Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Human-Centered Approach

By: Anam Vadgama
Team: Refugee Careers

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation”, says Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO. But what exactly is a human-centered approach and how does it manifest itself? I discovered the answers over the summer at Tiger Challenge.

Hello beautiful people. My name is Anam. And I am fortunate to be spending an entire year working with a fabulous team at Tiger Challenge. Our challenge is to design an innovation that would help refugees find more fulfilling and stable careers. Yet, when we began, none of us in the team knew much about the lived experiences of refugees in the USA. We all had been exposed to rhetoric of course (and indeed, the media is brimming with rhetoric about refugees). But rhetoric often presents a liquidized pulp of dishonesty as truth. We also had assumptions about what we thought refugees might need. But our assumptions were after all, mere assumptions- (often misguided) notions that our (often uninformed) mind fancied. We had no evidence to back it up. And thus, we were clueless about the lived experiences of refugees, their hopes, their fears and their needs. We might have been really lost without the “human-centered approach” of design thinking.

I learnt very quickly that the human centered approach involves, at its very core, listening. We suspended all assumptions, and went into the communities where refugees lived. We listened to them. And indeed, nothing makes seemingly distant concepts, ideologies and ways of being more legible than listening. We listened to their stories and we were inspired. These interviews with refugees and other stakeholders formed the bulk of our data. And it is from these interviews that we gained an understanding of what refugees need (and not what we think refugees need).

I also learnt that the human centered approach requires sensitivity. And sensitivity is a skill that must be developed. Humans are after all beautiful, complex creatures and the human-centered approach embraces this complexity. In all our interviews, our team tried to be sensitive to the unique, complex backgrounds that refugees came from. All of us underwent sensitivity training. Refugees were individuals who had undergone some real trauma, and our experience at Tiger Challenge instilled in us a deep empathy for their situation. We also learnt to develop different communication styles with people from different cultures. I adopted a tone of strict professionalism and got straight to business with interviewees who were US nationals. In contrast, when I interviewed refugees, I spoke in a relaxed and friendly manner, engaging in significant trust building conversation before asking them the questions I had prepared.

I also discovered that the human-centered approach is immensely rewarding. I believe that the most important, valuable things in life exist in the collection of simple moments we share with fellow human beings: those simple moments that go unnoticed by the eyes of most people, such as sharing a coffee, a smile and some laughter. I have had plenty of such moments over the summer. I have made friends with so many individuals. We exchange cute letters and plan to visit each other. The human centered approach involves building connections: and human connections are after all, our emotional fuel.

I finally discovered, that the human centered approach is not merely an approach, but a mindset that is applicable to so many spheres of life. To listen, to be sensitive and to question our assumptions are all skills that can help me become a better friend, a better team player and a better person.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Design Thinking: The Art of Failing Fast and Succeeding Sooner

By: Audrey Chebet '18
Team: UnLeaded

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  - Thomas Edison, Inventor

When faced with a complex problem, it can be hard knowing where to start. But even more so for ‘wicked’ problems where one does not know where exactly to stop. When I was first offered a position at the Tiger Challenge Program, I was uncertain about what to expect in terms of working on the Lead Poisoning problem in Trenton. And no, I did not become more certain about the problem over the course of summer, it was the opposite. As we continued collecting data and analyzing how it informed the project, I became unsure of what problem we were meant to solve. Our project was multifaceted with infinite ways of thinking through it. At first, this became a point of unpredictability, especially the framing of the problem statement, made me uncomfortable with design thinking.

I was always comparing design thinking with scientific methods that I was more familiar with. With science, one sets out with a hypothesis and rigorously tests it within the desired context and the results would either support or not support the hypothesis. Design thinking challenges the notions of set parameters within a given problem and pushes one to reconsider and reframe the original question. Unlike scientists who set parameters for their study/experiments, design thinkers begin by questioning everything, even the problem itself. Is it actually a problem? If you are designing a product, do your consumers need it? If they do, does your design focus on their actual needs or what you think their needs are?

I have come to appreciate design thinking for many reasons, but I have developed a great fondness for Ideation aka brainstorming (one of the design thinking processes). Admittedly, it was my least favorite stage, however by the end of summer, I developed a newfound appreciation for it. The ability to iterate - generate ideas rapidly, conceptualize them and find the ones worth pursuing was very difficult for me at first. I wanted to focus only on the best because what is the point of looking at bad ideas? I am the kind of person who likes solving problems fast, so spending days generating lots and lots of ideas only to throw some out seemed wasteful. However, when I think back on our workspace, covered in a sea of post-its, I know we would not have arrived at 12 concepts without those little “bad” seeds that we planted, watered, pruned over and over until we got to the incredible place we were at the end of summer. I stopped thinking of those ideas as failures, in fact, design thinking allowed me to mess up and get my ideas out in their roughest form.

Team UnLeaded "warming up" the creative muscles

So as I begin my senior year in college, I’ve started thinking about my life as a space for design and innovation, thanks to my former least favorite phase. Life is messy, poorly bounded and even what a ‘good life’ is, is somewhat poorly defined just like the ‘wicked’ challenges the Tiger Challenge program sets to solve. For anyone struggling with this world of iteration, here are simple directives I found particularly useful:

  1. Fail fast, cheaply and often: get ideas out there however undeveloped they are. Nothing about design thinking process is smooth so why should your ideas be? The only failure is not getting any ideas out because you spend too much time thinking about its execution.
  2. Nothing is only yours: once you put an idea out there, everyone owns it. Once the idea is enhanced and shaped into a concept, everyone gets credit. It might be difficult to let go, but clinging on to who did what hinders the process.
  3. Yes! And… : many know this improv game that encourages collaboration and acceptance of each other’s ideas in order to tell a story. As part of this creative process, team members need to create an environment that encourages curiosity and courage. Ideation can be fun and fruitful when everyone shares openly and freely without fear of judgment.
Judgment, yes and … the process of thinking, rethinking, reshaping and iterating through so many ideas opens a world where we continue telling a story instead of just completing it. Design thinking has shaped the way I think about attaining goals. Instead of focusing on the constraints around a problem, I am now driven by the many possibilities gleaned from insights developed from data. I like to think of design thinking not as a tool or a process, rather it is a mindset geared towards innovation.

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." -Albert Einstein

We cannot solve problems simply by understanding the present, we need to be able to imagine the future.

Complexity of creativity

By: Varun Bhave '19
Team: UnLeaded

 During an evening workshop early in the summer, Vijay Chakravarthy, one of our design thinking coaches, asked anyone who considered themselves creative to raise their hand. I found myself uncertain about what to do.

In some sense, I’ve always been creative. For example, I enjoy writing children’s poetry and find it easy to generate a flow of original jokes during conversations. In another sense, I have rather un-creative instincts. An apparent lack of logic and method in anything, even a piece of abstract artwork or non-linear storyline, makes me uncomfortable. And one of my favorite subjects is philosophy — in which rigorously and reflexively questioning every assertion means you are moving in the right direction.

For me, Vijay’s question brought out the distinction between two kinds of creative endeavors: producing original content without constraints, and navigating a labyrinth of limitations and complications, whether real or imagined, to uncover opportunities for new design and innovation. Refining the latter skill is what Tiger Challenge involves, and over the summer I explored several methods for effectively analyzing data and creative brainstorming. The ultimate goal of our project is to devise a strategy to lower the incidence of lead poisoning caused by paint dust in Trenton, guided by mentors from the urban development nonprofit Isles and the fields of psychology and behavioral economics.

Team UnLeaded in the Tiger Challenge studio

The first challenge to being creative is simply drawing and communicating meaningful insights from a boatload of raw information. Tiger Challenge is neither a journalism project nor a literature review. My team collected data predominantly comprised of scores of interviews with Trenton residents and professionals — like doctors, lawyers, government officials in health and housing, and nonprofit representatives — along with some published factual information.

We used numerous approaches to summarize and find order in the data. We designed an interactive card-sorting activity that our mentors could use to identify the most pressing lead-related problems. We mapped out the lead poisoning “journey” for residents and the city government, from initial blood lead test to lead hazard remediation. And we created, based on dozens of interviews, profiles of composite, fictional Trenton residents — including their daily routines, everyday concerns, opinions on life in their local community, sources of news and information, housing situation, sources of income or employment, and views on lead poisoning.

Once the data has been sorted, the second challenge is optimizing the generation of ideas. I learned about a few interesting tools through Tiger Challenge. Putting pressure on your brain with strict time limits during individual brainstorming is helpful. There was always time to converge together as a group and discuss all our thoughts in detail. Actually listing out as many assumptions and goals (in the form of “how might we…?” questions) as possible helped direct the flow of ideas and break down the implicit constraints that curtail outside-the-box thinking. It was constructive to seek the opinions of students outside of our team, who would bring fresh minds to our challenge.

The right attitudes are also important: we trained our minds and mouths to avoid instinctively shooting down ideas, and to aim for brevity and clarity instead of going on long-winded “filibusters.” The process of whittling down hundreds of ideas to a handful of key concepts should never begin too early.

I also became more intentional about team dynamics and presentation skills, two things I had never focused on much before. Our team allocated time for people to express how they were feeling, iron out any disagreements, and provide reassurance to those feeling nervous or overwhelmed. We developed efficient systems for interviewing, notetaking, and sharing data with the group. And I learned the importance of planning out every aspect of a meeting in advance — how to design PowerPoint slides and activities to keep the attention of our mentors, establish the ideal minute-by-minute agenda, and rehearse regaining control of a meeting no longer going according to schedule.

The summer did not only involve interviewing experts and sifting through data with a stack of Post-it notes and Sharpie in hand. The most fascinating and eye-opening part of the nine weeks was the ethnographic research involving interviews with Trenton residents at a soup kitchen and food bank. The experience was both completely engrossing and emotionally taxing.

In his book Evicted, Princeton professor Matthew Desmond writes that interviewing those battling poverty made him “feel dirty, collecting these stories and hardships like so many trophies.” While I sometimes felt similarly, resident interviews shed light upon what Trentonians needed and cared about most, and thereby what types of lead-related interventions and campaigns would likely resonate with them. Many residents seemed willing to discuss profoundly personal struggles. Perhaps we were tactful interviewers who drew honesty from our subjects. Perhaps there’s something rewarding about telling your deepest stories to a captive listener. Or perhaps when you are stressed and preoccupied, concealing the truth simply requires too much effort.

I met a diverse cast of characters. There was the mother whose child’s language development was clearly lagging due to the effects of lead poisoning. The former gravedigger on the brink of eviction. The part-time landlord who tried to convince me to try marijuana. The retired cook trying to save money to move to Florida, who held a grudge against a pair of police officers. The IHOP employee driven out of his apartment due to his landlord neglecting a growing mold problem. The woman pondering whether to leave her crack-addicted husband and finally make some money she could keep. Another who had left an abusive relationship and begun tackling her mental health issues. The men recently released from prison who had found new apartments or jobs. Several people who had lost their driver’s licenses. A number of retirees struggling to pay for expensive health problems. Homeless interviewees who drifted between shelters, food pantries, and libraries. The man who tapped me on the shoulder, gave me his phone number, and told me that he had a fantastic story to tell — but it had to wait until after his court date because his attorney told him to stay quiet about some mysterious misdeed. The asthmatic woman who was looking for a healthier home because her ancient house was filled with lead paint dust.

While my goal for the moment is to prototype and pilot a successful strategy to address our challenge, the lessons from this summer will be useful even if I’m not trying to tackle a systemic social problem. I could be designing an event, preparing a research paper, or delivering a presentation. A few years from now, as a physician, I might be trying to gain the trust of a patient from a very different background than my own.

I’m still not sure how I would answer Vijay’s question. I am proud of my work this summer, but maybe the Tiger Challenge studio — overflowing with art supplies, whiteboard tables, poster boards, and squashy beanbag chairs — was just the perfect environment to inspire creativity.

Embracing uncertainty

By: Ariella Cohen '19
Team: Pulse-Ox

As students, we are accustomed to answers. To certainty. To a right way and a wrong way to solve a problem. We study for hours so our test responses replicate those of an answer key. We labor over problem sets so the answers match the professor’s. Tiger Challenge was completely different. It was like taking a test with no answer key.

At the beginning of the summer, we received a general outline of Design Thinking and a number of helpful tools for each phase of the process. After the first week, we were on our own to schedule meetings, interviews, and time for research. We were never given a set of guidelines delineating the number of research papers we should read to learn about pulse oximetry, the number of hospitals we should visit, or how many parents, nurses, or doctors we should interview. At times, it was difficult to fully commit myself to the process without knowing if we were doing everything right.

It turns out that no one knows what is “right” in this context. Our inquiries to Rafe were often answered with “Good question,” or “I don’t know.” While this response (or lack thereof) could be frustrating, I learned throughout the summer that a lack of strict guidelines is exactly what we needed. The team was able to work at its own pace, and the only incentive to act was driven by our internal motivation to learn more about and improve infant pulse oximetry.

The open-endedness of the instruction also encouraged us to think more critically about our research and concept development strategies. Instead of completing exercises or interviews for the sake of crossing them off a list, we thought about and thoroughly considered our methods. We periodically revisited notes from interviews to rewrite the questions we asked. As new topics arose during interviews or on visits to hospitals, we researched them online to learn more. A strict outline for the summer would have inhibited this flexibility and discouraged adaptation.

At the end of the summer, the team had to select three ideas (out of several hundred!) to pursue during the academic year. To aid our idea selection, we presented twelve partially developed concepts to our mentors. I can’t speak for the other members of the team, but I had hoped that our mentors would hear our pitches and tell us which three concepts to pursue. This was not the case. The mentors did not deem any idea to be completely not worth pursuing, nor did they unanimously agree on one as the strongest. While it was reassuring that every idea had at least some merit, we were again in a situation for which there was no right answer.

After much deliberation, we selected a set of concepts. To be honest, I cannot remember the exact metrics we used to decide. Regardless, I know that each of our ideas had value, and that pursuing any one of them would be both challenging and fulfilling. I don’t know whether there was a “right” decision of which three ideas to select, but I am confident that there was no wrong one.

I am thrilled to continue working with the Pulse-Ox Team as we further develop the three concepts that we selected as a group. I am eager to face the challenges and successes of this process. And I am embracing the uncertainty that comes with it.

Last but not least ... concept presentation

By: Hyunnew Choi '19
Team: Refugee Careers

After weeks of countless interviews, our summer culminated in a final presentation of 8 concepts to our mentors. Sounds easy enough, right? After all, we had been working with our mentors all summer, so we were comfortable engaging in discussion with them at this point; moreover, we’d gained plenty of knowledge on our topic to present our ideas with confidence. Little did we know that the last 1.5 weeks of the summer would require so much more from each of us than we’d ever imagined.

IDEATION: The first step in preparing for this presentation was the development of our concepts. We used a number of design thinking tools to create thousands of ideas, all of which took initial shape on single sticky notes. We were told not to shut down any ideas in this phase, no matter how technologically, financially, or logistically impossible they were; this unique opportunity to propose all sorts of ideas encouraged us to think creatively about all aspects of our project. Moreover, this approach forced each of us to generate more ideas than we thought we had in us, and to keep an open mind as we respectfully considered one another’s ideas. Such an environment allowed for our team to comfortably voice our opinions when we narrowed our thousands of ideas down to 8 fleshed out concepts.

PRESENTATION: Upon developing our 8 concepts, our team spent a significant amount of time putting together our presentation, which ended up taking form in over 70 slides. Although our team finished putting together the content of our presentation well before the meeting, we didn’t realize that the process of rehearsing our presentation would be as extensive as it was; that is, we spent hours crafting stories to share along with all of our concepts, drawing from insights we had gathered from the interviews we conducted all summer. Each story helped us communicate the real, human need that led the development of our concepts, which made our ideas come to life. Only at this point of the process did our team really discover the power of empathy-driven storytelling, and reflect on the importance of our long research process.

Our team, after a successful concept meeting

FEEDBACK: Of our two-hour long presentation meeting, we spent a full hour getting feedback from our 5 mentors, Erin, and Rafe. It was a packed hour, as each person brought unique perspective to the table based on their diverse backgrounds. We quickly learned that some of our thoughts had been shortsighted, which prompted us to critically reflect upon each of our concepts and the needs they were addressing. I feel incredibly grateful to have received such honest, insightful feedback; in fact, I think this part of the process highlights one of the most refreshing aspects of the design thinking process — the opportunity to directly incorporate feedback into our next steps.

At the beginning of the summer, we were told that our summer would feel a lot like a rollercoaster, in which our extended research would feel like the slow, uphill climb to the peak and the ideation and presentation phase would resemble the fast, exhilarating rush down. I can’t think of a better way to describe the end of this summer; that said, I feel like we’re really only just beginning the real meat of the process, and I’m incredibly excited to see how the academic year unfolds!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Lesson Learned Through Design Thinking

By: Rasheeda Saka '20
Team: Princeton PulseOx

How Might We design think our way out of ______?
A wry question?
An actual joke?
Or a serious suggestion?

Hello peeps! I’m a rising sophomore in the class of 2020. I (along with my wonderful teammates) have worked this summer to improve patient/parent experience in hospitals, optimize the current pulse oximeter (whether that is through redesigning the device or fiddling with its software), and allow the pulse oximeter to present the most useful information to clinicians across different medical settings.

For my readers who are unfamiliar with the Tiger Challenge (TC), every project in TC uses a design thinking model for our timeline. The summer began with a scoping phase which is when teams gather and research all of the rudimentary and preliminary information regarding their project. This lasts about a week and after this we entered the inspiration phase which is when the real fun began. To give my amazing readers a glimpse into the project, during this time, I traveled to four different hospitals across the East Coast, visited a medical device manufacturing company, and actually “talked” (I really didn’t say anything—it was more listening) to the CEO of a billion dollar medical device manufacturing company. A BILLION DOLLAR COMPANY. I did a ton of other things during this summer, but I’ll stop here to let it all sink in for my currently dazed and amazed readers.

Ultimately, after this phase ended Team Pulse-Ox compiled our research and then used that information to propose potential solutions. During the academic year, we will begin to prototype and pilot a solution for our end users.

So far, I just summarized the design thinking process as it relates to my project. However, the essence of design thinking allows us to think creatively and efficiently given a specific timeline to create practical solutions whether it be for a specific end user or for ourselves. The incomplete question that I posed at the beginning of this post is a common tool used in design thinking that is meant to spur novel and innovative solutions. And because Princeton students are witty by their very nature, that question had been appropriated as a funny joke of sorts this summer. Yet, with that phrase that had been so repeated, so ingrained, and so drilled into the depths of my mind, I found myself wondering how I can apply design thinking to the wondrous challenges of my daily life.

I decided to start with my constant procrastination as it related to my ability to write short stories. Now, I’d been writing short stories long before I even joined TC, but my problem lied with the technique I used to write them. Back to my previous self in a previous time, when I wrote stories, I would literally write a sentence and then edit that sentence, write another sentence and then edit that sentence—on and on and on, endlessly. I went nowhere with this technique. In fact, I became incredibly frustrated as I never seemed to accomplish anything and when I did finish writing a short story, it was always a product that I never envisioned when I first conceived of the idea. Here comes design thinking. Now, I didn’t completely use design thinking to solve my problem, but I did use a technique from one of the phases in the project. During ideation, it is expected that you generate a TON of ideas as potential solutions to your specific challenge/problem. For some groups, they generated over a 1,000 potential solutions; for my group, we generated over 500 potential solutions. The beauty of Ideation in design thinking is that you are not supposed to worry about the quality of ideas initially; quantity is what really matters and thus you are able to free your mind of the cumbersome task of analyzing the worth of an idea as you create. And thus, I learned a valuable solution to my own personal problem. From now on, I just write, write, write when I create my art. Editing, revising, trimming, and deleting are such easy tasks, therefore they should happen after you create. Although I’m not a huge proponent of the idea that your brain is split off into discrete, specialized sections that do not interact with each other, I feel that creating and analyzing truly occupy different parts of the mind and that it’d be in everyone’s best interest not to mix the two in the process of creating.

I’m glad that I could learn such a worthwhile insight as I worked on the infant pulse oximetry project this summer. And while the summer is quickly nearing its end, the work never stops! :)

A photo of me posing on a helipad at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C.