Exploring to Discover Your Mission
By: Katrina Brundage (@KBrun13)
It was the first day of summer camp. I walked into work that day, unsure of what would lie ahead. My academic summer camp had been cancelled for most of the summer due to low enrollment, making me on the verge of being cut from the staff for the week. My manager had me start helping with some odds and ends that needed to be done around the office, but it was not long before I got called into our department director’s office. She handed me a manila folder and said, “Here, this is your new job for the summer.” We had fourteen Japanese teens coming for two weeks in August, and I was tasked with figuring out how to design this new summer camp exchange program. All the sudden I had gone from a tutor and summer camp counselor, to designing and managing a cross-cultural exchange that I knew nothing about.
It was then that I began to understand the value of exploration in the design process. First, I began learning and understanding the culture and the goals of the organization and the exchange program. I began collecting folders of notes from staff who had helped plan the previous year, contacting previous host families, and attempting to collect as much information as I could about other organizations’ exchange programs. Second, I had to identify the real problem. My organization had a goal to give people the tools and resources to improve their own lives and the lives of others. So, the exchange program goal became providing teens with meaningful exposure to other cultures. The third exploration task is to visualize your findings and the underlying structure of the services. The exchange program had begun the summer before, but the inaugural exchange lacked organization, coordination, and community involvement to be truly successful. And thus, my design mission continued to developing this blank slate into a cross-cultural exchange program that embraced the organization’s mission of improving lives, developing youth and leadership, and engaging community.
Exploration is vital to understanding an organization, the problems it faces, and the best course of action. All design tasks should begin with a black canvas. Then by learning the culture of the organization and their goals, you begin to shape that canvas. As you do so, the target, the problem(s) within the organization, begins to appear. Until you have determined where this target lies, you cannot adequately develop design darts to throw at the canvas.
In the story above, I came into the organization with no knowledge of the prior year’s exchange. I had to learn about the organization and the history of the exchange program in order to understand the existing culture, define the task at hand, and set goals for designing a thriving summer camp exchange. In many ways, my lack of prior experience was positive because I could think outside the box about new ways to recruit community members as host families or to develop new and interesting camp programming ideas that previously were deemed impossible.
It can be hard to focus on the problem without jumping to answers. Once you get one answer in your head, it can be difficult to move away from it. But exploration is about defining your target and loading up an arsenal of darts, rather than hitting the bullseye on your first shot. It’s the missed shots along the way that you learn the most from anyway.
Exploration in Service Design
September 30, 2014
By: Trevor Olsen
One of the first steps in design thinking is identifying a problem. The exploration phase aims to identify a problem that needs a solution. There is no way to identify a problem, though, without first understanding the culture and goals of the company providing the service. Through a hands-on activity in class, we were able to test out this exploration phase for ourselves, and were able to see the importance of taking time to understand the parties at play and their different goals.
During our class activity, we were told to start with a “blank canvas” and to steer away from “self-editing.” Sometimes in the business or legal world it gets easy to just continue to do things and solve problems the way they’ve been done before. If something is successful now, why won’t it continue to be? That belief is dangerous though because things are always changing. While one solution may work, there may very well be other solutions and processes that are more efficient and effective. Unless you start fresh and think outside the box, those better solutions may never be discovered. Beginning with a blank canvas aims to prevent just following traditional linear thinking models. Those A, B, and C choices might not even be feasible solutions. A blank canvas helps eliminate this bias so that those X, Y, and Z choices can be discovered.
Self-editing often occurs unknowingly. It takes a conscious effort not to do it. Staying away from self-editing however, is an effective way of getting all your thoughts on down for review later on. Eliminating self-edit can definitely produce a lot of junk, but when those ideas are later refined, that one crazy idea just may be the answer to a new and improved way of conducting business. It is better to populate your blank-canvas with more ideas than fewer ideas. After all, you can always eliminate things later on. Another aspect of not self-editing is team members feel like they can share anything, even if that idea is way out there. If a team is self-editing, certain members might be a little reserved to share ideas for fear of the other team members judging those ideas as bad ones. That could produce only a few team members producing most of the ideas, and who knows how many good ideas would be lost because of that.
From our in-class activity, I noticed the important thing was to start with the big picture. Once our team understood the parties from a high level, we could identify the most basic problem we needed to find a solution to. With this high-level understanding, we could then start to slowly narrow down our focus to discover the finer details that influence the overall problem to solve.
A Crazy Idea
By: Mazen Berri
Gilles Ste-Croix said to “start from scratch, from a white page, till we’ve come up with stuff that nobody had ever dreamed before.” That statement alone is powerful enough to answer three questions; (1) why this is so important for exploration, (2) why it is important to begin with a blank canvas, and (3) what are the values of setting no limitations and implementing “crazy” ideas.
Exploration is crucial. It ties in well with beginning with a new blank canvas. I strongly believe that beginning with a new canvas can lead to greater and more innovative ideas than exploring an already built canvas/model. A person attempting to change a model that already exists will be limited in implementing their ideas; rules would already be in place that will limit a person to explore their “crazy ideas”. That is why beginning with a clean slate will allow the explorer to reach into different models that have not yet been implemented or tested. These so-called “crazy ideas” are what creates a distinct difference between a successful innovation and an epic fail. Eventually, remolding an existing canvas or business idea, will eventually become stale over a period of time. Having a fresh start, with a blank sheet, will allow these ideas to flourish and be different than the market standard and the traditional ideas that competitors are constantly tweaking. In addition, it will allow the explorer to know the absolute ins and outs of the model they are creating. It will allow them to learn it from the ground up, and determine what will fail and what will prevail in a sense. It is important when exploring to not have any rules or barriers that would constraint the explorer. After all, it is the “crazy idea” that creates the mystery and moved through the funnel to eventually create the algorithm
Please, Keep Your Bias “At Bay”
By: Ekelemchi Okpo
Mystery, heuristic, and algorithm are the three steps in the Design Thinking funnel. Within the mystery stage is where a company explores a problem that is in need of a solution. The goal here is to find a solution that will allow the organization to gain a competitive edge in that particular industry. The heuristic stage is the narrowing down of the problem to a manageable proposition that can be successfully executed. And finally, the Algorithm stage is the formula to solve the mystery that is now being tackled from a strategic angle via its heuristic findings. At this point, the goal is to uncover something innovate. In other words, there is a need to discover the unconventional. However, to accomplish this, it is important to think in the outlier and dish the linear. Ultimately, there is a need to keep your bias “at bay” and become in tune with your creative mind.
The mystery stage of Design Thinking is where exploration mostly falls into. During this stage of the Design Thinking assignment, it is important to avoid “self-editing”. Utilizing a blank canvas to brain storm promotes innovative thinking. However, the presence of mind to stay away from self-editing, and the desire to utilize a blank canvas will certainly create a disconnect between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking. While there needs to be a balance between the two concepts, analytical thinking invites bias into the Design Thinking project. Additionally, the use of analytical thinking takes away from creativity, and leaves many stones unturned. By heavily relying on analytical thinking, one takes the risk of limiting the possibilities and opportunities that comes with free thinking, and the use of the human intuition.
Finally, taking the conservative route is the enemy of creative developments. It is easy to see why many organizations lean towards analytical thinking. It brings comfort due to its production of consistency. Additionally, it is relatively easier to scale and measure in comparison to exploring an intuitive solution. However, innovative and forward thinking organization value validity over reliability. Organizations who are good at keeping their “bias at bay” are the ones who excel at producing valid solutions because they take full advantage of not only the heuristic and algorithms, but they are not afraid to fully explore the mystery. In today’s rapidly evolving consumer market, the lack of creativity, and the constant pit fall of thinking linearly is the definition of insanity. Yes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So please, keep your “bias at bay.”
Simultaneous Near-Sightedness and Far-Sightedness Are Required for Design Exploration
By: Daniel Brick
The exploration phase of the design process can be quite ethereal to the first-time participant. It is a lot like starting a race that has no defined course. How do you even win? Likewise how do you progress through the exploration phase enough to move to the next step? There are no limits, but being able to keep a simultaneous near-sighted and far-sighted approach may be the most efficient way to constrain the scope of the approach enough for the designer to keep perspective, while also thinking broader.
The main purpose of the exploration phase is to define the problem. But even defining the problem may be elusive – what is it really? The problem really goes to what needs to be resolved by the client, or clients. But, if you solely focus on the clients, your near-sightedness excludes ideas that have not been thought of yet. Self-editing becomes the result of over near-sightedness. Instead of exploring new options to resolve a potential mystery, you end up tweaking an old heuristic that probably should have been disregarded in the first place. The client likely has already come up with options A, B, and C. Self-editing and being near-sighted will only result in a regurgitation of what the client already knows.
Conversely, being too far-sighted in the design approach may cause a loss of perspective. Complete loss of sight of the client may lead to the generation of infeasible options like G, H, and I, when what was really needed for the design process to work was options D, E, and F. Constrained far-sightedness facilitates the “blank canvass” approach. Beginning with this “blank canvass” really allows for new ideas to flow that could not be possible under “self-editing.”
The best approach, in my opinion, is therefore a simultaneous combination of the two. Being simultaneously cognizant of the client’s problem while trying to look beyond the generally thought of ideas of a particular industry facilitate the exploration approach in the most effective way.