Becoming a Design Thinker and Doer

Design Thinking in action

Our journey to the realm of Design Thinking started in extraordinary conditions, because our lecturer Katja Tschimmel wasn’t able to attend the course physically – nor some of the students – because of COVID-19. In spite of this, we got an inspiring and participative start for our studies.

When quantity is more important than quality: the process of identification of opportunities.

The best thing was the “learning by doing” mentality. It was easy to get a grip about the Design Thinking principles and Service Design process through the small exercises and the group task which tackled each service design processes’ phase one by one. The most difficult thing was the shortage of time. As Tim Brown states in his book Change by Design (2009, 84), time is the most insistent limit for design thinkers, even more insistent than limits of technology, skills and knowledge.

The process of Ideation.

During the lecture we got to see that there are many ways of describing the Service Design process. Brown (2009) presents the process through three main “spaces” of Design Thinking: 1) inspiration , 2) ideation and 3) implementation. In our group work we used the Mindshake Design Thinking Model, which has six different steps. Through using the model, the process with its different phases came really concrete. 


Mindshake Design Thinking Model, Pinterest

While doing our group work we also noticed that it can be difficult not to offer ready-made solutions before defining the problem to solve. A valuable tip here is that don’t ask what, ask why! It’s also good to remember that the design process can make unexpected discoveries along the way. Though the insecurity about the outcome may feel difficult, it’s better to “fail early to succeed sooner” (Brown 2009.)

Don’t just do design, live design

We’ve now learned that Service Design is all about thinking like a designer – it’s a mindset you have to switch on. Anyhow, it’s easier said than done. The mindset of an individual doesn’t change all of a sudden. Also the organizational shift is never easy and culture changes slowly. In many companies we can weekly observe a board of managers debating about internal processes and making decisions of company’s strategies behind closed doors. Concerning the change, the expectations must be set appropriately and aligned around a realistic timeline (Kolko 2015).

It is important to internalize that Design Thinking is a collective and participatory process. The more parties and stakeholders are involved in the development process, the greater range of ideas, options and different perspectives will occur. Also, to harvest the power of Design Thinking, individuals, teams and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power to create new ideas, that will serve unmet needs, and that will have a positive impact. (Brown 2009.) 

There are many cases to show how Design Thinking can be used for social change and the common good. For example, the Indias Aravind “Eye care system” has built a systemic solution with Design Thinking to a complex social and medical problem (Brown 2008, 90-91).  Also Warren Berger explains how design can change the world through solving problems on a case-by-case basis around the world.

The advantages of Design Thinking seem obvious. It offers an powerful, effective and accessible approach to innovation which can be integrated into all aspects of business and society and that all individuals and teams can use it to generate breakthrough ideas. So: get into the world to be inspired by people, use prototyping to learn with your hands, create stories to share ideas, join forces with people from other disciplines. Don’t just do design, live design! (Brown 2009.)

Thought and conclusions by Maiju Haltia-Nurmi and Elena Mitrofanova, first-year SID students at Laurea UAS

References: 

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95. http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf 

Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Kolko, Jon (2015). Design thinking comes of age (https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age). Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. 

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

Warren, Berger (2009). Can design change the world? (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/11/06/berger.qanda/index.html)

Failing fast can get your idea to fly

Swimming noodles, bubble wrap, hula hoops, playmobil toys and lego blocks – yes, this definitely is the Design Thinking master class of the Service Innovation and Design Master Degree Programme.

During the two-day workshops we ran through Mindshake’s model Evolution 6², guided by professor Katja Tschimmel from Mindshake. The model has six phases: emergence, empathy, experimentation, elaboration, exposition and extension accompanied by a set of methods for each phase.

The E.6² builds on previous models of Design Thinking, such as IDEO’s first model in 2008 (inspiration, ideation and implementation) or Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (2010) which defines the steps as emphatize, define, ideate, protype and test. Kelley & Kelley (2013) describe the phases of design-driven innovation to be inspiration, synthesis, ideation and experimentation and implementation. It came evident that it is not the exact methods or practices that count but the overall process that triggers new ideas and innovations.

During the lessons, we learned about for example the importance of reframing the problem and generating many different ideas. Not to be satisfied with first idea, but to push our minds further. (Tscimmel, 2020)

We had the opportunity to find new solutions to educational institutes and students affected by Covid-19 pandemic through the exercises.

What were the swimming noodles for then? The visualization and experimentation phase!

Prototype of the storytelling app using Playmobils. Photo: Minna Elo.

In the Mindshake model this part of the process is called the elaboration phase. At first, we might have been a little skeptical about the simple Playmobil and Lego prototypes. However, the feedback received based on them from other groups was very useful; they had so many questions about the services and users regarding our 1) storytelling app for informal familiarisation with fellow students and 2) the concept to raise funds for educational institutes. The feedback brought up some questions we had not thought of in our groups. This fast exercise showed that even with limited time and rough prototypes, testing your idea early can help it evolve a lot.

Legos in action. Photo: Kimmo Kemppaala.

As Brown (2008) states, the goal of prototyping isn’t to finish the product or service, it is to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea and to identify new directions.

Posters to support our elevator speech pitches. Photo Minna Elo & Kimmo Kemppaala.

What really struck us, was a fellow student’s comment about being relieved by the fact that we didn’t need to work on this concept after the workshop, as these solutions were not intended to be real services, like those in our workplaces. We are not sure what the student really meant with that, but it got us thinking about fears that we have. Are we afraid that our ideas are not right or not clever enough to be considered as new innovations?

Kelley & Kelley (2013) discuss this fear that blocks us from being creative and provide new innovative approaches or solutions. Even though Design Thinking embraces failure as a part of the process, many times we might feel that our ideas or solutions are not good enough and we stay silent. That was also evident during first day as many of us found it hard to come with ideas or at least say them aloud.

Carlgren et al. (2016) also suggest that idea is to “fail often and fail soon”. That is why we need to lose our fear to fail and have courage to try our ideas early and get feedback from customers that can guide us to right direction.

During second day of our workshop it became more natural to speak up and everyone of us was coming up with new ideas. That is the magic of Design Thinking methods.

At home, the kids are growing but we might not get rid of the Legos just yet…

Text: Minna Elo and Kimmo Kemppaala

References

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95. http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf

Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. (2016). Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business. (http://www.creativeconfidence.com/)

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5th 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.

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

A complex conversation over the (business) world

A Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Designs for a Cooler Planet’s program Design Club talk on 10th of September about the topic “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and how does the talk transfer into today’s global business environment with academic researcher Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy and business Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President, Biobased Solutions at Fortum was highly interesting and complex. 

First İdil Gaziulusoy challenged us with her ideas of System Innovations for Business Sustainability. She shared us that the system innovation works in three levels aka Three Spheres of Transformations that are:  

Practical – > product, services, innovations, technology (technological responses) 

Organizational -> New business models (systems and structures) 

Socio-cultural ->  Zone of difficult questions, the role of businesses (beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms) 

What is wrong in the current business world 

Normal businesses function in basic level and need to change to be able to keep in the run but to have the changes done in 5 years is too slow. Innovations are also done separately and system innovation for business sustainability is really hard to accomplish. Innovations happen in boarders, that might be only partly linked to companies strategies. Regulations work differently in different sections. Other problem is those multiple sectors and that sectors themselves are in silos .

A big problem is that we have imagination crises. We are in lack of time and lack of imagination. Innovation policy is made in short time frames in mind as well are political circles and decisions. One thing that’s holding us back is that there is only narrow idea of innovation, that is usually technological, when innovation itself is much more broader concept. We have the old models in our heads that also narrow the visioning. 

Transition to renewable energy resources could have been done earlier, but we have been keeping up funding the past world and old energy sources even though we have known for a long time that it’s not sustainable. Mainstream businesses work different because they have to undo their mistakes in the past.

We should not save the day, but save the future far away! 

We need to think not only if this is good for us but also for environment and society over all since no system innovation can be done alone. To built an ecosystem you actually need a huge network. Like university, regulation, non-governmental organizations, the state, government and so on. 

There is also need for innovations in innovation policy! And that is why we need strategic and creative foresight. That can be accomplished in cross-disciplinary vision workshops. We should get beyond the expert lines and to think over the boundaries. We need to have a real creative foresight! And have responsibility, take the initiative how can we make this happen. 

In circular economy for example new kind of business models are needed. From a company perspective it takes time, more than few years. You need to see what you can achieve from different perspectives and operators. In operational level we need new funding mechanisms, for example for research. University has an important role and should do also it’s basic research. 

Companies need be urged to think about business in a de-growth context. It’s companies who need to push for the regulations! We have to imagine how will our cities look like and have bold policy making since the businesses are ready for this. What companies should do then? Engage with researcher, connect with each other, push the policies, signal the market (like already done in mode) and have futures thinking.  

Some good examples 

To mention some examples of how different disciplines and sectors have successfully been brought together to jointly address global complex systemic challenges are already done in transition context and with collaboration, like urban and energy transition. One good example in Finland is also recycling plastic waste that has accomplished only in few years.

There are systematic changes in Fortum like in excess heat usage. Fortum also started to work for CO2 free products a long before it was regulated since it seemed “a good time to move to that direction”, already in year 2000. Even when the market didn’t support it. Fortum’s vision for the energy crises now is that in the future we will have a lot of solar and wind power and it will be cheap. But then we have lack of material that is hard even to imagine now.   

The micro enterprises are pushing the boundaries first. Nolla (a zerowaste restaurant) is a good example of that and we should not overlook micro enterprises and their power to make the change and create innovations that can be used in many sectors. 

We need innovations! 

Good news for service designers! The traditional role of designers isn’t diminishing. There are opportunities for designers, like role in transition concepts and other collaboration. We always need new innovators and innovations! 

Pic: How to participate in Design club talks during Covid-19. Photo by author.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

To look for more info: 

Info of the talk
Information about Fortum
Nolla restaurant
Certified B Corporation

Fail like a designer

Our image of the world is built on assumptions and schemas. Without them, our everyday life would feel chaotic and quite burdensome. However, in an innovation process, our assumptions mainly work against us. They keep us from thinking outside the box. You could even say that assumption is the mother of all screw-ups 

Without intentionally reflecting on our thinking patterns, they will act like the shining exit signs that show us the closest way out from whatever maze or task it is we are working on. Our brains are saying, “look, the exit is just here, take it. It is safe, and you’ll be out in no time!” The rest of the maze remains unexplored, but at least we survive.  

Get out of the box 

The first insight or idea is likely to be obvious one, not innovative nor original, as we learned in Katja Tschimmel’s master class course. To be able to truly innovate, it is necessary to step out to the un-known and out of the comfort zone with curious mind.  By Design Thinking processes, we become more aware of our assumptions and intentionally move them aside, becoming brave and curious explorers and resolvers of the latent needs of people, needs that even the people themselves struggle putting into words. 

Image text:
Design Thinking is like being balancing on a tightrope where on the other side is the chance of failure and on other side the chance for innovation. Our own assumptions and uncertainty of success will push us towards failure, while curiosity, trust and empathy will give us a good nudge towards innovation. 

Big emotions at stake 
 
Fear towards failure in the efforts to innovate is human. Failing just is uncomfortable. Emotions overall are an inseparable part of our humanity, and they strongly affect our actions. The possibility of feeling shame makes it less tempting to be vulnerable and represent our rough and preliminary ideas to the audience without carefully fine-tuning and polishing them first.  

As designers, it is a necessity to consciously train our ability to handle failure. Accepting failing as an essential, positive part of innovation process is something us as becoming designers will have to learn to do. Besides professional growth, becoming a service designer is therefore also a matter of personal growth.  

No fail, no gain 

In Design Thinking, there is no other way to innovation besides the try and error cycle. In fact, in Design Thinking failure is not seen as failure, but as an essential part of the process towards something innovative.  
 
Tom and David Kelley state in their book Creative Confidence (2013:41): “In fact, early failure can be crucial to success in innovation. Because the faster you find weaknesses during an innovation cycle, the faster you can improve what needs fixing.”  

The more failures we get, the more possible improvements become tangible, if we just are able to analyze them carefully. Every (mis)step is a step forward, even if it sometimes might feel like a step backward. 

It’s all about the people 

Design Thinking is human-centric by nature. The true needs, perspectives and feelings of other individuals and groups become concrete and tangible only when we address empathy. This requires us to take the leap out of our comfort zone and interact with people.  
 
According to Kelley brothers, Michael Schrage wrote in his famous book Serious play: “Innovation is always more social than personal”.  

Could we even argue that innovation is always something that will somehow serve others?  


Written by Taika Rantanen and Nora Rahnasto. 
 

References and links 

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95. http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf 

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business. (http://www.creativeconfidence.com/)  

Kolko, J. (2015) Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. (https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.   

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

Unlocking Creativity for Design Thinking

We started our journey as SID students in early September 2020 with a two-day workshop that introduced the concept and process of Design Thinking. It was hosted by Katja Tschimmel and our tutoring teacher Päivi Pöyry-Lassila. Katja is the founder of design agency Mindshake and the model Evolution 6² or E6² (2018), Päivi is a Principal Lecturer at Laurea.

In the limited timeframe, Katja walked us through the design process with Mindshake’s Evolution 6² model to support the creative thinking process. This helped us form an understanding of what the design process can be like.

Group work for idea clustering in the Design Thinking workshop

We are all designers

Historically designers were typically arts-based design professionals. It is now known that successful designers do not differentiate themselves only through their specialised knowledge, but by their ability to think creatively. (Tschimmel, K. (2020).

According to Kamil Michlewski (Design Attitude, 2016) we all possess some form of design skills. Even though some are inherently better at designing than others, there are a set of steps anyone can follow on the road to innovation.

Unlocking creativity and getting to know the team

Design Thinking

Design for Innovation always implies the creation of something new, it is always based on creative thinking or design thinking. Design Thinking is not only a cognitive process or a mindset, it has today become an effective method with a toolkit for any innovation process, connecting the creative design approach to traditional business thinking.

Design is also no longer viewed as just a creative or rational problem-solving process, but rather as an opportunity and knowledge generating activity that helps to deal with intricate problems.

It’s important to remember however that, as concluded in Design Thinking comes of age, “Design doesn’t solve all problems”, it offers unique opportunities for humanising technology and developing emotionally resonant services and products.

Today design is making significant economic contribution to businesses, organisations and economies and designers are the closest group between the company and its internal and external consumers, they are change agents who are transforming organisational cultures.

Courage to take risks, empathy for understanding

An underlying theme from our research is courage and the ability to embrace risk and ambiguity. For creativity to flourish, the culture needs to be one that allows not getting things right the first time, gives room for quick prototypes and iteration.

So, to “boldly go where no man has gone before” we need creativity, design thinking and a design attitude. We need to have courage to experiment, a toolbox to choose tools from for divergence and convergence for designing and to create new meaning from complexity. When we are able to solve problems, we are at best creating meaningful value for the society and our planet.

Blog text written by Elena Howlader and Anna Sahinoja, SID2020 students

References: 

Kimbell, Lucy (2012). Rethinking Design Thinking: Part II. Design and Culture, Volume 4, Issue 2, July 2012, 129-148.

Kolko, Jon (2015). Design thinking comes of age (https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age). Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. 

Michlewski, Kamil (2015). Design Attitude. Gower Publishing Limited. England.

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

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

Design Thinking for non-Design Thinkers

Today the world around us is continuously evolving and companies must be flexible and able to adapt to changes in society. Therefore, companies are testing new business logics and models to solve wicked social and business problems.  

This is where Design Thinking comes into play. This process is described by Tschimmel (based on Brown 2009) as “not only a cognitive process or a mindset, but […] an effective method with a toolkit for any innovation process, connecting the creative design approach to traditional business thinking”.  

The “Why and How” of Design Thinking 

Businesses are looking for solutions to provide services that are compelling and innovative by closely following latest trends. In other words, companies strive to give a better sense of customer fulfilment by bringing something new and useful to the world.  

Design Thinking puts people who use a service in the heart of the design process consisting of inspiration, ideation and implementation phases. Implementing Design Thinking requires getting whole organization involved in embracing its principles. It is crucial that firms discover unmet customer needs and create new products to gain competitive advantages. This process, a core of Design Thinking, might just be a pathway to truly successful innovations. 

The “Why Not” of Design Thinking  

If the benefits of Design Thinking are so remarkable, how come it is not yet a standard toolkit of every organization?  

Organizations consist of people and many of us may believe that creativity is just for Design Thinkers. Design Thinking forces us to face uncertainty and we might be unwilling to share incomplete, let alone extravagant ideas: we want to be seen as know-it-all-professionals. Creativity is a window to one’s soul which can’t be opened without psychological safety.  

As to companies, they are challenged with organizational silos and competing agendas as well as counterproductive cults such as short-term performance and efficiency, that may cause issues when implementing Design Thinking. Furthermore, the iterative nature of the process takes time and resources as ideas are put to life through rapid experimentation and prototyping, and return on investments of design may be hard to measure. 

Conclusions  

Based on our perceptions, we justify utilizing Design Thinking by the following:  

  1.  The world is changing – So should you and your business  
    Regardless of how successful your business is, you can’t stay still. Although becoming a proficient Design Thinking organization may be challenging, it can be THE success factor. Can you afford not to try?   
  1. Believe in yourself – Everybody has what it takes  
    As Tschimmel puts it, you don’t need to be gifted genius, we all have “the innate potential to think creatively and can improve creative thoughts by applying certain techniques and methods.”     
  1. Be persistent – You will learn by trial and error   
    Edison said: “it is 99% perspiration and 1% of inspiration.” Grasp how to fail fast and learn quickly.     
  1. Believe in group power – Embrace uncertainty  
    Go with the flow and allow yourself to be surprised by the power of collaboration.   

And the definition of non-Design Thinkers? They don’t exist; they just need to discover their inner Design Thinker. 

This blog post is written by two Service Design (MBA) students:
Sanna Antola and Thomas Djupsjö at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. 

For further inspiration

References

Brown, Tim (2008). Design Thinking
Harvard Business Review, p. 84-92

Fraser, Heather M.A.:  Designing Business: New Models for Success in Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Lockwood, Thomas in 2010. Allworth Press. New York.  

Jenkins, Julian: Creating the Right Environment for Design in Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Lockwood, Thomas in 2010. Allworth Press. New York. 

Løvlie, Lavrans,  Downs, Chris and Reason, Ben: Bottom-Line Experiences: Measuring the Value of Design in Service in Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Lockwood, Thomas in 2010. Allworth Press. New York. 

Kolko, Jon (2015). Design thinking comes of age.
Harvard Business Review, September 2015, p. 66-71

Tschimmel, Katja (2020 forthcoming). Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – a human-centred ménage à trois 

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5th 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

 

Two hours in pouring rain in the footsteps of Jane

On a Tuesday afternoon on the 8th of September a little group of people gathered together in front of a Aalto University building to walk two hours in a pouring rain among the Infrastructure of Otaniemi.

Picture 1: Walking in the rain. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The walk was arranged as a part of Helsinkin Design Weeks Aalto University’s program Designs for a cooler planet – Race for the future and hosted by Eeva Berglund and Idil Gaziulusoy, of NODUS, the sustainable design research group in the Department of Design, Aalto University. The philosophy of the walk comes from Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), who was a writer, urbanist and activist who championed the voices of everyday people in neighborhood planning and city-building. The idea is to walk in cities to honor and activate the ideas of Jane Jacobs. Jane’s Walk is a community-based approach to city building that uses volunteer-led walking tours to make space for people to observe, reflect, share, question and re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.

Stupitidy as a designer 

One of the points was to observe what works and doesn’t in Otaniemi, which originates in 16th century but is rapidly built in the last 10 years. Focus was also to discuss about sustainability and what choices to use when building new. The environment it self had a lot examples what not to do. Since it was raining it showed us clearly that water it self is an infrastructure and if the surfaces are not designed with thought, future and climate in mind the water does not go anywhere but creates floods, slippery roads and possible accidents, like seen in picture 2.

Picture 2: Water as an infrastructure. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

It came to me as a surprise that Finland which is often considered a pioneer in technical development is actually not only delayed in infrastructure and environmental design but also traffic and water engineering. Even though the half a year of November weather would definitely need the special environmental solutions. Often pointed out in service design one of the problems is people working separably in groups of experts. And that is also the case in landscape and infrastructure planning where there is a huge challenge of silos.

What to do then

There is a need for long vision workshops and people working together to solve the wicked problems like climate change and sustainability. Also Jouko Lampinen says in the Aalto magazine that radical creativity means getting out of the silos.

The good thing is that many the solutions already exist. There are plenty of Nature-based solution (NBS) for urban stormwater management with Low Impact Development (LID) Methods like Bio Retention, Vegetated Swale, Green Roof and Permeable Pavement (see picture 3).  So it´s only about the politics, city patterns and old restrictions that need to be changed. And not forgetting the hardest part, people, that need to change for example from car-users to bicyclist. There is movement of change and future seems possible for the young students but 30 years that it usually takes to make an over all change is too much time, the development needs to happen sooner. The point is not blame anyone but to find solutions together. The nature it self also has the solutions. Just by mimicking the nature we can built a sustainable infrastructure. It was also said that having just a little spots there and there are not enough but if there is 10% of sustainable building in an area it is enough to make a change. The key is to over all design. And to make effort, keep up the maintenance and care.

Picture 3: Example of a NBS. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The other good news is that also the knowledge and skills already exist in Otaniemi, in the Aalto University and work in deed is in progress. There are development departments and open innovation house for example (see picture 4). The new designs and innovations of Aalto are done first in small scale and then moved to to bigger development and infrastructure. Just like in prototyping in SD is usually done!

Picture 4: Aalto Open Innovation House. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Designs for a cooler planet
Jane’s walks
Department of Built Environment
NODUS – Sustainable design research group
Aalto University magazine Unfolded #4, Radical creativity

Letting go of your prejudices (while staying inside that thinking box)

by Miia Lemola & Ekaterina Nikitina

Design Thinking workshop and concomitant readings have given us a lot of inspiration. However, it has also activated inner critics in us. We would like to share our thoughts about prejudices and limitations in creative thinking.

Creativity – a gift or a skill?  

In the workshop, we were thrown to the deep end to practice Design Thinking instead of analysing the term which might have confused us. For example, in the article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” (Buchanan, R. 1996) the focus is heavily on the philosophical question on what Design Thinking is. While the core idea of Design Thinking being about experimenting and understanding human experience is in the article, it does not bring it to concrete level. Buchanan’s work is also criticized by Lucy Kimbell (2011) for his generalisation of designers’ role in the world rather than studying individual designers’ approaches.

By throwing us in the deep end in the beginning we were forced to train what is the beginning of all thinking – ideas and creativity. We learned that creativity is not something a person has or not, but it is more like a muscle you can train. Many of us suffer from of our insecurities and prejudices such as “I’m not a creative person” and “I can’t come up with any ideas”. In the Social Distancing in Educational Institutions assignment we learned to create new ideas by making unlikely combinations of topics identified in mind maps. 

Letting go of your insecurities and prejudices help you in the process of becoming creative and designing new services. This happened also to highly introverted, technical and rule-oriented people such as Akshay Kotheri and Ankit Gupta who by attending a Design Thinking workshops in Stanford University eventually invented an app that was praised by Steve Jobs (Kelley, T. & Kelley, D. 2015).

Picture 1. Tschimmel, K. 2020. Workshop 4.-5.9.2020. 

What about the box?  

As an encouragement for training our creativity we often hear “Think outside of the box!”. Although, how far outside of the box are we expected to think? Do constrains make us more creative or do they block our ability for ideation?

We as designers are always limited, among other aspects, by the culture of the society. In the article “Creativity, Design and Design Thinking a ménage à trois” (2020) Katja suggested that the result of creativity is “changing a symbolic domain of culture”. If a product is too revolutionary, it might not be acknowledged as valuable by the community. It happened before to famous painters, writers, musicians, and scientists. 

The society constraints were also (accidentally) demonstrated in the class during Perception exercise (Picture 2). The task had only one “correct” answer, although fellow students suggested three other decent options. In this case the range of correct solutions was limited by the task creator. 

Picture 2. Tschimmel, K. 2020. Workshop 4.-5.9.2020. Edited by Ekaterina Nikitina 

Although limitations might be a brake in creating process, designers could also benefit from them. 

Famous Russian blogger and designer Artemiy Lebedev suggested that limitations, are “a real creative opportunity”. A designer receiving a clear assignment would do a good job, while a designer asked to do “the best something” would produce nothing (Lebedev, A. 2012.). Also, Kelley (2015) mentions that a few boundaries can not only spur more creativity but might also help to (re)frame the challenges. We felt this in class when workshop tasks had time limits. 

Combining the best of both worlds 

All in all, creativity is a doing process. Although studying history and a variety of theories of Design Thinking is vital, we found practicing creativity more efficient for understanding the ideas behind the subject. We also agreed that setting constraints – staying inside the thinking box – is a working solution for embracing creativity. However, when all the participants are in creative process with open heart and mind, not only innovative ideas are welcomed more likely by the community, but we grow as designers and realize that we can create. 

Picture 3. Source: Unsplash 

Miia Lemola & Ekaterina Nikitina. Course A9299-3004 Design Thinking. Laurea 2020

Ideas stolen from: 

Lebedev. A. 2012. The virtue of limitations
Buchanan, R. 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. 
Kelley, T. & Kelley, D. 2015: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All 
Kimbell, L. 2011. Rethinking Design Thinking: Part I
Tschimmel, K. 2020. Lectures in Laurea University of Applied Sciences, 4.-5.9.2020 
Tschimmel, K. 2020. Creativity, Design and Design Thinking a ménage à trois. 

Using empathy as part of a creative process in Design Thinking

Our assignment was to write a blog article in pairs reflecting on the topics discussed in the course Design Thinking. The two-day intensive course during September 4-5th 2020 was held by Katja Tschimmel, the founder of design agency Mindshake and the model Evolution 6² or E6² (2018), and our tutoring teacher Päivi Pöyry-Lassila. 

Picture of Evolution 6² model. Source: Pinterest.

In our group we used the model E6² to identify opportunities for the topic Social Distancing in Educational Institutions. We started from the Emergence phase and gradually made our way to Exposition which we finished with an elevator pitch. Our group chose to focus on the topic of promoting more outdoor activities in educational institute grounds. 

Photo of rapid prototyping with LEGOs during the course. Source: Personal photos.

Personal learnings about the Design Thinking Masterclass in a dialogue: 

Laura: This was the first time I participated in this kind of workshop and I was amazed what a creative environment I had boarded into. I felt enormously inspired to be surrounded by students who have such a variety of professional backgrounds and knowledge, they are bringing to the classroom. During the process I discovered two crucial themes: interacting and communication with the users cannot be emphasized too much, their ideas and viewpoints should be heard closely. Another theme is that presenting your concept orally in front of the audience truly helps you crystallize the ideas you have. 

Joni: I agree with Laura. There was much to learn just from this introduction course. For me there were two revelations during this course. According to Tschimmel all people can be creative when enough experts in a domain (e.g. company) accept the idea as innovative. Previously I had only considered artistic people as creative, not myself. During the course Tschimmel also highlighted not to “fall in love with your first idea”. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this realization was and how many ideas would have been left undiscovered if we settled for our first one. 

Importance of empathy and creativeness in Design Thinking 

In conclusion, we highlighted several personal key learning’s from the course. Looking at the related materials there are several recurring themes. First Tschimmel (2020), Brown (2009), Kolko (2015) and Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) all highlight the importance of empathy in Design Thinking. Secondly, already in 2009 Brown argued that interdisciplinary teams can “tackle more complex problems” than multidisciplinary teams. This also supports empathetic processes as according to Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) individuals have an “empathic horizon” that limits the ability to empathize beyond certain characteristics such as nationality, race etc. The empathetic horizon can be improved with time and experience. This information encourages us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. 

Source: Unsplash.

These themes were also present during our group work. Using the E6² model’s Design Thinking methods we were able to work in an interdisciplinary team and innovate a new concept, prototype it and pitch it to our class just within two days. Through group and individual interviews, we could start to understand the importance of empathizing. This success made us realize that Design Thinking is truly a universal concept that enables all individuals to be creative within their own domain. 

Written by Laura Parviainen-Vilo and Joni Prokkola  

References and links: 

Brown, Tim (2009). Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 

Kolko, Jon (2015). Design thinking comes of age (https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age). Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. 

Kouprie, Merlijn & Sleeswijk Visser, Froukje (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437–448. 

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

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

Mindshake, Portugal: https://www.mindshake.pt

Mindshake in Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mindshakept/ 

Unsplash: https://unsplash.com

Pushing the boundaries of innovation

I participated on 10.9.2020 in an online event hosted by Design Club, a business community within Design Museum Helsinki, and Aalto University. The topic of the event was “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and featured a presentation by Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy, an Assistant Professor in Aalto University and a panel discussion with Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President of Biobased solutions in Fortum.

The event tackled interesting, necessary topics regarding sustainability challenges and the need for large transformations in the field of innovation and business. The urgency of the changes cannot be overstated as we are already very late in the game. Businesses need to be on the forefront of the change and be able to radically adapt their views and ways.

Transformation zones

Gaziulusoy discussed the three transformation zones that we need to understand and explore in order to fully embrace sustainability innovation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Three Spheres of Transformations”

The inner circle is the practical zone that consists of mostly technical solutions and the usual product innovation. Gaziulusoy stated that in this area most focus is put today but the innovation process needs to be extended further.

The second layer shows organisational aspects such as systems and structures and while it gives more depth than the practical sphere, it is not enough for an overall, radical change.

The last layer is the socio-cultural level which includes beliefs, values and existing worldview of all societal factors. According to Gaziulusoy, this level has the least attention from businesses and policy makers. She called this area the “zone of difficult questions” due to the importance of challenging existing, deep-seated views and beliefs.

From operational to visionary

As the old saying goes: “easier said than done”, so how do we actually start the change? How can companies realistically transform their “business as usual” without compromising their position? The question is not simple nor is there an easy answer, but there are methods available.

Gaziulusoy suggested that companies implement a shadow-track strategy, a transition strategy where they simultaneously operate in their usual area of business but also invest time and money for new innovation areas. Gaziulusoy urged companies to boldly step away from their reactive role and reach for a more profound transformation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Strategic and Creative Foresight”

Panelists were asked for examples of companies that were engaging in truly sustainable innovation. In general, micro-enterprises were mentioned to be the leaders in the field as they have the ability to find their niche and ask the question: “How can we do business differently“. A local Helsinki zero-waste-restaurant Nolla, was mentioned as an example of this.

Needless to say, more established companies have a different strategy than micro-enterprises. Antila mentioned that the burden of old traditions might be a reason for older, more established companies to be held back. Change is happening, but still slowly.

Collaboration is key

Gaziulusoy encouraged companies to push the boundaries of doing business by engaging policy makers and collaborating with researchers, stakeholders and even competitors.

Antila emphasized the role of universities in making change happen as they commonly have the resources for basic research in different topics and by working together with companies, they could reach even more concrete ideas.

The key is the change in mindset and values, and the overall signal to the public should be “We don’t cater to mindless consumption”. Showing that more determined businesses are ready for the challenge, is both a competitive advantage but also the only way forward.

For more inspiration:

  • Story of Nolla, a Helsinki-based zero waste restaurant
  • Design Club’s next event on 23.9.2020: Creative practices for transformational Futures
  • B-corps, list of businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance
  • Designs for a Cooler Planet Exhibition by Aalto University video: