The Internews Center for Innovation and Learning is committed to incorporating design research and thinking into Internews’ work and processes. Design thinking starts with the user in mind. While there are many versions of the process, design thinkers go through some basic stages:
- Empathizing with the user and her experience through interviews and observation
- Summarizing the problem in a statement that links the user, a key challenge, and a need
- Brainstorming (“ideating”) many possible solutions, from the most mundane to the most outrageous
- Prototyping a low fidelity solution – some quick sketches, a model made with office supplies, etc.
- Testing the prototype with the user, and co-creating better solutions
- Iterating the prototype
Wanting to immerse myself, I joined the DC Design Thinking Meetup last year. This interest group (which numbers over 1,400 people) convenes meetings about once a month, usually practical (and fun) workshops putting design thinking into practice. Participants range from experienced designers to neophytes, and have a range of backgrounds: engineers, anthropologists, teachers, international consultants, and so forth. Workshops last about 2 hours, and have themes such as “Prototyping 101;” “Developing Emergency Management Innovations: Boston Marathon Attack;” and “Design Thinking the Future with Improv.” This summer, DC: DT sponsored Summer of Design: Applying Design Thinking to Local Problems. They announced the event like this:Are you ready for something different? Do you want to change and impact the community right here in DC? Join us this summer and apply design thinking to real-world, local problems! The Summer of Design offers participants a facilitated, team-based design thinking experience for local impact. DT:DC’s Summer of Design is a series of events where DT:DC members use design thinking to address real problems faced by organizations in our local community. This team-based design competition includes introductory workshops and a six-week design challenge. After the workshops, each team works independently and structures its own approach to researching, prototyping and designing their solution. The core activity of the Summer of Design is the design challenge, which will take place from late July through early September.
I was contacted by one of the organizers, who wanted to know if Internews might want to apply for a spot as one of the local organizations offering the challenge. I immediately knew that I wanted to do something related to the Humanitarian Data Toolkit (HDT), which after a pretty successful pilot project, was ripe for iteration. Upon reflection, I realized that the one aspect of the pilot that had no design thought behind it at all was the box itself. The box is a rugged Pelican carryon case that transports all the equipment, but upon opening, the thing is a chaotic mess. It’s not that the HDT system is highly complex to assemble. However, since the HDT will be used in times of crisis, the box and its contents should help create an easy workflow, dissolving into the process. It should not become another stressor.
The Summer of Design Challenge kicked off at the end of July at 1776, a cool new DC incubator space. Each of the three participating organizations explained the challenge, and participants wandered from group to group to ask questions and get a better idea of what was needed. I brought the box to the kickoff to show the participants what it contained and so they could see firsthand what the challenges were. Amanda Noonan (the Center’s Director of Research and Learning) had to stand with me on top of the box so we could get the thing closed at the end of the evening. We are really looking forward to seeing the teams’ proposed new designs!
Coming up… the teams get down to work redesigning the box