I am exhausted.
The idea of writing this post is terrifying (nothing good can come of this level of fatigue), yet here I am. Before I launch into our third class, I wanted to take a moment to remember media critic and award-winning journalist David Carr. I was incredibly inspired by David's work -- especially this posting of a class curriculum on Medium. Aside from being a marvelous reading list, it hit me between the eyes as the future of what learning could and should be -- shared.
In that spirit, I'll continue.
Our third class focused primarily on an exploration of the latest in media technology and idea generation with a particular focus on constraints. We ran students through a lecture on experiments happening in new startups and established media organizations. Then we had students take ideas they came up with in the last class and go through a series of constraints.
Remember, constraints can be fun.
The ideas evolved, with some of the constraints leading teams down entirely new paths. We then asked each team to draw their idea, prompting to show, not tell. Then, each individual team member sat, heads-down to draw the idea for themselves, iterating alone.
When teams return on Friday (tomorrow, yikes!), they will be called on to prototype rapidly (one hour) and then test those prototypes with class guests.
But, before we get to any of that, we asked the class for feedback, and we received quite a bit. A few points stood out to me that I would like to share.
Role-playing and modeling is critical. Some students were unclear as to the how and why of empathy work because they did not see it clearly modeled before they tried it.
There is such a thing as too little information on a slide. I really did not think it was possible, but it is. You can put too little information on a slide.
Instruct, instruct, instruct. This one is tricky for me. Students wanted clearer instruction around what to do. Part of my responsibility as a d.school instructor, however, is to place students in positions of discomfort, allowing them to creatively navigate. There's a balance to be struck here, and I have succeeded in places and not in others.
There was plenty more feedback where that came from, but these points stood out to me. In line with that and other feedback, I posted this to an open document the teaching team is sharing with the class. It's pretty long so, I am going to end the post with this, since it's also late and I need to be up in just a few hours:
Hi everyone, I am writing this one even before I get to the blog post so that you are all prepared for the next class tomorrow.
Here is what you should come prepared to do:
- Spend a little time thinking about your prototype between now and tomorrow. How would you realize it, and what kind of user would you like to test it on?
- In the first hour of class, we will ask you to building your prototype. This means, using materials in class to make your prototype real in the world. We are giving you the first half hour to gather with your team, build a first iteration of your prototype together and then, go to the Mix & Make (an event being hosted at the d.school) and gather people with which to test your idea.
- You will test your prototype with them, gather feedback and then be given a chance to iterate on that prototype.
- Then, you will test again with special guests we have invited to the class to join us at 7pm.
Now, based on feedback from last class, I wanted to take this opportunity to dive back into empathy, prototyping and testing for a second.
You are all, by now, familiar with the design thinking process as a linear series of events:
But design thinking is actually cyclical. The magic of the process is that, in testing, you are actually engaging in empathy all over again. The point of testing a prototype isn’t to sell the product, as I mentioned in class. Instead, it is meant to help you learn more about your user and dive deeper into your design space. So, that means the process looks more like this:
This is why iterating is so important. Now, someone asked why we engage in empathy. I think, now that you all have been through your interviews, you have been able to see a little bit about why empathy (more than interviewing) matters. Also, a tour through the applications and sites yesterday should be evidence of the importance of knowing who your user is, meeting their needs and claiming the agency to push (hard!) against held assumptions. As we outline in the Bootcamp Bootleg, one of the d.school’s most comprehensive guides on design thinking process:
“Engaging with people directly reveals a tremendous amount about the way they think and the values they hold. Sometimes these thoughts and values are not obvious to the people who hold them. A deep engagement can surprise both the designer and the designee by the unanticipated insights that are
revealed. The stories that people tell and the things that people say they do—even if they are different from what they actually do—are strong indicators of their deeply held beliefs about the way the world is. Good designs are built on a solid understanding of these kinds of beliefs and values.”
Now, when you go about testing, you are going to want to make sure that you do the following:
- Establish roles: Who on your team is doing what when you are engaging your user in testing? Who is bringing them into the prototype? Who is recording feedback? Everyone should have a role to play. You should have a host, an actor and an observer, at the very least.
- Remember TESTING = EMPATHY. Ask open-ended questions and explore your user’s experience. What are they seeing and feeling when they engage with your prototype.
- Be sure to set the context of your prototype, let them experience it (don’t over-explain or make excuses for your work). Watch your user engage and … keep … asking … questions.
Speaking of asking questions, if you have any for us, please feel free to post them here! Also, a quick note on why we asked you to draw your prototype first. At the d.school, one of the core principles we teach is this: Show, don’t tell. We call on students to bias towards action and show what they want to realize in the world rather than tell us about it or write it out. We are calling on you to exercise your creative agency, grow your creative confidence and discover new ways to communicate your ideas. So, thanks for going along with us on this!