Design Thinking In Action

After introducing Stanford University’s “Redesign the Gift-Giving Experience,” to a course of forty freshmen, there are many categories that I’ve recently learned to teach (and reflect upon) during the process of a design thinking exercise. Since there are several methods to choose from, I’ve decided two methods that I’m most familiar with (as of today) based upon recent experience and past experience. The two methods are:

1. Empathy Map
2. Composite Character Profile

Considering the complexity of a design problem, an Empathy Map and a Composite Character Profile offers critical, human-centered design techniques for discovering the needs of a specific problem. I’ve decided to focus on a very specific example of a “problem” in order to combine these two methods to apply toward a real life situation.

The stereotype of young American men, ages 17-25, is that they are likely emotionally premature in regard with communicatively expressing their gratitude or appreciation about friendship with others male friends. In other words, young men may frequently decide to nonverbally express their gratitude toward their male friends for fear of being “too sensitive” or in fear of sacrificing their own sense of masculinity. Whereas the reality of such an extreme opposition of expressing gratitude can deter friends or result in an uncomfortable, negative judgment because of a clear disconnect in communication based on different human needs. Human needs may include love in the form of deeds, words, gifts or quality time spent with a friend. If needs are not met because of unawareness or neglect, the friendship fails. Whereas the individual that is viewed as cold, heartless or selfish, could in fact be the opposite because of a cultural or a learned behavior. Neglect of communicating gratitude or expressing appreciation through an emotional connection can result in misjudgment and perhaps life-changing events. The individual regarded as “nonexpressive” may likely be incredibly sensitive or expressive, but has suppressed his emotions because of external factors.

How exactly do you create a solution toward this type of problem?

An empathy map can readily frame the stereotype and help to explain this fear in an open environment, such as a classroom. In doing so, the topic is announced publicly within the classroom, therefore establishing that the fear is already diagnosed. Depending upon how the empathy map is conveyed within the classroom (explained later), the topic can be discretely researched between group members (male and female) while allowing investigation for classroom collaboration as a whole. By executing a significant number of design thinking techniques, students that fit the Composite Character Profile can introspectively learn and reflect while being exposed to an open forum that nurtures a solution.

Students seek a solution through several design thinking strategies, such as: interviewing, investigating, reframing the problem, taking a stand, ideation, peer feedback and building and testing a physical prototype. The act of building a prototype demonstrates how to visually convey an emotional need. The act itself also demonstrates how the old adage “actions speak louder than words” is indeed critical when faced with this very problem. Obviously, there is a sense of irony that is established. Instead of the classroom verbally expressing a final solution within groups, students visually demonstrate a solution through action. For young men whom aren’t willing to emotionally communicate, building a prototype is an opportunity to express their gratitude through means of construction (action). Despite the outcome of the problem-solution exercise (i.e.: the quality or creativity of the prototype), students now have a basis of reflection for human-centered design based upon two critical design-thinking methods.