The Easy Part of the Design Challenge

Have you ever wondered into a place where you couldn’t do anything?

I am a novice design thinker in the program Innovation Diploma, were we learn many things, one of which is the DEEP design thinking process which I demonstrate in the challenge below.

I walk into the Lightbox, a large room with many windows, on a Thursday morning for iD, where we see a piece of paper with a picture and a prompt on the table.

My team, Maclean, Nina, Claire, Melina, Anya, Margaret, and I started observing and asking questions to find the problem.The garden was run down and has obviously not been touched in months, maybe even a year, there were weeds all over and there was no trace of the plants that were once there. We asked questions like, “What are other uses for this space?” “How can the school use this garden?” “What does this lack of concern for this garden say about us?” “Why wasn’t the garden sustainable? Why isn’t someone helping it become sustainable?”

In the end, we decided to put all of this into one question, our HMW (how might we)

We started to do empathy interviews, first interviewing Dr. Jones, the Environmental Science teacher, and Ms. Domby, a 5th grade teacher who is passionate about the environment. From these interviews, we observed that people often think of recycling when the word “sustainability” come into conversation. From this, we deduced that the problem was not the garden, it was recycling in MVPS (Mount Vernon Presbyterian School). So we looked into past recycling project that students did at MVPS, and we noticed one trend, they never got completed, they hardly even got past the ideate stage, so we promised ourselves to see this through and defer from the trend. When we looked more into why recycling was a problem at MV, we discovered why it was such a big problem. MVPS is made from 3 schools, the Lower school, the Middle school, and the Upper School. One of these schools, the Middle school, has 1 recycling bin throughout the whole building! The bins were removed for very specific reasons that could be solved easily, so we decided to solve these problems with the RISE sustainability system.

Since the Middle school isn’t very big, space was a big issue, so the RISE sustainability system solves this problem by utilizing vertical space instead of horizontal floor space. We also built an anti-laziness element to it because many students throw recycling in the trash simply because it is more convenient, that is why we put the recycling bin on top of the trash bin. Another feature of the system is putting a landfill sign on the trash instead of a trash sign, so the user thinks about where the trash is going after you put it into the bin. Another problem they had was that the students in the Middle school didn’t know what to and what not to recycle. When custodial staff see trash in the recycling bin, they dump the whole bin into the trash dumpster. We are actually still in the process of solving this problem, we tried to implement a poster with pictures of what you can recycle, but students ignored the poster. We know this because when we interviewed the custodial staff, they side that trash items were still going into the recycling bin. This is ok, because even though that part of our prototype failed, we learned something from it. In my mind, a failure is never a failure if you learn something from it, or as Mount Vernon puts it, fail up!

With our first full-size prototype finished, we launched ourselves into the testing process. To track the uses of the recycling bin part of the prototype, we hooked up a Makey Makey to the door. We put our prototype into 3 different classrooms over an 8 day period, in Mr. Song’s room (a middle school classroom), the prototype got 30 uses into 1 day, in Mrs. Graham’s room (another middle school classroom), the prototype got 60 uses in 2 days. The last classroom we put it into was actually Mrs. Domby’s classroom, a lower school classroom, because we wanted to see how a younger audience would respond to our prototype. The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive, and we received outcomes that weren’t even expected! It was reported that rooms were noticeably cleaner and our prototype was even sparking conversations about the environment.

Our next step is to make a product development plan, which we don’t have the skills to do, and is why we need an outside expert to help us with it. Some definite steps are to make many prototypes out of different materials, implement them one by one into all Middle school classrooms, and receive tons of feedback and results. With each iteration of our prototype, we will change it according to our feedback to make it better each time.

We don’t know what the outcome of this barrage of testing will be, the recycling bin may even be the wrong solution to our problem. If it is the wrong solution, we will go back to the drawing board and try to come up with the right solution. As I said earlier, something that fails is never a failure if you learn something from it. We even have began talking to potential buyers of our product.

Council on Innovation 2015

I have always wanted to connect with adults in a situation where I had some information to teach to them, not the other way around. Friday, October 23rd, I had that opportunity through an annual event that MVIFI hosts called Council on Innovation, referred to in this blog as COI. COI is an event where about 20 adults are invited to learn about design thinking and Mount Vernon’s take on it, DEEP DT. DEEP DT is an acronym for Design, Empathize, Experiment, Produce, Design, Thinking and is different from David Kelly’s original design thinking model. The day started out with your run of the mill meet and greet, during this time, I matched the names I have been studying to the faces from Google Images. It was a great start to the event because it got the participants familiar with having students around and talking a bit about Design Thinking with them. For the next hour and a half, iD students such as myself sat on the sidelines as the MVIFI team and Dr. Jacobsen (Head of Upper School (high school)) and other important parts of the faculty formally introduced themselves and gave a short speech about what COI and Mount Vernon means to them. We had to sit down and observe for 30 more minutes as they discussed the article “Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence.” As an iDiploma company, we discussed this article before the Council members had a chance to, and I was surprised to discover that our conversation was more in depth than theirs. iDiploma mostly talked about how EQ (emotional quotient) and CQ (Curiosity quotient) can be measured, and they talked about the importance of it in problem solving. After that, we had a short break, and then were bussed down to the lower school where grades kindergarten-6th grade are located, but most importantly, where Studio(i) is located. Studio(i) is a maker space that everyone can utilize, but since it is an inconvenience to Upper Schoolers to walk all the way to the lower school then back in a 50 minute period. Here, Mrs. Cureton, a facilitator of ours, as well as Anya, a Disney Cohort member (Disney cohort was the first iD cohort, has been in the program since last year) presented a MoVe talk. MoVe stands for Moment of Visible Empathy, the connection that happens between user and designer when they are collaborating to co-solve an issue together. Their talk focused on iDiploma and Design-Briefs, where a company approaches iDiploma to solve a problem with them such as their work at the CDC last year. After that, we split off into groups of 4 for micro curiosity conversations. I was grouped with my peer Megan Lineau to interview Carlos Herrera and Jeff Mills. We asked each of them about what they do and a project that they are doing. Carlos Herrera is the Chief Economist for Coca Cola, which isn’t restricted to only numbers and the changes in them, but also the reasons behind the changes. The problem he has right now is trying to remove the stigma behind Coke and how when people think of it, they think of obese children and sugar, but when people think of cake, they think of birthdays and celebrations. Jeff Mills is the Vice President at Enterprise Rent-a-car, where in contrast to Carlos, he only works with numbers and has a very black and white job. A problem that he consistently has is the recalling of cars, he has to tell people to give replacement cars to the people who have the recalled model and that really messes with the flow of he has developed over the years. After our curiosity conversations, we all reconvened in Studio(i) just in time for Mr. Adams (another one of the iDiploma facilitators) to give a very short MoVe kind of talk about the plans for a new Mount Vernon School. To be completely honest, I don’t know what place this had in the grand scheme of things as it had nothing to do with DEEP DT or the rest of the day.  After that short talk, we had another short break and moved back to the Upper school for the main event, the Flashlab. The Flashlab is the fun part of the day, it is the part of the day where you take what you learned and apply it. We started with a short explanation of what it was, a sample DEEP DT experience, then moved into some making exercises, where we made a pair of glasses and a sesame street puppet with pipe-cleaners and popsicle sticks. Then we moved to the real experiment, we came up with interview questions and interviewed 2 COI members, Jeff Mills, the Enterprise Chief of Finance (the man I interviewed earlier), and Emily Soelberg, the Executive director of Strategy at AT&T. Since the theme of this COI is Disruptive Curiosity, we wanted to figure out ways that both Jeff and Emily could be more creative with their jobs, making sure they are constantly experiencing new things and questioning everything. During our interviews, we asked questions like “in what settings do you feel most comfortable and uncomfortable?” and “Tell me about a time when you were curious?” Through these questions, we determined what would make them more curious, and since Jeff had more of a “black and white” job, we decided to focus on him. Through a brainstorming session, we found that it would be most effective if we pulled Jeff out of his usual setting and put him in another one for a day once in a while. This setting could include another section of Enterprise such as Marketing, or it could be a sort of field trip to Roam or even an art museum. Since obviously we cant create a physical model of this idea, we created a box out of popsicle sticks and had a pipe-cleaner man stepping out of it (stepping out of the box). I think if we had more time, we could have come up with a better idea, but since the facilitators stressed that being pressed for time makes you spit out ideas, good or bad, in the heat of the moment you don’t really care the quality of the ideas because your bad idea might spark a great idea in another person. I don’t really agree with this, because if you have an hour or two to come up with ideas, you will probably have more and better ideas than just 8 minutes worth. Obviously this theory only works if time allows, which it didn’t in the case of COI, since it only lasted as long as the school day as it was a school event. In reflection, I don’t have much to go on, as this is my first year in iDiploma and my first COI event, but it was a good one if I do say so myself. I feel like the students could have had more involvement towards the beginning when we were just sitting there listening for 2 hours, and the Council members were also confused as to why we were there at the beginning as they kept stealing glances at us and shared confused looks.