I've been having a lot fun lately using the many tools and techniques found in a free download from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, aka “the d.school.”
It’s called the d.school Bootcamp Bootleg. As d.school professor Robert Sutton told me, “It is awesome, developed from years of teaching introduction to design, and it is free!” We like free. Free is good.
As the d.school teaching team describes it, the Bootcamp Bootleg is a “loose collection of methods, modes and mindsets” curated from the full “design thinking bootcamp,” which is the d.school’s introductory course in design thinking. Organized to be a working practical toolkit “so that you can go try it out in the world for yourself,” the bootleg consists of five modes and over two dozen methods “which support the seven d.mindsets... vital attitudes for a design thinker to hold.”
Here are a couple of the d.mindsets, along with a quick sampling of some of the modes and methods that map to them.
Focus on Human Values. A big part of design thinking entails empathizing—the first mode discussed—mainly because design thinking focuses on solving problems of others. In fact, empathizing is an important part of the investigation design process: the beginning!
To solve any problem with an elegant design, you have to understand not just what a user finds valuable, but why they find it valuable. In other words, while knowing what’s important is key, the extra dimension of knowing why it’s important can open up universe of potential solutions because it allows you to tap into the intangible side of value found in emotions and motives.
One of the methods in the Bootcamp Bootleg is a “User Camera Study,” or what design firm IDEO calls simply a “Camera Journal.” The concept is simple: in order to get inside your users’ lives, and come to understand a user's experience by seeing it through their eyes, you give a camera to a potential user and ask them to keep a visual diary of a day in their life.”
Another great method for empathetic observation that I have used and can attest to the success of is called “What? How? Why?” Let’s say you’re analyzing some of the photos from a user camera study. Tape the photo to a sheet of paper that you’ve divided into What, How, and Why? Moving left to right, from the concrete to the emotional, describe what the person is doing, how they are doing it, and finally (through interpretation and informed guesswork), why they are doing it.
Create Clarity from Complexity. This is the goal of elegant design. Complexity isn’t going anywhere. The world is more complex every day. Complexity is the design thinker’s friend. Managing complexity, exploiting it, and making it invisible to your user is the challenge.
It begins with properly defining the problem you’re trying to solve. (To read more about this, check out my OPEN Forum column First, Agree on the Problem.) As the Bootcamp Bootleg states, “the goal of the ‘define’ mode is to come up with an actionable problem statement... a guiding, framing statement that focuses on the needs of a particular user that you uncovered during the empathize mode.”
It’s not easy to frame a problem properly. It’s more like art than science. One tool the Bootcamp Bootleg suggests is one I first saw used effectively at a frog design collaboration session: Point-of-View (POV) Mad Libs. Frog used customer POV mad libs to generate a number of ideas based on several customer archetypes. Most of us have seen Mad Libs activity books, where you construct a story by filling in blanks in the story narrative (usually with fairly entertaining results).
Here, you use the following basic mad lib to resolve the creative tension between user, need, and insight: [USER] needs to [USER’s NEED] because [SURPRISING INSIGHT].
From the Bootcamp Bootleg: “For example, instead of ‘A teenage girl needs more nutritious food because vitamins are vital to good health,’ try ‘A teenage girl with a bleak outlook needs to feel more socially accepted when eating healthy food, because in her hood a social risk is more dangerous than a health risk.’ Note how the latter is an actionable problem statement, while the former closer to a statement of fact, which spurs little excitement or direction to develop solutions.”
The need and insight come from your empathic observation. Needs should be verbs, and you have to make the insight something more than simply a logical reason for the need. You have to play around with a number of options and variables, but done right, a POV mad lib can help you construct, as the Bootcamp Bootlegs says, “... an actionable problem statement that will launch you into generative ideation.”
I encourage you to download the Bootcamp Bootleg, adopt one of the d.mindsets, and take it for a test spin by applying some of the mindsets, modes and methods in the toolkit to a business or customer challenge you’re trying to solve.
Matthew E. May is a design/innovation strategist and author. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewemay.