“A lawyer, an engineer, a UX expert, a business developer, and a sociologist walk into a room and…” sounds like the intro to a bad joke. However, this is exactly what happened on the first day of our Practical Design Thinking class at Laurea. The task we were given was carefully chosen, not too narrow and not too broad – “studying at Laurea.”
So how to begin, given a group of strangers, from diverse backgrounds with diverse goals? How can these people innovate effectively by creating some concrete proposals and at the same time learning about Design thinking? By following in the footsteps of other design thinkers and learning from their experience captured in the form of Design Toolkits. Or at Katja Schimmel says, by “Learning how to move in creative processes through the application of DT tools”.
Guided by our lecturer, after a quick introduction to the history of design thinking, we started to apply the E.62 process starting from Emergence – the discovery of an innovation opportunity. Chaos erupted, or as one of Tim Brown´s client stated: “These people have no process!” Our opportunity mind map spread like a spider web across the whiteboard, in an attempt to identify possible innovations. After several iterations, 4 or 5 candidates became clear, and one was chosen for our intent statement “onboarding companies into collaboration projects with Laurea.”
This was our first introduction to the divergent/convergent nature of the design thinking process. The continual pattern of first creating as wide range of options as possible before selecting (painfully) one or two for additional consideration.
Armed with our intent statement we moved to the Empathy stage. This stage is evident in the IDEO design process – standing in the shoes of others. For us, this involved the creation of a stakeholder map, and an insight map. The stakeholder map was divergent, seeking to identify participants that might have something to say about our concept. This was as inclusive as we could make it. The Insight map was convergent, trying to identify how a stakeholder would react to our idea. Naturally, without input from real stakeholders it was difficult to find negative reactions to our idea, so we advanced optimistically, like most designers, to the Experimentation stage.
During this activity, we recognized the advantages of experience with the semantic confrontation method. We made a simple conceptual mistake, we clustered our ideas. This meant that although it was easier to build on ideas, it proved more difficult to the original divergent concepts that could lead to deeper insight. Next time we will know better.
The convergent part of this process proved very difficult, it is hard to quietly demote somebody else’s ideas, especially when you have a role in choosing them in the first place. It is hard to overcome the tendency to rationalize the decision, even if you know it must be done.
Now at the Elaboration phase of the process with the goal of creating something tangible to work with. Our group split into two, one to work on a desktop walkthrough of a potential event, and the other to work on rapid prototyping of a document work flow. At first it seemed that this split would dilute our work, and neither “prototype” would be successful, but in the end, it resulted in a semantic confrontation, as we tried to combine the prototypes within our service blueprint, a convergent activity. This is where our concept´s wide scope proved a disadvantage, it was very difficult to reconcile our many participants within one service blueprint within the allotted time. There seems to be a lesson here about matching the scope of the design concept to the timeline, and resources available to realize the design.
E.62 process covered during the Design Thinking course ended at Exposition, in our case involving storytelling and a vision statement. The story was simple, the story of a successful onboarding of a company into a project with a range of Laurea students, who leverage the onboarding process and event to the benefit of all. The vision was also clear, streamline the process for linking companies and students. The surprising thing for me, was that although we did not rehearse we managed to finish our story almost exactly on the 2-minute deadline – somehow from the initial Emergence stage to the Exposition stage our diverse group had become a team.
Reflecting on the entire experience from the initial group forming to the final evaluation some things become clear:
- Designing thinking is design doing, you need to build to think as Tim Brown states in Change by Design – it is something you need to experience and cannot be learnt by reading. The lessons we learned during the semantic confrontation, and service blueprint activities could easier by overlooked in any book.
- Design thinking for innovation, and, as the Kelley brothers say in Creative Confidence, “Innovation is all about quickly turning ideas into action” – our team created a large amount of arteficts in a very short period of time.
- The Design Process embraces focused chaos, supported by a range of tools used to drive the process forwards. In fact, during the divergent stages, chaos is to be welcomed. Most of the ideas created during divergent stages fail to get included in the convergent stages – so embracing failure to focus on finding solutions that work is necessary.
- Time constraints are both a blessing and a curse. Tight timelines focus the group to create quickly without too much thought, good for divergent thinking. However, forced timelines can affect the convergent part of the process, on reflection, some of our original concepts might have been better ideas to elaborate.
Although we thought we had fulfilled the Design Thinking goal of providing Feasibility, Viability, and Desirability it was not enough. We did not win the Design Thinking challenge. We were consoled by many different things, the first was the constant reminders that there is no “right answer”. The second was that we saw many other brilliant, innovative ideas also fail to win. And the winning concept was highly deserving of the prize.
So, it seems that sometimes Design Thinking is not enough something else is required. Reading through the “Change By Design” book by Tim Brown, the constant references to Nokia´s visionary design activities remind us that even well-funded, well resourced, and highly visionary ideas are not enough.
That was not the goal of the Design Thinking course. For me the goal was “A lawyer, an engineer, a UX expert, a business developer, and a sociologist walk into a room and left 2 days later with a deeper understanding of design thinking”, and like the teams on the course ready to take the next plunge into this fascinating field.
- Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation.
- Kelley, David and Kelley Tom, 2013. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.
- Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.