Adopting a Design Thinking Workout Regimen
Originally written and posted on Motivate Design’s YouX™ blog.
In listening to a recent UX design podcast episode by our friends at the Product Breakfast Club, the guys had a special guest host who was a former entrepreneur, product designer and now consultant specializing in design sprints.
As with most PBC episodes, the conversation was interesting with the two UX professionals sharing an unscripted and insightful conversation on past histories and experiences. Among the various topics covered, the guest host spoke about adopting design sprint process as a core aspect of his career to date.
As he dug into his history related to the topic and practice, the guest host admitted to initially struggling with the concept of design thinking. Despite reading countless articles and books along with being accomplished product designer, he spoke about not fully-grasping design thinking. The “A-Ha! moment” only came when he had the opportunity to participate in an actual live design sprint with a client.
Given the PBC guest’s background and overall creative acumen, it occured to me that if a designer of his stature initially struggled with the concept, it’s no wonder clients struggle with it even today. My immediate follow up thought was that just like participating in a design sprint was the moment when it all came together for this designer, being immersed in the process is the best way for even non-designers to learn by doing.
Similar to the concept of riding a bike you can get the idea of sitting on the seat and placing your feet on the pedals to move forward but you don’t truly get it until you learn how to balance while moving at the same time.
From that sequence, I had two takeaways:
Despite the fact that design thinking is a term many are familiar with today, there are still many people who aren’t who we can help equip with the mindset and skills that design thinking has to offer.
The best way for people to “get” design thinking is by doing and experiencing it for themselves.
Making Your Design Thinking Workouts Relatable and Fun
For people adopting an exercise workout regimen, it’s been well-documented that the best workout plan for people are the ones that they’ll actually do on their own. For design thinking to take hold in a parallel fashion, it’s important to understand your audience and what will work best for them.
While our Motivate team constantly tries to spread the word through deed and action with client partners and youth organizations, it is important for us to remember that the concepts contained within design thinking practices isn’t necessarily as common sense as we would like to think.
With the youth programs and non-profit organizations that we partner with, making design thinking a fun, relatable experience that kids and young adults can apply to their daily lives is our goal. In the years that we’ve participated with organizations like Girls in Tech and ESchool for Girls along with our own hosted training series called YouthX, we’ve learned that learning through doing and having fun is the best way to build a connection and make the design thinking concept sticky.
Fostering creativity, open-ended thinking, customer and solution-focused problem solving is facilitated by making the topic relatable while doing as little “talking at” our young participants as possible so that they can experience, invent, and problem solve for themselves.
Keep It Simple
One of the biggest aspects of ensuring design thinking concepts take hold in participants of any age is making the activities for each phase of the journey easy to understand and repeat on their own both in a session and hopefully long afterwards. The following are some of our favorite design thinking activities that we use both internally and with participants to help encourage a fun, do-it-yourself approach:
Internally at Motivate, we have a weekly team session called Know & Grow.While the Know & Grow sessions can span a wide array of subjects hosted by anyone on the team, we invariably end up doing at least a round or two of “What If?” mostly because it’s fun and a great momentum builder.
Taken from our own Reframe Studio design thinking workshops, “What If?” is an open, rhetorical, and democratic idea generation activity. The activity encourages participants to think creatively about a problem viewing ideas in their raw form, without judgment. The challenge is to get as many ideas down on sticky notes within up to three rounds each at three minutes a piece. At the end of each round, participants then share their ideas out loud with the team going around the room popcorn style.
For us at Motivate, using “What If” in this way not only gives everyone an opportunity to come together as a team but it also allows a venue for everyone to practice their skills while adopting a playful approach in all that we do.
When following a typical design thinking workshop agenda, one activity that our facilitators typically use as a secret weapon to get kids and adults fully-engaged and out of their heads has been Bodystorming.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Bodystorming is the practice of figuring things out through acting them out. Similar to Brainstorming where people might use a pen and paper to scratch ideas down, bodystorming simply engages participants in a full body “workout” session of acting out sequences of interactions in a given scene or experience related to a product or service.
Not only is the exercise encouraging important aspects of fun, play, and social interaction, it also reinforces the idea that creativity does not come from the inside of a magic box with a screen. Real creativity and design thinking comes through the actual practice of coming together, aligning on a targeted problem and then individually using your own imagination, skills, and past experiences to generate something new.
We’ve used this technique with kids and adults alike in the past and it’s amazing what a little bit of pretend play will do to even the most well put-together executive – just like before and after workout photos, we’ve got the pictures to prove it!
Adopted from Jake Knapp and his former colleagues at the Google Design Sprints team, Crazy 8’s are a great way to flex a few creative muscles at once all while being under a time constriction. Similar to “What If?” where the intention is to get as many ideas down within a set amount of time, Crazy 8’s pushes you to iteratively explore ideas in a visual way to uncover opportunities using your mind’s eye and natural reflexes.
Also like “What If?” our Motivators use this activity all the time for practice. As a workshop facilitator, I personally love this activity because it helps people (mostly adults) work past personal hang up excuses where they initially say things like “I’m not an artist” or “I can’t draw.” It allows you to embrace your inner child and just go with it letting the pencil do its thing.
I recently was at a family party where a nephew enthusiastically told me about his love of video games and how he’d like to create a video game of his own in the future. Seeing an opportunity to teach a little bit of design thinking to him, I put on “creative designer guy” cap and told him that we could design a game of his own right now. At this point the boy’s mother said, “Wait, let me grab the iPad.” I told her don’t bother… After drafting a basic problem brief on the premise of the game, we proceeded to do a series of Crazy 8 sketches to define a game about robot monsters and the world where they fight to save a princess from a rival clan of other robot monsters! It made an otherwise boring family party super-fun and hopefully gave my nephew the creative confidence to keep working out his creative thoughts all on his own.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Just like the story of the Product Breakfast Club podcast guest host or learning to ride a bike, understanding the basic premise and principles behind design thinking can be something that many can pick up over the course of a one day workshop, YouTube video, or even a well-written article. However, to really have design thinking concepts take hold you have to be speaking the language and doing the activities for real – even doing it as practice is a time well spent alternative to checking email or your social media feed.
Adopting a design thinking workout regimen is something that we at Motivate have tried to infuse into daily activities that make sense for our team. Because many of our Motivators are avid exercise enthusiasts with passions ranging from pilates to rock climbing and kick-boxing to high-intensity interval training (HIIT), we’ve made it a purposeful activity just like going to a class or to the gym.
Like any pursuit though, starting a design thinking workout program might require an introduction by a trainer or someone more experienced to show team members the way we do design thinking. For us, this is important so that we’re doing it the “Motivate Way” speaking the same language and knowing what to expect when we’re working with clients.
After a proper introduction though, we encourage Motivators to get in as many “reps” as possible in order for the concept and techniques to take hold.
Since its introduction by such visionaries as the folks at the Stanford DSchool and IDEO, design thinking has been a literal game-changer for solving problems covering everything from business strategies, products and solutions to personal life coaching. As creatives in this space, this is a great time to spread the word through doing helping encourage the next generation of design thinkers to raise the bar for us all.