Design Synthesis is a process to Be Intentional

I’ve always stated my love of being in design synthesis land. It’s also where some of the most defining moments of HourSchool occurred.

Back in January, we were still thinking that there would be two types of audience using our site: the student and the teacher. We wanted to understand what the student and the teacher would do, respectively, before and after signing up to take/teach a class. As we stepped back from the whiteboard after we were done, we realized we did a temporal zoom. And in that, we found our theory of change. The student and the teacher aren’t two separate personas. They are the same person. Our mission is to transform current students into future teachers – and there is a very specific point in time during the process when that happens.

As we prepared for our final presentation last week, we spent hours trying to find the right balance between talking about problem (our research) vs. solution (our product). After multiple iterations, we ended with a story we were happy with. We stepped back again, and this is what we saw: People’s best part of the day is when they get to teach their peers + old school model does not provide avenue to do that = we will build a platform that allows peer-led social learning.

My original thought was that we used these synthesis methods accidentally. We were simply sketching out what felt right in our heads, and only noticed afterwards that we had used the methods. But as I began blogging and reflecting upon Q3, I concluded that there is nothing accidental about our synthesis.

Insight combination is a method that helps generate design ideas by combining what the designers gathered from research with knowledge from their own past experiences. The method suggests writing down all the data points and design patterns on color post-it notes, move them around, and force relationships between them in order to generate new design ideas.

By constructing stories together, asking hard questions, and walking each other through hypothetical scenarios, we were gradually building our “insight bank”. In particular, I found our impromptu mini-research sessions with others¬†have been the most inspiring, and almost always connected some dots for us. No, they do not replace the rigorous approach of design research. Rather, I think they are one of the most essential parts during design synthesis, as the designer slowly put the various pieces together.

So here’s my new thought: although synthesis may happen unconsciously, it does not happen accidentally. To Alex‘s favorite saying of the year, “Be Intentional”. There’s nothing accidental about our idea, our theory of change, our product, and our business. Our brains constantly drew from the insight bank that we intentionally built.

Design Synthesis, as it turns out, is a process to be intentional.