Over the last seven months during the Designing a Business module I experienced the learning process with a different approach: learning by doing. For the first ever time I heard about Design Thinking… What is Design Thinking? “It is a system that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business can convert into consumer value and market opportunity. Tim Brown, IDEO.”
The journey has been faster than a cannon ball, seven months just like seven long intense days. Nevertheless the module ends with several insights for the future and a strong will to try it again. The weekly blog activity goes under the following words ‘Change the River’. This title disguises into the posts that describe the natural journey of designing a business. So, here is the question that triggers the last post: How could a river change in a time lapse of six months?
At the outset in September 2014 the lean start-up weekend with Dan Lockton put in place a pathway. For the first time we touched on design for behaviour change and interviewed other students at the Kingston Campus as part of the task’s research. Afterwards the discovery began by creating a team of people willing to join together, to share ideas and most importantly, consider a common vision for the next six months or maybe longer. My primary curiosity was to understand each profile’s perspective and enjoy the opportunities to enhance this experience in the business environment in a meaningful way.
The Mirus project was born in October last year and I fully involved myself in collaboration with other four students from different countries, with different backgrounds, different ideas about a product to pitch in the real business scenario. During our first meetings I realised my eagerness to challenge myself to learn from others as much as I expressed my positive attitude to build and coordinate expertise and personalities in a team. I didn’t know how and what would come after. I dove into the process and trusted in a daily effort. My real concerns were in that I had never worked on developing a product before. I will never stop being thankful for believing in the team and overcoming that concern with the openness and the supportive value we created together.
During the module sessions I could envision where my business expertise needed a deeper engagement, such as the social media platform and how to handle it. Regarding Twitter, for example, I had never paid attention to its features and the potential springboard to extend networking differently and practice different languages and communication tools. Furthermore, the ability to be concise and powerful – just like in Twitter messages with no more than 160 characters – came useful in the video making process we went through together to launch our product. In that occasion I nurtured my skills of production and assembling ideas in order to reach out to our customers. The module helped to shed light on my personal lack of business model knowledge. Therefore, I started to take up more opportunities to close this gap.
Entrepreneurship hinges on driving resources, tangible and intangible. “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources currently controlled. Professor Howard Stevenson.” Starting up a business generates questions, especially in the very beginning to define the challenge: how to meet the challenge? What about finding and managing the money? How to deal with forming and naming your business, what kind of organisational structure shall I adopt?
Direction sparks a vision for the future. As it happened to me, it gave me the experience on the field on how to apply the Design Thinking approach through the three gears: empathy & deep human understanding, concept visualisation and strategic business plan (Heather Fraser – Design Works: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges Through Business Design). As a team, we built up our code of conduct, pinned down small wins which marked the planning ahead: to develop the idea through the user-experience approach. At the same time the constant commitment I promised to myself on writing every Monday night, no matter what, cast my mind in practicing writing skills, storytelling and effective communication. This attitude is still vivid and part of my background today. I love writing and document the everyday implementation.
At halfway through, the Brand Persona for Mirus Project was the next important piece of the story. As a business, you need to tell a compelling story that can connect the customers on an emotional level. Herskovitz explains that the “brand persona creates a long-lasting emotional bond with the audience because it is instantly recognizable and memorable, it is something that people can relate to, and it is consistent” (Herskovitz and Crystal 2010, p.21). Good examples of companies that have a strong brand persona are McDonald’s, Nike, Disney and FedEx. All these companies have a clear personality associated with their brands. These companies understand that by placing that persona into stories that work with and help strengthen that brand persona is what makes the difference between strong and weak brand associations. The brand persona should drive the continuity of the overall brand message. After putting a lot of thought and detail into our brand persona, we came up with the Mirus character.
The developing phase brought us to come up with a sturdy concept – an educational product for children, not only for those with learning disabilities, but also with lower cognitive levels. We tapped into the area where the human centred experience became crucial and revealing for potential novelty. Feedback and prototyping, as Rob Fitzpatrick explains interestingly, means to get yourself out there and listen, listen and observe over and over again. The idea is to talk to your customers without saying much, so to prevent them from bias as much as possible.
We visited many schools to create connections with users – the children – and customers – the therapists. All of them employed great involvement so they vastly supported our reflection process to acknowledge new opportunities. I tried to be there during the workshop sessions at schools as much as possible, because this allowed me to improve my understanding and exchange views with other teammates. This openness, creative and collaborative approach are amongst the hallmarks of the ‘Designing a Business’ module. Equally, these hallmarks portray my current purpose in life.
As part of all these small steps my blog depicted the junction between action, research and mindfulness. For instance, networking activity is pivotal when you want your idea to reach out to as many people as possible. The Kingston Trade Fair in January gave a little spotlight to keep getting feedback from our stakeholders which are therapists. The therapists were our customers as well as our advisors on how to develop our product. The insight we gained was that we should focus on emphasising the social stories which meant to find an illustrator as soon as possible. Again, I found in myself the willingness to underpin our purposes as soon as possible. Quickly, I thought of a specific basketball team I knew where a friend of mine was a graphic designer. One week later he joined the Mirus Team and started sketching concepts for our discs. This process engaged all my expectations and skills, and these connections mirrored my belief in what I was looking for unconsciously.
In any journey throughout the route, ups and downs are always meant to show up. We figured it out around February that our product, our beautiful ‘Once upon a wheel’ discs, according to therapists, might need more development and need to be turn into an application for iPad teaching. This was a setback that we handled quite well. We had a long discussion and decided that we would carry on until the end of the programme with the same existing format which was the colouring discs on paper. We could not afford outsourcing or hiring a programmer to build an app. Although we were fully aware that our commitment to Mirus Project would end as the course finishes, I still think there was some room for innovation through risk-taking. This real example linked to a topic we discussed in class in terms of storyline. This was our “struggle” that could turn into another experience in the future.
If I rewind the reel of this blog which means our product and our story, I can draw upon many moments that belong to my professional and human development, both current and future. My transformation is in progress these days and it will be alive for the rest of my existence. Initially our project team’s brainstorming started out with tons of ideas and we followed the idea of Halloween costumes for disabled children on wheelchairs. It was back in October. We ended up with a better idea after we narrowed down our focus. The round-format circular shape of a disc enhances the social skills through social stories. This process, where I got to know Design Thinking for the first time, worked as binoculars for the past as well as for the future. Once I wore it, I could see the meaning of past, my five years spent in freelance Event Management. In this interesting and exploratory time I was seeking for game-changing questions, meanwhile I was nudging. The ‘Designing a Business’ experience reinvigorated my view. I explored my curiosity as the tools in the MACE course and the actual business strategy were absorbed along the way: Social Media, Marketing, Digital Tools, Branding and Sales Strategy will be important tools and knowledge for my future, no matter what direction I go.
The Dragon’s Den presentations were important to see if we could communicate our organisation as well as our brand. Public speaking was one of the most emotional efforts where I learnt to deal with my boundaries and push them through practice and belief in what I was doing. Confidence in the communication skill is as important as the ability to articulate your thoughts effectively and clearly. At Kingston University we had two chances to showcase our product and know-how in skill presentations. It entailed the coordination of the content according to what our contributions were. Finally, it was essential we made sure we verbalised our passion and goals in a powerful way.
I believe that managing change by design is my future direction. The vision is the use of “design tools which enable the organisation to embrace change as a normal part of managing its business.” (Peter Coughlan and Illya Prokopoff, Partners at IDEO) I aim to embrace the future with all these methodologies and tools I have gained in this module. Design Thinking is the engine of my personal research project which will summarise the whole course. Therefore, it will be a paramount part of my path, my pursuit in the long term. In terms of how I see the world, the modes of thinking, there are two kinds of logic. One is inductive – moving from specific observations to broader generalisations and theories –, the other one is deductive – informally called “top-down approach”, proving through reasoning from the principle that sometimes ‘must be’. Then Designers suggest the third type of logic: abductive reasoning – the logic of ‘what might be’ (Jeanne Liedtka, Business Professor). By rendering Roger Martin’s words, I am passionate of Design Thinking as a source of thinking to advocate a different style of work. I have decided to call this blog ‘Change the River’ as I took inspiration from a natural phenomenon known as widespread trophic cascade. In the Yellowstone National Park, after 70 years absence, wolves were reintroduced in 1995. They changed not just the entire ecosystem of the park, but also the physical geography. Before I started my MACE pathway, the river of my knowledge was dry and without a solid direction. This module has been one of the most important ones for my ever-changing transformation process. It equipped my mind-set with the ability to recognise and to boost new opportunities to grow with intrinsic motivation, to innovate my own processes through collaboration, to tell stories that inspire values in any work environment I will tap into.
Follow the link to enjoy the sort but powerful video on how wolves change rivers:
References & Links
Rotman and Design – Martin and Christensen
Designing for Growth – a designing thinking tool for Managers
This is Service Design Thinking – Stickdorn/Schneider
Design Works – Heather M.A. Fraser
Heather Fraser – Design Works: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges Through Business Design
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_xjb7LB7VY – Accessed on 15th of April 2015-04-24
The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding – Stephen Herskovitz and Malcolm Crystal