Design Thinking for beginners (and why I did the Baby Shark dance)

15 Apr 2019 | WorkLife

Design Thinking for beginners (and why I did the Baby Shark dance)

By Louise Smith

Coming from a photographic agency background, there’s been lots to learn since I joined Perq Studio as Studio and Project Manager six weeks ago. With the business thriving, I’ve already gotten lots of hands on experience in the Studio, but I wanted my knowledge to keep growing. We’ve had lots of discussions about the value of Design Thinking and I wanted to further my understanding by taking a more practical approach, so on a rainy night in London I headed to a workshop hosted by Red Academy.

The Design Thinking premise seems simple enough – form a team to collaboratively address a challenge, but rather than placing your initial focus on the outcome you desire, change your mindset to centre on the people involved and what it is that they really need. Use this insight to collectively generate potential solutions, taking your strongest one forward to prototype, and develop your solution iteratively, seeking feedback to refine and improve your product along the way. But what does Design Thinking look like in practice? I was about to spend the next two hours finding out!

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask…for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes” which was a great way for our tutor Stefano to introduce the first of the Design Thinking phases, empathise. As a human centred approach, Design Thinking requires practitioners to immerse themselves in understanding how the users are affected by the current problem to ensure that solutions are fit for purpose, so after we were split into two groups our challenge was to put ourselves in the position of children on their first day of school.

After considering what we would feel, say and do at every stage of our customer journey - from waking up to arriving in the classroom – we moved on to the second phase, defining the challenge by framing one element of the experience as a question. In the case of my group, a child may be scared they will get lost in their new surroundings, so we asked how might we help new pupils to orientate themselves?

We let our creativity loose for the next phase, ideation, as we were encouraged to build on one another’s suggestions to create both simple and out of the box possible solutions. Collectively we conceived ideas for everything from directional flags with pictures and student ambassadors serving as ushers to immersive VR experiences, with a brief detour via Bear Grylls dropping in to give our four year olds a quick survival lesson!

With our team bonding more by the second, our next step was to pick one possible solution to prototype and present to the other group. Taking one of the most suggested ideas we had – a walking tour of the school – we decided to make it more engaging by combining a few of our group’s other suggestions to create a conga style song and dance procession to lead the children around the premises. We designed the school layout using chairs to make a corridor and created signs to represent the locations we were taking in (the toilets, playground, canteen and hall). Having agreed on a highly repetitive choice of lyrics, which would at least be easy for our tiny humans to remember if not particularly tuneful, we were ready to present our prototype to the other group for the final Design Thinking phase, testing.

Despite their initial laughter, the other team, who were cast as our new starters, whole heartedly embraced our approach and were all singing and dancing their way through our ‘corridors’ in no time! But what did they think of the quality of our idea? Overall they were very positive, agreeing that we had defined a real challenge and that broadly speaking our solution was fit for purpose as the tour helped them get their bearings in a fun and age appropriate way. But that’s not to say that there wasn’t room for improvement. One of the participants commented that extra support may be required for students with physical disabilities in order for them to join the tour, so we may need to get some teaching assistants on hand. And just like that a concept that hadn’t existed two hours earlier was already receiving actionable feedback to inform the next design iteration.

It was of course then time for me and my team to take on the role of the youngsters to trial the other group’s prototype. They defined their challenge around another very valid struggle for new pupils, feeling insecure. By co-incidence they had also decided on a musical approach, wanting to create an ice breaker, which is how I found myself performing my debut of the Baby Shark dance with nine strangers! While this absolutely lightened the mood, I felt that it was only really serving as a temporary distraction from first day insecurities, it didn’t impart any knowledge that made me feel more comfortable once the music stopped. When I shared this feedback, the tutor suggested that perhaps pupils could insert their own names into the song, and once again another iteration began to take shape.

While the workshop was a bit of a Design Thinking whirlwind because it was so short, it undeniably served to demonstrate the ideals of the approach which I felt really complemented my existing agile knowledge. I saw the value of empathy when devising business solutions, I experienced the benefits of collaboration, even with people I don’t know, I re-enforced my belief that things don’t always need be 100% perfect before they are launched, and I was able to embrace user input to inform a decision on how to refine my solution moving forward.

Design Thinking may have foundations in research and development, but I think that it is clear that a human centred approach not only benefits other disciplines but that in the case of creative industries especially it can be a license to push boundaries.

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