For my second TEDx Boston 2011 Adventure, I attended a day-long workshop at IDEO in Cambridge, MA. The theme for the day was, "What are innovative ways to harness & celebrate the delights of OUR local culture?"
IDEO divided the crowd of professors, students, CEOs and assorted luminaries into three different groups to focus on the various aspects of innovation for urban life. The groups were introduced to the basic concepts of design thinking, as well as to IDEO's strategies for brainstorming and prototyping.
For the first third of the day, we combed through piles of photographs of Boston and Cambridge, searching for tidbits of inspiration about social culture in the cities. We tagged anything interesting with sticky notes and announced our ideas to the group for a quick discussion. Some noteworthy photos included examples of urban resourcefulness (i.e. sidewalk gardens and street art).
After a fantastic lunch, we brainstormed around our three main concepts of choice: producing random social interactions, bridging the gap between isolated groups of people within the city, and seizing moments to create community. Using the framework of design thinking, we generated as many sticky-note doodles as possible, wracking our brains for any innovative concepts. Keep in mind, though, that this wasn't a group of ID students or professionals—these were non-designers who had never heard the words "design" and "thinking" used together.
We briefly presented the results of our brainstorming sessions to the larger group before digging through boxes of plastic bottles, wigs, costumes and other wacky props in search of the perfect prototyping materials.
The group split into two, prototyping a life-size Etch-a-Sketch board for bus stops and an example of a corporate-sponsored interactive science experiment for playgrounds. The author found himself dressed as a larger-than-life talking prosthetic limb "sponsored" by DEKA Research. Other proposed innovations included bicycling tunnels and tourist-specific subway cars.
Although IDEO's brainstorming skills and methodologies are de rigueur to most Core77 readers, it was truly empowering to see the effect these techniques and ways of thinking had on those not familiar with the process of human-centered design. Many participants said that they would bring these skills back to their own workplaces to increase innovation, production and communication.
Obviously, not everyone will suddenly become a designer overnight, or should become one, but I think it's important to note that many, if not all, aspects of "design thinking" really are applicable to other disciplines and can potentially effect change there.
Dave Seliger is a Postgrad Fellow in Logistics and Ext Affairs at the NYC Office of Emergency Management. He has extensive experience helping firefighters, police officers, and disaster responders improve their services through design.