A cocktail of childish playing and academic research

Collaboration and direct engagement were the key words when two distinguished service designer specialists discussed the use of creative practices in designing sustainable futures. This inspirational talk was organized by Design Club, on 23rd September 2020.

Associate professor Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University gave an overview of an EU-supported project Creative Practices for Transformational Futures (CreaTures) that aims at bringing in creative practices in the development processes towards socio-ecological sustainability in different sectors. The project is a cross-border and cross-sectoral initiative and includes a consortium of actors such as universities, NGOs and private companies, each of which brings their specific knowhow to the project. The key assumption of the initiative is that collaboration and direct engagement of different stakeholders are key issues when working with transformational processes and planning of different futures.

The results of the pilot project confirmed the immense power of imagination and “thinking out of the box”, that can be best achieved in collaboration with others. Moreover, the process of learning together and seeing things differently has value of its own, as it teaches the participants not only new ways knowing, but also new ways of feeling.

Creative processes have indeed proven to be transformational, but in many cases the problem is that they are fragmented: there are small groups working apart, each of them doing probably the right things but not joining the forces which could give added value to the whole process of transformation. In addition, they are often poorly resourced and not always correctly understood.

CreaTures project includes the whole chain of the design, from the observatory and laboratory to the evaluation & policy recommendations, which are, according to Mattelmäki, vital parts of the process.

Are creative practices under-utilized in developing and transforming societies and businesses?

According to Design Director Zeynep Falay von Flittner from service design agency Hellon, the mission of all service design should be to bring human to the centre of the business. We need more holistic stories about the future, not only technical solutions and processes. We also need tools to help us build different future scenarios and understand the consequences of each of them. The aim of these tools is to trigger conversation and to bring holistic understanding of interdependencies and long-term consequences of the possible actions.

Play!

A tool may sound quite technical and even boring but in fact best tools can be games that are both playful and experimental. One example is the Nordic urban mobility game that Hellon has used in the transport sector development processes together with different cities and communities. The game can be downloaded and printed for free (see the link below). The practice has shown that a game can provoke more and different thinking than normal participatory methods. It being a physical game helps to overcome the time distance and difficulties in immersing oneself into the different futures. A game also triggers action and commitment, as it creates a sense of urgency for the needed change.

Playing games might not cut out all feelings of anxiety and insecurity that are blocking creativity when thinking about different futures. But it definitely gives hope and enables us to see that there really are different pathways we can choose. Hope energizes and focuses actions. Playing games can also make the uncertainty and anxiety that is related to future scenarios more bearable and more fun.

One obvious challenge to using more creative practices is that organisations are often tied to traditional research and ways of working. To overcome that, Mattelmäki suggested to do more prototyping. It brings concrete evidence to even the most skeptical thinkers that there really are different options, and that those options are possible and doable. Like she put it: “the process itself keeps winning the participants”.

Joyful and pleasurable approach is important in envisioning of desirable futures. Designers work as facilitators or midwives in these processes and have an important role in that they help participants to go beyond the “what is realistic” thinking. There is a lot we can learn from children: they are open-minded and it`s natural for them to explore new ways of thinking and doing.

Hard business needs hope

Sustainability is nowadays a hard business, but there is definitely a need to look beyond the normal business solutions and traditional answers. Designers in general have one asset that is needed in the planning of a sustainable future: optimistic and forward-looking mindset. Hope and solution-focused approach is needed, particularly in this field where pessimism tend to take over in many discussions.

One of the biggest hurdles that service designers face in bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts is that managers are afraid of something they see as expensive and unpredictable or unreliable when it comes to producing benefits and fulfilling the cost-efficiency goals. Even among the participants of the event (the majority being designers and students), 0 % chose “saving time and resources” as the main benefit of their work in the field of service design. That indicates how cumbersome and costly the process is often seen to be, and how little trust there is on its cost-efficiency.

Perhaps we need more professional studies on the impacts and tangible results of the creative practices and service design. Evaluation and impact studies have spread out to practically all fields during the past years. Everything is measured and indicator has become the word of the day. To overcome the distrust of managers and directors in investing time and resources in playing games (and developing the business through play and creativity), we need to be able to show the undeniable outputs, outcomes and impacts of that investment.

The close relationship of research and business was pointed out by Mattelmäki. According to her, development work based on scientific research gives more credibility and speeds up the implementation. One tangible result of creative innovation and game playing is that there will be a vast amount of wild ideas and enthusiasm, new innovations and innovators.

The next step will then be how the ideas are taken forward. That will be a topic for future discussions, but for sure collaboration and direct engagement will be key elements in that as well.

Laura Ekholm

More information can be found :

CreaTures. https://creatures-eu.org/

Hellon. https://www.hellon.com/

Nordic Urban Mobility 2050 Futures Game. https://www.nordicinnovation.org/tools/NUM2050

Designers as political changemakers

What are the commonly stated wicked problems and what can we do about them?

A common denominator for the so-called wicked problems is that they all have complex connections to multiple sectors of human societies and they cannot be solved easily, if at all. Wicked problem can also be a problem whose complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point at all (Tonkinwise & Cameron 2015). Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. A common feature is that there are different opinions among the stakeholders on the content of the wicked problem and how it should be addressed.

Examples of wicked problems include climate change, unemployment, healthcare, international drug trafficking, nuclear weapons, waste, social injustice, an also the most recent global threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more difficult than just complex problems and thus require different approach.

To learn more about these interesting macro-level challenges, I participated online in the public defense of Mari Suoheimo`s Ph.D. dissertation entitled ““Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”, in which she examines the challenges that wicked problems pose to service design and proposes tools to fight them. The opponent, Professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University, London, led the discussion with his insightful questions and remarks.

Sometimes you need to say the obvious aloud

We can change normal problem to be a wicked one. As a concrete example Mari Suoheimo mentioned the making of an envelope – it`s a normal problem until we decide to make an envelope without any environmental impact, then it becomes a wicked problem.

There is lots of talk of wicked problems, and also it is common to hear that at the end all problems are wicked, or that a solution exists to every wicked problem. This is not true. Instead, the tools that are used to solve normal problems, are sometimes used in trying to solve wicked problems. Obviously, this doesn`t work, and according to some contributors, too simple tools may even complicate the problem-solving processes if applied to wicked problems. If a solution is found to one part of the problem, it can have deep influence on other problems and their possible solutions. As Suoheimo stated: simple tools seek to find a solution, while complex tools seek to understand the problem.

The most essential contribution of Suoheimo`s Ph.D. research to the field of Service Design is to increase our understanding on how we should deal with macro-level problems and how service design can be used to tackle these big and complex problems. One of the most important findings is that service designers do have a role in combating wicked problems; they know how to facilitate the process, they do understand the importance of collaboration and they do have tools to tackle wicked problems. However, even though you would have appropriate tools, the process is never simple, nor easy, and it always requires the participation of several actors. As Professor Koria cited the dissertation “Addressing wicked problems can lead to painful processes”.

Suoheimo`s most important concrete contribution is the Iceberg Model of Design Problems, that Suoheimo developed together with her colleagues. The model is an excellent visualization and helps service designers to understand the different levels of complexity and to choose the right approach and appropriate tools for each level. Besides service design, this model can be utilized in change design, social design and sustainable development design.

Stop project-thinking!

According to Suoheimo, it became evident during her study that wicked problems are always political. Complex social problems are entering more and more into the field of service design and topics require interdisciplinary approach more than before. Designers are good at zooming in and out of problems. It is not a coincidence that service design and collaboration are strong in Nordic countries where also democracy is highly valued and widely applied.

When trying to solve wicked problems, the role of the designer is to facilitate the collaboration and make sure that the problems are viewed holistically. Professor Koria challenged Suoheimo and asked her what does collaboration actually mean if it is not seeking to find a solution. According to Suoheimo it means doing together, as against doing from top to down. It`s about going against power structures. Designers can indeed be political changemakers.

Due to their nature, wicked problems should not be thought of as short-time projects. Wicked problems are often macro-level challenges and are influenced by political decision-making and regulated by national and international legislation. There should be a long-term commitment to solving wicked problems, and also long-term financing. The question is, how do we guarantee sufficient political and financial support to service design in their work with wicked problems?

As Professor Koria stated at the end: this thesis raises more questions than it answers, which is a positive (but hopefully not wicked) problem. What is does is that it definitely leaves room for more research and contributions from scientists and service designers.

-Laura Ekholm

References:

Mari Suoheimo 2020: ”Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 286, ISBN 978-952-337-223-8, ISSN 1796-6310, Lapin yliopisto, Rovaniemi 2020. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-223-8

Tonkinwise, Cameron 2015: “Design for Transitions – from and to what?”. Academia.edu. Retrieved 9 November 2017.

Why every problem solver needs design thinking

You might have heard of design thinking in business context and its possible perks. A design thinking approach is usually chosen when there’s a need for new inventions, growth or increasing satisfaction. Design thinking is the way designers think – putting human needs in the centre of development and creating engaging and inspiring solutions. Design means an invention or a solution to a problem. Without inventions, there’s no growth. That is why you should get involved.


Design thinking can be taught and learned, it’s not a personality trait 

In Dunne & Martins (2006) article they refer to the problem that the word design withholds. Usually the word design is associated with product development or fashion and it is seen as unrelated to the business world. Contentwise design thinkers use the same business tools, like KPI´s and ROI´s, but they always add the question “In service of what?”. 

Another reason experts do not embrace design thinking is the idea that design means creativity. We, as a society, tend to categorise people as talented or untalented in different areas, ourselves included. But people are not born leaders, analysts, designers or rockstars – you need to learn the competences! Creativity and design thinking can be taught, and you can learn them.


The human-centric way to solve problems

First you need to understand the why and then you can learn the how

According to Liedtka & Ogilvie (2011) the whole point of design thinking is to learn a new, systematic approach to problem solving. If you want to compete in the same market in few years, you need to grow and build resilience – you need to innovate. If the innovations are made internally, inside an organisation, a team, or even worse, inside someone’s head, you are heading to trouble. 

Most experts know the straightforward way of problem solving: define the problem, identify various solutions, analyse each and pick the best one (Liedtka & Ogilvie, 2011). Traditional problem solving can be seen as a linear process. It follows a process of build-measure-learn, focusing on the building. 

The traditional approach is problematic. It’s optimistic with no proof of the solution delivering great value. The process is cold and clean and all the learning about the solution comes afterwards (Liedtka & Oglivie, 2011). 

In a design process you turn the roles other way around, learn-build-measure, focusing on the learning. A design process is never linear and it consists of multiple failures and iterations (Brown, 2018).

The process aims in discovering genuine human needs and developing specific solutions. It all starts from empathy – trying to imagine what others think (Liedkta & Oglivie, 2011). Others meaning your customers, team members, users or partners. As they say, they are not numbers! They are always real people with real emotions, problems and personal targets. A design process creates solutions that inspire through true engagement and emotional connection. 

Learning design thinking doesn’t just mean learning a new set of tools. It also means learning to collect and analyse large quantities of data, learning to think what might be instead of is, learning to manage the feeling of uncertainty and collaborating with many new parties (Liedtka & Oglivie, 2011).


Why haven’t all organisations embraced design thinking?
 

Organisations with new innovations and best customer and employee experiences recruit the best experts and dominate the market. Still human-centricity is fairly rare. 

Comparing the two approaches presented, design process can seem slower. When the emphasis is in the beginning of the project, where all the learning and value creation systems are mapped, the project will not provide solutions as fast as the traditional approach. This is why I’ve seen multiple projects crumble under the feeling uncertainty and change to the traditional approach.


Where next? 

Now that you have some understanding of the why, you can start expanding your personal tool kit with new, collaborative tools.


Written by: Elina

References: 

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Dunne, D. & Martin, R. (2006) Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education: An Interview and Discussion. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2006, Vol. 5, No. 4, 512–52.

Liedtka, Jeanne & Ogilvie, Tim (2011). Designing for growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers, New York: Columbia University Press.

Tschimmel, K. (2020). Design Thinking Masterclass, Laurea.

Wicked, wicked problems

New study in the field of service design!

Mari Suoheimo’s doctoral examination was held on 18th of September in the University of Lapland. The opponent was professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University London and thesis supervisor was professor Kaarina Määttä.


First Suoheimo introduced us to complex and simple problems and made some examples of them. A simple problem is tying shoelaces and complex or even wicked problem is solving the Covid-19 situation. Suoheimo also pointed out that there is a lot of discussion of wicked problems in the field of service design. The talk in the field is that all design issues or problems are in fact wicked or that the concept of wicked problem is already solved. To Suoheimo’s point of view, that is not how ever the case. But she continued that almost any design problem can be turned in to a complex or wicked one. As an example she said that designing a envelope is simple design issue, but designing and developing an envelope that has zero impact on environment is already a complex issue.

An example of a wicked problem.
Source: Google free images.

In the thesis Suoheimo addresses how to approach these questions. And she said that her interest in the topic already raised in her studies in Brazil when her teacher introduced her to wicked problems that are intangible problems, just like all services usually are.

The thesis it self consists of introduction, three articles, discussion and conclusions. First article is a literature review on the Relation and Role of Service Design with Wicked Problems, second is called “Strategies and Visual Tools to Resolve Wicked Problems” and last focuses on how to apply the theory in to practice and is based on case study “Process of Mapping Challenges of Cross-Border Mobility in the Barents Region”, done with Toni Lusikka.

In the thesis she also introduces the new Iceberg model of design problems developed together with Rosana Vasques and Piia Rytilahti, co-authors of the first article. The model does not only help to understand the different levels of complexity of wicked problems but also helps to choose the approaches and tools to use in different levels.

An iceberg. The model can be seen in Suoheimo’s thesis.
Source of the photo: Goole free images.

In the beginning of the event there was a little bit definition of service design it self, like how it has evolved from hands on designing to much more complex service science. The aim of service design is to create better services. This can be done through designing a good service experience using tools like service journey, and mapping it. Suoheimo also talked about Stickdorns et all. five principles of service design. That I would like to stress that are actually newly developed to six principles: Human-centered, collaborative, iterative, sequental, real and holistic. (Stickdorn et all, 2018, 16). Suoheimo also says that the talk originates to Buchanan article on 1973 about wicked problems that started the whole debate and introduced one service science frame.

Suoheimo sees that there are four levels of design: 

1: Graphic design
2: Industrial design
3: Service design
4: System design

And points out that service design actually touches all the four levels. Service design is also not an island, it touches and goes limited with other fields too. And when in comes to complexity some fields actually understand it’s use more deeply, like social sciences. Also action research and design thinking are similar nowadays. The new double diamond process is closer to action research, and Suoheimo points out that all the models start to look the same.

The opponent Mikko Koria said that the theme of the thesis is interesting, topic and valuable if not even essential for the field. But the thesis actually raises more questions than answers, which is a wicked problem it self. He also conducts that there is a loose use of the term wicked problem in the field, it’s now a buzz word, which is a worry.

The problem with wicked problems is that in service design we are using tools that are not designed to solve wicked problems which makes the process even more painful, ’cause the process is anyway painful, not ever easy. And wicked problems can have many sides too (political, social, and so on). You first have to understand the problem to know how to solve it.

An example of wicked problem solution. Source: Google free images.

So what we need is new courses! And programs! Especially interdiciplinary courses with organizational studies and management …and more resources in the service design field.

The good news: Service designer’s role is to be an agent of change because we are able to make the change.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Väitös: Palvelumutoilun ikeät ongelmat

Suoheimo’s thesis

Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess, M. E. & Schneider, J. 2018. This is service design doing: Applying service design thinking in the real world : a practitioner’s handbook. First Edition. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Buchanan (1990) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2, (Spring, 1992), pp. 5-21. The MIT Press.

Design thinking as a unique fusion of tools and approaches to unlock innovative potential

As the pace of technological change is constantly increasing, we are spending more time consuming the constant flow of innovation rather than creating something new. Tschimmel (2020) suggests that “innovation is the driving force for the quality of life and economy”. However, how to unlock the hidden capabilities all of us possess to enable this contribution to the common good? Design thinking helps to use a broader range of tools and approaches to expand one’s creativity and enable innovation processes. Design thinking is built on the 7 key principles:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Human-centred approach
  3. Experimentation
  4. Divergence
  5. Visualisation
  6. Holistic perspective
  7. Prototyping

During a 2-days masterclass on Design Thinking at Laurea we were presented, and had a chance to use in practice, Katja Tschimmel’s Innovation & Design Thinking Mindshake model. The model includes a step-by-step process to design and create something new.

As part of the workshop, we walked through each of the steps and applied the methodology for solving a suggested problem. At first I was skeptical about the value of “another ideation tool”, but once applied in practice, the value has become more apparent. This design process enables the imagination to flourish and brings new perspectives by utilizing a fusion of techniques and approaches.

Motivated by inspiring discussions, I next approached one of the recommended books called “Change by design”. Tim Brown’s seminal paper on Design Thinking describes approaches that made a firm IDEO one of the leaders in design consulting. Tim emphasizes the human-centered aspect of design thinking arguing that empathy is the fundamental tool to grasp problems and perspectives the end users are dealing with. I ended up giving the book 3 on the scale between 1 to 5 on Goodreads due to heavy marketing implications of the included stories, however the paper definitely brought my understanding of the design thinking fundamentals to a new level and stirred up my interest in the topic further.

Coming from a professional services field where structural problem-solving is the key enabler, design thinking at first seems like a discipline full of “fluff” with unnecessary “poetic” or even esoteric implications. Luckily, I enjoy these genres. Like the “not-necessarily 100% scientifically-backed” works of Carlos Castaneda or Marshall Rosenberg at some point in my life gave me new momentums to start something new, I have high hopes for Design Thinking to expand the professional boundaries I’ve been locked into in the recent years.

Resources:

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

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

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

Pereira, J.C.; Russo, R. (2018). Design Thinking Integrated in Agile Software Development: A Systematic Literature Review.

Human in Center

Design thinking can be learned and utilized by everyone: whatever is your expertise or field in business, anyone can do things experimentally, with an agile and human-centric way.  The importance of humanity and empathy in today’s business is enormous: during the Covid19 Pandemic, companies have been required to learn to consider the customer experience in a whole new way.

During the Design Thinking course, we learned that customers’ voice needs to listen carefully, but a Service Designer must also dare to make visionary and bold decisions based on knowledge, and in some part, with intuition.

From 3I to E.62  

Highlighting two takeaways from Design Thinking workshop, the first would be the whole design thinking model Evolution 62 (E.62). Professor Katja Tchimmel presented the various DT process models from simple 3I-model to broader models, which introduce also prototyping and amount of iterations. The E.62 model differs from others by systematically and practically offering relevant tools and methods to core phases and keeping the human being in the center.  

Picture: Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020


Another takeaway was the eye-opening bisociation approach which we applied in the teamwork. We were running out of ideas on “How to keep social distancing in educational institutions” but then combined the not-so-obvious dots (IT and Cleaning) resulting the new idea – the gift of bisociation! 

“Someone who makes something better for someone else”

The Design Thinking book emphasizes the importance of developing deep empathy and understanding in order to discover also customers’ unarticulated needs.  As the needs and feelings are not solid and stable, the experiences are constantly in motion and thus evaluation and re-design are needed.

Subheading’s definition of a designer (Oliver King, the Engine Group) is wrapping in its simplicity. Again, a human is in the center and one can start the service design process from empathy, exploring, understanding, and building the insight of the human being. This leads us to the notion of “empathic design”, which Kouprie and Sleesvijk Visser has conceptualized. It is based on the principle that a designer steps into the life of the user, wanders there for a while, and then steps out with a deeper understanding of the user. It covers four phases: discovery, immersion, connection, and detachment. This framework does not leave the designer “on the surface” yet leads systematically into a deeper empathy.

Picture: Kouprie, M & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2009) A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life

It’s an ongoing process

Experience is a result of customer’s perception where all touchpoint’s matters. If one point is missed, it will stand out: whether it’s about object or service, a bad design is always visible.

Kleber, S. & Marco, D. (2018). Design Thinking for Creating an Increased Value Proposition to Improve Customer Experience.

Daniel Marco and Stefan Kleber (2018) pointed out that a turbulent and rapidly changing business environment needs new tools for thinking and developing innovative business propositions. Today the lines of products, services, and concepts are blurring, and companies need to think the whole combination of elements and systems. Thus the quite a linear Liedtka J. model was updated to a more dynamic and iterating model for a “Wheel of Design”, that helps to actively develop and reconsider to achieve superior customer experience -human in center.








Thank you for the inspiration for

Tschimmel, K. (2020). Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – a ménage à trois. In Perspectives on Design: Research, Education and Practice II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. (in process)

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

Kleber, Stefan & Marco, Daniel (2018). Design Thinking for Creating an Increased Value Proposition to Improve Customer Experience.
https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7874/cb1f74da63e63f1d4b7d6be1fc3e65b9d4f3.pdf

Lockwood, Thomas (ed. by) (2010) Design thinking: integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value. New York: Allworth Press.

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

Written by Johanna Laakso & Piia Lehtinen

Designing your own way with design thinking

Making career choices when you’re 18 years old can be cumbersome. The childhood dream jobs, being a doctor or a policeman, probably have changed multiple times leaving you uncertain about what the future will look like. So, what does it take to find your dream job?

As we started out journey in the SID program and got to know one another better, we found out that both of us had had the same career idea; working with design. At that time, applying for any program majoring in design required skills in drawing, which we didn’t have on the required level. In the end, it felt like one career opportunity had closed its doors although the interest towards the field didn’t pass.

The world is changing rapidly around us, which requires flexibility and innovation from both employees and companies. As the operational environment of businesses change constantly, also duties in work places change. Joining work life made it even more obvious. One big change we have seen within design and its position in the organizational culture. According to Kolko (2015), the importance of applying the principles of design to the way people work was largely due to the increasing complexity of modern technology and modern business. Thus, many companies have put design thinking at the core of the company, making designers an increasingly competitive asset in creating new forms of value (Brown, 2008). Putting design thinking into practice helps companies understand the constant disruption better as well as maintain and develop competitiveness (Motee, 2013).

Making a cultural shift

Making a cultural change towards design thinking comes of age. And, so does for many of us. Adopting this perspective isn’t always easy but having natural aptitude towards design helps. Usually, it flourishes after right development and experience (Brown, 2008). Probably, many of us in SID program can relate to this. Having natural aptitude towards design doesn’t yet guide you to your desired career path in working with design. A design thinker’s profile develops through time with the right experiences but owning the capability is as important. So, what are the traits of a design thinker? It takes empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and collaboration (Brown, 2008). Many of these characteristics take time to develop.

Nowadays companies tend to share similar problems and transitions as the world becomes smaller through internalization. Also, different fields of businesses become even more connected with each other. According to Motee (2013), design thinking assists in understanding complex connections between people, places, objects and ideas, which is also highly effective tool for innovation. We also noticed this during our first days at SID program as we all have different backgrounds, but we share the same passion for design. During the group work tasks, our distinct knowledge became our strength since we were able to combine several perspectives and ideas by means of design thinking.

In the past, being employed at the same company, in the same position wasn’t abnormal. Today, there is no permanent career solution to choose from. As with design thinking, finding your dream job comes through experimenting, from trial and error. Without exploring choices and being open to even unorthodox possibilities, new career directions won’t emerge.

Written by Emmi Kytösalmi and Jenna Isokuortti

REFERENCES

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Kolko, David 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.

Mootee, Idris (2013) Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. Wiley.

Can we feel someone remotely?

Stuck at home, we participated in Katja Tschimmel’s Design Thinking Masterclass through Zoom. And it made us think: Is it possible to gain genuine empathy remotely? Or is it the stuff of mind reading heros in Hollywood movies?

Xavier, the mind reading X-Man.
Photo from IMDB, Murray Close – © TM and 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Empathy is a core concept of design thinking. Indeed, it is fundamental in the phases of inspiration, observation, discovery, and understanding, depending on which process variation of design thinking is used (Tschimmel 2020). 

In “Change by design”, Tim Brown (2019) describes empathy as putting yourself in another persons shoes, seeing through the eyes of another, and as such gain a subjective understanding of their experience. Quite succinctly, this sums up the psychological process of empathy. But how can we make that happen with virtual interaction only, given that it’s possible at all?

According to Kouprie and Sleeswijk Visser there are two types of empathy: Affective and cognitive. Affective is an immediate emotional response, and cognitive is understanding the emotional state of another person. They state that “Motivation is crucial for an effective process”, but don’t mention Goleman’s third type of empathy explicitly: Compassionate empathy which he describes as “knowing, feeling and being motivated to help, if needed”. (Goleman,1995; Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser 2009).

In order for compassionate empathy to occur, there are three neurocognitive processes that need to happen (Lieberman, 2015): 

  1. Mind reading – imagining someone else’s experience,
  2. Affect matching – imitating someone else’s experience and feeling what the other person is feeling and
  3. Empathetic motivation – being motivated do something about it, providing the two frist are in place.

Of course, these processes happen entirely in our brains and bodies. But they do require input, which should at least in some instances be possible to generate through remote communication or observation. Yet, full immersion in the non-digital experience of a person whom we’re trying to empathise with, seems to us quite impossible.

Gaining empathy is a tricky thing

Empathy doesn’t happen quickly and easily. It requires time, effort, and genuine interest (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser 2009). Lucy Kimbell (2009) calls for sound ethnographic research methods to be able to properly understand and serve people’s needs. So in order to be empathetic, there has to be a real connection with the person, which can be built through for example collaboration and co-creation.

In his book, Tim Brown (2019) is not convinced by what the internet has to offer in regards to empathy in design. But the book is over 10 years old (we listened to the revised edition from 2019). Today, we are much more used to working with online tools to create connections between participants and to co-create online. The problem in online setting can often be the time frame: we are still not used to long online sessions which makes it difficult to establish a real connection.

Feeling connected during the masterclass

Our mentalizing and mirroring abilities are heavily influenced and are more active with visual stimuli (Lieberman, 2015).

So seeing each other’s intimate home environments, with family members “bombing our screens”, can perhaps enhancethe experience of collaborating and co-creating remotely. At least, this was the feeling we were left with: Even though the two days spent looking at a screen with headphones on were very tiring, there was an underlying feeling of genuine connection.

Written by Ana, Neea and Erlend

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 (2019). Revised edition Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 
  • Goleman, Daniel (1996), Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London. UK
  • Kimbell, L. (2009), Rethinking Design Thinking., Liverpool, European Academy of Management.
  • Lieberman, M. D. (2014). Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Broadway Books. New York, US
  • Tschimmel, K. (2020). Design Thinking Masterclass held at SID Laurea.

Use storytelling to turbocharge your design thinking

Humankind has transmitted information through stories since time immemorial. Indeed, hearing and telling stories seem to be a fundamental need for us. Friends are made through the exchange of stories: they bring us together and build trust and intimacy in a relationship.

Design thinking comprises of 5 factors (Carlgren, Rauth, Elmquist, 2016):  1) user focus, 2) problem framing, 3) visualizations, 4) experimentation, 5) diversity. With storytelling permeating every aspect of the collaboration. And it’s a two-way street.

On one hand, you can use storytelling to sell your idea: to convince the stakeholders it’s beneficial to start the project, to make the workshop participants feel at ease and willing to contribute, to create (an authentic) story for the service so that customers feel they can relate and view the service useful.

On the other hand, and perhaps even more importantly, you can use storytelling to understand others. In essence, you could utilize design thinking tools to enable and encourage customers to share their experiences, you let them tell you their stories. Although one rarely comes to you to tell their life history, via means of design thinking, you actively seek to hear people’s stories to better understand and empathize with them.

How, then, do you tell an “effective” story? We think it comes down to empathy. A story that works in a business meeting may not be the one you want to tell to your date and vice versa. Through empathy you should seek to understand your audience and tailor the narrative to fit the context.

However, you can also increase your audience’s receptivity to your “main story”, i.e. the idea you’d like them to subscribe to, by making them feel connected to you. How? By sharing something about yourself, a personal anecdote, to make yourself more relatable. If your audience likes you, they will more likely believe you.

But what if the conditions are not optimal for you to tell the story, to convey your idea? We experienced this first hand at our Design Thinking workshop with Doctor Katja Tschimmel. Due to the prevailing covid-19 situation and the fact that some of our student colleagues live abroad, the workshop had to be arranged as a hybrid with some of the students in the classroom (with masks) and others (including the lecturer Katja) participating via zoom.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Through this personal experience we found out yet again that when connecting through technology, it’s much better to connect via video than via audio only (not to speak of a pure text-based approach like chat). Hearing a story is much more effective when you can see the person telling it.

Katja used storytelling techniques exceptionally right from the start. She opened the worksop with a personal anecdote from her doctoral dissertation, where a member of the audience had drawn a picture of her. This instance exemplified 3 major tools of design thinking that we have discussed here:

  1. It was a personal anecdote to make her feel more relatable to us, the students
  2. It was a story to convey the idea of visualization
  3. Simple and easy example of visualization – a hand drawn picture of her

Katja used a story of a portrait made of her as an example and introduction to our next assignment, which was to draw pictures of each other.

In conclusion, we think that both storytelling and empathy work in two directions in design thinking:

Storytelling: 1) Tell a story to sell your idea, and 2) Use design thinking tools to encourage customers/clients to tell you their story (i.e. to better understand and empathize with them).

Empathy: 1) Empathize with your audience (customers/clients) in order to tell an effective story, 2) Arouse your audience’s empathy towards you by telling a personal anecdote to make yourself more relatable and your idea (story) more attractive.

Lastly, we have prepared a couple of practical tips for aspiring young designers to embrace empathy in these covid-struck times:

  • Storytelling is the only thing that can evoke empathy in this situation
  • Video surpasses mere audio (visualization)
  • Acknowledge the situation is difficult for everyone
  • Engage everyone equally and facilitate active participation from both sides
  • Remember that people love stories, encourage others to share theirs!

Written by: Galina Leväsluoto & Tero Jyrhämä

Inspired by:

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

Tschimmel, K. (2020). Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – a ménage à trois. In Perspectives on Design: Research, Education and Practice II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. (in process)

Tschimmel, K. (2018). Toolkit Evolution 6. An E-handbook for practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Porto: Ed.Mindshake.

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

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.

Playfulness creates savings

I participated on the 23th of September in Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Design club online talk “Creative practices for transformational futures” with Tuuli Mattelmäki, associate Professor and Head of department of Design in Aalto and Zaynep Falay a Partner in Hellon design agency, that does collaboration with Aalto University.  They were talking about their new co-project Creatures.

Picture 1. Logo of Creatures.
Photo by author from the slideshow.

This talk was very popular and international. It was said in the beginning that there were around 70 people from 17 countries around the world, all the way to New Zeeland.  And according to the poll that was held first there were people from different sectors from design to business world.

First Mattelmäki talked about the project from Aalto’s perspective. Aalto is the coordinator of the whole project. The consortium is large and international and includes practitioners and institutes from North to South Europe. There was also a pilot of the project done in the University of Sussex.

The point of this EU funded project is to bring creative practices in to design and development in different sectors. Mattelmäki showed us some examples of the meta-projects done with for example soil and environment, see picture.

Picture 2. Department of Design. Photo by author from the slideshow.

Mattelmäki also introduced us to the keys of change when it comes to managing with the problems and issues that we need to change and solve in the modern world. The keys are collaboration and direct engagement. We need to bring people together, one way or another, as the Covid-19 situation has showed us. She also pointed out that the problems and also future scenarios are scary, which can block our imagination and thinking, so that is why we need playfulness and creativity that can help us overcome it. Other keys are experimental qualities and learning together as well as intervention and processes themselves, that can lead to new ways of feeling and being, and also create innovations and knowledge. In addition Mattelmäki shared some research data about the creativity that is linked below.

Falay continued about the subject matter and introduced us to Hellon, an award winning design agency. She said that opposite to many other service design offices that are digital, Hellon focus is not in digital development but human centeredness and they really bring the person in the center. In Hellon they like to do things differently and push the boundaries, see picture.

Picture 3. About Hellon. Photo by author from the slideshow.

They have a history of designing future scenario design game, that is also linked below. In this project they are developing a new game and firmly believe that playing and playfulness is the key to solve problems and develop future design, solutions and sustainability. Falay says that playing makes uncertainty more bearable and more fun. It gives much more than traditional work methods.

The upcoming sustainability futures game creates new ways of thinking and is based on experimental practice. In the game there is no need to win, it’s more about the atmosphere and playfulness itself that pushes our thinking and makes us creative. But developing the game is serious business, you have to have relevant content and the back work that needs to be based on research is essential.

They are already testing the game with different audiences and have had a positive feedback. But sometimes it’s also a challenge to get people to take the playing as a method and the game seriously. The route to get it work is through mature design process and especially prototyping! You also need to have some more enthusiastic and open-minded people in a test environment first on board and rest will follow.

The conclusion is that for the future world, we need hope, co-creation, cross board collaboration to get things move forward and developed. We need to have science and research, designers and people in the business world to work together to create the change.

In the session there was a final poll and the results were clear.  0% answered “saving time and resources” for what is important in their work in design. Which is indicative of one of the biggest hinder we face when bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts and that should be tackled with managers and leaders as well. Mattelmäki stressed that academia is in fact connected to the society. There has to be research behind the work. And one of her favorite things is collaboration, how research can actually help businesses and enterprises. Research brings credibility to development. It helps also to get implementations done faster. Which saves money in the end. Or as Hellon puts it, customer experience design is today’s number 1 driver of profitable growth.

Pic 4. Collaboration. Photo: authors detail of the slideshow.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala

References and to look for more info:

Creatures
Creatures laboratory
Hellon
Hellon’s future game
Survey about creativity

Light et al. 2018. Creative practice and transformations to Sustainability making and managing cultural change.

Light A., Wolstenholme R., Twist, B. 2019. Creative practice and sustainability – insights from research.