Our assignment was to write a blog article in pairs reflecting on the topics discussed in the course Design Thinking. The two-day intensive course during September 4-5th 2020 was held by Katja Tschimmel, the founder of design agency Mindshake and the model Evolution 6² or E6² (2018), and our tutoring teacher Päivi Pöyry-Lassila.
In our group we used the model E6² to identify opportunities for the topic Social Distancing in Educational Institutions. We started from the Emergence phase and gradually made our way to Exposition which we finished with an elevator pitch. Our group chose to focus on the topic of promoting more outdoor activities in educational institute grounds.
Personal learnings about the Design Thinking Masterclass in a dialogue:
Laura: This was the first time I participated in this kind of workshop and I was amazed what a creative environment I had boarded into. I felt enormously inspired to be surrounded by students who have such a variety of professional backgrounds and knowledge, they are bringing to the classroom. During the process I discovered two crucial themes: interacting and communication with the users cannot be emphasized too much, their ideas and viewpoints should be heard closely. Another theme is that presenting your concept orally in front of the audience truly helps you crystallize the ideas you have.
Joni: I agree with Laura. There was much to learn just from this introduction course. For me there were two revelations during this course. According to Tschimmel all people can be creative when enough experts in a domain (e.g. company) accept the idea as innovative. Previously I had only considered artistic people as creative, not myself. During the course Tschimmel also highlighted not to “fall in love with your first idea”. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this realization was and how many ideas would have been left undiscovered if we settled for our first one.
Importance of empathy and creativeness in Design Thinking
In conclusion, we highlighted several personal key learning’s from the course. Looking at the related materials there are several recurring themes. First Tschimmel (2020), Brown (2009), Kolko (2015) and Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) all highlight the importance of empathy in Design Thinking. Secondly, already in 2009 Brown argued that interdisciplinary teams can “tackle more complex problems” than multidisciplinary teams. This also supports empathetic processes as according to Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) individuals have an “empathic horizon” that limits the ability to empathize beyond certain characteristics such as nationality, race etc. The empathetic horizon can be improved with time and experience. This information encourages us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
These themes were also present during our group work. Using the E6² model’s Design Thinking methods we were able to work in an interdisciplinary team and innovate a new concept, prototype it and pitch it to our class just within two days. Through group and individual interviews, we could start to understand the importance of empathizing. This success made us realize that Design Thinking is truly a universal concept that enables all individuals to be creative within their own domain.
Written by Laura Parviainen-Vilo and Joni Prokkola
References and links:
Brown, Tim (2009). Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Disclaimer: These thoughts, opinions, and observations are mine, and mine alone. They are not the thoughts of my fellow Dash team members, only myself.
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.
I knew that this hackathon was going to be a gigantic time commitment to squeeze into my full-time work and full-time 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 over the design process and wondered how the actual act of designing would unfold over the course of the event.
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 far 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: the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, see the world through their eyes and then walk a mile in those shoes. I also realized this weekend this crucial element could be what drew me to service design in the first place. All while keeping this perspective in mind as you create whatever amazing user-centered design solutions we service designers will ultimately come up with.
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. This 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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
By: Johanna Johnson
Richard 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In Margolin, V. &
Buchanan, R. The Idea of Design. A Design Issues Reader. Cambridge: The MIT
I realized some time ago that service design is the key issue to improve and develop processes and customer satisfaction. After I found this definition and concept, it felt that different pieces found their places – I love developing customer experience and always try my best in understanding and identifying customer needs. I was thinking that SID program might help me to develop more.
The first course “Design thinking” was much more than I expected. After the lectures I have a huge passion to figure out more of the design thinking methods and I have now gathered a good set of tools for that.
Idris Mootee (2013, 33.) defines the design thinking as following:
Design thinking can help people from diverse backgrounds to find connections between people, places, objects, events and ideas. According to Mootee (2013, 69.) the empathy helps to approach the innovations with a human-centered perspective. Empathy enables us to communicate and understand:
Current and future needs
Design thinking itself is a powerful driver for future opportunities and innovation management. I also really like that in design-thinking processes, ideas are usually evaluated democratically, and persons can freely express their viewpoints in order to practically develop the concepts.
During the lecture we learnt different cases of Service innovation by the lecturer Katja Tschimmel, who was really inspiring and also introduced the group the Mindshake’s Evolution 6^2 tools, which we also implemented during two intensive study days. I can warmly recommend you these tools!
I think this work was useful, as the group has professionals from diverse backgrounds and only it gave me many new ideas! My favorite tool was the insight map, which also supports the human-centered approach and empathy with the end users. For me, that seems to be essential tool to develop new or existing services.
I also liked the opportunity mind-map and storyboard. We also, got to try the Lego and Post-its. My classmates have written in this blog about other interesting tools, so I better not to repeat their words – as I agree with them about the usability of those tools.
According to Tim Brown (2008, 90-92.) the basis is deep understanding of the consumers’ lifestyle and value building. I think this check list will be useful for integrating the design thinking as part of the work flow.
1. Think outside the box; Involve design
thinking in the very beginning – it can help exploring new idea!
2. Human-centricity; observe and consider
human behavior, needs and preferences – what do your customers need and want? Reflect
the results with the innovation models – do not forget the empathy!
3. Trial and error; have the courage
to create and test prototypes
4. Co-creation; you can also expand
the ecosystem and develop together with other stakeholders and customers to
create new added value for all parties
5. Blend different projects; this
might be revolutionary – projects can be of different size, disciplinary, units
6. New funding approaches and opportunities;
Well, money still runs the project world.
7. Hunt for talents!
8. Give the process some time; enable
the design of the whole cycle, which might take a while.
So – let’s start the work and hope to have a learning journey full of inspiration, innovations and meaningful encounters. Right?
I had a chance to attend a two-day intensive course called `Unlocking the Secrets of Service Design´ offered by CityDrivers. The trainers were Dr. Niels Billou and Adil Mansouri who are experts on Design Thinking and innovation. Both trainers created very energetic and enthusiastic environment that helped us, participants, to get excited about the two-day intensive course.
Trainers: Dr. Niels Billou and Adil Mansouri
During these two days Niels and Adil introduced the principles, practices and the process of Design Thinking and methodology of Service Design. I have some experience about Service Design and Design Thinking from my Service Innovation and Design studies in Laurea. By taking the two-day course, my goal was to learn new tools and methods that I haven’t used before and to know how I can apply these to my future projects. Here are my key take-aways from the days.
Day 1 – Introduction and understanding the customer
The first day gave an overview of Service Design and Design Thinking. After an interactive lecture all the participants rolled their sleeves and started working with the case assignment and exploring the first parts of the Design Thinking process – understanding the customer, collecting and analysing the interview data.
What is Design Thinking?
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
— Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
Billou introduced few different definitions for Design Thinking. In my opinion the most descriptive definition for Design Thinking is from Tim Brown. According to Brown´s quotation Design Thinking helps to make decisions based on what customers want. And when using tools from designer´s toolkit, like applying experimentation and empathy that helps to create innovative solutions to problems.
Trainers introduced a Stanford D. School Design Thinking model that consists of five stages: Understand, Observe, Define Point of View, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Stanford D. School Design Thinking model
During my studies I have noticed the stages of different Design Thinking process models are actually quite the same – only the titles and amount of stages vary. Earlier I have been using only the Double Diamond Design Thinking process, since I know the stages and it is familiar to me. So now I was excited to get to know a new process I haven´t used before.
Power of Empathy
Empathy is all about understanding the people. First phase of the Design Thinking process is to understand the customer. Adil talked about the power of empathy and how important it is to step into customer´s shoes. In this part of the process the data reveals underlying needs of the customer. The trainers introduced few effective tools for this data gathering part:
In-depth interviews – help researchers to learn more about a person’s experiences, processes, attitude, problems, needs, pains and ideas.
Empathy map – represents a customer’s actions and a mind-set. Interview guide can be adjusted into an empathy map and cover what the customer “Think”, “Feel”, “Say” and “Do”.
After an interactive lecture the participants were divided in multidisciplinary teams. Trainers pointed out the importance of cross functional teams – it is vital to have people from different backgrounds who co-create innovative solutions together. My group got a design challenge to redesign the workday lunch experience and encourage people into sustainable eating habits.
Our first step was to go out and interview people regarding their lunch experience. We made an interview guide for the interview – one was interviewing and the other took notes. I have been interviewing people before but I haven´t been using empathy map template. I noticed it helped to sum up the findings and catch a deeper insights from the interviewees such as what the user was saying, doing, thinking and feeling. In my opinion this tool works especially well in mini-interviews when having only 30-60 minutes to do the interviews.
Data visualization leads to insights
Our next step was to analyse and interpret our data to find insights from interviews. Niels introduced us a storytelling tool. Each of us had a chance to be a storyteller and describe what we heard and observed from the interviews. The listeners draw visual images about important details on post-its – finally we had a wall full of post-its. The empathy map template used in interviews was very helpful in this exercise.
Storytelling: Capturing data & clustering insights
The last step of the first day was to cluster the post-its and find common patterns between the notes. This storytelling and the visual data capturing were new tools for me. I was surprised how easy it was to see the overall findings when the post-its were full of pictures, and not just text. I could use this in workshops at work when we have limited time to capture customer data.
Day 2 – From Insights and Ideas to Innovation
The last day started with a summary what we had done so far and what was ahead of us: ideating, developing a prototype and testing it with customers.
Finding a focus
We started the day by creating a persona. Adil explained personas are fictional customers created to represent different user types. The persona helped us to step into the customer´s shoes and it guided us to make useful design decisions later during the day.
Creating a persona
At this point of the Design Thinking process we were on the “Define a point of view”-stage. According to Niels the Point of view sentence help us to build a line between the initial problem and future solution – it narrows the focus and makes the problem specific. It was surprisingly hard to summarize our thoughts into one sentence.
Next the trainers encouraged us to generate plenty of wild ideas by using how might we… –method. How might we questions launched many crazy ideas and we put those on the post-its. After that it was time to vote for the best idea. Adil introduced a Prioritization Matrix that helped us to identify the most important and valuable ideas, prioritize them and vote for the best idea.
Presenting a Prioritization Matrix on the lecture was a great reminder for me. Once I have been using that during my studies but since there are so many tools it is easy to forget. Since the time was limited during these two days the impact / effort axis on the Prioritization Matrix helped us to point out the best ideas fast. I put this tool into my toolbox and definitely will use this in the future projects.
Fail early, to succeed sooner
In the afternoon we started to build a prototype that eventually helped to solve the problem. According to Niels the prototype is a draft version of a product or a service. It should present our idea and when showing it to the users the aim is to get feedback for iteration.
This was the best part of the day and we were really excited about this step. The team made a prototype out of Legos. This was a first time for me to do this part with Legos. Lego characters were the actors on the stage and the bricks worked very well when presenting the idea and the experience around it. We were very pleased to our prototype.
Building a Lego prototype
The last step of the Design Thinking process was testing the prototype with users. The team went out and we presented the prototype for few users.
“If prototypes aren´t failing you are not pushing far enough. Failure is part of understanding and improving”
– Dr. Niels Billou
Niels’ quote went straight to the point. We got plenty of feedback and enhancement ideas for the prototype and some users crushed the prototype by saying “That won´t work in real life”. We presented the prototype and the feedback for the whole lecture group. Our team proved Niels´ quote true – the failure is truly part of understanding and improving.
To sum up these two days, this intensive course taught me new tools and methods of Design Thinking and reminded me of tools I already knew. Since there are so many tools to use, the hardest part is to choose the most relevant ones for every project. I´m excited to learn more – practice makes perfect, doesn´t it?
If you want to discover more different Design Thinking tools and methods, I recommend This is Service Design Doing Method Library. Library consists of 54 hands-on Service Design methods. This is a useful site when choosing the right methods. https://www.thisisservicedesigndoing.com/methods
“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration.” – Robin. S. Sharma
We are living in complex, uncertain and volatile world where human skills such as empathy, creativity and complex problem solving are the most in-demand leadership qualities today. I had a chance to attend a one-day intensive course called Creative Leadership offered by CityDrivers. The trainer of the program was Eleonora Carnasa who is a founder of the design and innovation agency Fabrica 360.
During the day Carnasa talked about how to get the right leadership mind-set with the most essential skills of today: systems thinking, design thinking, creativity and strategic design. By taking the course, my goal was to learn what a Creative Leadership is and how it can be applied to my daily work and life. Here are my key take-aways from the day.
What is Creative Leadership?
“Creative leadership is the ability to create and realize innovative solutions especially in the face of structurally complex or changing situations.” – Fabrica 360
The quotation summarizes the definition for Creative Leadership quite well. During the day Eleonora opened the subject in more detail and presented three core Creative Leadership focus areas: empathy, clarity and creativity. These are the baseline for Creative Leadership, creating a holistic playground for organisational and personal development.
Leadership is all about empathy. It is about to be able to understand people and have the ability to step someone else’s shoes. Eleonora gave examples how a leader can cultivate empathy in their teams:
Empathy causes empathy – Ability to feel emotions is what triggers emotions in others. If you let yourself be vulnerable, it is genuinely easier to connect with someone.
Be present – Everyone are looking for being validated, seen and head. Leader´s job is to help others know they matter.
Catch an invitation for empathy – Catch every smile, tear, frown and eye roll. When you notice them you can shift your behaviour and be present.
Go out there – It is hard to get a perspective if you sit at the office every day. To better understand who you are collaborating with, go to them and observe their routines.
I think everyone in a team can cultivate empathy, not just the leader. Everyone can be present by asking their co-worker how she is doing and be genuinely interested in her reply. If she sees that you care, she can open up about what might be bothering her and what ideas she might have. This creates trust among the team members and confirms the team spirit.
In leadership clarity is a critical component of success. We are living in a constant state of change and chaos is present every day. To create the optimal environment for innovation it requires clarity from the leader. How the leader can bring clarity into the team? Here are few points what Eleonora pointed out:
Clear vision – Leader and the team get lost if they don´t know where they are going. Knowing and communicating the direction where the team is heading is crucial for the success.
Meaningful values – Core values guide the team in the right direction. Communicating the core values and explaining how the team is benefiting from the values creates clarity
Create expectations – Clarity of goals and objectives are vital part of the success. This way the team knows where to focus on and that way effectiveness increases.
Constructive feedback – Everyone make mistakes, but criticism usually don´t help to fix them. Feedback can be done in a way that allows the team to learn and improve, so that next time they know how to avoid mistakes.
I have noticed that sometimes we have so many great ideas that we forget to focus on our actual goal. I think that focusing into right matters are the key element for success. It is great when a leader brings clarity to the table, tasks and roles become into focus and the team forms one solid unit.
I´ve been wondering what is creativity in this context. Eleonora brought up a quotation from Ken Robinson that summarises the definition of creativity quite well: “Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it´s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture”. What creates creativity in teams? I think Eleonora pointed out two most important points how a leader can nurture creativity:
Embrace diversity – Diversity at workplace is the key for creativity. Multidisciplinary teams create diverse ideas. If a leader can create a safe environment, it will encourage everyone challenge shared ideas and offer their own.
Encourage failures – Fear of failure can hinder creativity, that´s why it is important that a leader encourages to fail in that manner that the team will learn from it.
I think leader´s core role is that he can facilitate creativity in others. Meaning that leader encourages and finds the way how everyone can get creativity out from themselves. The highlight of the course was the Superpowers Card Deck, introduced by Carnasa. In my opinion the card deck is a great concrete tool how team members can discover their strengths and that way cultivate their creativity.
Superpowers Card Deck
We played with the cards in the lecture and the cards helped to discover my superpower – what I do better than anyone else on the team. When knowing my own superpower it is easier to activate those powers and be at your best. I´m definitely presenting these cards to my team. If you want to get more information about the superpowers and order the Superpowers Card Deck, here is the link: https://superpowers.sypartners.com/
To sum it up, this one day intensive course opened up the secrets of the Creative Leadership and helped me to find effective ways for building empathy, clarity and creativity in my team. I learnt that when all the team members know and use their superpowers it will clarify the strengths of the whole team. Together we are more.
If you are more interested in the subject, here are few book recommendations I got from the lecture:
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – The book explains the two systems that drive the way we think and what effects on our behaviour. System 1 is emotional, intuitive fast and System 2 is more logical and slower.
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle – The book offers a roadmap for creating an environment where problems get solved, expectations are exceeded and innovation flourishes.
Build It: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement by Glenn Elliott & Debra Corey – The book provides a practical approach to improving employee engagement through ‘The Employee Engagement Bridge’ – model.
Inspiration, encouragement and empowerment. In my opinion, those are the most important values and aspects, which design thinking offers, and the reason why it appeals to so many people regardless the field they work in or are busy with. Design thinking underlines the deep understanding of people – their needs, wishes and motivation – and gives voice to users and customers.
This year’s Service Innovation and Design (SID) studies started with Katja Tschimmel from Mindshake. She guided us through the past and the present of design thinking as well as introduced us the various design tools based on the Evolution 6² model.
But most importantly, she simply made us do it, that is, work in multidisciplinary teams and use the design tools in practice. So, our team, coming from different backgrounds with multifaceted experience, moved from divergent to convergent along the way of design thinking process, and worked on tools such as the opportunity mind map, idea hitlist, vision statement, user groups, intent statement, prototype, visual business model etc.
On the morning of 20 March, Reaktor Design Breakfast event took place in Helsinki. Evolved from a small, mostly local and IT focused company to an international one of strategy, design and engineering, Reaktor is perhaps one of the hottest companies in Finland. Known for its flat hierarchy and multiple prizes won for best place to work, Reaktor also hosts an array of tech and design events for the public.
The main speaker of the event was Katri Saarikivi, a cognitive neuroscientist from Helsinki University and one of the leading researchers and speakers on empathy particularly in digital environments. As always, her presentation was delightful: nicely flowing from empathy as a survival skill for humans 15 million years ago to empathy online and in modern day work organisations. Starting from such ancient setting was not only interesting in order to learn about empathy and its implications for humans throughout our history but, as it was noted, some researchers think 15 million years ago was when us humans were at our most happiest: living in forests and focusing on survival, way before invention of the first tools. Makes one think how much we really have evolved and to what direction…
From there we moved on to the concept of work that Saarikivi describes as “solving the problems of other human beings“, responding to others’ needs besides one’s own. Hence, according to Saarikivi, the need for work done by humans continues to be constant, despite any and all changes that might be coming due to advances in technology such as AI and machine learning.
“Empathy might be at the very core of our best problem-solving ability”
A part of the presentation was around human-centric work and human-centric design: highlighting the role of empathy in understanding the differences between people and thus working better together as well as better responding to others’ needs. The importance of collective intelligence was highlighted: “Best thinking, best work is more often than not a shared activity.” And one of the factors greatly affecting it was non-surprisingly empathy.
Based on studies, Saarikivi also argued that humans are naturally selfless, empathic, and look after one another. However according to research, being in a position of power can reduce your empathy; and the higher your economic status, the lower your empathy skills. The research showed that brains of people in a position of power did not respond as much to other people’s pain as others’ did. Hence one could claim that having artificial positions of power – such as hierarchy in a work place – is not the way to increase empathy in an organisation.
As an example of an organisation not at all encouraging empathy or collective intelligence Saarikivi humorously (or, sadly?) showed us a photo of the main hall of the Finnish Parliament: a setting that encourages competition, highlights monologue, and gives no equal opportunity to all to speak nor respond. Saarikivi continued that disregard of emotions can lead to detrimental effects on work, collaboration, and information quality. This is something to consider especially in digital (work) environments, as the digital tools we still have largely transmit emotions rather poorly.
Empathy: Understand, Act, and Experience
During her presentation Saarikivi also discussed what can be seen as the three sides to empathy: understanding, acting, and experiencing. All three parts are needed for empathy; any one of them missing would not result in the real thing. Empathy skills, however, can be improved by practice. “Your imagination is an important empathy skill“, Saarikivi reminded, and reading fiction has indeed been scientifically proven to enhance our imagination and empathy skills.
She walked us through each of the three aspects of empathy, and also continued on the interesting themes while responding to some participant questions. She pointed out that empathy is not an inherently a positive personality trait but a cognitive skill or mechanism. When asked about any negative aspects of said mechanism, Saarikivi mentioned narcissists. This turn tied it nicely back to the earlier discussion on benefits of flat organisations, narcissist not being interested in applying for positions in flat organisations as they don’t want to be equal wanting to rather rise higher than others. The whole presentation and discussion it encouraged was an interesting dive into empathy – a skill often mentioned as one of the most important tools of a Service Designer.
“Design’s focus has shifted from user needs to business needs”
After Katri Saarikivi’s presentation it was time for Reaktor’s own speakers: Hannu Oksa, Vesa Metsätähti, and Aapo Kojo and Vesa-Matti Mäkinen. Out of those presentations, Reaktor’s Creative Director Hannu Oksa’s resonated with me the most. He discussed the evolving role and ways of design, recently seemingly moving away from designing with and for the user towards focusing on the business needs. He also gave some chilling examples on the rise of fake news and purposely addictive design, stating this has made him deeply consider whether he is part of the problem and making it worse for others. Responsible design in the field of tech is not a topic I’ve often heard about – especially introduced by someone whose career is in the field.
Oksa also discussed the trend of worshipping data without criticism, despite all data being based on history: after all, historical data is exclusive, divisive, and by definition looks back rather than in the future. This hit very close to home, as in many situations and settings even fairly clever people have loudly expressed wanting to e.g. base their entire product or service development on data gathered digitally about their users (or potential users). That can perhaps be all good and well when trying to understand the past situations and coldly follow one’s users’ steps on some platform etc. with for example the help of A/B testing, however how would that give you actual information on WHY they have been doing what they have been doing on a deeper level? Would that tell you what they are like or what they will do in the future? And will that tell you if that is what they actually need or want, or is it simply a representation of the current (well, past) offering – not necessarily having anything to do with the user’s ideal scenario or solution? This kind of worshipping of (past!) data always gives me the chills and certainly wakes up the human-centric designer in me. Often, unfortunately, it’s not a battle worth fighting.
Another thought-provoking, perhaps accidental point was made by Vesa Metsätähti right at the start of his presentation, when he introduced his presentation topic radiot.fi by describing it being “an old service, at least 3-4 years old now.” Indeed, what is the life expectation of a service nowadays, and how long do we consider a service new?
The last presentation by Aapo Kojo and Vesa-Matti Mäkinen was “From Design Vision to Reality”. They introduced a project done for Finnair with a mix of physical and digital services. This gave some practical examples on how to work on a multi-platform project with focus on the customer experience in both the physical and digital parts of the same service.
The breakfast event was definitely worth attending, and hopefully there will be equally interesting ones organised in the near future!
The author Kaisla Saastamoinen is a Service Design Masters student with a passion for human-centric design, co-creation, and coffee.
“Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations.” (Change by design, p49, Tim Brown, 2009)
With these strong words Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO probably the world’s best known design company emphasises the importance of empathy in design. The distinction Brown believes is the is the difference between academic thinking and design thinking.
As we started our path as SID students the first and introduction to a process of design thinking and tools for innovation was the Evolution 6² model. A toolkit that identified 6 key stages of the design thinking process: Emergence, Empathy, Experimentation, Elaboration, Exposition, Extension. The model can be found here.
The tools such as shadowing, moodboards, interviews and empathy maps to name a few in the empathy stage are the very ingredients that create insight into design briefs that a the “fix the problem” approach seldom sees.
It could be called research, discovery or many other things, but to me that it is labeled as empathy is a major distinction as to not the process, but the outcome of the stage. That we have real human-centered empathy for the user and the stakeholders. Standing in the shoes or lying in the gurneys of others as Brown puts it. Borrowing the lives of others we can generate new ideas and insight – even problems that we can address in further stages of the process.
It is the very nature of the of the engineer mindset to locate problems and fix them. A skill we need to have as well, but it is the process of understanding needs and dreams to be design thinkers as Tschimmel points out. A design thinking manager creates better results by being empathetic and human-driven. With empathy we can unlock the very core of the experience, not only the problem. It is not just a bandage on cut, it’s better healthcare. It’s not the next best mouse trap, it is the mousetrap we’d love to have. And it could be that we don’t even want the mouse to be trapped at all. (5, Tschimmel, K 2010)
Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task as Brown says in his blog post about the how only empathy can solve complex and large scale problems. A video from his blog post illustrates this well.
As a designer we are many times full of ideas and a urgency of need to help people solve problems and create new ideas.
But maybe we should first realize that maybe we are not prefect for the job. We need to start with empathy first. That as a 34 year old designer with a love for food and wine, It maybe makes me ill prepared to design a much needed kitchen gadget for a grandmother with arthritis as Brown puts it. That we as designers need to boot up and suit up to immerse ourselves to find new creative solutions to other people’s challenges. With empathy we can.
Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.