Trippin’ on Design

Slide 1. Meet Alex, Polly, and Brent. They’re designers at the “Make It Happen” design consultancy firm.

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Slide 2. Recently at work, they’ve got complex projects to work on and they got stuck and felt frustrated.

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Slide 2. All three decided to go into the forest to clear their minds.

Slide 3. On their way, Alex saw a potion on the stone. He decided to try it. Polly and Brent joined him.

Slide 4. Each of them made sips and felt strange but energized. After another gulp, each of them went to explore the forest on their own.

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Slide 6. Brent went first. He walked quite a bit and saw two roads diverged in a yellow wood. He looked down one and noticed a homeless person sitting on one side. He knew the guy. It was Jack he passes every day on the corner.  Weird, he said to himself.

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Slide 7. He took another path and Jack appeared again.  However, this time he seemed a bit happier. Jack had better clothes and his wife and daughter were accompanying him.

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Slide 8. And then Brent’s body felt light and he took off from the ground.  Two diverged paths became an interconnected web of many possibilities. Each node of this web had Jack in it at different points of his life — better, worse and everything in between.

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Slide 9. Meanwhile, Alex gets lost in the forest. He sees a bridge guarded by a giant.

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Slide 10. The giant gives him a riddle to answer to cross the bridge: What is the one thing that all wise men, regardless of their religion or politics, agree is between heaven and earth? Alex does not know the answer to this question.

Slide 11. Instead, he uses stone and pokes a giant in the eye. The giant roars: “The game is over. You won!” And the bridge opens for him.

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Slide 12. At the same time, Polly got herself into trouble. She came to the enchanted meadow with musical chairs in the center of it. She has been running circles near these chairs for hours.

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Slide 13. Once the music stopped she had to catch one of the chairs before it disappears. Each time she was sitting on the chairs she had to feel and act differently.  One time she was a King and she needed to use the best of her judgments. Another time she was a Joker and had to poke and provoke. For the third-round, she became Mother Teresa. She walked and hugged everything, felt love, and compassion.

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14. And then she fell asleep.

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15. Polly found herself in the evening near the campfire. Alex and Brent were already there as well. All three were sitting in silence tired but happy. They noticed a single cloud hover over the campfire with the words: “Design is for everyone”.

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Each of the struggling designers had meaningful journeys and they were offered perspectives/frameworks to look at the situations they struggled the most.

In his trip, Brent saw representations of the wicked problem — poverty that leads Jack to become homeless. He has tangible experience over Rittel’s definitions of a wicked problem. Brent witnesses an interconnected web of many possible directions that problem space takes him to. Each node represents the symptom of a problem, with no clear path to the solution. The solution, in this case, creates another problem. It is a system with open possibilities where the impact is not so easily measurable. It takes constant effort to work on the wicked problem and results are not guaranteed.

Alex in his trip entered the zones of well-structured and ill-structured problems. The riddle that giant gave him was a logical question. If he paid attention “What is the one thing between heaven and earth?” he might find an answer in the riddle itself (the answer is the word “and”). He walked outside of a problem into the ill-structured territory and found thinking outside of a box solution for it. And that worked because there are no right or wrong answers in the ill-structured territory.

Polly as a designer struggled with thinking about the problem from a different lens. She experienced a slightly modified version of E.De Bono’s six hats framework. Each time she had to step out of her own comfort zone and apply a different lens to think about the problem creatively. To reach serious creativity one might exercise constantly going beyond routine patterns. There are techniques to achieve that such as provocation, movement (to think of a solution with slightly modified inputs of a problem, example: construct the car with quadrangle tires), and random word entry can help to cut through the obvious and shed light to the surprising and unpredictable nature of the creative territory.

I would like to end with my own perspective on why design is for everyone.

All authors in the Design Thinking module touched on this notion one way or another. To me, the best designers are generalists. They have deep knowledge of the world and have their own rich cultural experience. In addition to that, they have developed an ability to think creatively. These qualities are not unique to one profession that is why design is open to everyone. However, to become successful in this field a designer needs to work with as many frameworks and mental models as possible. There are no similar problems/situations in the field of design when we think of systems, cultures, experiences, and processes. To access creativity is not easy but applied personal knowledge and frameworks can help a designer to find ways and make sense of complexity. Designers are doers, they make visually presentable artifacts that persuade the public of their own vision. These are amongst the qualities I will definitely continue to develop while in AC4D.