I, rivaled only by the likes of Ricky Bobby, wanna go fast. I find joy in speeding through homework assignments, quickly prototyping and challenging myself to do big projects in short spans of time. Impending deadlines ignite my competitive side, which can often amplify my creative process.
It has landed me in some trouble though, like the time I went skiing without learning how to slow down. I overshot the side of the run, ending up unhurt but stranded in waist-deep powder. (I’d like to send a quick “thank you” to the kind Tahoe strangers who retrieved me, twice).
Nothing, however, makes me want to go fast as much as this recently-published statistic on women in business: it will take more than 100 years for women to see C-Suite equality at our current rate of progress.
Will I not see workplace equality in my lifetime?
This appalling news was perfectly timed with the beginning of my independent study with the media experiments team here at the d.school. I decided to embark on a project aiming to discover a new way to promote allyship, or “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people”, specifically focused on women in the workplace.
I came back the first week of fall quarter with a set of mockups for a website that would help users to understand what immediate actions they could take to benefit a specific group of women. After I proudly displayed the mocks, Emi, my advisor was pensively quiet and then asked, “Why a website?”
The answer I gave was something about easy distribution and capturing an online audience where they were already spending time. The real answer was simpler: I can prototype a website in a few hours or less. I think Emi sensed this, because she gently reminded me of the nuances between a media designer and a regular one. The difference boiled down to this: if I’ve been tasked with reimagining media, I’m going to have to show up with something better than a website. Think physical object, she urged, think real world.
I nodded, but showed up the next week a little lost, which I admitted.
“It’s week two, that’s totally fine!” she said, sitting down with me on the red couches in the Media Experiments space, “Let’s hash it out from the beginning: who is your user group?”
“Women,” I answered immediately.
“Women?” asked Emi.
“No… men.” I said, remembering it was an allyship project.
“No, wait. Women.”
It was around then that I began to turn a bit red. I’m a graduating senior in product design who has spent countless hours absorbing and practicing design thinking. Rule number one is empathy. Rule number one of empathy is choosing someone with whom to empathize. And here I was, turning the color of the couches, slowly realizing that, for the sake of time, I’d thrown process entirely out the window.
She grinned at me, “I think I’m going to have to assign you some interviews.”
Assign them she did, for which I was ultimately grateful. I learned that many students highlight the importance of unbiased or bipartisan news sources, but they rarely go out of their way to read a spectrum of articles on polarizing issues. I learned that, faced with the ubiquity of social media, we are actually more compelled by real-life, in-person, like-my-grandparents-used-to experiences than ever before (that means no websites!) Most importantly, I learned something about design thinking: there is a difference between knowing process and applying it that is easy to forget when you want to go fast.
In speaking with other designers, this seems to be a common theme. We learn methods that excite us and that promise to revolutionize the way we work. Then, when faced with our next project, we forget to apply these processes, or worse, we do it half-heartedly. Finally, something or someone puts us back on track. We get a nudge from a mentor or we’re so stuck in a creative rut that we finally turn to these processes as a last resort, and -- voila! -- design thinking comes to our rescue instead of sustaining us from the beginning.
There are many reasons why we might forget or even choose not to employ design thinking. In my experience, especially working in teams outside of the d.school, I’ve felt too embarrassed to suggest a sticky note exercise, guided brainstorming session, or time-consuming empathy work. It doesn’t seem appropriate in every creative and professional setting (though these days I might argue that you can make it work anywhere!)
Sometimes I just get lazy, and wonder if my regular thought patterns are enough to solve whatever challenge has presented itself. I have to remind myself, however, that the most authentic, delightful, and unexpected solutions often come from taking time to integrate design thinking practices early and often. By all means, when we are working on issues of inequality we must move as fast as we can. We must also remember, however, that our goal is not just to reduce that 100 years to C-Suite equality, but to design solutions that inspire equality for the next 100 years as well.
Laine Bruzek is a 2015 Mayfield Fellow and senior at Stanford pursuing a major in product design and a minor in creative writing.