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Prototyping Within a Prototype

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It’s easy to find definitions of the steps to the design thinking process and for those who practice design thinking methodologies, it’s also easy to describe to someone what the steps are in this people-centered problem solving technique. But what I think is integral to understanding the dt process is realizing that it’s more than just a set of steps to arrive at a solution that meets the needs of a user. In fact, design thinking is not just a mindset it’s a way of interacting with the world. This morning, my team ran a design thinking session for over 60 teachers and administrators across thirty schools. In the past, we have told a few powerful stories of how design thinking plays out in our classrooms, engaged participants in a spark and invited them to prototype, and described the flow we use. Today we tried something slightly different. We opted to express through provocations and sparks the mindsets of a design thinker.

Rapid DT - School Visit Day April 2016

We began with a spark, called 1-2-3, stomp, which invited participants to playfully learn about what to do when you mess up – lean into it, laugh it off and keep going. From there, we talked about how learning demands flexible and interactive spaces, and revealed that we had work tables with materials set up on them that needed to be pulled out into the open room. In a swift movement, we transformed the open space into a space where individuals and teams could have a surface to build.

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From there, we invited participants to “design a new interface” for a space on campus using just a sharpie to draw directly on the image. Through this exercise we talked about how making doesn’t necessarily mean you have to 3-D print something or fabricate something intricate, making can happen when you just put pen to paper. And a pen is important to design thinking because a key tenant of design thinking, is that you make your thinking visible, so that others can envision what is inside your head.

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Our next exercise invited participants to build using simple prototyping materials like popsicle sticks, elastics, paper, stickies and zip ties to design a better way to clean a keyboard. Inside their prototyping bag was a q-tip, but we told participants that material was off limits. We set the timer and let them build. Through this exercise, we introduced the idea of setting a constraint not as a barrier to creativity or innovation, but as a way to actually increase the range of possibilities. After the build, we asked everyone to immediately dismantle their creations without sharing what they built with their table mates. We heard some groans and saw furrowed eyebrows, which translated to “but I want to share what I created – it’s so good!” We used this method to make the point that your prototype is just that, a prototype. You can’t fall in love with your prototype.

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We followed with an exercise to build something that expresses something you are good at – and be ready to share it with your table. This exercise invited participants to see that prototypes can be used as a means to build empathy.

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We ended by talking about the DEEPdt flow and how design thinking isn’t just about solving problems using a people-centered approach, but it’s even more than that – it is a way of working and being that can help teams of people create an even better world. And we communicated all of this to a room full of people by having them build with their hands and create both meaning and friendships through stories and play – which is critical as a design thinker. This session, which as just an iteration of an existing prototype, needed to fit into a 30 minute time slot (constraint), and was meant to build empathy in our participants for each other and for us as a team. There is certainly room for improvement, but overall, I think our prototype met the needs of our users. 

*Want to do more design thinking and help Atlanta become a better place? Join us at fuse16!

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