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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!

Data Gives Insights, Design Gives Solutions

Service Design Network Finland

The New Buzz Word

“Data driven design” has become some what of a buzz word because data is considered to be the new oil. However, many companies struggle to figure out how to take advantage of data and so to speak “strike gold”. At the Service Design Network event: Data Driven Design, two companies K Group and Sanoma Media Finland shared how they have been able to develop successful services thanks to data.

Data Is a Compass

Interestingly both K Group and Sanoma Media Finland referred to data as a compass. Data is seen as a compass for a person who is lost. It gives a starting point where to start to look from. Data also acts as validator to see whether the adjustments made to the service have had a positive or negative effect or perhaps no effect at all. However, K Group noted that for them to say that data acts as a compass for them, it requires a lot of work.  

Collaboration Is Key

Both companies emphasized the important of collaboration. Sanoma Media Finland described well the challenge of a designer, an analyst and a developer working together (see picture below). All three have very different working styles and practices and yet all three are essential to develop the best service possible. To solve this issue, Sanoma Media Finland decided to change their way of working and started to follow Futurice’s Lean Service Creation process. It is not all smooth sailing yet, but they feel that they are on the right path.

Data Driven Services

K Group has great amount of data about their customer as they have 3,5 million loyalty members and 5 million customer encounters daily. Thanks to their rich source of data they have been able to create customer driven services such as K-Ostokset (K-Ruoka mobile app): “A service, that gives the user an overview of his/her grocery purchases and a better understanding of the impacts of the purchase decisions.” The other customers for K Group are their K store merchants. K Group has developed a service for the merchants that collects data about the merchant’s K store customers, the market and the area and puts the information in such a format that the merchants can make educated decisions on how to improve their store’s profitability and customer experience. Evidently, as shown by these two examples, data has become an essential part of service development.

K-Ruoka mobile app

Written by Lyydia Pertovaraa

Links:

https://www.kesko.fi/en/

https://www.k-ruoka.fi/artikkelit/k-kaupassa/mobiilisovellus

https://www.leanservicecreation.com/

https://sanoma.fi/en/

https://www.service-design-network.org/chapters/finland

What is Data-driven design?

Researching and understanding the user and their environment is the first, and arguably most important, stage in the service design process. Service design purists will insist on the usage of interviews, observation, shadowing, and other ethnographic research methods in order to acquire this understanding. These methods work well, but do they work when trying to understand the organisations with users who number in the millions? The service design event “Data-Driven Design” argued, that qualitative data alone cannot provide large organisations with the necessary knowledge. These organisations rely heavily on quantitative data.

This Service Design Network event consisted of speakers from two large companies answering the question: What is data-driven design? The first speaker, Iiris Lahti from the media conglomerate Sanoma, discussed how design can be data-driven in the current media landscape. The second talk was held by Jussi Mantere and Hanna-Reetta Lukkainen of K-Ryhmä, which together with S-Group controls practically the entire food retail industry in Finland and has branches abroad as well.

What is Data-driven design at Sanoma

Sanoma tracks their users in a variety of ways: from the ways they navigate their news website and the popular Vauva.fi forums; to their media consumption on the Ruutu app and physical subscriptions to their publications. It goes without saying, that Sanoma has a lot of data on its users. The key question is: what do they do with this data and how to they provide ever-more value with this acquired knowledge?

Iiris described perpetually trying to find the sweet spot between service design, data analytics and customer surveys. She mentioned how when these three areas work well together, then their users (and Sanoma) thrive. An interesting example mentioned was through qualitative interviews concerning the Ruutu media streaming app. Briefly: A user stated her need for being passively entertained after work whilst simultaneously wanting to be surprised and not wanting to watch the same familiar shows repeatedly. Out of this small insight, Ruutu created a “suggest something else” button, which essentially acts like a shuffle button after an episode or film has ended. This is exactly the kind of out-of-the-blue concept which can only come from qualitative insights and not from tracking data. Iiris summed it up as finding the unknown unknowns. To elaborate on this, quantitative data can be used to discover known unknows such as the likelihood that someone who likes Downton Abby will also like the The Simpsons. However, this kind of research cannot be used for unkown unkowns. Unknown unknowns would be more open-ended questions such as “How can Ruutu provide more value to user X”. Quantitative data can rarely be used to satisfactorily answer these deeper questions.

Iiris, herself a data scientist, has a slide which described an obstacle I am trying to overcome at work: How to integrate the working processes of Designers, Analysts, and Developers. These three groups operate with similar, but not quite the same, working processes. To solve this Sanoma uses the “Sanoma Development Framework” which Iiris admitted is still work in progress.

What is Data-driven design at K-Ryhmä

Jussi and Hanna used the analogy of the compass to describe how they use data at K-Ryhmä. They summarised their thinking as “data gives insights, design gives solutions”. Despite one speaker being a designer and one speaker being a data scientist, they considered quantitative and qualitative data as being just data. Only when asked at the end did they distinguish between the two and mentioned the benefits of combining them.

Perhaps the most interesting specific cases both of them mentioned had to do with how they use data to empower their customers. Rather than simply utilising tracking and other data points to accumulate information and insights on their customers they have created many ways in which the data can be put to use for the direct benefit of their customers and partners. The cases they mentioned related to the creation of a new drink, making their retailers more independent, and a customer-facing app.

They mentioned co-creating a new sugarfree drink with a leading drinks company. Using their data and knowledge of their customers they had spotted a need and used to it to co-develop an exclusive new drink sold only in K-Ryhmä stores. It is not uncommon for a new product or service to be created through the using of finding needs or holes in the market, in fact this is the basics of service design. What is unusual in this case is that K-Ryhmä was willing to share data on its customers for the mutual benefit of K-Ryhmä and the drinks company (and presumably the customers desiring the new drink).

K-Ryhmä operates what is essentially a franchise. Each store owner operates more-or-less independently but licenses the K brand and operating systems. This implies that the K-Ryhmä itself is an intriguing service ecosystem with many layers of co-dependent stakeholders all under one brand. As a brand it is of utmost importance for K-Ryhmä to keep its retail owning partners profitable and satisfied. Because of this the brand offers each retailer a dashboard of its own data and trains them in its usage. This empowers each retailer discover what makes their specific customers unique. At a deeper level it gives them even more freedom to take ownership of their slice of the K brand and to act on it for mutual benefit.

K-Ostokset is an app released in the last half year. It provides a dashboard to customers with a K loyalty card to see what they’ve bought, how much they’ve spent, and when. With this initial description it struck me as a quite standard customer-facing dashboard app. However, they have added additional functionality which I find truly interesting. Customers can use their personal shopping habits and set specific targets. This goes beyond simply spend X amount of money on food next month. Customers can set targets based on their personal values. For example, they can track and set goals to purchase more Finnish products and (before the end of the year we were promised) to reduce their impact on climate change. The speakers did confess to being initially hesitant, as data privacy is an understandable concern amongst many consumers nowadays and displaying how much they have been tracked may scare customers. However, I feel this is a brave move by K-Ryhmä as it displays a fundamentally deep understanding of their customers: people no longer shop based merely on price, flavour, or health. Today customers are values-based shoppers: morality, locality, niche-diets, politics, convenience and other factors all play a large role in why customers buy what they do. Considering the size of K-Ryhmä, this app has the potential to change the way a large portion of the Finnish population shops hopefully for the better.

The event as a whole tried to inspire new ways of seeing how data and design can not only coexist but thrive in large companies. The heavy usage of quantitative data at these organisations does not replace service design’s usage of qualitative research. Instead, companies the size of Sanoma and K-Ryhmä have learned to use the strengths of both research gathering processes in a manner which enhances the value they can provide to their users.

Can we save the world by unblocking our creativity?

When was the last time you tried something new and failed? Did you feel proud of yourself then? You probably should have, because chances are that your failure was a sign of you pushing your creativity to the limit. And it takes a lot of guts to do so.

As IDEO founders David and Thomas Kelley point out in their book Creative confidence creativity means that you can imagine the way the world should be, believe in your capacity to make positive changes and be brave enough to take action (2013, p. 64). Creative thinkers discover new opportunities, think in variety of possibilities and take multiple perspectives into account. They experiment and operate against well known solutions and stereotypes. The plot twist? We all have what it takes to be a creative thinker (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p.4-6).

Creativity, like any other skill, can be trained (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 5-6; 30). The training program for your mind muscles are processes that these days goes by the name design thinking (see for example Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 69). These processes help to build empathic understanding, to find new perspectives and make sense of the world around us. Design thinking processes are human-centred, multidisciplinary, collaborative, optimistic and experimental (Tschimmel et al. 2015, p. 6; 72). Design thinking is also design doing: it always aims to produce something concrete and new to the world.

Stirring the status quo

Unfortunately many of us adults are too afraid of failure and the lost of appreciation of our peers to fully tap into our creative potential (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 6; 44; 53-55). We often see creativity as something that “the artistic” or “the innovative” types have. Because of these beliefs good ideas are left unshared and the unique solutions go undiscovered (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 62). 

In the future working life transversal skills such as creativity, collaboration skills and ability to take initiative are on high demand (Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 6). But using design thinking to unleash the full power of our creative capacity is not only a matter of skilled workforce. As the over 7 million people marching in the global Climate Strikes in September 2019 reminded us: there are no jobs on a dead planet.

climate-strike

The young climate activists are expressing their creative confidence in several ways when attending Climate March in Helsinki in September 2019.

The biggest challenges of our times are summarized in UN Agenda 2030 goals that are interlaced and overlap each other. Like in design thinking the needs of people are in the center of these goals: for example the need for a livable environment is fundamental. As many of these challenges are described as wicked problems, it is becoming increasingly clear that we can’t tackle the problems created by the current ways of living by continuing “business as usual” (see also Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 72). As the problems we are facing as humankind are getting more all-encompassing and complex, the need for human superpowers like empathy and creativity is ever increasing.

So where do I start?

Not all of us are educational leaders or politicians who have the power to disrupt systems teaching us how to think and behave. Luckily, as we have established, everyone can make a difference. Here are some of the tips from the experts that we can try in our everyday life to unblock the creative superpowers within us and the others around us:

  • Try until you fail and push others to try too. Learning cycles including failure are an essential part of unblocking creativity. You can think that if you haven’t failed yet, you weren’t reaching far enough. Try to create opportunities for those around you to fail as well in a supportive environment. Start by failing small and aim for massive failures as your creative confidence increases.
    (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 50-53; Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença 2015, p. 7; 72.)

  • Label your next great idea as an experiment and let everyone know that you’re just testing it out. Make sure that the people around you know that you only have reasonable hope for success and the whole point is what you can learn from the failure if and hopefully when it happens. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 47; 50.)

  • Pay attention and intervene when someone around is feeling insecure or undervalued. Keep in mind that insecurity isn’t always a sign for lack of skills or experience. Perfectionism can be crippling if we think that being and expert means excelling without a flaw. Fight these feelings of insecurity by always giving credit when credit is due. Remember to give credit from trying and failing as well, not only succeeding. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 57; 61-63.)

  • Start keeping an idea journal. It doesn’t matter whether you write, draw or dictate your ideas. Create a way to have a way to store you ideas right away no matter where you are, because even the greatest ideas might be fleeting.
    (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 216-218.)

  • Remember that creative processes are collaborative processes. Share your ideas, ask for help and take care of your social support system. (Kelley & Kelley 2013, p. 58; Tschimmel et al. 2015, p. 72.)

Enjoy creating, embrace failing!

 

The writer is a career counsellor venturing in the world of design thinking. She failed yesterday with a new veggie stew recipe, but is determined to try again (much to her family’s horror).

Sara Peltola
@Sara_Peltola

 

REFERENCES:

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. 2013. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All. New York: Currency.

Tschimmel, K., Santos, J., Loyens, D., Jacinto, A., Monteiro, R. & Valença M. 2015. Research Report D-Think. Design Thinking Applied to Education and Training. ERASMUS+ KA2 Strategic Partnerships. Available online: http://www.d-think.eu/uploads/1/6/2/1/16214540/researchreport_d-think-dv.pdf [Accessed September 30th 2019].

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking [lecture]. Held on 6-7 September. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Sustainable future is based on design thinking

I experienced a small revolution in my mind when I participated the Design Thinking course held by Katja Tschimmel in Laurea 2019. It grew even bigger after reading the book Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley and the Design Thinking article by Tim Brown.

In the end, I realized that attempts to make this world a better place are not going to be sustainable, at least with full potential, without using design thinking approach and experimenting.

Design thinking as a methodology

Design thinking is a methodology (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 25; Brown, 2008, p. 86). This might sound a bit boring but I think viewing design thinking as a methodology makes it easier to apply in different contexts. After all, there are huge, complex problems to be tackled in our world, e.g. climate change and social inequality, and there is no single right answer to be found. Therefore, in order to find new innovative products and practices we need design thinking and human-centered approach (Brown, 2008, p. 92). I already have some research methodologies in my toolbox but design thinking really makes me excited because it involves an element that’s often lacking. And that’s concrete action and rapid testing in the real world!

I’m a researcher in my nature and I’m used to rely on data. But sometimes there’s not data available or it’s really difficult to analyse. Then design thinking and using empathy and prototyping might be the only key to move forward (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 25). This is what we also practiced together in Design Thinking course and, although it felt a bit difficult at some point, it came clear to me that without human-centered approach and prototyping the creative potential we have is not fulfilled and opportunity to truly be innovative is lost.

Together we produced lots of innovative ideas (some of them probably more innovative than others but that’s a different story)

Creativity equals natural

In front of daunting global challenges it’s understandable to feel discouraged. But everyone has the capability to be creative and improve everyday life by using design thinking approach. Creativity is not limited only to “official” designers ; it’s a natural feature of human species.

However, David and Tom point out that the real value of creativity doesn’t emerge until you are brave enough to act on new ideas (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 5). I especially enjoyed their example from Tibetan language where is no separate word for ”creativity” or ”being creative”. The closest translation is ”natural”; therefore, in order to be more creative you just have to be more natural, simple as that!

Or is it that simple in practice? Being creative and trying new ideas contain always a risk of failure (actually it’s guaranteed that failures happen). The catch is that lessons learned from failures make us smarter and stronger if we just keep taking the steps forward together with supporting people.

In addition of being natural human character, creativity is also coachable (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 63). I felt lucky to be surrounded and coached by supportive fellow students in Katja Tschimmel’s course and most importantly: it was inspiring to be creative together!

References:

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. 2013. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business.

Brown, T. 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, 84-92.

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking. Lectures. Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Espoo, Finland.

There’s a designer living within us all

As an opening to our degree program in Service innovation and design we had Design thinking -course. The blast-like opening of the studies got me really happy, as we got to start doing design tasks from day one. I have been a bit concerned how much creativity it takes to tackle all the design challenges we are going to face during the studies, but this course showed me that we all have a small designer living within us and that we can enhance our design skills by practicing.

According to our professor Tschimmel (2019), it is important to loosen up before starting to create in a new team. After some warm-up exercises, we started to learn in practice what design thinking is all about.

Design thinking in a nutshell

Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valenca (2019) explain that design thinking (DT) could be described as methods and processes to solve problems, to innovate, and to find new solutions as well as viewpoints. This we got to experience already during our first lecture, when we started to solve the first design problem given to us. As I learned from our lecturer Tschimmel (2019), there are several process models and tools in design thinking, which designers can utilize in their attempt to create new solutions to existing and latent problems, and it does not matter that much which ones you use, as long as they are suitable for the design phase you are trying to solve. We got to try out the tools presented in Evolution 6’s model (Tschimmel 2018).

Design thinking enhances peoples’ skills to collaborate and think creatively, and therefore drives innovation in several types of organizations (Tschimmel et al. 2019). As we got to experience first-hand during the lectures, the core of design thinking lies in the ability to discover empathy towards people, which allows DT practioners to step in the shoes of end users, discover their hidden needs and create new solutions and insights to complex problems (Brown 2008; Kelley & Kelley 2015; Tschimmel 2019;Tschimmel et al.2019). Our class got to train our empathy skills during the field-study, where the aim was to find out the latent needs of Laurea students towards their studying facilities.

As Tschimmel (2018) explains, design thinking can be understood as making inventions in processes that involve cross-disciplinary stakeholders. Our class consists of people from different backgrounds, such as engineers, marketing professionals, and journalists. As Kelley & Kelley (2015) explain, the variation in the backgrounds of team members is a great advantage to a team. It was nice to discover how different viewpoints of our team members all brought new ideas and lots of discussion in the team. 

Why do we need design thinking?

As I learned during the lectures (Tschimmel 2019), we need design thinking to solve complex problems of today’s societies. There are several issues that have risen due to overpopulation, hunger, climate change, etc., that all wait to be solved. As Tschimmel et al. (2019) explain, today’s societies, organizations, and communities have become increasingly complex also due to rapid changes in technologies. The change has forced organizations to deal with more complex surroundings and also changed the learners’ profile in education field, as digital tools and internet have changed the learning environment (Tschimmel et al. 2019). It seems that there is a real need within organizations to gain competitive advantage through innovation, which can be reached with the help of service design (Kelley & Kelley 2015).

Design thinking includes skills, such as an ability to initiate things, collaborate with others, think creatively and innovate (Tschimmel et al. 2019). For me, these skills sound like something that would be good for everyone to possess in order to make any community, society, and organization to be able to succeed.

Release your inner designer

In their book, David and Tom Kelley describe how we all have inner creativity that is just waiting to be released. We all had it as a child, but when growing up, the learned habits and skills, as well as the surrounding world, might have diminished it. We may consider ourselves as non-creative- individuals, but the Kelley brothers explain that this is not the case: Creativity is something we all possess as human beings, we only need to rediscover the skill.

Kelley D. & T. (2015) suggest in their book an eight phase -program to boost creative confidence. With real-life examples of successful people (such as Steve Jobs) as well as everyday John Does, they manage to give convincing evidence that anyone can build their creativity by starting with small steps and not being afraid to fail. Instead, it is important to prototype in an early phase and go fast forward to receive results. (Kelley & Kelley 2015). I agree with their viewpoint that if you don’t do anything, you cannot evolve in your life. It was great to try out the fast prototyping in the course to see, how you can make prototypes to visualize the possible end results and to develop them further.

For me, the Design thinking -course was an excellent starting point on the way of discovering and enhancing my own designer skills. The course taught me how to proceed with my learning – step by step, not being afraid to try and fail. If you are interested to learn more about releasing your inner creativity, I would suggest you start from the Kelley & Kelley (2015) book and discover the eight phases to creativity.

Author: Mari Vuoti, Service Innovation and Design Master degree programme

REFERENCES:

Brown, T. 2008. Design Thinking. Harward Business Review, June. Accessed 29 September 2019. https://churchill.imgix.net/files/pdfs/IDEO_HBR_DT_08.pdf

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. 2015. Creative confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all. London: William Collins.

Tschimmel,K. 2018. Evolution 6 toolkit: An e-handbook for practical design thinking for innovation [online lecture notes], in Mindshake (ed.). From Laurea Optima workspace Finnish society. Accessed 25 September 2019. https://optima.discendum.com

Tschimmel, K. 2019a. Design Thinking [lecture]. Held on 6-7 September. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. 

Tschimmel,K., Santos, J., Loyens, D., Jacinto, A., Monteiro, R. & Valenca, M. 2019. Research report D-think [online lecture notes]. From Laurea Optima workspace Finnish society. Accessed 25 September 2019. https:// optima.discendum.com