Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2015

Art Project at the 2015 Retreat, photo by Jean Nilsson

Brainstorming IDEO Style

by Lucia Bogatay

Brown paper from the "Process" table, OWA/DP Retreat, 2015, photo by author

The Topic for the weekend, Creativity and Play, was orchestrated by Gretchen Addi, a principal of IDEO, a global innovation and design firm. Ms Addi spent some time making us more familiar with what they do and how they do it. We learned that IDEO makes imaginative use of human interaction to stimulate and harness creativity and solve problems for government, industry, business and education. Addi Iat length the kinds of projects and the ethos of the firm. She introduced us to the design process they use: It begins with "Ideation," a form of brainstorming and collection of ideas without limitations or judgements, testing feasibility (finding the best approach), and working out the design. The company uses people, space and process in ways to facilitate the development of creative solutions. Following her talk, Addi divided us into groups at brown paper covered tables with pens and colored dots, and instructed us to record our notions of how the design process can be enhanced using play, interaction of people, inovative places and processes (not her exact terms, but close). We OWA/DP members demonstrated our own creativity as we recorded our insights into collaboration and the design process that we use as architects and designers, writing notes and drawing on the brown paper and adding colored dots to indicate agreement with a particular point.

The brown paper results are full of diagrams, drawings, and comments which truly illustrate the process we were trying to define! Among the notes and drawings on the salvaged sheets of brown paper from the various tables we found the following collection of insights:

Brown paper from the "Process" table, OWA/DP Retreat, 2015, photo by author

Work Spaces: This topic generated much drawing and discussion. Workplace should be flexible and not static. Furniture on wheels allows for modifying space, people should be encouraged to move around, changing combinations of collaborators. Comments advised avoiding the formal, encouraging the informal, personalizing, and allowing pets and babies, encouraging interaction using encounters, bulletin boards, post-its, chalk boards. Emphasis was on variety: a variety of spaces and levels of privacy, a variety of chairs, “sitting balls” to encourage both comfort and healthy movement, a variety of heights of working surface, flexibility. for individuals, teams and presentations. Provide calibrated scale on wall and cutouts of people to help visualize results, provide places to tape out full sized mock-ups. Install banners with images of the users. Perhaps as inspiration, and to remind people who they are working for.

People: Much discussion of teams, their composition and function, the importance of having “good people” on the design team, and having a variety of points of view, ages, disciplines and ethnicities. Building team morale and excitement about the project and process was noted. All participants need to respect other participants and be respected. But must allow people to be “human.” Some consultants could be short term team members. There was emphasis on the value of humor, and playfulness, and both being accepted rather than being suppressed. Get to know the people with whom you are collaborating, for whom you are designing, perhaps in an informal setting. All team members need to meet client. Have lunch dates with participants, have work space which encourages a variety of interaction with a variety of people. Maintain team cohesion by cooking together, and try sketching on Fridays during lunch hour.

Paper from "People" table, OWA/DP Retreat, 2015, by the author

Brown paper from the Process table, OWA/DP Retreat, 2015, photo by author

Process: At the Process tables, people considered what process or activity would promote the creativity of both the team and the client. There was a lot of emphasis on the use of creativity and play, and on changing the environment in which the work is done. Play includes music, fighting, doodling, changing the light levels, or varying them throughout the environment, The space becomes the metaphor for the process, being broken up and reconfigured in response to the creative impulse.

According to the notes on these tables, the goals include: remaining open to new ideas, staying loose, not becoming defensive, and being non-judgmental. Activities include gathering information, visiting sites, talking to users, locating good existing examples of the project type, and assembling good team.

It is important to understand a client’s working culture, to use lateral as well as linear thinking and to explore ideas thoroughly. Use friction as a catalyst (for discussion, for generating ideas?), use humor as a lubricant to help with communication. Use collaborative design sessions with user groups to achieve quicker consensus and client feedback. Challenge consensus, encourage chance encounters, have “walk in the park” meetings, role play, change roles, brainstorm, but above all, LISTEN. Use humor and cartoons to make the atmosphere lighter and more creative. Do space maps of emotions and activities. One must (metaphorically at least) be able to “step off the cliff.” And try to reject the stress: “it all works out in the end.”

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