Day 1


Today was the first day of class. I decided to skip the traditional introductions and get right down to work.

In the spring of last year our office worked with Stanford’s d.School to create a “design thinking” exercise called The Wallet Project. The bright folks at The d.’ created this exercise to help the uninitiated have a firsthand experience with their design methodology. Our office collaborated closely with Stanford to make that experience, clear, compelling and immersive. The exercise provided the perfect “cold start” to a semester in which we will explore a number of design methodologies.

I didn’t have my students use the workbook we created, but I walked them through the process and they produced some impressive ideas. Rather than describe the design thinking process in detail myself, I’m going to let my students share with you their takeaways from the first day of class.

Kids, have at it:

  • kenneth

    I first heard of “Design Thinking” when a friend from Stanford introduced me to it. Being a business major, and located in the heart of Silicon Valley, though, he saw it more as a general concept which applied to building products and startups.

    The Design Thinking methodology contains a series of steps which involve: 1. understanding the problem to be solved, 2. defining what one is trying to achieve, 3. brainstorming ideas and potential solutions, 4. getting feedback 5. prototyping a solution, 6. testing the solution, and 7. repeating the process until a good solution is achieved. The various step definitions vary among each description of Design Thinking, but the basic idea is the same.

    The beauty of Design Thinking is that it is not just a recipe for cranking out Graphic Design—but rather a way of thinking that one draw from for any kind of problem-solving.

  • ysheng

    The first class really surprised me when we were told to design a wallet for our partner. Though it sounds more like an ID project. I think the purpose of developing design thinking contribute to our professional practice.

    Before we designed the wallet, we were required to communicate with our partner in order to collect the information about their ideal wallet. Later we concluded the notes into simple phrases and sentences. This process helps us to get a clear mind about what is the most important for this wallet design, inspiring us to find out the best solution for presenting it.

    My favorite part of this project is when my partner spoke out my design instead of explaining by myself. When she described my design, I realized the strong part of the design and the problem I didn’t realize. To me, her description is like feedback that helps me to rethink of my design and get the problem solved.

    To conclude, design thinking method helps us to learn information collection, defining, creative thinking, solution seeking, listening and refinement, which are the ways to train ourselves to be professional designers.

  • Kalee Abella

    Yesterday’s lesson in class taught me seven important things to consider when creating a design. Not only did I realize they were important for designing an object, but beneficial for any type of design (logo’s, posters, billboards ect.)

    To start out an idea the first thing to do is Emphasize. You must be able to exaggerate and come up with the best possible options. The second thing to do is Define. Any details, or extra things necessary to make your idea to work its best. If there are several ideas that work, you must decide which ones seem most appropriate. The third step is to Ideate the image you have in your mind until it is conceived to seem what may work the best under the circumstances you have. Step four is to Get Feed Back. The design you have come up with not only seems perfect to you, but seen from others eyes, allows you to see things you had not seen before. Once getting other opinions for your design, you must Iterate, which is the fifth important step so you can reach your goal on how your design functions. Step six, is to Prototype your design to make sure it will actually function in reaching your goal. Step seven, which is the last and final step to completing a functional and well thought out design is to Test it. Whether it is showing the design to your client or allowing it to be shown in public.

    • This is a pretty accurate assessment, although the first step is to EMPATHIZE, not emphasize. Developing empathy for your user helps you identify (and therefore value and truly consider) both their wants and needs, then design for them.

      As an aside though, I like the idea of emphasis. Exaggeration can be a useful tool for testing the limits of an idea. We will come back to this concept in a few weeks.

  • kate.nigro

    I was unfamiliar with “design thinking” prior to our first class yesterday, but I feel that these steps definitely enhance the process I began to evolve for myself in GD 1. By “began to evolve,” I mean that I have personally been wrapped up in the first few steps (what I read as identifying the problem, research, and brainstorming), and I find it very informative/helpful/less intimidating to have a succinct path of action to follow once information is gathered.

    The wallet assignment excited me, as this is the first time I have ever interacted with a “client.” While I’ve created for a defined external entity in fictional scenarios, it was a truly different experience to receive feedback from the person I’m designing for. My partner “client” gave me a suggestion I probably would never have arrived at on my own, and it was an interesting moment of knowing that her insight (which was accurate because it was regarding her own taste) would completely change the project. I needed to reassess. I needed to find a way to make her requirement my own.

    My goal for this semester is to push my work further than I’m comfortable, and I think that applying the suggested repetition of Iterate, Prototype, and Test will help me achieve this otherwise seemingly unknowable goal. I am attracted to design because it’s problem solving. In utilizing these steps, I feel I can start to establish an approach applicable to a broad range of “problems,” while creating an opportunity for unique results.

    This design methodology challenges us as designers because we are forced to go deeper; the requirement exists within the sequence. However, this process simultaneously creates structure. As a fledgling designer, this satisfies my two greatest needs: to create in an authentic way and to break the big, unwieldy mass that is design into smaller, manageable, digestible pieces.

    Looking forward to an informative and intense semester!

  • benjamindu

    Took away much more than I realized. A charming little exercise that revealed important lessons and taught us about an invaluable way of thinking about design.

    One and one do not equal two. When people collaborate, the outcome is far greater than what each person could have accomplished individually. Working with each other to solve problems not only creates better solutions, but is such an invaluable learning process. Each person brings fresh perspectives, and through the dialogue and exposure to new ideas, our own ways of thinking are better for it.

    Thinking within a framework creates clarity. The wallet exercise revealed the value of having a framework to organize my thinking process. Trusting in the process, and focusing on each step in the process allowed me to think with greater clarity without the distraction of having a jumbled thinking process.

    Remove limitations. Rarely am I encouraged to think beyond the limitations of the real world. All this exercise required me to solve were my partner’s needs, without being constrained by the technology of our time, costs, physics or many of the other factors a real-world designer would be forced to consider. The ideas were far-fetched, but at the most, it would mean readjusting to fit constraints. Easier to reel in a fantastical concept than dress up a dull one.

    Remove preconceived notions. They constrain our creative thinking. This exercise taught me to approach the design without any visions to the final product and let my vision of the product be built up gradually as the process evolved and as we learned more from our client.

    Spontaneity is liberating. Having the timer was strangely freeing rather than limiting, as common sense would have otherwise dictated. The limited time forced me to be spontaneous and decisive, to spew out ideas without filtering them. Sometimes the best ideas are filtered out in the recesses of our mind because we dismiss them out of hand.

    Excited as heck for an entire semester of this!

  • Nathan

    Initially, I was going to write that the methodology of design thinking was something I was unfamiliar with before the first class. However I realize now that is not true. Every aspect of design thinking, from sensitivity to the client and constant iterations, has been present since I have begun designing underneath the guidance of mentors and the absorption of resources. However these elements have never before been organized or presented in such a clear and succinct manner.
    The seven “steps” of design thinking are as follows: empathize, define, ideate, get feedback, iterate, prototype, and test. I am familiar with all of these seven steps, yet as I review them and think about my own design processes and outcomes from the past, two areas quickly jump out due to how much I have tended to neglect them. Those two areas are empathizing and defining, and the cycle of iterating, prototyping, and testing.
    Research is an essential part of design, and from research one can generate sensitivity and consciousness towards specific topics. Yet often when I research, I find that my research takes quite the opposite turn and becomes extremely personal, as I branch off into topics that are specifically appealing to me.
    In a similar vein, when I come to a potential solution that I enjoy and think will succeed, I tend to get sucked in and stuck with it. Perhaps to a certain way of thinking, such a position is favorable, however I am constantly beginning to find that it is not. Rather than refining one idea to the point of excellence, too often do I get one idea and wear it down to the ground.
    The methodology of design thinking provides for me a visual reference that I can use to balance my efforts and execute my skills effectively. I am excited to begin a new semester and to tackle new problems using the methodology of design thinking as one tool amongst many to plan, design and improve my skills as a designer.

  • Kusumoto

    I really enjoyed this first assignment. I’ve always been fascinated by Design because of how it can transform the way that people see things.

    In the case where we were redesigning the wallet, I was really impressed by the all the wallet concepts that were emerging from other students. In the beginning we thought of a wallet as just a piece of fabric cut and sewn to hold cards. With the Design Thinking process it became clear that a wallet isn’t supposed to just carry cards, but it can also be a very personal solution on how someone organizes their life. Designing a wallet for a specific person requires some ethnography research on not just the person’s personality, but their lifestyle as well. We were also asked to go more into the person’s wallet with why questions. It wasn’t enough to know just about the different kinds of cards a person had, and how they were characterized. As a designer, understanding why the person does things a certain way can gain insight on something even the person didn’t realize himself.

    Compared to GD1, where many of the projects seem to have been designed for a teacher’s personal aesthetic, designing the wallet became something born out of the understanding for the problem and the need for the perfect solution. At times I thought that I truly had understood what my partner’s needs and wants were, but I was surprised to learn that there were some things that I didn’t consider (such as practicality or sophistication), and these kinds of insights were really interesting.

    I’m really looking forward to learning more because Design Process and Research are some of the weaknesses that I have found myself falling in in many of my projects.

  • Man Ee

    It was weird when we were told to lay our wallets on the table. Then there was the sketching, followed by the interview, and then back to the sketching, then the interview and it goes on and on. However, it was more surprising for me to see what I have always perceived as a complex process boiled down to 7 “not so simple” steps.

    Anyway, over the course of multiple 5-minutes, I am convinced that there is no replacement for the discoveries and knowledge exchanged between the client and a designer. After all, people have more or less different experience and personalities. For example, a young girl originating from China would naturally be concerned about the issue of safety due to the frequency of snatch thieves in that country. However, due to her age, she would also be interested in fancy wallets. In contrast, a person such like myself is more concerned about the functionality of my wallet. Without finding out these details, the final outcomes could potentially be very generic. Ultimately, it is through this back-and-forth conversation throughout the 7 steps that makes the end result rich and personal. In other words, it makes it unique and catered to the intended audience.

    To put it simply, I feel that communication is an integral part of the “design thinking” exercise. It is also an exercise that mimics a design methodology that essentially drives participants to find solutions that are different from one designer to the other.

    Oh yes, 5 minutes can be shorter than you think!

  • jennchow

    Yesterday’s wallet exercise doubled as both an excellent introduction to the designer methodology and an engaging icebreaker for the class. It was interesting to see how the contents of our wallets could define us. A hodgepodge of gift vouchers and ticket stubs revealed a need for organization while a collection of cards from different cities were signs of being in a transitional state. The Empathy stage gave me insight into my partner/client’s interests, needs and lifestyle.

    The Define stage had us reflect on what we learned and simplify all the information we had absorbed from our findings into the statement “[User] needs a way to [User’s needs] that makes him/her feel [insight/meaning].” This step helped to condense my research and concentrate on an approach early on in the process.

    The most challenging part was the Ideate stage. With a short time limit, I struggled between the freedom of having no restrictions and the necessity for the wallet to be practical enough for the user to use. As the process continued, the class realized that even though we were designing something with the functional purpose of a wallet, it did not need to come in the form of a flat, foldable money holder. Chris reminded us that while artists use their creativity for internal expression, designers use it to solve problems for our clients.

    Presenting ideas to the client and getting their feedback was very beneficial to the design process. My partner/client helped me narrow down the ideas she felt worked more than others. I was surprising to find that we both came up with a similar solution to eachother’s organization problem- yet found other ideas to be more appealing. Most importantly, getting feedback from my partner/client ensured that my defining statement was not only a judgement that I believed, but one that she agreed with.

    By the time we reached the Prototype and Test stages, I was very pleased to see the “wallet” my partner had designed for me. It was an out-of-the-box, creative, and personal solution that I would love to own. After working on projects with imaginary clients and group critiques in GD1, this exercise reminded me of the importance of communicating with a client during the design process.

    I am definitely excited for this semester!

  • Lydia Park

    In yesterday’s class lesson I learned that every designer you mention, I should go home and research that designer not only for my benefit towards design education but also because you’ll most likely quiz us on whomever you mentioned.

    Secondly, as everyone else seems to have summarized pretty well is the wallet exercise and how it is important to go through every step you mentioned. I personally thought I had a bit of an advantage because I already knew who I was designing for and his interest were easily recognizable due to the previous classes I’ve had with him. He was also satisfied with the current wallet he had, so to expand on that was not a difficult task. I understand that all clients are different and some may or may not be easy to design for because when the role of the client and designer switched I felt like I had given him a harder task. I also realized that the functionality, comfortability, and design of this exercise had to be equally apparent whereas in some other design projects I’ve seen, one or more aspects is sacrificed for another aspect can be emphasized. I might be getting this feeling or interpretation because I’ve really had only one semester worth of design education but it was nice to play a role of cat and mouse where we don’t assume what our client might like only through research but the information I was able to gain with my client at hand. I do understand that is a luxury to have the client so accessible but I did enjoy the refreshing role play of it.

  • To attempt to add to what everyone else has already articulated about our first assignment, I must say that I definitely found the repetitive aspect of the exercise useful. By designing multiple alternatives, and then going back to the client to establish which wallet most closely resembled his needs, I was able to get far more insight into which aspects were the most important, and what exactly he desired. If I had instead simply taken my notes from the initial interview to create a finished product without consulting with the client during the process, I would have ended up with a far less successful wallet and a less satisfied client.

    I’m not certain if the complete lack of limitations given when designing the wallet made the exercise easier or more difficult. On one hand, the total disregard of physics and technical restrictions allowed for solutions that would never otherwise have existed. On the other, calling for things such as “case of infinite depth” and “personal accountant that can be summoned from anywhere” might be considered a copout. In the end, the wallet I designed for my “client” was totally plausible and could be crafted out of existing materials. Unfortunately, unless butt pads somehow become a socially accepted accessory for straight males, I don’t believe it will catch on anytime soon.

    I’m incredibly excited for my upcoming semester as a part of this class, especially now knowing that it will informative of the practical aspects of a successful design career. Although I have always appreciated the opportunity design school gives us to create works that are not limited by client needs and wants, learning how to most effectively communicate with a client and narrow down the desired outcomes of the project is an essential skill that will certainly make life down the road easier.

    • Christine — I think your observation that a complete lack of parameters is ultimately impractical and unrealistic. In fact that is a critically important realization. Charles Eames once described design as being the “the sum of all constraints” and I agree.

      In the prototyping stage one quickly realizes that the “blue sky” idea you may have had requires either innovation or compromise to become viable. At that point the designer exercises their greatest skill — that of translating the idea into form.

      We will be paying close attention to exactly these translations over the course of the semester.

      [ps the Eames quote above is a link. If you follow it it may just change your life.]

  • dlao_cca

    Day One’s design exercise was a refreshing lesson for me. Since “design thinking” is the “It” topic in today’s business circles, I feared that the method was just another toothless, trendy way to get people to buy more shiny widgets they don’t really need. At the end of the class period however, I was happy to discover that design thinking is about substantive, user-focused problem solving.

    The practice of interviewing the user/my partner several times at various stages of the design process was invaluable. These staggered interviews gave me opportunities to listen to him explain to me what he wanted out of a wallet and more importantly, gave me time to develop observations about the unsaid items on his wish list. Although we spent most of the time discussing card slots and back pocket accessibility, I noticed that he always casually made fun of how his current wallet looked as if it belonged to an 8 year-old boy. It was this string of off-hand jokes that helped me understand that the wallet design also needed to represent his transition into respectable adulthood.

    I appreciate that design thinking encourages multiple cycles of iteration, prototyping and testing before the end result – the process is about actively refining your product and fearlessly asking for constant feedback. It’s an important reminder to me that good design is not about making your first idea the right one.

    Design thinking is the ultimate right-brain and left-brain mashup. When designers pay attention to the practical as well as the feelings of the user/client, that’s when they create (shiny) things that add meaning and have longevity.

  • Winniekuo

    I thought of design thinking before when I designed an object. But it is my first time to hear the official name— design thinking. It helps me to do a functional, useful project. The most important thing is: my client will like it. I knew that designers needed to know what customers want before. However, I never notice that we need to figure out the story behind it. But it makes sense now because it is interesting and good for us to design something really suitable our customers. Customer’s habits are our rule for design things. Knowing a story behind it makes us thinking deeply or changing customer’s life. We can help them get rid of bad habits or even create new habit for them. Like iphone totally change people ‘s habit of using cell phone. Iphone connects information, Internet and cell phone successfully. People crazy about it and they only watch their iphones instead of talking to people when they eat lunch. That sounds crazy before but it happens in real life right now. I phone also change the way we use cell phone. There is no keyboard, we can use our thumb touch a screen and do everything. I like the way designer can change the world and people’s thinking. We can make things being better or worse. Design thinking is user-friendly instead of making thing more complicated. Design thinking shortens a process and makes it more fluently and efficiently. I hope I can learn design thinking more and helps my project better.

  • David

    The wallet redesign is an interesting concept seeing as how the exercise attempts to reveal to the participant’s issues that may be unrealized regarding their own personal thinking style. It forces the designer’s ego to sink to the background. It severs the tie between the superstar designer who can solve any problem through his own experience, talent, and mind or whatever term you prefer. Instead, the client is the one being praised and held up high, because ultimately they are the receiver of the design commodity. The client is the end of all decisions.

    Therefore, the 7 steps as previously mentioned by others help to focus thinking towards the clients needs and wants, rather than fixating on the designer’s assumptions of those needs and wants.

    This wallet method describes a very fluid back and forth transmission of ideas that build upon each other which would logically be more highly focused towards the end goal.

    Upon completion of the exercise, I realized that this transmission is almost crucial to the process in search of the perfect solution, yet also strengthens the trust of the client with the designer’s final solutions, as they both contributed, and both ego’s are satisfied. I believe with that achieved, it allows for solutions to arise, as both parties not only begin with mutual understanding, but then start and progress on the same level. Therefore the designer’s problems are understood and vice versa.

    I believe the attempt at identifying and describing a system of thought is useful and allows design to be viewed as theory rather than simply rules and regulations. The allowance for open discussion of the theory allows it to be further useful to the designer in developing a stronger process not only related to the job itself, but to create a heightened awareness of other points of view and the needs associated with those points of view.

  • kenneth

    By the way, Christopher, what is that a picture of?

    • It’s a detail from the workbook we created for the d.School. I’ll show you the whole piece in class Monday if you’re interested.

  • Viva

    The most interesting part of The Wallet assignment for me was seeing how most of us don’t take care to have the wallet we would like. It seems like many people want a slim, portable, barely noticeable wallet that will hold a few treasures and many forms of security. Of course most of us carry giant uncomfortable wallets with crushed photos of loved ones and expired library cards.

    And so to design the perfect wallet it would need to be both undetectable and expand for the inevitable bulge that accumulates. I decided that instead of a wallet my “client” should have a personal magic genie that would take care of things for her. Of course if someone could get magic to work I suppose designers would have less problems to solve.

  • micahrivera

    I am really excited about the semester if our first day looks anything like what this class is going to be for the next couple of months. I learned a lot about how I keep myself confined to the mundane and practical solution, and how valuable it is to get the obvious out of the way before you can really explore the outer limits of design. I had a ton of fun making pushing myself beyond my design comfort level. I thought it was a nice way to get out of your own way as a designer who preconceived notions about what a wallet looks like… and really listen to the root of your clients needs in order to meet them in a creative way.

    Way cool.

  • carolyn

    Design thinking process
    1. empathize
    2. define
    3. ideate
    4. get feedback
    5. iterate
    6. prototype
    7. test

    The idea of empathizing, the first step in Christopher’s “design thinking” list, was interesting to me because it isn’t a term that i have quite associated with graphic design yet, I’m not sure why. But empathy really is integral to designing something FOR someone else. In GD one, we mostly went through the design process in a self-centered mindset; aside from designing for a theoretical audience at times, we mostly design for our own tastes, the tastes of our teachers and our fellow students. But now, like Kate said, it is a completely different experience to design for someone and get feedback from them. Sometimes, like Yu said, something your “client” partner says helps you to realize and understand the objective more clearly, which is an interesting dynamic. It is exciting to get a taste of this process of designing for a specific PERSON, and creating parameters for your design based on their tastes.

    One interesting thing to me is that within each of these seven steps, there are so many possibilities. For instance, I’m sure that no too people brainstorm the same way. Even within my own brainstorming experience, I have rarely approached two different assignments with the same method of brainstorming. In the prototyping phase also, I imagine. One of my designs was a iPhone-type wallet that basically had all your cards programmed into it, and a dispenser for paper money. Once it was drawn, Kalee and I started thinking about all the possible problems that could come with this design (how do you put coins into an iPhone? there would certainly be a limit to how much physical money could fit inside it. How do you prevent identity theft?) For all these problems, there are a many possible answers, and I imagine that two design teams, given the same design objective (ie “create a wallet PDA”) could create two completely different prototypes.

    I also like what Ben said about the collaborative design process. It’s so true that many times two heads are better than one. Although brainstorming alone can be useful, ideas bouncing around in my head can get overwhelming and confusing. Given the chance to articulate them to someone who can listen and give feedback, I usually find clarity.

    I had fun with this exercise, and I am glad to have the process of “design thinking” fleshed out into a simple 7 step list.