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Introduction to Design Thinking Workshop

Presented by: Neil Abraham, Teja Kondapalli, Emily McAllister, Stephen Wall, Joanna Zhang
March 13, 2015

Earlier this month, our team from Cornell Tech led a Design Thinking workshop in collaboration with the Made In New York Media Center by IFP. We invited members and non-members to join us in learning by doing, by working with a team to solve an actual OpenIDEO challenge. We focused on some of the fundamentals of the problem-solving processes pioneered by David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.School. We have been studying the Stanford d.school’s design thinking curriculum over the past year at Cornell Tech and tackling innovation challenges using design thinking approaches for several prominent New York companies. Our work this year has included redesigning the hands-free communications experience for Google Glass, and exploring how to improve way finding for visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Made in NY Media Center by IFP

Made in NY Media Center by IFP

This time, we were tackling IDEO’s OpenIDEO challenge, “How might we use the power of communities to financially empower those who need it most?” This topic seemed particularly apt for the group of makers and creators of the Media Center, who already experience the powerful benefits of belonging to a supportive community.

Introducing the OpenIDEO challenge

Introducing the OpenIDEO challenge

We kicked off the event by telling Doug Dietz’s story to give an introduction to design thinking. We showed the before and after photos of the MRI machines, and judging by the attendees’ reactions, it was a great example. Then we asked the attendees to spend some time interviewing each other about their experiences with supporting a community initiative, practicing asking why and building empathy for each other. From there, we asked everyone to practice storytelling with another pair of partners, sharing their partner’s experience from their own perspective, and dig down a little bit deeper to find one user they really felt compelled to design a solution for.

Act out brainstorming with an empathy map

Act out brainstorming with an empathy map

We introduced brainstorming with a discussion about divergent and convergent thinking as well as a little game of “Yes, but vs. Yes and”. This game is a great way to demonstrate one of the key rules to brainstorming which is to build on each others ideas. You start by having people talk about planning a party and instruct them to respond to each other’s suggestions with “Yes, but…”. It becomes quickly clear that the best parties are planned with “Yes and…”, illustrating the importance of building on suggested ideas. This also encourages divergent and unconstrained thinking – another brainstorming fundamental.

Design Thinking 5Design Thinking 6

After brainstorming, we surprised the teams by unveiling they would actually be building rapid prototypes of their ideas that night. It continues to amaze us during prototyping how much can be learned about the user perspective from having a physical representation of an idea. For example, one team had an idea related to increasing data transparency through an open API. That’s a very abstract concept, even for the more technically inclined. However, when the team showed their prototype, we all understood immediately. Two sheets of paper, connected by a string, and a plastic tug-boat that moved from one sheet to the other was all it took to make this concept concrete for the group. The “data boat” helped us see the importance of data transparency for their user, and the value of prototyping.

Building prototypes

Building prototypes

Team 1’s prototype: a gift giving recommendation system for Kickstarter

Team 1’s prototype: a gift giving recommendation system for Kickstarter

Team 2’s prototype: open API for data transparency

Team 2’s prototype: open API for data transparency

Team 3’s prototype: Dinder - Tinder for dog caring

Team 3’s prototype: Dinder – Tinder for dog caring

Team 4’s prototype: reenactment of natural disasters with physical models to teach remote communities how to self-preserve during natural disasters

Team 4’s prototype: reenactment of natural disasters with physical models to teach remote communities how to self-preserve during natural disasters

It was inspiring to see such diverse teams of filmmakers, designers, founders, and entrepreneurs come together to tackle a very broad and challenging issue and walk away with concrete, tangible prototyped solutions. More importantly though, we hope design thinking will come in handy for tackling any tough problem the teams may face going forward, whether that’s stretching a film budget to new lengths, growing their start up, or encouraging transparency and reform in their entire industry. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools for creating and showing empathy, and design thinking methods can help you creatively solve any problem you might face.