Date: Halloween 2013!
Duration: 2 hours
Materials: post-it notes, colorful markers, sharpies, poster boards, our brains
After 8 hours of hard work, here it is:
How can we find ways for families in food deserts to gain access to healthy food?
This design challenge will guide and anchor the rest of the design process. Here’s how we came to the decision to choose this design challenge.
Choose a single human-centered design challenge for us to tackle through the design process (same as our last session).
What we did
Last session, we put every design challenge we thought of on sticky notes, and categorized them to help narrow down the challenge we wanted to tackle (check out our summary of Day 4 to see where we left off).
We decided to concentrate our entire meeting on finally choosing a single design challenge.
Focusing on the job, not the solution
One thing that helped us hone in on a design challenge this meeting, was avoiding solutionism by focusing on the problem at hand.
Before the meeting, I read an article about the essentials of successful ideation sessions. It helped me grasp the danger of approaching a problem with a possible solution already in mind, in terms of coming up with the best solution possible. Here is an excerpt:
We are all familiar with the quote from Professor Ted Levitt of Harvard Business School, ‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.’ The job customers are trying to get done is to make quarter-inch holes in order to install a shelf for their family. The current solution they are hiring is a quarter-inch drill. Focusing on the job helps companies look beyond the current solution.
In other words, if the goal is to come up with the best possible solution for a particular problem, it makes sense to focus on the problem itself. That way, we can avoid the danger of being stuck in the current paradigm, which may or may not include the best possible solution.
Solutionism is a huge danger for our human-centered design project. If used correctly, human-centered design can help us understand a problem from the perspective of the people being most affected by it. By tackling a problem with a solution already in mind, we’re nullifying the entire point of doing design in the first place. Without deep understanding the problem, we may not come up with the most effective or appropriate solution.
We needed a human-centered design challenge that would let us focus on the job instead of the solution.
Looking at our design challenges, we saw that there were assumptions about possible solutions embedded in many of them. For example, the challenge
“How can we convey the Urban Agriculture Incentives Act and its benefits to vacant lot owners in food deserts?”
makes several assumptions about solutions that would provide families access to healthy food.
The first, is that the Urban Agriculture Incentives Act is the best solution to encourage landowners to create community gardens. Second, is that community gardens are the best solution to provide access to healthy food in the first place.
To avoid solutionism, we approached our design challenges from the vantage point of the next major phase in our design process – qualitative research. We asked ourselves, “how can we maximize how much we learn during qualitative research, and minimize the assumptions we make about the problem?”
We wanted a design challenge that would allow us to approach the problem with an unassuming mindset, but also help anchor the research at the same time.
Continuing with our previous example, the “job” that the Urban Agriculture Incentive Act is trying to accomplish is giving families access to healthy food. So we framed a design challenge that would focus on that job instead:
“How can we find ways for families living in food deserts to gain access to healthy food?”
Going through a similar thought process, we came up with a design challenge for creative education that focused on the job:
“How can we realize the full learning potential of youth?”
Choosing our design challenge!
In the end, choosing our design challenge came down to figuring out which problem we wanted to tackle. Over the course of the past few weeks, we became passionate about both topics, so this was really hard!
We decided to use the good ol’ pros/cons list to help us decide (blue=pros, orange=cons):
In the end, we decided to tackle the problem of lack of access to healthy food.
Using the human-centered design process on this problem, we can get more intimately involved in the specific context of our local community in the Bay Area – an important constraint we set for ourselves in previous sessions.
We also didn’t know how long-term our project would be, because we’re all volunteering our time to this project on top of other obligations (like full-time jobs). Creative education excited us deeply, but we felt that our potential for impact was greater for access to healthy food, with our constraints in mind.
Summary & Reflection
The main lesson we learned from this session was the importance of framing design challenges that would allow us to explore and understand the problem first, before coming up with solutions. This seems doubly important for human-centered design, because empathetic understanding of people that we’re designing for is a key part of the process.
With this in mind, what is the best approach for coming up with design challenges?
For this project, we started by deeply exploring the nature of the problems we were interested in, including inspirational stories about solutions to the problem. This helped us generate our design challenges. We then stepped back and consolidated and broadened the scope of the challenges to take out the embedded assumptions.
Would the process have been more effective to just start broad? To frame design challenges from the beginning, without additional exploration? This would minimize the chances of assumptions being embedded in the design challenges. At the same time, is it possible to come up with effective design challenges without making some assumptions first?
In terms of framing design challenges, is it better to start broad, and then go deep, or vice versa?
Now that we finally honed in on our design challenge, we can concentrate our efforts on finding out who we need to talk to, and gain empathy for, to truly understand the problem.