completely utterly by surprise was the profoundly visceral and emotional rollercoaster of a ride this journey took me on. 

For this post I do not want to focus on the specifics of the design process or what my team ultimately created.  What I am taking away from this experience is different than what I had initially imagined.  What I am left with is a list of existential questions for myself about who I am as a person, and what kind of service designer I want to be. 

As we all know, the cornerstone of service design is empathy (I realized this weekend this crucial element could be what drew me to service design in the first place).  The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, see the world through their eyes and then walk a mile in those shoes.  All while keeping this perspective in mind as you create whatever amazing user-centered design solutions we service designers will ultimately come up with.

I think that empathizing with the user is an integral part of service design and it is very important to lay this as the foundation of everything we as service designers will do, however after this weekend I have come to realize that everything has a limit; empathy included. 

It is not possible to design a solution that suits everyone.  That is a fact of service design every designer must accept, and it is also how I am approaching this post.  This post is not for everyone.  This post is written for those of you who may have a propensity to over empathize.  For those of you who can relate, please read on.  For those of you who can’t relate, if you read on anyway, maybe you will notice this trait in a fellow designer and send them this post.

I decided when I signed up for Dash that I really wanted to be part of the challenge for Startup Refugees.  This is a Finnish NGO that has made it their mission to match refugees and immigrants with jobs here in Finland.  They were only founded three years ago, but they are already having a significantly positive impact on the employment situation of refugees and immigrants in Finland.  They currently have two offices; one in Helsinki and one in Oulu. 

If you would like to read more about them check out this link: https://startuprefugees.com/

I really wanted to be a part of this challenge more than any of the other challenges because this issue really speaks to me on a personal level.  I am a black American immigrant who has lived in Finland for the past six years.  I am very happy with where I am now in life both personally and professionally, but it was not an easy journey.  I know how hard I had to work to be where I am now, and that I did not get to where I am now on my own.  Sure, I have a good work ethic, but I also had a great network, a bit of luck, and people who were willing to take a chance on me.  I was really excited to see if I could somehow find a way to help other immigrants and refugees (whose situations coming to Finland were/are infinitely harder and more complicated than mine) find a way to become employed in Finland. 

I believe that through gainful employment an immigrant or refugee can have dignity, community, and a purpose for life in their new country of residence.  This feeling of comfort and belonging is something I genuinely wish I could give to anyone and everyone who wants it.

As I mentioned at the top of this blog, I do not want to go into specific details of the design challenge because I want to focus on my emotional journey and findings related to that.  For the sake of brevity let’s just say the challenge was related to Startup Refugees’ larger focus of helping to find refugees and immigrants employment in Finland.  This is what we in the realm of service design call a wicked problem.

In Richard Buchanan’s report “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking”, he refers to a report by Rittel (1967) that defines a wicked problem as:

“A class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” (1992, 15)

Wicked problems are manifested in the major issues and systemic failures of our society today.  Issues such as climate change, poverty, multicultural integration, healthcare, and so forth are problems so prolific in nature that there are no single solutions or tangible ends to their plight.

Source: https://transitiondesignseminarcmu.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Wicked-problems-flower.png

That being said, with this challenge being quintessentially wicked, there was no way we would possibly be able to fix this challenge in a 48-hour hackathon session.  To be fair and very clear, this is not what the challenge was asking of us.  It was asking for ways to help improve a small part of the issue so that they could more successfully match their clients with work or help immigrants and refugees better understand the foreign job market in which they are attempting to enter. 

However, with an issue this complex where do you even begin?

As a team, on that first day (Friday) we began the hackathon creative, upbeat, and ready to tackle the world.  On the second day (Saturday) that emotional rollercoaster shot full speed out of the launch bay.  The day started well, but by the middle of the day that upbeat and playful attitude was all but dead.  Our mentor repeatedly asked us where our playful attitude had gone and eventually encouraged us to go get some air together outside the venue to try to regain the spirit from the day before.  We got a bit more playful after that, but something personally inside me had shifted that I never could quite reset.  By later that night we had a working solution concept, and after starting again early Sunday morning we were able to finalize our idea and proudly present it later that afternoon as a possible solution to their challenge. 

I was very proud of the solution we came up with as a team and although some people may have thought that my closing lines of the pitch were sappy and maybe just for show, I honestly meant every word I wrote, rehearsed, and delivered as a closing.  The event ended later that night and I went home feeling happy, physically tired (this I understood- the hackathon was long), but also incredibly emotionally exhausted.  I felt like my inner child had just run an ultra-marathon through a mine field.  I felt acutely emotional and I wanted to figure out why.  I had been emotional since the second day of the challenge and those feelings just kept compounding until the challenge was over and I could finally go home.  Would I have felt this way if I worked on any of the other non-wicked problem challenges? Was I too close to the subject? Probably.

I began a search where all great internet searches begin (google) and stumbled across a blog that pretty much summed up the personal issue I faced during this challenge.  It is post is titled “The Dilemma of Designers’ Empathy Delusions” by Jason Mesut (2018).  In it he states:

“I have three challenges to the importance of empathy. To strengthen designer performance by battling what I feel is an ideal that is often delusional and misguided.

Two of my challenges are likely to be unpopular, and the third will probably be appreciated by many:

1.Most designers are not actually that empathic to end users

2.Empathy isn’t that valuable and unique a quality for designers

3.We should care more about people beyond users”

I will link the entire article because I think it is a really good read. However, I would like to focus on the 2nd and 3rd points he makes in this article.  In his second point that questions the value of empathy, and he gives a good example of the dangers of over empathizing with the following example:

“Imagine a doctor.  Imagine if she had high empathy.  She would struggle to make decisions for the population she helps.  If one of her patient(s) suffered, she would suffer.  The pain would impede the process of resolution.  It’s why many healthcare professionals build up barriers to the emotions and the pain of the patients they serve.  It helps them make better judgement calls. 

I’m not saying a designer shouldn’t care.  Often, they should.  But I’m not sure that empathizing over every user they meet can really be that productive or helpful.”

Now I know this for some people may sound a little over the top, but I think that this is a real danger for some designers that work specifically with wicked problems, or any other issues that are highly emotional, in which putting yourself into the shoes of others may elicit extremely deep feelings of empathy and compassion that are much deeper than what is productively necessary for the purposes of service design.

The article goes on to talk about what happens when your over empathizing can cause you to lose sight of the larger picture.  In your compassion driven quest to create real change for the end user you run the risk of losing empathy and sight of the other players in the game; the other clients and stakeholders in the relevant network who are all a part of the challenge you are hoping to solve.

The author proposes a framework for an empathy map where you consciously adjust your feelings up or down as necessary while also keeping in mind other players besides the end user:

Source: Jason Mesut https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf
Source: Jason Mesut https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

You can read the whole post here: https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

I wholeheartedly believe that empathy must exist for great service design.  However, I now believe there is a spectrum.  A spectrum of levels of conscious empathy every designer must have, and this spectrum should be personally re-evaluated during all phases of the design process to ensure it is evenly distributed across all people the new design will affect; users, clients, and stakeholders alike. 

I could not imagine being as deeply emotionally connected to an issue that I would be working with for a prolonged period of time without emotionally burning myself out.  Though I did not appear to be overly emotional or stressed during the event (and I did have a lot of fun too), I took mental note of how exhausting this challenge was, and wondered how I would deal with this kind of problem if it was my everyday job.  That is what lead me on this introspective journey and critical evaluation of the weight of empathy in service design.

I am fully aware that had I done a different challenge, I would not have had the emotional response I did. However, I am glad I experienced everything exactly as I did.  It gave me time to reflect on my emotions and myself.    

I had an amazing time at Dash and would like to thank the organizers for the opportunity to be a part of this great event.  I would also like to give my deepest thanks to Startup Refugees for all of the great work they do and wish them nothing but the best in the future.  Most of all, I would like to thank my amazing team members for all of their hard work, and I am very happy for the new friendships I have made. 

Dash Hackathon 2019 Team #39!!!

 By: Johanna Johnson

Sources

Buchanan, Richard 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In Margolin, V. & Buchanan, R. The Idea of Design. A Design Issues Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Mesut, J. 2018. The Dilemma of Designers Empathy Delusions. Posted 9 December. https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

Lessons on language and inclusivity

Held annually in Stockholm, Nordic Design 2019 is a conference focused on the design within the range of user experience, user interface, technology and graphic design. The speakers were varied and did much more than simply show their impressive portfolios of work. They actively outlined certain manifestos or values inherent in their work. Topics ranged from design sprint methodologies to how to the design language learning app Duolingo; from design of systems to the usage of eye-tracking.There were a few key points which stuck with me from a few of the speakers, the first of which discussed the importance of names.

How to name

Like many who work in design nowadays, Sophie Tahran inhabits multiple roles already in her job title: she is a UX Writer. This unique and new role has her creating copy and naming systems for various services and products. Much like the visual side of design, the linguistic side must not only carry the brand’s unique voice but also serve its functional purpose. Language, she pointed out, is important. Much of Sophie’s eloquent talk described the structured process which she has crafted in order to find suitable names for brands or wording systems within brands. Overall, there are seven main categories of possible brand names, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. Descriptive names which describe what the service offers
  2. Evocative brands which try to stir a certain emotion
  3. Invented words which don’t exist in the dictionary
  4. Lexical names are those which play with language or spelling
  5. Acronymic names of individual words
  6. Geographic names of places
  7. Founder of company names.

Sophie outlined her process of creating a name for a new brand and this process is similar to the divergent and convergent phases of the design thinking double diamond. The process of starting the naming a certain brand begins with laying the foundation through looking at the context in which the name is intended to be used, the scope of the brand, competitors and the stakeholders involved. After this a brainstorming workshop is organised. Sophie was quite vague as to how exactly to brainstorm, but there are a near infinite methods available at this ideation stage. The key is to generate an over-abundance of ideas. Once it is deemed sufficient ideas have been generated a move into the refinement stage is needed. Names need to be clustered and researched into whether they fit certain requirements for literacy, universality, SEO or size (meaning whether the name fits the scope of the brief or the forecast growth of the company).  Additionally, legal teams need to be consulted in case of copyright issues. Once a name or shortlist has been made, you need to find approval from the rest of the stakeholders. A new name is easier to approve through being transparent about the whole process by showing an overview of the steps taken to get to the final result. Finally, once a name has been approved the driving of adoption is needed in order to fully execute the naming process correctly.

Sophie’s talk was interesting not only in its content, but also in the way it highlighted an oft overlooked element of design: language. In design it is understood that not only what is being communicated is important, but also how. This is especially important when you are literally discussing the usage of language in design. For example, the way specific navigational signage in a building may guide you around matters: it must not only be succinct, but ideally also carry some of the brand’s values as it provides the important service of showing you where to go.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Speaking of traversing through a service, another speaker Laura Kalbag, highlighted the needs of making services not only accessible but inclusive. It was not a distinction which I had previously made. In fact, in my ignorance I may have used the terms interchangeably.

The difference is wonderfully simply illustrated in these two shopfronts she showed. In the accessibility image, the shop has tried to accommodate for wheelchair users by building a ramp. However, the ramp is on the side of the building and accesses the back of the shop. In inclusive design, as shown in the image on the right, the ramp is built into the front of the shop. This may seem like a small difference to those without special needs, but it represents a fundamental shift in how we think about the provision of services for everybody. It is simply not enough to make services accessible; we must make include those with special needs in our society as fully equal members. This comes from designing products and services which do not simply have augmentations which accommodate special needs, but are intrinsically – from the shopfront onwards – geared towards giving everyone an equal footing.

Designing in collaboration

A final insight which I would highlight came from the introductory speaker, Prem Krishnamurthy. He gave an inspiring and conceptual talk about how his team goes about their graphic design practice. His talk had many good takeaways, but I will focus on one overarching theme: collaboration. Prem seems to have really understood that combined we make more than the sum of our parts. One project stood out which highlights this point well: his co-creation of the “Ministry of Graphic Design” for the Fikra graphic design biennale.  Hired to create an identity for the biennale, Prem’s studio instead decided to collaborate with other designers and create fake bureaucratic entities such as the dept. of optimism or the dept. of non-binaries and curate the work according to their subdivisions. This level of collaboration, in which a design studio will actively involve others and even split their allocated budget in order to raise the level of work being completed is significant. It shows how important collaboration and co-creation truly are in the design field. Working together in order to raise the bar of what is possible as a designer shows a deep understanding that design is a co-creative process and that by making it ever-more collaborative can only make even better work.

Overall, Nordic Design 2019 proved an inspiring and well-designed conference. Service design, despite its closeness to may of the fields at the conference, was not mentioned. However, despite this it was completely worth attending in order to further my service design practice. The lessons of mindful usage of language and inclusive collaboration will serve me well in the future. I look forward to attending in 2020!

The power of “playing with hands” in Design Thinking

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

I have been thinking about writing this article for so long that I haven’t yet found a proper start. I guess my fear of failing has been always too high in my personality, too many expectations about myself and from others and my natural inclination for perfection hasn’t really helped me in the past. 

In this moment I recall in my head the words of professor Katja Tschimmel, who held a lecture in Design Thinking at the SID Master Program:

Perfection is the enemy of creativity

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking course lectures, September 6–7 2019. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.

And also the words from the authors of the book “Designing for Growth”:

“Fail fast to succeed sooner is the essential paradox of design thinking”

Liedtka, J & Ogilvie, T. 2011. Designing for growth: A design thinking tool kit for managers. Columbia University Press. pag 150

Time is running and I want to succeed with my assignment so let’s get straight to the point.

What is Design Thinking for me

Design Thinking is a creative process that let you experience different phases, divergent and convergent alternatively, where you explore problems&needs of people and organisation, think about possible solutions and eventually solve problems by implementing a prototype. 

Design Thinking master class by Katja Tschimmel

All my understanding of Design Thinking was presented, during the master class, more in depth in the model Evolution 6², developed by Tschimmel. This model presents the DT process divided into six spaces inside one another.

Evolution 6² Model

The six spaces of the Evolution 6²Model:

  1. Emergence (E1)
  2. Empathy (E2)
  3. Experimentation (E3)
  4. Elaboration (E4)
  5. Exposition (E5)
  6. Extension (E6)

Professor Tschimmel gave us a case (Studying at Laurea) where our Team needed to explore and identify an opportunity to innovate (Emergence and Empathy Phase), generating and testing ideas (Experimentation and Elaboration) and finally present the final solution to the other students (Exposition and Extension).

For each step, she guided us through the most appropriate tool to use till we finalised the Storyboard of our solution: specific facilities that support well being at Laurea University.

Storyboard – Well Laurea

LEGO – Playing with hands

My highlight for this post is how powerful was the choice of using LEGO when it came to prototype our solution.

When you think about LEGO I bet you think about playing, having fun and nothing related to work and being serious with a project.

Yet, LEGO is an excellent tool used in Design Thinking to visualise ideas, create 3D models to spark conversation with partners, users and test those models with them and eventually co-crete a better one together.

When my Team started to prototype for our challenge – Well being at Laurea – we worked in couples to implement three solutions: Health & Sports Facilities, Nutrition Lounge and Relaxing Space for Laurea students.

Lego Prototype – Well Laurea

During this time – as I was already familiar with this prototyping method –  I observed how my peers were enjoying their experience of constructing bricks and situation, learning by watching others and being in the flow to externalise and produce what we had in our minds and written post-it of course.

This reminded me of what I learnt and read about the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method, an approach to help organisation solve complex problems and/or define their strategy and their vision by asking specific question and make them represent and storytell their answer using only LEGO bricks.

When we “THINK THROUGH OUR FINGERS” we release creative energies, modes of thought and ways of seeing things that may otherwise never be tapped […] and that most adults have forgotten they even possessed.

The Science of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®

The LSP Method takes many ideas from the field of psychology and behavioural science, specifically from Constructivism, a theory of knowledge developed by Jean Piaget, his colleagues and his institute in
Geneva, Switzerland and Constructionism, a theory of learning developed by Seymour Papert and his colleagues at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Those theories could be roughly summarised in the phrase Building Knowledge by Building Things.

The LEGO elements work as a catalyst – and when used for building metaphors, they trigger processes that you probably were previously unaware of.

Who approaches Design Thinking and prototyping for the first time is probably not aware of these more scientific background and here I wanted to share it with a tangible example.

Author: Francesca A. Frisicale, October 2019

References & Links

Tschimmel, K. 2018. Evolution 6² Toolkit: An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Mindshake.

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking course lectures, September 6–7 2019. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.

Tschimmel, K. (2012). Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

The Science of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, executive discovery llc.
www.seriousplay.com

Liedtka, J & Ogilvie, T. 2011. Designing for growth: A design thinking tool kit for managers. Columbia University Press.

Mindshake, Portugal http://mindshake.pt/design_thinking

Unsplash, https://unsplash.com

Participation, participation, participation!

Conference: People-Driven City 2019
27th of September, in Dipoli Aalto University, Otaniemi Espoo

In the end of September, I had an opportunity to participate in an interesting conference, People-Driven City 2019. It was the main conference of Lähiöfest – festival of neighborhoods and this was the second time the conference has been arranged. Conference gathers together actors from different sectors of society – for example cities, companies, NGO’s – to discuss current urban topics. The purpose of the conference is to emphasize the local perspective and participation of local actors in urban planning and in solving different kind of urban challenges. Themes of this year’s conference were sustainability, participation, learning and democracy.

As a Service Design student with an interest in Economic Geography, I was very eager to hear how and with what kind of methods people are enabled to participate in urban planning and innovation processes. From this point of view the following presentations of the conference were in specific interest to me: Päivi Sutinen from City of Espoo, Amin Khosravi from urbz and Kristian Koreman from ZUS.

City as a Service

As an opening for the day, Päivi Sutinen, Services Development Director in the City of Espoo, gave an introduction about how to enable different actors to participate in the development and innovation processes of the city. From this perspective, Espoo is an interesting case because for many years it has invested into people-driven innovation and has also been awarded for its accomplishments. Last year, the city of Espoo won the international Intelligent Community Awards 2018 for ‘humanizing data’, which refers to the use of data for people-oriented service development. In addition, just recently on September 2019, Espoo was chosen as one of the top six cities in the European Capital of Innovation (iCapital) Awards contest organised by the European Commission.

From a perspective of Service Design student, this opening presentation offered an interesting introduction to how a city applies Service-dominant logic (explained more thoroughly in Lusch & Vargo 2014) in practice. Presentation introduced many concrete examples how Espoo accelerates City as a Service development locally: for example, Data, AI, Software & technology, platforms, networks, Living Labs, Experiments, Tools and methods and Financial resources. Based on Service-dominant logic, Espoo wants to enable co-creation in innovation, as presented in a video ‘The Zero Friction City – Dynamics of Innovation Ecosystems’.

Participation is a process

Amin Khosravi, urban strategist, presented the framework for participation of urbz in his presentation “How do we create truly participatory planning processes?”. Urbz is an international company which works with issues related to urban development and planning and is specialized in participatory planning and design.

For Urbz ‘residents are experts of their neighborhoods’ – and this was also the basis of Khosravi’s presentation. He emphasized the importance of locality and human scale in urban planning and sees participatory planning as a good opportunity to gain deep understanding of cities.

For me, the main takeaway from Khosravi’s presentation was that participation is a continuous process. In fact, the first step in a participatory process is “recognition” – which means that in the beginning of the participatory planning process, one must explore the current situation and everything that already exists, because the participatory process is already going on, it happens all the time among people. And, on the other hand, the last step in the participatory planning process is “participatory governance” – which means that the participation actually continues after the planning process, for example by activating neighborhoods in the matter.

From Instant Urbanism to Permanent Temporality

Kristian Koreman is an Architect and a Founder of ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles), which is a design office that works with projects related to architecture, urban planning and landscape design. He gave an inspiring presentation, which offered interesting perspectives especially from Design Thinking point of view: a holistic, human-scale approach and an experimental and participatory method to urban planning.

The main theme in Koreman’s presentation was that traditionally the perspective in urban planning and architecture tends to be too narrow, there is too much ‘top-down’ planning which takes poorly into account the human perspective. Thus, too often the results of this kind of planning, which is called Instant Urbanism are buildings and infrastructures that do not serve people’s needs in real life: too big infrastructures and too big offices that no one uses. Instead, more holistic and human-scale approach is preferred, which is called Permanent Temporality, which seems to have a lot in common with Design Thinking. This approach always starts from city’s existing forms and takes into account the whole context and city’s evolutionary character. Koreman summarized this idea simply: “keep the local, add the global later”. Also, Permanent Temporality includes experimental and participatory method of working: “plan, test, adapt”. In short, this means observing people’s behavior in the city, doing experiments based on that and then observing the reactions to the experiments and modifying it according to the feedback.

Koreman presented interesting cases from Rotterdam where ZUS has initiated or been a part of projects that have created a new image for Rotterdam: for example Luchtsingel, which is a 400-meter-long pedestrian bridge connecting different districts in the centre of Rotterdam and it is the world’s first crowdfunded piece of public infrastructure; and Schieblock, the old and vacant office building in Rotterdam which was transformed into a vital “city laboratory”.

Based on this conference I am happy to notice the increasing importance of human centricity in urban planning and development. It seems to me, that in addition to the old mantra of important things in Economic Geography, “location, location, location”, we are nowadays also able to acknowledge the importance of “participation, participation, participation”.

Author: Erika Niemi-Vanala

REFERENCES:
Lusch, R. F. & Vargo, S. L. 2014. Service-dominant logic: Premises, perspectives, possibilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What is Design Thinking and how to “design think”?

Modern world possesses bigger challenges and more complex problems with people in the centre. To tackle these and come up with a creative solution, we need to use an explorative approach such as Design Thinking to innovate and solve these problems.

I was familiarized to Design Thinking when I attended a course led by Katja Tschimmel, the founder of Mindshake. Katja introduced us to the Design Thinking process and mindset by leading up through the Innovation and Design Thinking model called Evolution 6² (E.6²). The E.6² model includes steps with questions and tools that help design thinker or innovator to find out what the problem is, who is the solution intended for, what is the best solution, and how to implement it.

According to Katja the principles of Design Thinking are 1) Human-centered approach: Products and services should be experienced from the user’s perspective. 2) Collaboration: As many stakeholders as possible should be included throughout the phases of the process. 3) Experimentation: Playful thinking, making mistakes and learning by doing are an important part of every creative process. 4) Visualization: Quick prototyping helps the learning process and improves the initial ideas by visualization. 5) Holistic perspective: The big picture (environment and context) behind the product or service that is being developed needs to be understood (Tschimmel 2019, p.10).

Continue reading

Design Thinking and Business – the Yin and Yang !

In 1960, a MIT professor had found the fundamental mechanism of deterministic chaos, where one variable could have profound impact on the outcome of an entire system. This was the “butterfly effect”. This method was used in weather forecasting based on past and present data points. Similar, to what we are doing in business. Our society is rapidly changing, and we have a very dynamic, unpredictable and volatile value constellation. With our business leaders doing a linear fashion strategy creation based on past and present data – it can bring us to an edge of destruction. Business today, is disconnected from the global ripple. And I believe, this is why the importance of Design Thinking is growing.

Design Thinking powers strategic innovation and not strategic planning. Planning and vision statement does not re-invent business but only rejuvenates few top line management. It is the true beauty of Design thinking with it’s human-centered approach that can truly create value in a radically changing networks and in a world of disruptive technology.

The creative and qualitative world of Design Thinking perfectly marries quantitative realm of business world. It perfectly clicks !

For some time, strategic management leaders tried collaborating with scientists and studying behaviours in nature to replicate same models. Although they were successful in creating some compelling models for strategic management but these were not fail-proof. I believe that no strategic management measures can be full-proof at any given point – we are only devising the strategies based on past and present data. As Service Dominant Logic very well points out that every service is based on a galaxy of other services, which makes the mega-system very unpredictable and volatile. We can of course devise the best-hit strategies but always make room for unpredictability. And this where some organisation excels with their ability of intuition. Intuition has the subtle balance of quantitative and qualitative art which is often needed for all parts to click.

Design Thinking promotes such qualities which are rarely found in the business world. It is yin to yang. It is the perfect balance between the hard-coded world of business with the creative and intuitive part of Design.

Yin Yang – in Chinese Philosophy it is said that sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected.

What are these qualities which makes Design Thinking so harmonious with Business – the yin to yang?

Firstly, Design Thinking supports going out in the field and talking to customers, uncovering needs, understanding the real value proposition which matters to customers, experimenting and prototyping. Design Thinking pertains to real doing whereas Business is more about talking – talking about great visions over powerpoints and pointing at numbers through Excel.

Secondly, Business makes prediction based on past and present datapoints. Moreover, they base their strategy based on stable world. But our world is hardly stable. This where Design plays a crucial role. Design Thinking thrives on uncertainty. Design allow us to experiment, fail and celebrate chaos.

Thirdly, the crucial and one of the most important factors why Design Thinking is an absolute necessary for Business for it’s obsession with understanding user, their needs and aspirations. Business does market segmentation based on demography which might not truly reflect a user’s actual experience and aspirations.

Insight Map which we used in classroom. It is a tool to develop a closer empathy for our user, understand their aspirations and empathise with their pain points.

Fourthly, Business Vision Statement and Strategy is a very top-down approach. Few leaders devise the strategy and the whole organization re-organizes and strives itself to achieve it. It is very far-off from the approach of Design Thinking, which is very collaborative in nature. It allows people from different background, stakeholder groups, expertise – join together and bring different perspective to table.

So how does Design Thinking works ?

Largely, Design Thinking through it’s different models evolved over years tries to answer these four fundamental questions

Design Thinking tries to understand the following questions :

What is

What if

What wows

What works

Largely, What is – starts with Discovery. In this phase we are trying to understand the user, their context, user needs, pain points and aspirations.

What if – coincides with the discovery phase where we are trying to understand what probable concept of Product or Service might work through Pain Point identification, Value Proposition, Brainstorming and Concept Development,.

The team at El Bulli doing rough sketches of their concept dishes. Picture available at : https://uxdesign.cc/how-elbulli-turned-dining-into-an-experience-38f1c015e9f6

In the third phase of what wows– we try to understand what can delight the user. We do so by rapid prototyping to learn what elevates the user experience of the product to WOW.

The team at El Bulli doing rapid prototyping of their concept dishes. Picture available at : https://uxdesign.cc/how-elbulli-turned-dining-into-an-experience-38f1c015e9f6

The final phase of what works– emphasise on going out in the filed with our prototype and testing with our real users. This step enhances us to get more real feedback, improve our concept and iterate back to actually build a wow experience.

Now, we might ask who is a Design Thinker? What makes a person – a Design Thinker?

The answer might lie in the ability to merge logic with creative intelligence, emotional quotient, ability to collaborate and celebrate chaos. Tim Brown in Harvard Business Review June edition (2008, 87) mentioned some characteristics of a successful Design Thinker. Design Thinkers have the ability to empathise, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and collaboration. To me, the ability to empathise and collaborate stands out the most.

Wannabe Yogis 🙂 – my amazing team !

In our first Design Thinking Masterclass, our group had come with brilliant results because we were able to collaborate with each other drawing in our different backgrounds and experiences.

Ferran Adrià at El Bulli collaborating in the deep creative process with his team. Picture available at : https://uxdesign.cc/how-elbulli-turned-dining-into-an-experience-38f1c015e9f6

I find similar collaboration method was implemented by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli.

The world celebrated chef and food experience creator collaborated with all his colleagues and different stakeholders to strategies and create elaborative dining experience. His lab would go through several workshops, brainstorming and concept development phases before planning out experimentation. His team would welcome iteration and failure with enthusiasm as they believed nothing novel arises without chaos. Though, traditionally outside the realm of business world but he showed every attributes of a Design Thinker.

Posted by : Debarati Rakshit , 1st year SID student

References :

  • Brown, Tim 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95
  • The evolution of design thinking. Harvard Business Review. Sep 2015; Vol. 93 (9)
  • Liedtka, Jeanne & Ogilvie, Tim 2011. Designing for growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Mootee, Idris (2013) Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. Wiley

Sustainable Development Goals: this is the Service Design we need!

Event: Global Goals JAM Berlin, organized by 2030Cabinet, powered by SDG Investments and hosted by Fjord Berlin. In collaboration with: Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Digital Society School, Global Goals Jam, UNDP.

In middle September I took part at the Global Goals JAM Berlin, a 2-day series of small design sprints where attendees were asked to work on local challenges – co-created with local community and industries – related to one or more of the the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

History pills – What are these Global Goals?

Let’s take a quick step back in 2015 when the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives, met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and have decided on new global Sustainable Development Goals, known now as the Global Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

The UN set to achieve each Goal and target by 2030.

Back to present

The aim of this event was to create interventions aimed at short term targets in support of the long term goals. The themes of this year were:

  • Water and Climate Change (SDG 4, SDG 13)
  • Migration (SDG 10, SDG 16)
  • Electronic Waste (SDG 12)
  • Sustainable Development for People and Planet (SDG 1, SDG 8)

Deep dive into the Migration Theme

My Team was composed by Nataly Ramirez Arteaga, Muhammad Sumon Molla Selim and Michael Lausberg, facilitated by Güzin Goçer and we were supporting the local Sponsor “Asylum Advice”, a soon-to-be platform where refugees could seek legal advice.

We mapped out the cause and effects of Migration on a general level by using the Problem Solving Tree, we interviewed 2 refugees and a social worker with 10 year experience in the field.

The big lessons learned by using the Service Design Tools were:

  • asylum seekers tend to trust more what other refugees, that have been in their shoes before, would tell them.
  • there are a lot of services for migrants already existing but nobody knows them
  • fragmented information & lack of digitalized bureaucratic processes
  • migrants that succeeded in their first steps in a new country feel the need to help others.

Here we envisioned a need of trust and better information and at the same time the desire to offer help.

Therefore we decided to prototype a platform to connect different already existing resources and services for migrants, to collect official information from authorities but most importantly a platform to get in touch with other migrants that have gone through the same experience and to share help and knowledge to ultimately build community and trust.

Personal reflection – What can we do as Service Designer practitioners?

As a student of the Service Innovation & Design Master program I felt the urge to participate and contribute to the challenges of this year.

“Is there anything better than combining our own expertise in Service Design to serve people, planet and prosperity by helping achieving these SDGs?”

We, as Service Designers know best how important is to empathize with the user – in this case People and Planet –  and create that shift of mindset in society where Government and Businesses should sit together with citizens to co-create solution for our people and for the environment.

Here an invitation to reflect and perhaps to start spread the Service Design tools to our local Communities and give help for the cause that we feel more related to.

It takes tons of small initiatives, iterations (and failures too!) before we can see a visible impact on a larger scale.

But this means we have to start now. We have to care, share and Dare!   

And you? Are you ready to Design 2030 now?

Author: Francesca A. Frisicale, October 2019

References & Links

https://globalgoalsjam.org/

https://www.globalgoalsberlin.com/

https://twitter.com/2030Cabinet

https://twitter.com/GlobalGoalsBER/

https://sdg-investments.com/en/

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgsummit

https://asylumadvice.org/#!