Workshop Wonder: What even is design thinking and why does it matter?
The Meadow has earned quite a reputation for being a real game-changer in the market rresearch field. With its open concept and eclectic design, the space suits both the easy, conversational aspirations of focus groups while simultaneously catering to a professional client experience as well. Yet, The Meadow really comes alive during the day, when the many rooms are transformed into design thinking workshops, corporate meeting spaces, conference halls, intimate professional presentations, and so much more! As a malleable space, the world really is your oyster at The Meadow; the only thing it cannot do is the norm. Designed in antithesis to the average corporate, monochromatic boardroom, The Meadow is committed to colourful, non-linear ways of thinking, both personally and professionally. Filled with plants and natural light, the midday fatigue that seems to plague any typical office space is tempered by the surrounding diversity. It’s pretty easy to forget that you are technically “at work” when you spend a day at The Meadow. With a record player and a heap of records, delicious catering and a bevy of cushions, couches and greenery, the space really starts to look and feel like home!
After years in the market research game, we grew a bit disillusioned with the whole thing and decided that there had to be a better way of conceptualising and working within such a creative industry. Soon thereafter The Meadow was born, with the foundational idea that different spaces inspire different thinking. The often quoted Albert Einstein said it best when he philosophized, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. When businesses come to The Meadow for a workshop, it is generally for the purpose of team building exercises, to work through company issues and/or with the intention of finding new ways to address the task at hand, whatever it may be. By physically getting out of the environment that has created such problems, even for the day, ideas are refreshed, comfort zones are breached and it ultimately becomes possible to get out of a stagnant headspace and into a more positive and productive one. It is in this alternative space that design thinking can really develop.
Tim Brown, the CEO of the not-for profit IDEO.org, contends that “design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking”. IDEO.org is a new concept organisation formed in 2011, whose ethos combines the power of design thinking and social justice activism to challenge the status quo and find new solutions to alleviate poverty worldwide through innovative and integrative design. Similar to The Meadow, they follow and promote the philosophy that a multifaceted and creative approach, one that shakes up our mental and social complacency, allows for new and engaging ideas to flourish. Now if you are like me, and are still wondering what design thinking actually is, let me tell you what Tim Brown has to say about it. According to Brown, “design thinking is a human centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success”. Right cool, now what does that mean? Simply put, to integrate something is to combine and exploit two opposing ideas to create new solutions; and when combined with design, it translates to balance. A balance of the human, the economic and the technological facets and the possibilities they represent. For Brown, design thinking is a human centred philosophy, wherein the question asked is not what can we do for technology, but what can technology do for us? That is, how can we find ways to make and develop technology to be useful to human needs; shifting our perspective as consumers in the process, so that we are no longer passive in our relationship between consumer and producer, but active and engaged participants in the creation of meaningful experiences and products.
Ford and his Model T car, a staple of the industrial revolution when Western society was radically modernizing in every way possible, famously sparked the modern assembly line; this veritably eliminated the ‘start-to-finish” manufacturing model of the previous century, and has directly contributed to the increasingly distant connection between producer and consumer. Design thinking is seeking to challenge this ubiquitous staple of our modern economic system; reinserting the human element into our individualistic and mechanical society in order to diverge from current practices and ways of thinking, so as to reach new conclusions, solutions and possibilities through a collaborative and expansive approach. We are experiencing a period of change not dissimilar to that of the industrial revolution, every day a new problem emerges to take hold of our shorter attention spans. Technology is rapidly expanding, environmental issues are on a disheartening rise, politics are a mess, global social issues are fragile at best, and the current divide in immigration policy seems to be pretty well unsolvable. We are faced with never before seen problems, and our existing systems of dealing with them are being slowly but surely rendered obsolete; thus in times of such wide scale change, we need to be asking new questions, finding new alternatives and devising new ideas to begin to come up with possible answers to the influx of these new issues.
So what does this mean on a daily basis? It means embracing the power of the workshop! Many of these sessions are run on a collective brainstorm/groupthink model, which on the surface seem to generate considerable success for overall office morale and productivity. I recently finished reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and now realize more and more that most professional settings are not only geared towards, but also favour and reward, extroverted personalities; and group discussions are often at the root of this problem. I mixed feelings about group work. Actually, that’s not true. I have decidedly negative views on group work. The quote “When I die I want my group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time” is my general consensus on the whole concept. To say that I have been subjected to some less than ideal group work conditions is an understatement, my university years of forced group projects has definitely scarred me! That being said, group meetings and brainstorm sessions certainly aren’t going anywhere, and rather than avoid them entirely, it is more productive to challenge and improve their existing structure to be beneficial and empathetic to all involved. With the bevy of new ideas inspired by design thinking methodologies and social psychology, a shift in how meetings, businesses, team building sessions and the like are conducted is taking place. To complement this cognitive shift, it became clear that a space that could make manifest this new way of thinking about corporate practices was also needed. This is where The Meadow comes in. With several small, individually decorated rooms and myriad little nooks and crannies, the space is designed for both one-on-one chats and larger group discussions. The Meadow is committed to the grander project of rethinking and reworking the way group work is conducted, namely by creating a welcoming, warm and homey space that works to nullify feelings of social anxiety, insecurities about group work and corporate antipathy. So before you host a workshop, be sure to asses whether or not the space itself will be suitable for everyone involved, as the purpose of such sessions is to stimulate and engage, not alienate and stifle.
I will leave you with this quote by General George S. Patton, a senior officer who led American troops to success in World War II, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking”.
Hope to see you at The Meadow!