A push towards practicality and deeper perception

The fellows gather for their first independent studio session at the d.school. (Emi Kolawole) The spring quarter has officially begun -- the final quarter for the fellows in residence this academic year. The program has transitioned significantly. Where they once were scheduled in classes, they are now left to structure their own time. On Monday, their first day back, all nine fellows gathered in Studio 2 for their first fellows-led studio session.

Fellows Margaret Hagan and Melissa Pelochino led the group. Margaret kicked things off with a presentation exploring how to push towards practicality, and the challenges she has faced in bringing design thinking into the legal world. For example, how do you communicate the need for "empathy" with one's user and a commitment to design for "delight" when your collaborators -- professional lawyers -- bristle at these seemingly soft terms?

Margaret outlined how, to that end, she has been developing new tools incorporating the design-thinking process as taught at the d.school, but blending it with other processes and frameworks. She is, in essence, designing a custom method to fit her user group. The tools have yet to be tested, but they are built on numerous experiences and research she has conducted over the course of the fellowship. Next steps are, you guessed it, practical application.

While Margaret focused on practicality, Melissa focused on perception and process. She ran the fellows through an exercise where they were called on to look at a photograph, chronicle what they see and then, digging deeper, ascertain what the subjects in the photo think and feel and what elements of the image could mean. The tool, she said, could be used in the early stages of empathy work, giving teams an opportunity to freely observe their users in a particular moment before diving in to have users share their own stories.

Melissa then introduced an exercise using "levers" -- prompts to help focus brainstorming sessions. In this exercise, fellows were called on to start with a brainstorming prompt ("How might we increase employee retention?") but with a specific strategy ("Increase the amount of fun employees have at work.") and a series of levers, or constraints to keep the group focused on one set of solutions at the time. The exercise "was a calming anecdote to the crazy process of brainstorming," said fellow Anne Gibbon.

They are "little interventions to keep you expanding your mind to possible solutions to the same problem," said fellow Guido Kovalskys.

The third and final exercise was, as Melissa described it, "an aperitif" for prototyping -- an activity to help teams go from a model to a life-size prototype. I'll bias towards a show over a tell for this exercise:


In between the two sessions, Guido led the group through a stoke, introducing a new charades game, using an app called "Heads-Up". All in all, it was a day of work, play and stretching the group's collective understanding of design thinking as they enter the homestretch of spring quarter.