Design Thinking Workshop & Open IDEO Challenge

Last week, I along with my team from Design Thinking class organized a workshop to introduce students to Design Thinking and also have them participate in the Open IDEO’s “The Higher Ed Challenge”.

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The details of the challenge could be found on the Open IDEO website.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 2.38.41 PM.pngDesign Thinking is a five steps process with significant effort going in the “Empathize”, “Define” and “Test” steps, but due to the limited time we had to conduct this workshop and also since we were already given the problem by Open IDEO, we focused on “Ideate” and “Prototype” steps.  We gave students around 20 minutes to brainstorm ideas for solving the given problems. In order to help students brainstorm Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 2.57.02 PM.pngin a productive manner, we showed them a demo brainstorm process for “how to improve our school cafeteria”. We wanted them to have constructive brainstorming not destructive. We shared 7 rules to facilitate collaborative brainstorming.

Then we asked them to vote on the idea they would like to prototype. For prototyping, we brought all sorts of art and craft stuff. We gave them 30Team4 minutes to build a prototype. They could draw, cut/paste, build mock ups – anything that could help get the idea across. We had four teams with 4-5 members. Each team came up with very creative and thoughtful solutions. We also made videos of students describing their ideas. Finally, we uploaded the ideas along with their description, pictures and videos to the Open IDEO website.

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Everybody had a lot of fun working with students from different schools at Cornell. We also enjoyed sharing our learning from the Design Thinking course. I think teaching makes you even better learner as it forces you understand the concepts and ideas to their depth, so that when someone ask you questions, you are well prepared and confident. I would like to thank our instructor for this course – Tracy Brandenburg, teammates and participating students to make it a memorable experience.



Design Thinking Class #3 & #4

As a preparation for this class, we were supposed to interview an Airbnb host in Ithaca. My team interviewed a superhost. A superhost is someone who has excellent track record in hosting guests with 5-star reviews. superhostImageThrough the interviews we tried to understand how the host uses Airbnb to show his listings and what does he look for while approving a reservation request from a guest. The superhost shared several examples of the guest profiles that he has rejected in the past and also highlighted few reservations request that he approved instantaneously.

We also looked from a guest’s point of view to get a sense of the on-boarding and reservation process. We went outside the class to find someone who has never used Airbnb and help her setup an Airbnb profile. We walked her step by step through the process to understand what she was thinking while filling up information – what made her uncomfortable in sharing any specific information and what sections were not very clear in their purpose. One important observation from this exercise was that users generally try to share as little information as possible about themselves. We think this is probably the biggest obstacle in building trust and safety between guests and hosts. From our interviews, we have found both guests and hosts complaining about profiles and listings that look sketchy because users do not share enough information to better understand them and build trust.

IMG_0297After interviewing several hosts and guests, we decided to select one whose problem we would like to solve. My team selected the superhost we interviewed. First step was to define the problem statement. In defining the problem we had to think about the root cause because sometimes what we see are just symptoms. After finalizing the problem statement, the next step was to brainstorm solutions.

Brainstorming process has certain nuances. First, each person in the team takes a minute to write down an idea and announce it with pasting the sticky note on the wall with their idea. No one is supposed to criticize other person’s solution. Once all have posted an idea, team members build on top of the idea they like. For example – you don’t say “I don’t like that”, instead say something like “That’s great – may be we could also…”. You have to be constructive not destructive. If the team has multiple solutions, then they vote to determine which idea they would use to build the prototype.

Image Courtesy of Design Thinking at Cornell

Finally, the team does rapid prototyping using anything – art and craft material, cardboard, paper, etc. May be in a more professional set up such as at your job you might build prototype using some tools and technologies, but in the classroom the aim is to help others get some idea about the solution that the team is proposing. The teams also play roles to enact the problem and solution to show how it will look like in the real world. For my course this semester, each team build a prototype and we made a video of teams acting out the solutions using their prototypes. It was a very fun and learning experience.


Design Thinking Class #2

For the second class, we had a guest professor from Cornell Tech: Dr. Marc Brudzinski. The focus of the class was to “listen with your eyes”. He organized three activities:

  1. For this class, we were asked to bring photographs of things we carry everyday, spaces or things that we care about, and something that makes us happy. During the class professor asked us to stick those pictures on the wall. Then your team members would try to guess what those pictures mean; basically try to understand  people through their interests, habits and things they value. One person said that his team members were able to point out certain things about him that were true but he never himself has consciously thought about it. I think this activity was a great exercise to use your vision to interpret things and you will be surprised how much you can guess correctly because picture speaks a thousand words.
  2. For the second activity, the professor first showed us a hack that someone has put in a park to create a sitting place. It was a park, but did not have any place to sit. Using that as an example, the professor then asked us to go outside the classroom and look around the University for any hacks or workarounds that people have created or anything that you find interesting such as people using a rock as a sitting platform near a water stream, a painting to cover up a broken window or a chain fence to lock a bicycle. We took the pictures of all such things and emailed to professor. We all came back after 20 minutes and went through the pictures that teams have sent to the professor. We tried to interpret what people were trying to achieve in those pictures. I think I idea behind the exercise was to pay attention to the way people interact with their environment because many times they do not explicitly say what their paint points are, but you could discover an important problem through your observations and find a great opportunity to create products and solutions.
  3. The third activity was to learn how to interview someone. The professor first showed us an example of a bad way and a good way to do an interview using a mock interview with one of the student. As part of the activity, we were supposed to go outside the class and find someone who has used Airbnb. In the process have one person ask questions, another take notes and others observe the body language of the person being interviewed to get subtle understanding of the person feelings when they booked and stayed at an Airbnb listing. He said the interview should be like a conversation, where the other person feel comfortable in sharing his or her experience. The questions should be open-ended and not the ones that have “yes” or “no” answer. A great way to interview is to ask the person to recall the last time they used Airbnb and what  their experience was like. Then ask questions with an intrigue to show that you are interested in learning more.The professor shared an important thing about whom should we select to interview. He said usually the people who are on the extreme ends provide good insight; I mean person who either had a great experience or a horrible one. Finally, everybody went with their teams and interviewed an Airbnb guest. It took us some time to find a person who has used Airbnb. I was surprised not many students have used Airbnb or may be I was unlucky that day. We managed to find someone when only 10 minutes were left before we were supposed to be back in class. But we were able to ask questions and learn about her experience using the methodologies that professor shared in class.

Overall, it was a very useful class and I very much enjoyed learning by doing.

Design Thinking Class #1

We are being taught Design thinking by Tracy Brandenburg, who is an anthropologist and Design Thinking enthusiast. She learned the IDEO method of problem solving from Stanford, where she now also serve as a coach. She is very free-spirited and loves having fun with Design Thinking. When I applied to the course, I was put on a wait list, as apparently Design Thinking is a very popular course open to all graduate students at Cornell University. Luckily I got off the wait list and I am very happy to be part of this experience.

To kickoff the course, we were given the challenge to design the gift-giving experience for a partner. The partner was another student in the class sitting next to you. The whole activity was very fast paced with 9 different tasks, during which you interview your partner multiple times to understand their gift giving process – what your partner tries to achieve when they are gifting someone, what kind of emotions are they going through during that experience – essentially you try to get insights and understand your partner’s thought process. The objective is to gain empathy. At the end of activity, you build a solution for your partner and then get feedback on whether it works for them or do they have any feedback to improve it. A crash course using the same gift giving activity can be found on the Stanford website.

I think the essence of the activity was rapid prototyping. The tasks were time bound ranging from 3 to 5 minutes. And then in the end you have to come up with a tangible solution. I think they are trying to teach you a process in which you quickly think about a solution, after understanding user needs. Then rapidly come up with a prototype, get feedback and improve it. An important learning for any entrepreneur here is the idea of “fail-fast”. Because the process is so fast, you can quickly come up with a new solution if the previous one fails.

Near the end of class, we were assigned a team of 4-5 students. Students are from different graduates programs such as MBA, Engineering, Architecture, Labor Relations, etc. People from different background and professional fields usually have different approach to a problem, which enriches the Design Thinking process. I am looking forward to working with my team in coming weeks on some an exciting project.

My Initial Understanding of Design Thinking

I just started a course in Design Thinking as an elective for this semester. I have been hearing about Design Thinking for some time now, but over my summer internship somebody recommended to do some course as he thinks it is very useful for a product manager role. I thought I would write down what I think Design Thinking is at the beginning of my course. Then in December when the course ends, I will come back and see how my thinking about Design Thinking has changed. So, here is what I think:

Design thinking is not just about making pretty products. I would say that comes near the end of the process.

  • Firstly, better understand the customer need/person who you are solving problem for. Sometimes the person herself doesn’t know a problem exists. You need to go through their experiences to uncover potential pain points
  • Then you go through rapid prototyping and iterations in a team of people with diverse backgrounds, where everyone bring their own perspective and ideas about how to solve the identified problem
  • Lastly, after you have build the prototype, you want to get the feedback from the customer – whether it solves their problem, do they like using it, do they have any recommendation to improve.

I just want to say something about the last point above. In big firms, you would not take a prototype to the customer as such. Firms usually do some kind of A/B testing, where they would embed certain metrics to monitor user behavior. This provides customer insights and feedback on what features customer like/dislike and where the engagement is coming from. Many times firms also use focus group studies to get initial feedback and prioritize features accordingly.