Month: October 2014

INDEX: Design to Improve Life – From Denmark to Denver (Part II)

This post is Part II of my notes from the two-day INDEX: Design to Improve Life Education presentation I attended at CU Denver last week. Part I is here.

Last Wednesday I was able to sneak out of work early so that I could attend the Master Class workshop presented by Lotte Stenlev and Lotte Borg, our two guests educators from INDEX (who in this post I refer to by my made-up team name for them, “The Lottes”).

The process we went through to arrive at our various design solutions consisted of three main parts which were then broken down into manageable sub-steps. I’ve used similar methods in the past to work through a design problem, but the INDEX Education strategy The Lottes took us through drilled down just enough further to make a noticeable difference in how efficiently we arrived at a solution that suited form, impact, and context.

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Here’s how we did it.

1. Split the workshop group into 3 circles of about 25 people each.
Within these circles we all (silently, as instructed) wrote down two traffic-related issues we’ve noticed in Colorado. Once we’d placed all of our ideas into the center of our circle we (still mostly in silence) organized the problems into more general categories. For example, not enough warning before freeway exits, confusing or conflicting instruction from signs, and lack of icons and language barriers presented by signs all went under the heading of “Signage.”

After these groupings were complete everybody gathered around whichever broad category they were most interested in working on a solution for. Once we had shuffled around a bit to make sure the teams each had 5-6 people, we were ready to knock out some Denver driver woes.

2. Within our teams we looked more closely at the problems that had fallen under our chosen category.
Using the INDEX design compass we began to boil the broad issues down into something more specific that we had the bandwidth to tackle. This part fell under the Prepare step of the compass. Taking into consideration form, impact, and context, my team settled on addressing confusing and poorly placed one-way street signs.

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Next, we worked through the Perceive stage, which involved narrowing our target area, and creating some user research questions to ask a neighboring team. We decided to focus specifically on one-ways in the downtown neighborhoods of Denver and drivers local to that area.

Group exercise using images to get ideas free-flowing

Group exercise using images to get ideas free-flowing

Then it was on to the third section of the compass, Prototyping. This part was a blast! The Lottes brought in loads of materials for us to get creative with, and much to my group’s delight, modeling clay was among the choices. I must say, our prototype turned out terrific.

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Our solution to the one way confusion was to make the street name sign dual purpose by cutting it into the shape of the directional arrow indicating the flow of traffic on that specific street. The backside of this sign would be a solid, reflective red to warn drivers not to proceed down the street in that direction. Denver’s original black and white one way signs would remain, but the added instruction from the street name signs would clarify and be more visible for drivers.

The last step of the compass, Produce, was abbreviated for the purpose of this workshop since our solutions (for now!) are hypothetical. We refined our prototype a bit, and discussed how we would present our solution to the other groups.

Throughout this second segment The Lottes guided the room through the INDEX design compass and circled through the teams individually to check our progress and help keep us on course.

3. That takes us to the 3rd part of the workshops where we presented our solution and received feedback.

One of the groups presenting their solution

One of the groups presenting their solution

Different things work for different people, but personally I loved this way of approaching a design problem. I think at the root of it are some steps and focus areas that are imperative to designing effectively for anything.

One of the big reasons it works for me is that the INDEX Compass process steps force me to pay attention to scope. As a designer it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of grand prototyping ideas and bypass some important questions about whether or not the form, impact, and context of your solution are appropriate or achievable at all. Then when it was time to prototype, the hands-on approach freed me from the limitations of thinking purely in pixels on a screen. The physical prototyping really seemed to enhance my group’s creativity.

A general takeaway note on this is that you can almost always succeed if you break something giant into something bite size and work from there. Do it strategically with a process like INDEX’s Compass method applied, and your chances are even better. 🙂

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