Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

3 Tools to boost your creativity

In our last blog we discussed the need for creative thinking as a pathway to innovation. In this post we look at some of the tools and techniques can we can apply to develop connections and new ways of thinking. But first we must recognise that the ability to think creatively may vary from person to person and to become proficient training is a must. And so before we look at the tools I will run through several ‘warm up’ and ‘stretching’ exercises to help develop our creative minds just like we do our body.

We need to practise and practise every day, we need to create connections and look at the world in a different way – we need to look at and question the things around us, not in a literal way but ask yourself ‘what if that was used for…’. To do this I have outlined three exercises that you can do to practise and develop your ability to think creatively. The exercises below are just three of many so I encourage you to go out and find some more. The exercises are broken down into three categories, verbal, visual and conceptual.

1. Alternate uses (Conceptual)

In this exercise we look for alternate ways to use everyday objects, for example what else could a bicycle tyre be used for? (tie something together, flexible hoola hoop, a diving target in a swimming pool). The aim of this exercise is to limber up your thinking by asking you to think beyond the intended and obvious use of an item and develop new use contexts. It trains your mind to make new connections between objects and systems.

Firstly go out a make a list of five everyday objects. They could be things you have at work or home, at the park or the shops, really anything but make sure they are single discrete objects like a stapler, pen, rubbish bin, saucepan, park bench. The other thing, when you choose your objects, make sure that you select dissimilar objects, don’t pick say a saucepan and a frying pan, they are too similar in function and won’t challenge you.

Next take your list and start at the first item and think about what else this could be used for, e.g. a saucepan could be used for a flower pot, fish tank, storage container, a space helmet for a child’s game and so on. Write or sketch (or both) your response next to the original item. Continue to do this for each item on your list. You should allocate a time of say one minute per listed item. Be creative and silly as much as you want as you move through the list. As you get better you will find that you will begin to create new ideas and products from your response and that the time you require to conceptualise new uses will reduce. When this happens challenge yourself with more obscure objects.

2. Visual connections (Visual)

Firstly create a grid of 3 squares wide by 4 squares tall. In the first square place a question mark – you won’t use this square. In the second and third square along the top sketch or place any random image of something, say a car and a plate. In the second, third and fourth squares of the first column also place images of distinct objects, say a plane, cloud and a piece of cheese.

You should now have 6 blank squares. So for the first blank square look at the car and the plane and create a sketch that connects the two images. You might draw a flying car or a plane that becomes a car or a road that can become an airport or landing strip. Don’t worry about the quality of your sketches – just get your ideas down on paper. Repeat this exercise for each blank square. If you have more than one idea for each picture combination then sketch your additional ideas on a separate piece of paper so you don’t lose your ideas. Take about five minutes to complete this exercise.

 

3. Making headlines (Verbal)

This exercise is based on storytelling. This is something that we all do as part of our daily life, whether it’s with our friends or trying to communicate and sell an idea at work or to a client. We tell stories not to embellish the idea but to provide context to create a better connection and bond between the message we want to convey and the person we want to share it with.

Randomly select four to five images of different things, it could be a person, an object or a landscape scene. Place them in front of you and take a few moments to study them and understand the content. Try to imagine a news story that encapsulates the content of the images – something that connects each of the images. Think of a headline. Now write down that headline and a story that connects each of the images. Take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete this exercise.

Remember these exercises are just warmup exercises designed to get your mind used to thinking more creatively. Take the time each day to practice these exercises. The aim of the exercises is not to create the best and most original ideas but instead to train your mind to see and make more connections as this is the key to becoming more creative.

Start a creative thinking workbook, record your work in the book and make sure you date your work. As you progress through the different exercises, over time you will see an improvement in the way that you think and the depth and complexity of the exercise you undertake. You should see that you are becoming more creative in the way that you think and the way that you apply this to your everyday life.

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A new approach to innovation – Creative thinking

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls others build windmills”

This old Chinese provide is one of the most beautiful things I have read. So simple and elegant, so meaningful and for me inspirational.

I found this proverb in a book that I recently bought and read called “The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker” by Neilsen and Thurber (2016). The book’s premise is that anyone can become a creative thinker through practice and changing ones mindset. In essence the proverb describes our natural instinct when things change, i.e. we tend to hunker down and build protective walls around us. We become reactionary and the rational mind can sometimes cease to exist. Typically this is what I find a lot of businesses do when things get tough. They cut costs, reduce staff and so on, they react to the immediate needs / threats and forget about long term thought.

Being creative is the thing that helps us build the windmill. Being a creative thinker helps us change our mindset and allows us to venture into uncharted waters. It changes our view and perception of a situation and it gives us confidence to act in unfamiliar situations. Working in unfamiliar situations means that there are no clear boundaries and this is an exciting opportunity to explore new directions. It allows us to develop entirely new paradigms and solutions and it “fuels innovation” as there is no innovation without creativity. It helps us through hard times.

So why am I talking about creativity? I’m not really talking about artistic endeavour, however this may be the media used to express your creative point. What I’m really talking about is the ability, using creative techniques, to make connections between disparate things and jumble them into new forms, challenge what’s happened before and most of all explore the unknown without fear. As an example we are probably aware of the notion of biomimicry. This is where we turn to nature to look for insights and solutions to our everyday ‘mechanistic’ society. The idea of Velcro was developed after George de Mestral found his dog covered with burrs after hiking in the countryside. Seeing the burrs, George’s interest was piqued and after removing and inspecting them he noticed many hundreds of small hooks which allowed the burr to hang onto the fur of his dog. From this point George saw a connection between the burrs hooks and the possibility of creating a fastening system – hence Velcro was born.

The idea of connection making and creativity go hand in hand. The notion of seamlessly making radical connections between disparate fields or things enables us to dramatically expand our thought processes and hence our creativity. It doesn’t matter if the connections that we make seem silly or non-workable the point is that the process provides us with options, a direction to move and it allows our brain / mindset to loosen up and become more open and accepting of ideas.

In today’s business world, creative thinking is a core skill that cuts into everyday life and one that we should all have on board. It has become a necessity in almost every job. The level of creative intelligence and the ability to think flexibly and adapt to new situations will deliver solutions and new approaches that can be applied in changing circumstances.

For me creative thinking underpins everything we do – the tools we use and the situations we re-imagine. For me, any problem starts with some creative thinking. 

In our next blog we will share some of the creative tools that we use at Scintilla both internally and with our clients. These tools will form a foundation for you to take away and use within your own organisation to build and create new modes of thinking.

We hope you enjoyed this blog, if so please like us and follow us on linked in to receive our regular blog and quarterly information bulletins.

Image credit: D. Nielsen and S. Thurber (2016) "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker : How to Make Connections Others Don't"

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10 questions to check your [design] health

So, is your organisation design-driven? Are you getting the most value from design? Or could you be doing more to fully harness the opportunities that considered and well crafted product design, strategic design thinking principles and practices can deliver? Take our 10 question health check below to find out or print your copy using the link below.

Over the last few blogs we’ve been talking a lot about design and the value it can bring to organisations when implemented at all levels within the business – strategic, process and product / service level. When fully integrated within an organisation, design also brings significant financial rewards. According to the Design Value Index (DVI) study, companies that implement and embed design management practices across their organisation show 10 year returns yielding 2.11 times (211%) that of the S&P 500 companies1

Companies that are considered truly design driven by the study include recognised design companies such as Apple, Herman Miller, Nike and Whirlpool. The list also includes companies not traditionally associated with design such as Proctor and Gamble, SAP, Starbucks and Target. In order for companies to be included in the Index they must meet six criteria:

To download and print a copy of the Organisational Design Health Check to start a conversation in your organisation, click below.

Design Health Check print

 

To learn more about the benefits of working with qualified design professionals, such as Scintilla Design, read our post on “8 reasons to use a qualified designer”.

1  Rae, J 2015 dmi: Design Value Index Results and Commentary, http://www.dmi.org/?page=2015DVIandOTW

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Strategic Design – your innovation enabler

The term strategy has long been used by the military (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War from 500 BC) and more recently (since the ‘40’s) in business circles. Some of you may think it has dark and underhanded connotations – meaning that the military or the business were up to no good. How wrong that view is. Strategy has been used in business in for the good of the business for some time now. For example organisations may adopt a low cost strategy to compete more aggressively in the market or adopt an acquisition strategy to rapidly grow in the market or attain skills and expertise in a complementary market sector.

Today, however we hear the word strategy being used in a slightly different context – in the design context. So you may ask, what has design got to do with strategy? Well the answer to that is everything. Strategic design refers to the discipline where designers use their mindset, values, tools, creativity, methods and experience to influence strategic decision making within organisations. Strategic decisions within an organisation have long term impact, require monetary commitment and typically include multiple stakeholders and non-monetary resources. Such decisions could relate to the formation of organisational vision, business opportunity and innovation definition, customer engagement and organisational culture.

Before we delve into the world of strategic design it is worthwhile to take a few moments and have a brief look at the development and the value that design brings. By looking historically at the general design movements over the last 80 years or so we can see that design has provided value to society, business and the individual on an ever increasingly sophisticated scale. Design in the ‘40’s was considered as styling – something that was wrapped around the functionality of a product in order to make it attractive. As the decades passed design became more sophisticated, increasingly operating at a level beyond the functional product to encompass changing societal values  e.g. sharp aerodynamic features borrowed from jet aircraft that were applied to cars during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. As time progressed the notion of the user became more integrated within the product offering and so functionality and form were considered together. Sustainability and social responsibility drove design in the ‘90’s and early ‘2000’s due to greater awareness of the environmental movement. Today we see the notions of customer experience and strategy playing a role in the delivery of design value. New movements develop as they become embedded and widely adopted within society. Today, as always, design has shaped and directed the future.

So why is this happening? Well, first of all, design reflects the values of society and reinterprets these values through some sort of product or service which we will call an artefact. We also all know the world has changed a lot in the last 80 years. It has become a much more complex beast, through globalisation, improved communications, asset rich societies, and increasing global conflict and human displacement. Problems have become more complex and interrelated on multiple levels. No longer can we just resolve a problem in isolation, with a few facts at hand. The fact that organisations and individuals now communicate globally and instantly means that the word has become more accessible. Problems and issues are shared not only in the local community but globally.

By its very nature design is a profession that transcends multiple disciplines and some might argue (this author included) that design by definition is essentially a problem solving activity – a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are structured to attain goals. Design has the ability to lead because it is transformative as it applies design thinking, systems and integrative thinking, and human centred values across the problem to be solved. The ability for designers to challenge the unknown and to test the waters of the future place the discipline in a unique and key position.

In this complex and interrelated world the way we resolve problems needs to be tackled in a different way. No longer can issues be resolved in isolation within a silo by a lone bureaucrat or CEO or company board. We need people who can challenge the norm, step back and ask why, view the problem from multiple perspectives and have the ability to reframe the problem and direct others during this process. This is where design can take the lead. This is where design can become strategic.

Traditionally design sat in the R&D or engineering group, perhaps it was part of marketing and in some leading organisations design had its own group. Whatever the case, design was relegated to the act of design and its influence within the organisation was limited to the development of artefacts and branding. Today the notion of strategic design moves design from the R&D group to the executive suite or even the boardroom. As artefacts become commodities organisations are actively looking for new ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. Increasingly organisations are embracing design at a strategic, cultural and organisational level to give them this competitive advantage. Design as strategy moves design from an act to a philosophy which is infused across an organisation.

Design brings new value to business when it is integrated across all senior levels. Design no longer becomes just a service provider but a strategic partner in innovation. It has the ability to address issues and complex problems at a senior level where it has the most influence. It is applied at the same level as more traditional disciplines such as marketing, sales and finance, and in fact to be truly strategic, design should be applied across, within and outside an organisation. Design applied at a strategic level can contribute to the identification and development of opportunities. Design can evaluate the extent to which the opportunity meets the needs (both known and unknown) and desires of the customer (Desirability), and balance this with the performance needs (Viability) and capability (Feasibility) of the organisation.

So what does strategic design mean for business? Well it means that organisations become much more capable and self-sustaining. Design helps change the mindset and culture of an organisation from one focused on the production of an artefact to that of a more considered human centred approach. This could be through the concept of co-creation and collaboration with customers and stakeholders to help achieve the development of fantastic customer experiences. It means that design can be applied as an integrator within an organisation to develop human centred effective and efficient processes, defining operational frameworks and just getting stuff done.  Design applied strategically helps determine the right product for the right market at the right time. It ensures that the business model aligns with the organisational strategy. Design supported by design research, develops a unified customer experience across all touchpoints, creates behavioural change, builds capacity and ultimately improves product delivery to your customer.

If you would like to talk to Scintilla more about how to apply design in a more strategic way then please contact us – hello@scintilladesign.com.

 To finish I leave you with one of my favourite quotes;

Tactics is something you do when you know what to do, strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do

Savielly Tartakower, chess grandmaster (In: Studio Recipes for Systemic Change: Boyer, B, Cook, J & Steinberg, M, (HDL)).

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(Design) Research – 5 outcomes it delivers

So what’s research? Research can be defined simply as the search for knowledge. It is a systematic investigation into anything in order to establish facts, answer a question and reach new conclusions.

While scientific research provides information to explain the natural world around us, that is ‘what exists’, design research is concerned with ‘what could be’ in the future. Design research tries to break the mindset and paradigms that have shaped the past. It challenges, provokes and disrupts the status quo. It does this by using visual imagery – sketches, maps, photos, storyboards, models and prototypes to explain concepts, stimulate discussion and collaboration, inspire new directions and engage emotions. Design research draws on knowledge that is transdisciplinary and contextual, relying on a range of methodologies in order to derive insights in topic areas as diverse as users, markets, materials, processes, history, culture, nature and so on. Design research is often applied throughout the entire development process as an extension of a designer’s natural inquisitiveness.

As designers, we are always striving to place people at the heart of our designs. To achieve this, we naturally tend to focus our research activity on trying to understand the unmet needs, wants, desires and dreams of the people we are designing for. We want to know what makes them tick. What motivates them to do the things they do? How and why do they do the things they do? What challenges do they face in their daily lives? For designers, it is design research that provides the context for any solution – the who, why, where when and what. By doing design research you are laying the foundations for a successful outcome and delighted users.

Here are 5 outcomes in particular that design research can deliver to your business. Each outcome is discussed with the following mini case study as an example. A car manufacturing company wants to design a new car specifically aimed at mothers with young children as they believe this may be a new market opportunity. No-one in the project team has young kids themselves.

1. Problem validation

Often designers are given a problem to solve in the form of a brief. Designers use research to interrogate the problem to determine whether it is in fact the real problem or merely a symptom of a larger and/or different problem. To create innovative and engaging experiences, products and services, you need ensure that you are solving the right problem for the right people at the right time. Validating the problem and articulating it in such a way as to be directive but not prescriptive will set up your project for success.

For our car company, they need to understand if mothers as a user group have needs that are not being met by current cars in the market. If they do, what are those needs? And if a new car could meet those needs, would they consider buying that vehicle at what price point? By observing mothers using a variety of cars and speaking with them about their experiences the team discovers several unmet needs e.g. they need extra boot space to fit the pram, nappy bag and the weekly grocery shopping. They often need places to put children’s drink bottles, baby wipes and other commonly used items within easy reach without them rolling around the car. Still need to be able to park in normal spaces in busy shopping centres.

2. Understanding your customer through empathy

Design research is great for developing a deep understanding of your customer or end user, their needs, wants, desires, rituals, painpoints, work arounds and idiosyncrasies. Using techniques such as observation, interviewing, shadowing and physically putting yourself in your users’ shoes, it is possible to truly immerse yourself in their world and empathise with the person you are designing for. This strips away personal biases and assumptions (which are the result of your own personal experiences and values) and replaces them with a greater appreciation for what the user is experiencing, their actual needs and wants. This type of ethnographic research is especially important when you are designing for people very different from your own experiences e.g. hospital patient, the elderly, children, aid workers in remote areas.

For our car company, they need to understand what a mother is going through as she juggles schedules, temper tantrums, unwieldy prams, shopping bags and so on. By ‘walking in her shoes’, observing her and talking to her openly and honestly without agenda the team discovers that trying to open the car boot in a busy shopping centre carpark when you are holding a toddler’s hand in one hand and bags of shopping in the other is very challenging. They also discover that trying to buckle kids into their car seats requires a gymnast’s flexibility when the car door can only open 2 feet because of the car parked right next door.

3. Reveal deep customer insights

A critical part of design research is analysing and synthesising the information collected, looking for patterns and trends, and telling stories about your customer with the aim of distilling insights into why your customer does the things they do and how their experience could be improved. Opportunities for insights often lie at the margins of potential user groups and the junctions between pieces of information. For example, in the mismatch between how a customer says they do something and what they actually do when you observe them completing the activity. Recognising that what may appear to be a somewhat strange action or work around is their way of coping with a world that is at times confusing, complex and contradictory. Design research helps you to identify patterns and trends which may ultimately lead to deep customer insights that provide opportunities for true innovation. Such insights can only occur with a deep understanding of your customer, their experience and their real needs.

For our car company, they observed that mother’s often got their car keys from their handbags long before they arrived at the car, holding them awkwardly together with shopping bags and children’s hands. Many mothers when interviewed omitted this step from their accounts of what they do. The insight was that mother’s need hands-free access to open the boot.

4. Test assumptions

Research weeds out fact from opinion, heresay and assumption. By speaking with potential users and observing their actions you see their approach, hear their thoughts and reasons firsthand, rather than second or thirdhand. Design research can reveal knowledge gaps and potential opportunities e.g. new markets, new technology, new materials, new processes for further investigation.

5. Creating fertile ground for innovation

Perhaps the most useful outcome of design research is that it sets the stage for creative problem solving and innovation. Innovation is not a lightbulb moment of genius. It requires deep understanding and the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. Only by having immersed yourself in the design research can you hope to uncover meaningful insights (connections) that are the foundation for innovation and creative problem solving.  Ideas do not form in a vacuum of information but from immersion in and exposure to a wide variety of relevant information.

For our car designers, their problem has become focused around designing a car with improved access to the boot and rear seats. They may look into alternative hands-free ways to open the car boot such as voice activation once the key is within a certain range. Or perhaps they will investigate other ways to configure the side doors so that they slide instead of hinge open or move upwards to enable easier access to children in the back seat.

So as you start your new projects this year full of optimism and excitement, don’t be tempted to skip the design research and dive headlong into solving “the problem”. While design can (and frequently does) proceed without the design research, without it, you will struggle to know what to design for whom and why. The result is likely to be mediocre, rather than delightful and engaging for your customer. So set yourself up for success and use design research.

Once you have done your design research and uncovered your deep customer insights, what do you do with them? In our next blog we look at taking your research insights and using them to develop strategies – for the business and the business model, for completing a project or developing a process and for approaching the design of the solution itself.

Image credit: Participants role playing in a focus group on the topic of ‘medical care’. "Research methods for product design" by Milton and Rodgers (2013).

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