Nilima Achwal

SOCAP11: Gleaning Insights in Design Thinking

At SOCAP11, the Design for Social Innovation track exposed us to some powerful design thinking techniques. On the panel (pictured left to right above) were Karim Hibma and Michael Cronan from :: CRONAN ::, and Maria Guidice and Sarah Brooks from Hot Studio. These design firms have worked with a number of household name companies, including Barnes and Noble, Levi Strauss & Co. and TiVo; as well several as socially known firms like Kiva and Code for America.

Note: I’ve combined responses from all four panelists into the answers below.

Why is design important and why now?

Design used to be about making artifacts. Now, we’ve come to a point where experience is a commodity. For this reason, design is blowing up, since it’s about creating the user experience. But at the core, we still have to remember and preserve what it is about – it’s about a relationship, a shamanistic relationship, even.

Transparency is a big issue nowadays as well. That’s why experience, doing the right things for the right reasons, is important. Design can help with this.

What are the best methods for gaining insights?

Don’t focus on the answers. It is so easy to answer a question and make things happen. Why not, instead, search for the right questions that take us to the higher order of thinking.

There are a few simple tools to begin to help with this:

  • Simple investigative journalism-ask the “Who-what-when-where-why-how.” You’ll end up with a lot more information than you expected and break down false assumptions.
  • Find inspiration in the everyday. Being human-centered enables you to walk around with eyes wide open, listening for the answers. But it’s often not what people say-the questions lie in how they say it or what they do in the environment around them.
  • Find a way to truly be a part of the community.
  • When you listen to someone’s idea, listen whole-hearted and soak it in without critique or analysis. Let it live in you for a few days. Only then should you begin to critique it.
  • Know exactly who you’re designing for. Articulate who this person is, down to her name, back story, and how she is going to interact with the product and why it matters to her (e.g. Latisha is a 25-year-old hair stylist…)

How do you set the stage for collaboration and participation?

Create diagonal teams, from top government leadership down to the postal messengers who will deliver your product. Really get all the stakeholders to engage in a conversation with one another.

Within your own design team, remember that the age of the lone rock star is gone. We need an inter-disciplinary team of people from different backgrounds and of different ages and experiences to solve these complex problems. That’s when the magic happens, and you create a robust, unbeatable solution.

Create an environment where people feel safe to throw out crazy ideas. The kindest, most respectful thing you can do for anyone, is to really listen to them.

Not call it “my problem” or “your problem” and don’t try to “solve” it. Just play with the problem and think, “How much fun can I have doing what I do?” Make it happen through play, because it’s the only way it’s going to happen.

Have lots of food coming – people tell the truth over food.

Establish trust within your team. Think of it like this: We’re on a journey, and there are going to be bumps. But only way we’re going to get over the bumps is recognize that we’re all on the bus together. As the first exercise, ask: “What are you afraid of” and start with the quietest person. You will get bad stuff out early on, and people will create alliances in their fears. It’s cathartic. Follow that with: “What are your hopes and dreams?” Being a designer is about dreaming big.

What does it mean to follow the Golden Rule?

Do-goodery is not just condescending, it’s naïve. You have to move away from wanting to “do good,” to realizing that creating new systems is the only way that it’s going to work, for everyone involved.

Thanks to these design leaders for sharing their valuable insights with us!

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Education, Impact Assessment
product design