Represent THIS

In the last post, I discussed the magic behind successful design thinking: representing ideas in order to have a visual, tangible model that can be assessed and adjusted. A simple example was given to represent a week by using objects from each day. However, we need to dive deeper into this practice to understand what exactly you should represent and why it's useful.

Today, I will share the constructs to help you represent ideas and problem—I call them the four cores of culture. These categories can be translated to every system that exists around us. When looking for clues and solutions, designers re-create and investigate these cores to discover how each part works together. It's like building a puzzle. Here are the four realms to represent.

LOCATION: Every idea (or issue) has a setting where it lives—a building, a geography, a space. Begin representing a concept by identifying and creating its location and whatever lies around it. Often, this core is the best layer to start with because it provides context for the idea.  

OBJECTS: Objects are all around us. Identify the objects that represent your idea. This was the basis for last week's example. Furniture, computers, products- consider the many items that might represent and impact your concept. You can always subtract later if they are deemed irrelevant. Once placed in the context of your environment, these objects affect the space. Keep adding!

VISUALS/LANGUAGE: We are constantly surrounded by signs and symbols that communicate messages: colors, logos, slogans, billboards, and packaging. Collect and review the words, signs, and symbols that influence your idea. Place them in your setting, or in a space on their own. 

EXPERIENCE: When we add people into the mix, they experience a combination of location, objects, and language over a span of time. Using the cores together, you build an experience. After all, none of the cores matter if there aren't people interacting with them. You can use a timeline to give order to the experience, as this is usually the clearest way to organize a sequence of events. 

Educators might notice that this bears a similar resemblance to project-based learning—and they are correct. The reason why design thinking is closely tied to project-based learning is because the best way to learn about a problem or idea is to recreate it in tangible form using one or all four cores of culture. By doing so, you can examine the problem as both the teacher and student. The representation allows you to see relationships between the four cores and to then identify gaps or opportunities that were previously invisible. Practice developing this perception by building your ideas using the four cores. Share with a friend or colleague and ask- what's missing? Do you see it the same way? This is how you find insights—you learn them. 

What is Design Thinking? The Secret Sauce...

So let's address this poignant point: WHAT is design thinking? 

Design thinking uses various methods and tools. Taken together (or sometimes used in isolation) these practices can inform insights, shape ideas, and enhance your everyday experiences. However, the crux of all design thinking hinges on a practice that enhances your ability to problem solve as a team or an individual... best of all, you don't have to be a designer to tap into this magic. In fact, you see design thinking without even realizing it. I'd say it's hiding in plain sight. Designers use the same methods as television detectives, teachers illustrating lessons, even kids playing with toys. The skill of design thinking practice is innate, yet we learn to stop utilizing it.

Most ideas live in our heads, but as visual, tactile, human creatures that evolved to recognize patterns, anomalies, and signals, the invisible mind is a terrible place to keep ideas. Therefore, the best way to start thinking like a designer is to change the way you practice thinking. Begin by taking an idea and asking- what would this look like? feel like? Make your idea a thing. Try it. Right now.

Let's start simple. Find something to represent this day. An object. A color. The Starbucks cup you carried around but were too busy to drink, so the paper seam ridge inside is now dark with the remnants of cold coffee standing two inches from the bottom. Maybe this was your Monday. All of the events, the passing of time, contained in the one cup. The first hot sips, the warm sips, the ones you hoped to swig. You realize what a whirlwind of errands and work it was. Now, try to represent each day of the week with one thing for each day. Tuesday was cold enough for gloves. Wednesday, you snuck away from the office for a beach walk. Tennis on Thursday you aced five serves. Friday poker night was spent with your pals. Line the objects up in order. You just represented your week. Now, you could re-arrange these things from most important to least important, or favorite day to least favorite. The point of this exercise is to practice tangible thinking, and that's the first step. Telling stories with objects can be ridiculously fun. If you're feeling feisty and want to keep going, I'll leave you with a boss-level challenge. 

Can you represent your week with an object from each day? 

Can you represent your week with an object from each day? 

Find a problem to solve, or an idea to hack. Clear the table. Find everything you can to represent that problem. All the parts of it- leave nothing out. Try to arrange them in a logical order that demonstrates how they're related. This gives you an immediate perspective to review and to share with others. How are these things connected? What are the relationships between the parts and the whole? What is missing? Bonus points if you explain this model to a friend, colleague or pet. The explanation forces you to articulate the reasoning behind your arrangement. It will also prompt new insights as you explain. Your colleague, friend or even child can participate in the discussion and NOW you're collaborating and thinking like designers. 

Try this out and share your pics, stories, insights or frustrations  ; ) 

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