Lab 11— Revisiting & Revising


Professor Wallace picks up the marker and helps students envision design possibilities of their product.

It surprises me that almost a month has gone by since my last post. A lot has happened, and it just needs to be more processed before committing to paper, but here’s a preview of some of the posts and thesis that I’m sure will present themselves eventually:

  • The 2016 Election, where hypersensitivity and ignorance— ironically enough— got Trump elected;
  • Participating in Hacking arts, a social experiment to see how you can induce mania in a group of people and thereby more efficiently mine them for ideas;
  • A highly attended Info Session for my OpenMind::OpenArt Project and a series of meetings where a particular exhibit theme keeps resurfacing: portraits of the mentally “ill” as the ones with superhero abilities, the ones that everyone wants to be.


But in 2.009 world, Technical Review just happened, and teams have only 2.5 weeks to build their product. For Tech Review, the saying goes that it’s “better to have one thing work well, than a whole bunch of not much.” For the Product Launch on December 12th, it “should look like you bought it at the store and just took it out of the box.” Because the team didn’t place highly in Tech Review, this gave them a new sense of urgency, of wanting to do better.

So, in this meeting before Thanksgiving, the students had to go back to the drawing board, literally (see image above), and question some decisions that had earlier been taken for granted. The teams split into the critical sub-groups of brakes, frame, and “everything else.” While the team was generally very productive, it was clear that one major thing was hindering their progress: They had yet to finalize what specific user they were going to be designing for with this product, so now that they were getting down to the wire, they were arguing for multiple implementations of certain features since different parts of the team had a different end user in mind. The differences that seemed subtle (user with a walker, user with a walker with back issues, user that is new to a walker) now became enlarged by their effect on the specific treatments of the handles, brake positions, and degree of inclination of the frame.


Ultimately, I was reminded that as a designer, it’s unavoidable: we have to make hard decisions and leave some users out, whether we like it or not. And, we can’t be afraid of taking it back to the basics and questioning everything!



Lab 7— The Politics of Design Decisions

Today, Blue team had a big decision to make: which of the four product concepts (Unbound, Berrel, Stride, or Brackit) are going to be chosen as the final idea to be developed even further.

It was a tense affair, of course, but ultimately the team came to a consensus where only 5 of the 18 would have chosen the other idea, but were still happy with the chosen product concept. The big reveal: they’re taking Stride in full force!

My biggest observation during this decision was how expressive (or not) the students were. Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of election season, but it made me wonder: are there ultimately two kinds of persons:

  • Expressive v. Non-Expressive
  • Emotional v. Rational
  • Subjective v. Objective

I don’t know if it aligns with a Democrat v. Republican split, but the images of Hillary’s v. Trump’s faces in  the first and second debates (she kinda “lost it” in the third) were strikingly relevant to me while watching these kids debate.

Other images that came to mind were the two kinds of conferences I’ve been to (I’m simplifying here):

  1. The Design Thinking Research Symposium, where we were all in the search of knowledge, looking for the most interesting interpretation of a shared dataset, eager to hear the other speakers’ perspectives and think up how we might expand on that or use that to further our own understanding of design thinking.
  2. The MIT Energy Conference, where the panel we organized— Demand Response in Uncertain times— the power went off at this Copley Hotel IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PANEL, by the way— — gave the mic to influencers that wanted to persuade or dissuade the public to prioritize action around these energy strategies. It wasn’t political, just a call to action.


In school, we’re taught to listen to our adversaries so we can understand their point, and then effectively use it in our counterarguments. Somehow somewhere, the expression of “internalizing someone’s point” became synonymous “not expressing a reaction to that point”. This is funny to me, since, in fact, it’s easiest to disguise someone that’s not paying attention as someone that’s “not expressing a reaction to that point.”

Some barely-founded speculation:

  • Does our model of “internalizing someone’s point” come from what we see Congressmen doing? Cuz Lord knows they are NOT keeping up with every point being said on the floor. They’re not reacting because they’re keeping polite, they’re not reacting because they’re not even paying attention sometimes!
    • Note: This is not entirely their fault. We have limited times on the Senate floor, for example, and they’ve got to prepare their own speeches, too! What’s a gal to do?
  • Do we restrain from showing expression in fear that we’ll be categorized as those people that are too emotional, or worse, too uncivilized? I wonder how that pares with shifts in desirable qualities every so often that find that voters are looking for someone that is more invested in the real issues and more empathetic to their needs…
  • Does it stem from previous notions of what an “educated” person behaves like (calm and collected?) vs. the association of an outspoken, hyper-expressive, victim that needs to prove a point and can only do so by barking up a tree to call for danger? Or worse, is this an implicit cultural bias where we’re favoring the “white-and-not-nearly-as-expressive-as-their-Latin-counterparts” style of communication? Are we disadvantaging the immigrants again?
    • Then there’s the concept your parents teach you when you begin to make sense of the world: only those that don’t have a point need scream, but imagine saying that to all the people that have a point, but nobody is listening? Or to the people just born with loud voices!? (kidding, sort of)
  • Or is this just stemming from good ol’ war strategy where we can’t let them call our bluff and figure out what we truly believe and what we’ll attack next? Are judges the model here, because they won’t “express” their opinion til the end? Why not? Wouldn’t we just be that much more transparent and effective (maybe even efficient) if we had real-time data on how the lawyer’s performance is going? Or are we just assuming that we can’t handle that much variance (can’t risk mis-interpreting the facial expression and responding to that)?

I just wonder whether or not studies have shown any kind of correlation between the “expressive” and “non-expressive” and how that relates to any of the laid out parallels, but most notably to those that win and lose. I suspect the timing of the expression, and the jading that comes with “overdoing it” whatever that means, must play an effect. Then, I wonder if the same study, done in a very expressive, cultural country would yield the same results.


Think about it: Do you want an emotional President? 

Lab 6— Don’t just imitate, mock it up.

“Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” — Charles Colton


And so we needed to make our purpose even more clear, yet again:

You are to create a mockup that addresses your most critical question at this juncture. Something that, if remains unsolved, will present a significant issue in the development of this product in the very near future. Even though creating a more polished, realistic-looking shell of this product will help your teammates envision what it “could (maybe some day) be”,  that still won’t help you in the long run of solving critical issues towards the viability of your concept. No more flattery. More mocking. 

The students are working hard on their mock-up prototypes for this Thursday’s Review. The four concepts are continuously evolving, as they should:

  • Bike Lock –> Now a bike rack to prevent theft
    • Like a bike share system’s method of locking, but for all types of bikes
  • Bed Rails –> Implementation ideas for actually making it “safer” now in development, much closer to understanding their essential value proposition
    • We trust that they can make an existing bed rail swing open to be more convenient, but can they make the product safer than it’s competitors?
  • TrashCAN got canned. Now, they’re exploring walkers that allow you to rotate/pivot without having to walk in a big grand circle?
    • Plus, the brakes could use some more consistency
  • FreeLift fell under it’s own weight and in it’s place they resuscitated Timber, with a twist: Anti-jamming chainsaws that don’t get caught on the weight of the trees being cut
    • Apparently, cut trees tilt on themselves and pinch the chainsaw and sometimes it gets really ugly really quickly. (Who knew!? Here’s a video I looked up)


So, 3 of the 4 concepts significantly changed from last Tuesday at this past Saturday’s meeting, with less than a week before the presentation, and I couldn’t be happier.

Design reviews are there to help the designer structure their creation process, but the most important part of the process is that it requires constant iteration. If you don’t double back, admit your faults, and start from the beginning now, you’re only prolonging the bigger upheaval until later in the game. Similarly, if you mistake the design review  presentations as a show of how much work you did, you’ve missed the point of the work.

I should remind myself of this more often and hold myself accountable by Day as well—

Present something you learned from:

if you work for the learning, the proof of the making and the working will show on it’s own.

Lab 4&5- Sketching out Models of the Competition

These last two weeks in 2.009 had the teams working on their Sketch Models, building a total of 6 ideas per team. They built prototypes hard into the night(s) and presented them in front of their first set of spotlights.

The Sketch Model Review results were beautifully compiled here:


Now, days after Instructor reviews have circulated, the team comes together and performs a beautiful system of objective, internal, but hard criticism: Each section has to help critique the other section’s product development, since ultimately, both sections will be working on one of these products for the rest of the semester. Within friendly borders, they have to be tough critics to themselves, since together, they decide their fate.

As I sit mentoring the team through their decision process, some things become clear to me:

  • Always ask the hard questions first.
    • The better the models at the beginning, the clearer the decisions can be made later on to decide between one product and another, because the fewer uncertainties there will be when making a decision.
  • Some come in with their preferences before the discussion has even begun. It’s clear when they come together, however, that they aren’t actually all aligned along the same preferences.
  • The final stretch is always the most fun. Right before the deadline is when most of the building happens and when students do the most action and hands-on stuff. To get to do this more, and to get to learn more, it’s a great idea to give each other a shorter, artificial deadline that will push you to  put in a “sprint” amount of work well before the real deadline, and figure out supply constraints well before the real deadline when it’s too late for procurement.
  • The Convergence-Divergence Dance: There are deadlines, there is a lot to do, but there’s still a lot to explore from the standpoint of technical approaches, design form, and even use-cases. There will never be a good time to diverge and consider more approaches, but this is critical of a successful team. Before getting into the work needed for the next deadline — e.g. the Mockup Review— it’s important to step back and try to approach with new eyes and a new perspective. It’s surely better to do this earlier rather than when it’s too late.
  • I still wish that “Impact” was a category that lived on all Pugh Charts. I think we owe it to ourselves. I think there’s plenty of problems in our world that need solving that could use bright minds like those at MIT, and I think we should start thinking diligently about how to measure the impact of our products.

  • I think we should do a better job of teaching about User Needs. As designers, we’re supposed to be finding product opportunities in places where our users don’t even suspect there could be room for innovation. It’s our job to notice a user’s need before they even notice it, for example. The problem is, when it comes time to decide between one idea and the next, the mark of “User need/market” continues to come up, and that means that decisions are being made based on what the designer assumes is a greater need for a user, when, in fact, the user may not even want to use such a thing, or even want their alleged problem solved.

  • Nothing is more important than building team spirits when they’re the most tired.
    • The best part of pulling such a grand team effort for Thursday night’s Sketch Model? When they come to class the next day, the teams race out to Killian for their Team’s Build Challenge. It’s a race like no other.


You can see the amazing pictures and relive the event through pictures on the home page.

P.S. My Blue Team eliminated SafeStep and Timber….so mock-up models of BLock, trashCAN, Berrel, and FreeLift….here we go!

Lab3- What’s a Sketch Model?

Where we are

Today’s Lab, in bullets:

  • Went through all the reviewers’ comments from their 3-Ideas Presentations
    • Students reacted and discussed them, adding their own comments
  • Went over next week’s milestone: presenting 3 Sketch Models for each section
  • Instructors gave their thoughts and notes to help navigate the design process
  • Team split into their two sections. In my section, they:
    • Gave themselves 25 minutes for Ideation
    • Had a design pin-up to share their new ideas from that ideation session and from work over the weekend
    • Worked through a Pugh Chart to organize their discussion on each product idea.

Two general topics emerged for me throughout this lab: The Power of Sketch Models, and the High Stakes of Early Idea Presentations.


The Power of Sketch Models

I find it fascinating that in my own work today I chose to make a Sketch Model for one of the concepts that I’m working on. We’re looking for what kinds of educational models can be built based on the structures of the inner ear’s semicircular canals that help us balance ourselves.

Science Sidebar:

As it turns out: there’s a fascinating system of fluid swooshing past hair receptors that connect to your vestibular nerve to signal your brain whether or not you’re balanced. There are three tubes, or canals, for the fluid to swoosh around in, and each tube represents our x-, y-, and z-axis. You can see this easiest in the model below by picturing the connecting lines for each loop as it goes through the tupperware container: the three lines end up being orthogonal to each other.

And just like that: We have the basics of an Inertial Measurement Unit!

What I needed to know today was:

  • Can a physical inner ear model be made feasibly in our Studio?
    • What are some of the variables that we could manipulate for a better educational model and exercise?
  • Are inner ear semicircular canals interesting to play with?

If the answer to any of these questions was no, our design would probably not survive further development. These were things that needed to be cleared from the beginning, before we invested further development on the concept.

Critical questions should be addressed as early as possible. 

By addressing the toughest questions first, you avoid spending time on an idea that may prove to be infeasible in the end. Nobody wants to work on something that you should have figured out, with a simple prototype/test early on, wasn’t feasible.

A Sketch Model is a rapid prototype made to answer a critical question that pertains to the viability of the design concept. 

In other words, you want the bad news first. If the product is going to fail, you want to hear about that up front, early on, and before your sunk costs of time and effort keeps growing.

Really, more of the world should operate on the quick turn around times that Sketch Models give you. Agile testing and design processes…imagine that in the Supreme Court….


Early Ideas, High Stakes

Everything begins with an idea.

—Earl Nightengale

How do ideas get weeded out?

Sometimes it’s the outspoken ones. Sometimes it’s the emotionally backed ones. An sometimes, it’s the intriguing, promising ones. Truth is, it’s really hard to predict which idea pitch is going to be successful. In fact, most Venture Capitalist don’t ever award their investments on the basis of the idea. Nay. Instead, they invest in the team, knowing that together, they will take an idea —some idea, maybe one that hasn’t crossed their path yet— farther than any other team.

But in the product design game—say, once you’re part of a product design firm— the team is already chosen, now the name of the game is choosing a product idea that will be successful to bring revenues to the company. And with that, idea selection is no longer an arbitrary determinant.

If we could just have some verifier, some evaluator of ideas that can tell us how strong this idea is, we could just run through discussions much more effectively…We would have something like a template for ideas, and our smart computers would look up any existing relationships between the different components of the idea— basically, looking up the structure of the idea and comparing it against a database of previously identified successful or unsuccessful ideas. Perhaps it’s the approach to the problem, or the relationships drawn by the idea, or it might even be the combinations of technology, user, context that determine the idea’s success factor, but something’s gotta be possible.

As I learned in today’s Ted Radio Hour podcast, “The Source of Creativity” from Elizabeth Gilbert: Humans have been making art for 30,000 years, and only doing agriculture for 10,000 years. As she puts it, that means it was more important for them to create and express their ideas than to figure out a way to feed themselves regularly!

I simply argue that with so many ideas accumulated over time there must be a way to systemize their evaluation so that we are better ideators, decision-makers, and VC investors.


Idea pitches: From objectively detached to emotionally engrossed

The first day the students pitched the ideas they came up with at home, you could tell you were in an MIT lab. With a few exceptions, the idea pitches were sterile, objective, detached. I suspect that was the students’ best attempts at remaining scientifically accurate when dealing with personal ideas in a democratic team decision.

Today, however, the idea pitches were exponentially more emotional, contextual, and padded with stories. The ideas stuck out as their presenters painted a vivid picture of the product’s potential: it’s use case, what it could look like or do for you, even the impact it could have for “the world at large”.

I suspect this shift happened because since their first lab, they’ve had to present 3 well-thought out Ideas that had them:

  • Do market research (identifying what segment the user lives in),
  • Find existing customers to buy their product, and
  • Consider the technical feasibility of the product.

Now that they’ve gotten substantive feedback on ideas presented in this format, they can appreciate including this information, instead of kidding themselves that it was possible (or feasible) to ignore that information in the first place.

The idea pitches now are more substantive, more loaded with content, and more discussion-ready. The information is still scientifically accurate, but it also adds layers of information to the idea, such as a persona for the potential user at the end of the design process.

The space where the idea is going to live— its user, its use case, its technology— all of this needs to be pitched.

Otherwise, we risk misunderstanding, or worse, letting an idea go by that had plenty of unspoken potential. The trouble is that the “scientifically minded” still interpret this information as them trying to make the case for their idea, instead of just offering the simple backbone of the idea— no dressing it up— and having the team choose it.

These two things— providing context for understanding and providing schmoozing points to sell an idea— should not be confused. In fact, understanding the difference could come to make or break an idea. And that’s a game we can’t afford to lose.



A teaser for next time…

The three ideas chosen to explore in the Sketch Model phase were, in order of highest to lowest number of votes:

  1. Lumber jack falling warning
  2. BikeBreak
  3. Better Crutches
  4. (and what came in 4th place:) Alcohol/tester wristband

It’s interesting to note that ideas 3 and 4— crutches and alcohol tester— have come up in every team I’ve mentored for the past 4 years. This tells me two things:

  • There’s a reason they were never picked to move to the final stages of the design process, and
  • There’s a reason they keep coming up.

We’ll see what discoveries the teams have made by next Lab, hopefully answering good Critical Questions!

Lab 2-Pugh it up!

The Magic of Downselecting: From 85 > 27 > 16 > 10 > 3 Ideas

Where we are

It’s Tuesday at 7pm. 18 students are gathered around a conference room table in the basement of building 3.

Over the weekend, students did more research on their product themes and visited assigned locations all over Boston for an Observation Exercise, (brainstormed new ideas, of course), presented their ideas, and had to downselect from their 85 ideas to 3 ideas. These 3 ideas will be researched over the week and presented on Monday’s 3-Ideas Presentation on 24″x36″ posters in front of all the course staff and students.

So, a few thoughts on the path to getting down from 85 to 3 Ideas:

Observation Exercises

  • SO incredibly important. As an exercise, it:
    • forces you to focus on a new setting that you may not have predicted useful.
    • forces you out of your usual locations, forcing you to build empathy with users of this new environment.
    • is an easy and non-traditional way of assigning HomeWork to kids.

To objectify? Or to emotionalize? That is the question.

How do you present yourself?

How is that different from how you present an idea you have?

At MIT, it seems we try to be as objective as possible about the ideas we are offering, so as to not influence the team’s decision—we want them to choose the best idea, not the best presentation of an idea.

This sounds obvious, even generous, but there’s one thing…
We fall in love with stories, and we buy with our emotion. So it may not be the worst to get caught up in a story presentation around a product. In fact, I find this is a reference to the tension between product-based design and problem-based design:

    • In problem-based design, you begin with the story, the user at the center, and design (whatever is called for) around the problem. This may be a product, a service, or a space.
    • In product-based design (or, at least, for the pedagogical purposes of teaching “Design” to a bunch of seniors), your goal is to create a product. However meaningful, impactful, or successful your product is will be up to your own metrics. Of course, if a product idea comes into the pile that also happens to solve someone’s problem significantly, that’s even better. But ultimately, the goal is to have a good product at the end—however you define it— with our without a user whose problem is solved.

This presents two issues:

  1. The difference in beginning with a user, or human at the center of your design process, vs. beginning with a product idea for development, may result in vastly different outcomes, but I am of the opinion that the skills needed to complete either are similar, if not the same. They may just be used at different points in the chronological arc of development of the product.
    • e.g. In problem-based design, User Studies and “Empathy and Defining” is the first thing to take off: interviews and observations of users to find and define their needs and the opportunity spaces that will inspire “solutions” or product ideas to take off. In product-based design, this User interaction will come after significant ideating of the product, or solution, has already happened in order to discover how the idea can be refined so that the product could be most useful to its user.
  2. It is still not possible to make it to the 3-Ideas presentation without consideration of the user, or what the “Market Potential” might be for one’s idea. This is one of the few requirements for the poster, to give a number, in dollars, of a market estimate. This is great as it forces you to think about two things:
    1. Who do we envision using this produce? Who is our user? And what is their usual willingness to pay for items like this?
    2. What are other products like this? In what ways? And where in this range of product affiliation would we like to fall?


The Silent Treatment

There are many, many ways to go from 85 to 3 Ideas.
Here was Blue team’s approach:

  1. Pin-up 85 ideas to the board giving small pitches for each as they go up.
  2. Give each team member 5 stickies to vote on their favorite ideas.
  3. Remove clutter. 27 ideas were left.
  4. Give each team member 3 stickies to vote on their favorite ideas.
  5. Remove clutter. 16 ideas were left.
  6. Begin significant discussion of ideas leftover.
    • To frame the conversation, they began with feasibility, or, how feasible they thought their idea was to achieve (within one semester). After enough discussion the infeasible ideas were marginalized and removed.
  7. With 10 ideas left, they began a Pugh Chart for these, with the following criteria for aspects that define a product opportunity:
    • novelty and excitement about the idea;
    • clarity and strength of customer need;
    • market/business potential;
    • and aspects of feasibility, including
      • technical interest/excitement,
      • ability to test, and
      • appropriateness of scope.

One factor that could significantly change the outcome is actually a social factor, and it happens at the time of voting with your stickies for your favorite idea. When it comes time to vote on these, you may:

  • have a silent vote at the board,
  • have a group discussion and then move to vote at the board, or
  •  vote in your seat by making up your mind, from your chair, and then getting up all at once to place your votes on the sketches on the board.

With this approach, there is no time for students to change their vote based on what someone else’s vote is, and the vote is more genuine and true. Of course, this can only be done when everybody can see the options from their seat, or after the sketches have been well-explained such that the fine print doesn’t need to be re-read. (Another reason why great drawings and big words are so important to presentation in the design process!)


Other (somehow related and valuable) thoughts:

  • One of the students has Robin William cheeks that just crunch up into his eyes when he smiles. It’s powerful even on him. So, maybe Robin Williams was just lucky to receive the cheek bones that would slingshot him down a career of comedy and connections with others?
  • One girl painted her nails blue for her Blue Team meeting. I recognized them and told her I appreciated it. I also reminded her that they don’t have to be blue all the time…that orange nails would also be complimentary to her blue outfits =).
  • Materials waste always comes up as a concern for the environmentally-minded when doing these stickie-intensive exercises. I’ve wondered what the environmental footprint of post-it notes is and how that pares with other practices in their Life Cycle Assessment comparisons…. Soon, I’ll have to give in and research the number. I just hope LCA software is better than it used to be when we only really had SimaPro available to us (circa 2010).
  • Team building (literally!), and what it can look like when done right, in the classic 2.009 Balloon Tower Challenge.

Lab 1-Hello, What’s your idea?

Let the Hunger Design Games Begin!

And may the process be ever in your favor.


Students clustering their design ideas so as to choose focus areas for further research, ideation, and another round of presentations.

It’s official. After this year, I’ll have been affiliated with 4 of the 8 different color teams of 2.009. This year, I’m team #009blue! The teams are as big as ever, two sections of 12 students each.

Today’s first half of lab was very introductory: quick introductions by the students, and elections for team positions. But at the halfway mark, we dove right in. (Lab 1 Notes, as  explained on the Course webpage.) The students did a “pin-up” where they pin up their top 5 ideas they came up with after their own individual brainstorming sessions. Then, they clustered their ideas into themes, or focus areas, on which to do further research in teams, spur some more individual ideation, and then pin-up another set of 5 next lab.

Indeed, it was plenty of action to get me thinking along a few themes:


Team Building

  • Team Colors. While the students barely know each other coming into their first lab, they have, however, been inducted with the color of their team. Today, more than half of the students showed up wearing blue, their team color (I, of course, was decked out in blue, from my turban to my intimates!). For a school that doesn’t have a sports team culture, these students are quick to jump on the ball: sports team camaraderie works, people.
  • Activities (outside of lab). David understands that lab is when you meet to get sh*t done. Not to bond. So, he sacrifices some lecture time for some team building activity and invests in challenges for the students: A role-playing balloon-tower-building challenge on Kresge Lawn, a product take-down, and a Library Scavenger Hunt, to name a few.
    • As I anticipate beginning my new role as a Designer tomorrow, I wonder what efforts will be taken for team building and assimilation into the new team. Will it seem like inefficiency, or like a wise investment? Clearly every other culture I’ve worked in (Spain, Brazil), understands the value of community and social likability in the workplace.

Empathize > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test —VS.— Ideate. Model. Test.

  • When I teach Design Thinking at the K-12 level, I teach the model of the design process most common to the literature, from the : Empathize > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test. But, in 2.009, we have one quick and easy slogan: “Ideate. Model. Test.” So, why the difference? 
  • Is it shorter and easier to remember? Yes. Absolutely. Friends of mine have used it in conversation at bars before. Empathize, Define, etc. is too long. I never even heard of it in any of my Mechanical Engineering or Design classes at MIT (undergrad or grad) (it only came up in my own research).
  • Soft skills vs. Hard skills? It’s true that 2.009 has to meet a certain level of technical lessons in order to count for the technical credit that it holds inside the Department of Mechanical Engineering. It’s also true that of the five stages, Empathize and Define are the ones with the most emphasis on “soft skills,” or, intangible methods that, while necessary, are not often able to be objectively given a hard “yes/no” or “good/bad” evaluation. So, are there just too many skills, both soft and hard, that need to be taught to be a good designer that David just has to choose the harder, more technical skills, to align with the focus of the engineering department? Or is this simply an example of where design and design thinking converge and do not necessarily overlap?

So how do you get to Ideate?

  • Idea Fair. David invites an array of potential users — companies, non-profits, community members— that work in or have problems in the identified theme for the year. Each team has to send at least one person to each user presentation, and they are to report back: In lab, they’ll share their notes of what they learned from all the presentations in a sort of roundtable discussion. Then, when it’s time to present their 5 top ideas, students are encouraged to have ideas that were inspired by the Idea Fair, since for their first milestone— the 3-Ideas Poster Presentation— one of their ideas must be correlated with an Idea Fair user.
  • Observation Exercises. For homework one weekend, students are asked to choose from a list of places where they might find potential use cases related to the theme. They’re asked to visit, observe, take notes, and be inspired, as this could turn into a potential design direction for them.
  • Market Research. After today’s clustering of ideas, the students  broke off into sub-groups that will research focus groups from the themes that emerged in the clustering. Some will find that idea is already a product at market. Some will learn about how unfeasible the technology is. Some will learn that no one has ever complained of the problem they thought they had identified. Some will be spun into completely different directions. Either way, they will be inspired to ideate.
  • So, what’s missing? What David never tells them is how to go from observations and notes to a product idea. Tools like “Empathy Maps,” “Frameworks,” and other synthesizing tools are not covered. Rather, it is up to the student to navigate their own ideation journey.
  • What do you mean NO group brainstorming!?!??! Perhaps the most common disruptor of Design Thinking Professional Development workshops is when participants are taught The 8 Rules of Brainstorming, and they’re asked to practice it in a group brainstorm.8-brainstorming-rulesIn fact, in 2.009 we are never asked to do group brainstorming. Both big deliverables for product ideas are done after a synthesis of one’s own individual brainstorming. Here’s the catch: The 8 Rules are just as important here. You should “defer judgement” of your ideas and not criticize yourself for any bad ideas. You should “go for quantity”. You should “encourage wild ideas” of yourself. There may be a time and a place for group brainstorming, but it is certainly not a pre-requisite for doing proper design in a team.
    • I received this question at the end of a Design Thinking Professional Development workshop for The Winsor School: How can I do design thinking with my students if they are introverted and are afraid of group brainstorming? It occurred to me that by presenting group brainstorming as the only pathway to ideation, we were inadvertently shutting down teachers who need different learning pathways in their classrooms. I hope to not propagate this misconception again!


Next week, the students will bring back new sets of ideas and some old ones revisited. Very curious to see how my immersion into an already existing design studio tomorrow will contrast with the brand new start of a fresh new team.

Reflections to be continued…