Tag Archives: Design Thinking

A degree at any cost?


Early on in our Design Thinking module we were asked to run through a quick calculation.

Add up the number of hours of lectures we have (172 in my case, though I am going to add a generous 12 hours to allow for marking and surgery times with tutors).

Then divide the cost of our course fees by this figure to work out how much we pay per hour of lectures, or by dividing again by 60, per minute. International students pay around 50% more.

The aim of the exercise was to put in perspective how much money we would be wasting by turning up late or skipping a lecture.

This value-awareness was intended as a smart initiative to reduce tardiness.

However, it cuts both ways. Now when a lecturer is late starting I can’t help thinking at the back of my mind that they better make up for it with what they’re about to impart. You see, I want my money’s worth!!

Also, at the end of each lecture (normally three hours) I now often reflect: was that worth £140? Was watching that TED video really worth £8?? Did I really just spend £90 doing a personality test? Did I really need to fork out £280 attending an art fair? Did I get good value?

Often, the answer is yes. Whilst I could do many of these things for free or for a fraction of the cost they would be lacking the necessary context to make them a valuable learning experience. However, when I hand in an assignment and get nothing more than a couple of words feedback it denigrates the whole exercise.

I wonder if the tutors ever ask similar questions of themselves? With an average class size of 30, do they reflect on whether their morning’s efforts were worth £4,200+?

On occasion, I have had lectures at the weekend that last eight hours and contain over 100 students. As the lecturer drives home afterwards does he reflect that he has just generated £100,000 of income for the university?

But, as my History teacher used to say of himself, I digress.

The value-for-money considerations that I am making as an MA student are going to become more prevalent with the introduction of tuition fees for undergrads.

For example, Kingston University has announced it will be charging £7,000 per term (ironically, it’s a shame it could not justify the full 9k!). This means more people will be considering is it really worth it? In new ‘entrepreneurial’ Britain would it not be better to just get on and do it, instead of spending three years studying and generating up to £50,000 debt. That equates to an enormous amount of venture capital!

Up until now unis have been like a cheap restaurant in a tourist trap. Repeat customers are not a concern and ultimately there are always people lined up to get in.

In the future universities will need to become far more savvy in engaging and attracting the best students and the rise of on-line reviews from former students should hopefully keep them on their toes.

The cobbler’s children have no shoes.


Studying for MACE has introduced me to the concepts of ‘Design Thinking’.

To the detriment of my sanity it has also made me consider the wider aspect of “Design ‘What were they’ Thinking?”

Kingston University is widely considered to have one of the best furniture and product design courses in the country. The University has a highly regarded business school; design, architecture, engineering and environmental sciences are areas of excellence. Yet, sometimes when I look around the campus I find this hard to believe.

My experience of the Frank Lampl building is a case in point. Here we have a modern purpose-built site designed to provide a venue for lectures. So why is the lecture room I sat in laid out in such a way that a proportion of the class can barely see the screens? Those at the edge are at too obtuse an angle and those in the middle have a large monitor in the way. What were they thinking?

This weekend I spent two days in a room full of Environmental Studies students with the heating on full and the windows wide open.

And… don’t even get me started on the room numbering and signage around campus.

Fortunately, our assignment this week is to observe a system and identify a problem that the user encounters. We must describe a few ways that this problem could be solved through changing or adding a role, a rule or an object based on Corinne’s USER System Model.

I am going to look at just one element of the University’s Environmental Management System.

I am going to examine the bins.

As part of the Kingston University’s Environmental Policy it commits to: the minimisation of waste through elimination, reduction, reuse and recycling.

How very admirable!

When one goes into the Postgrad cafeteria at Kingston Hill it is easy to see the policy in action.

There are a row of colour coded bins for recycling [Rules] that allow students and staff [Users] to divide their refuse [objects] into paper & card, plastics, cans and landfill.

Obviously we all want to avoid putting as much as possible into the landfill bin to the benefit of all stakeholders [community].

So when the genii [Designers] that came up with this plan decided on the best way to communicate, facilitate and implement this system did they use design thinking?

Consider the paper and card bin. We are in a cafeteria. The ‘objects’ that will be going into this bin are mostly paper cups (round) and sandwich cartons (triangular). Admittedly some people may also want to throw away some notes – but what will user normally do first? Screw them up into a ball (spherical). So, what shape did they make the hole for this refuse? That’s right – a narrow slit of course! So where do all but the most committed environmentalists put this waste? In the landfill bin naturally. Arrrgh!!!!

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I don’t blame them. With the bins as the ‘objects’ the ‘rules’ of this ‘system’ suggest to ‘users’ that their ‘role’ in this ‘community’ is not to recycle paper cups and cardboard packaging.

I’m sure with a little observational research and some quantitative research to measure what is actually being sent to landfill that could be recycled a pretty reliable figure could be ascertained; which when extrapolated across the campus and over the academic year would add up to quite a frightening/disgusting volume and a tonnage that makes a mockery of the underlying rules of the system – the environmental policy.

How could it be improved? Well we could ask a 6 month+ child. Making the apperature of the bins suit the waste going into them would be an obvious solution with the most significant impact. In fact, doing away with the ‘shape sorting’ all together would be the best idea. While we are at it, let’s get rid of the rigid bin containers all together and have strong transparent (biodegradable) bags that hang from frames with relevantly coloured rims. The ‘users’ could clearly see where their ‘objects’ are supposed to go on approach (some civic minded people might even be tempted to fish objects out if they see a mistake has been made). In fact, the social pressure on the ‘user’ exerted by the ‘community’ being able to clearly see where they are depositing their ‘objects’ might cause them to observe the ‘rules’ more closely. And, the relevant ‘role’ player in the community could more easily see when the bins are getting full and need emptying.

The colours coding is a good idea, but let’s at least apply a bit of intelligence to it and change the ‘rules’. The colour red is almost universally recognised as meaning ‘stop’, ‘caution’ or at the very least ‘pause and think’. So would it not make sense to apply the colour red to the bin for landfill? Then white for paper, blue for plastics and grey for cans. Would a simple change in the rules like this help reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill?

For the maximum efficiency we could play around with the roles within the ‘Community’. At the moment the onus is on the ‘user’ to classify and seperate the waste. But, what if instead of just disposing of it, the role of the refuse company was also to separate it all properly off-site? It might cost a bit more money [rules] but in theory it would be most efficient. If all these changes were made in combination the extra cost might be minimal in relation to the improvements and kudos of having an Environmental Policy that’s not just all hot air.

Yawn and the whole world yawns with you?


In week two of the Creative Economy MA we watched the RSA animated version of Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on ‘The Empathic Civilisation’.

Shortly after it began I started yawning. Not because the presentation bored me. Far from it! The yawning arose because I was thinking about yawning – or, more specifically ‘contagious yawning’. Rifkin was talking about the discovery of mirror neurons. These same neurons are also thought to be responsible for the contagion of yawns. It is these mirror neurons that Rifkin opines are responsible for empathy. In 2007 research by the University of Leeds suggested that the susceptibility to the contagious yawn is actually symptom of a high level of social empathy. Interestingly the research also noted that engineering students were less likely to yawn than the psychology students. Thus, inferring that the latter students have a higher level of social empathy. I wonder how creative and artistic students would fare? I must remember these considerations as empathy plays such a fundamental role in design thinking. It highlights the importance of collaboration in design processes – ensuring the user’s emotional, practical and concious needs are all evaluated.

However, I was surprised to note that Rifkin was unaware that research by Birckbeck University, London has already suggested that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans. If one yawns in front of a dog, the contagion can jump between species and the dog will yawn too. The reason for the dog yawning was put down to a ‘primitive’ level of social empathy. So are dogs more empathic than engineers? All this talk of yawning may have you starting to yawn too. Who are you empathising with? Me? The dogs? Or, are you just bored?

Another aspect of the presentation that I had a problem with was Rifkin’s suggestion that we need to all start thinking like an extended family. He says that effectively that Y-chromosomal Adam and Database Woman are the Adam and Eve from whom we are all descended; and since we are all related we really should all just get along. I don’t see this as a good premise for global harmony. Consider Adam and Eve’s first sons, Cain and Able!

The third disparity I encountered was sandwiched between these issues. Rifkin points out that we now have the technology to think viscerally as a family. Rifkin then goes on to use the earthquake in Haiti as an example of how within three hours the ‘entire human race was in empathic embrace’ coming to the aid of Haiti. So why was this same embrace not extended to Pakistan when the floods struck seven months later? Did the entire human race give an apathetic shrug; a disinterested yawn?

The American Red Cross ran a text based donation campaign for Haiti that raised $32 million within days, generating as much as $200,000 per hour. A similar campaign by the Red Cross for Pakistan yielded just $10,000, about 0.03 per cent of what it raised for Haiti. Why? Donor fatigue? Were the images displayed in the media insufficiently emotive? Or, do the tribal blood ties, religious connections and national loyalties of our ancestors still run true?

I would contend that we have never truly ‘detribalised’ as Rifkin suggests. Has he never been to a soccer match? I suspect that progressions in technology simply allow us to form new coalitions and renew old ones. One of the more popular uses of the Internet is the tracing of our ancestry – to reestablish our blood ties.

Empathy is fundamental to trust. If we perceive a person is able to empathise with ourselves then we are more inclined to trust them. We trust that they will respond and behave appropriately. For example, we might share our passions, religious beliefs or national identity without fear of mockery, prejudice or violence.

In the study on yawning it was suggested that it was the capacity for empathy towards humans that was a trait selected in dogs during domestication. Put another way, the capacity for mutual empathy was a factor that helped our ancestors trust which dogs were allowed to join the tribe.

So why must empathy play such an important role in design thinking? The more empathic we are to the user during the design process the more the user will trust our product, trust our service and trust our brand.

First thoughts on Design Thinking


Thinking, thinking, thinking.

MACE has really got me thinking. It has got me thinking about thinking. It has got me thinking about thinking about thinking.

It seems this course will involve a lot of thinking!

This made we aware that generally in my day-to-day work I don’t have to think very much. I generally know what to do; know somebody else who will know what to do or simply go with my instincts without necessarily analysing why. It is difficult to know if this is a bad thing. Thinking takes time and we are often led to believe that good management is about utitlising time with maximum efficiency. Often management decisions are reduced to a chain of binary logic yes/no responses. It might be believed that the ultimate CEO does not have to think at all and just knows the answer instinctively. There are even books with titles such as ‘Blink: The power of thinking without thinking’ by best-selling author Malcom Gladwell.

With this sort of mindset I found our introductory session with Corrine a little bit testing. It even made me wonder how much easier this course may have been when I was younger and my mind was less cluttered with preconceived ideas. I was reminded of school when term would start after the long summer holidays. Initially having to use a pen again would be uncomfortable, one’s hand would cramp and the writing would be all over the place. This was how using my brain was feeling.

For our first task we were divided into small groups, each with a particular character trait.

In my group Can was deaf, Thierry was only able to act under instruction from Can and I was blind. We were then sent on a mission to find the nearest toilets and use their facilities whilst acting out our diabilities. By stepping outside of our normal perceptions it made us much more sensitive to the requirements of an otherwise banal function. We had taken our first tentative step towards ‘Design Thinking’.

On returning to the study space we were introduced to the USER model for Design Thinking. This convenient acronym refers to a model designed by Corinne to define the stages for effective design thinking.

We looked at how the design of the toilets fitted with the USER System Model, identifying who fitted into the categories of Designer, User and Community. We also looked at what the ‘Rules’ were, the ‘Objects’ and the ‘Roles’. For the design of the toilets this was reasonably simple to define. I did find part of my mind screaming that we were over analysing it. The design had involved very little creative thought. The position of the external soil pipe, internal mains water and entrance would have defined where the cubicles and urinals had to be positioned. There was only one option really. The rules regarding the proximity of mains electrical items in relation to water were the reason for the hand dryer being in a counter intuitive position. On reflection I now wonder if what may have been frustrating me was that we were applying the USER model to a situation that clearly hadn’t used it and even if it were applied would have resulted in limited improvements? Maybe my brain was just cramping.

For our next task we were again spilt into groups and each visited a different retail outlet. My group’s was the Apple store. By chance, as a group we all had very different preconceptions. One of us was a true Apple affectionado, one works in Apple’s largest UK store, one had only been in the UK for month and as for myself, I am a recent Apple customer. I had actually visited the store once before when my new iPhone4 was playing up. I thought they might be able to help at the Genius Bar. I discovered I should have booked an appointment and would have to return four days later when the next slot was available. I was not at all impressed and ended up solving the problem by using online forums. From this I learned the benefits of a collaborative approach to design thinking, taking a variety of perspectives. As a team we observed the customer/ user experience of the store to create an event map. On return to the study space we applied the USER DT Model. What was interesting to me was how the positions of the User and the Community overlapped. It was discussed how this is very much the intention behind the Apple brand and store design. Buying an Apple product or entering the store offers a chance to join the Apple ‘tribe’ and they make it very enticing. I am thinking about how this blurring of the boundaries can be reflected in the USER DT Model? What happens when the User is so much of an intrinsic part of the Community. And, in the case of Apple who are now bigger than Microsoft, I wonder how will the Community evolve with the influx of ‘uncool’ Users in grey suits.

The User as an intrinsic part of the Community

When I began work on setting up my blog on WordPress I began to think about how the USER DT Model applies to the blogosphere. Suddenly the defined roles become even more blurred. As the User the Blogger also plays an immense role as a Designer; the layout, the content, the links, etc. Again, the User is also part of the Community.

The User is also the Designer. The Community is made up of Users

I hope that as the MACE course progresses I will better understand how this works and how to apply the model correctly.