Design Thinking Future in Seoul

Tomorrow, I will start an unprecedented experiment in design thinking: A course combining fundamentals of psychology and design thinking tools & techniques. I am very happy I can do this at Hongik University, Korea’s Nr. 1 University in design, in combination with the Emotion Engineering faculty of Sangmyung University.

This course is a follow-up of a workshop I gave at Hongik University on 29 May 2015. Here is a photo of the host, Prof. Sven Schelwach and me.

Sven invited me to lead his 35 students in a 6h fast forward design thinking workshop – quite a challenge given that I was the only coach. However, the students really surprised me in every aspect: Their English was excellent, their teamwork was very good in each of the seven teams despite age differences, and their discipline allowed them to release their energy even until the very end. You can believe it better when you see some snapshots of this workshop:

So I am really looking forward to this new experiment. It is exciting because it contains challenges on multiple levels: First, students from different universities will mix in teams. Second, there will be age differences of several years to span. Third, the course is in English, hard for some students. And last but not least, I will try to release their creative thinking processes despite all the above-mentioned challenges.

On the other hand, both Sven Schelwach and Jieun Kwon are professors who have the right mindset for design thinking – I experienced them both as very encouraging and motivating to the students. So with their support, I think we can tackle this challenge. Or as Koreans say: Fighting!

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Mini Design Thinking

Sometimes, people find design thinking interesting, but cannot apply it in their daily work because… (a) the coaching is too much money, (b) it means too much organizational work to motivate and coordinate various participants for the same day, and (c) even if you can bring the people together, a typical 1-day workshop is just too much time for them.

In essence, design thinking for some people is just too expensive, too much organization, and too long. That’s why many design thinking initiatives gradually fade and die in organizations. So there is no solution for this dilemma?

Yes, there is.

I propose the simple concept ‘mini design thinking’ – I call it this way because it stands for a design thinking process that is stripped off any elements that take a long time. These time-consuming elements include defining the design challenge, modeling the personas, customer journey mapping. What remains are still design thinking essentials: Time-boxing. Interviews. Ideation. Prototyping. Testing. And of course: The end user perspective.

To illustrate this concept, let’s do a typical scenario:

At 10:00 a.m., four people gather around a bar table in a small meeting room. One person acts as coach – and as participant. Here’s what they do in 60 min:

10:00 Warmup: 2 Truths, 1 Lie  – requires 1,5 min/person

10:06 Understand: The coach presents the design challenge as a sentence on a sheet (A4 size). Example: “How can we improve our work with department X so that our end-to-end process is shorter”. Semantic Analysis (2 min brainstorming, 1,0 min/person presentation)

10:12 Observe: Participants conduct interviews among each other in pairs, and take notes on post-its – only insights. (3 min per interview, including note-taking, 2 rounds = 6min). Each participant then presents the found insights with post-its (0,5 min/person). Clustering (2 min).

10:22 Define: Participants brainstorm new design challenge questions based on the original design challenge and the interview insights (3 min) and presents them (0,5 min/person). Voting on best design challenge (2min). The coach writes the winner design challenge in large on a sheet and puts it on the middle of the table (1 min)

10:30 Ideate: Participants brainstorm on answers to the new design challenge with different perspectives. The coach explains the perspective (0,5-1 min/perspective), and the participants brainstorm ideas on post-its (1,5 min/perspective). 4 perspectives (10 min). Each participants presents the post-its (1 min/person)

10:44 Prototype: Participants draft prototype solutions based on all brainstormed ideas. They take an A4 sheet as template that contains: Title, Tagline (the concept in one sentence), Introduction, Reasons To Believe (10 min).

10:54 Test: Each participant presents his/her prototype to the others (1 min/person). Voting on favorite (1 min). Summary & Take photos (1 min).

11:00 Finish!

That’s it! 


Now here comes the difficult part: Apply common sense to what you can expect from mini design thinking. The stripped-off time-consuming elements are time-consuming for a reason: They represent complex analysis or decision making processes that require the participants to converge on a common mental model. If the teams succeeds in doing so, it can harness tremendous value from such activities. As mini design thinking does not contain these activities, do not expect the same value as from a full-blown workshop.

Nevertheless, there is a good reason why these time-consuming activities are left out: More often than people admit, these activities don’t yield high value for the team. There are many reasons for that: The team falls into endless discussions about a decision, e.g. which design challenge is the most important. Or the team runs into too much detail in modeling the personas. Or there is one single person that hijacks the discussions by endless monologues or two-point discussions.

So essentially, mini design thinking is not quick and dirty –

it is rather a quick AND good process for people who can work very focused in a team.

Quick not only due to the short overall duration, moreover because there is no room for leaning back between the transitions – each participant must maintain a high cognitive energy level for generating and absorbing new knowledge.

It is still a good process even though it is streamlined – because it strictly relies on time-boxing each activity. The much higher rhythm can be very stimulating for some people. Even though it can also be stressful for some people, the good news is that the mini design thinking session only lasts for 1-2 hours, not a whole day.

So… when do we start??? 

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