Stanford University

How to Design

Course: An Introduction to Design Thinking

Institution: Stanford University


I was fortunate recently to take a class at Stanford University’s design school, better known as the The class was organized into a group exercise and we were tasked with designing the ideal wallet. We started by each sketching the "ideal" wallet. When we reviewed the results we discovered that when you don’t know who you are designing for, you design for yourself. Which was the point. The is all about user centric design not you-centered design.

So in order to understand what users want we needed to focus on empathy. Our mission was to redesign the wallet experience so that it was “useful and meaningful.”

We started by interviewing a customer, the person next to us. We took four minute turns, twice. The goal was to get the interviewee to tell a story about themselves and then delve deeper by asking lots of Why questions. What we found in the interviewing process was that the interviews became about more than the wallet. They were about finding the meaningful problem, which is a reframing of the design task.

To capture our findings and see this more clearly we were asked to list out needs – what our partner was trying to do (active terms, verbs) and insights – new learnings about our partners’ feelings and views that we could use in our design. This then helped us literally define the problem better.

All we had to do was complete this sentence: [Partner’s name] needs a way to _____. Unexpectedly, in his/her world, ________. This blank was for the insight.

The process really opened my eyes to how much of what we truly desire or need goes unsaid and it’s only when we take the time to listen that we can begin to meet those needs or desires. The process is really a design plan for life.

After we completed our new problem statement – as opposed to “I need a new wallet,” I found that my partner Jayme needed a way to express his creativity and unexpectedly, in his world physical fit drove his behavior. Jayme actually didn’t even like carrying a wallet if it would affect the profile of his jeans.

Next we were asked to ideate – meaning, generate alternatives to test. We sketched three to five “radical” ways to meet our partner’s/user’s needs. I came up with a new pair of jeans for Jayme.

Then I shared my solutions with him and captured his feedback. I listened to what he liked and didn’t like about my ideas and with his help centered on an idea for re-usable, color pockets he could adhere to the jeans pockets of any jeans he uses.

At this point we were about 45 minutes into the exercise. We were then tasked with making our idea. Yes - making it. Scattered around the space were materials to prototype our solution. I gathered up felt, scissors, and duct tape and whipped up some “portable pockets.”

If this all seems lightening fast to you, you’re right. Part of the lesson was just how quickly and cheaply you can get to solutions and working ones at that.

The whole exercise took an hour and it was revelatory. The methodology in general is this:

  • Empathy
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

Repeat. When there are disagreements about what design makes the most sense, then it’s important to go back and ask more questions of your users. Also, these words are more buckets than steps per se.

What guides this process are some of the principles: Focus on human values

Show don’t tell

Craft clarity – this is reframing the problem: what is the problem I’m really trying to solve?

Radical collaboration

Embrace experimentation

Bias toward action – which I’m all about!

There have been numerous design successes that have emerged from the and benefited from their approach. Most notably is Embrace – a baby warmer that replaced incubators in Nepal. You can learn more here.

And for more on the approach check out their Bootcamp Bootleg Dschool Bootcamp Bootleg 2010.

In the words of the Founder of the David Kelley:

“We want to try to develop empathy for people, see what they value as humans and try to use that to come up with big ideas, so we call our method human-centered design. There’s a creative act in trying to decide what problem is worth working on in the first place.”

How to Feel

Did I think I was going to light the world on fire? Not exactly. But I couldn't help myself. I was seized with the notion that if people talked more openly about their emotions they could change their lives. My thesis was listening to your feelings helps you to understand yourself better and understanding yourself better means knowing what you want and knowing what you want leads to actually getting it.

I'm realizing, though, that I'm up against a big giant called hundreds of years of socialization, and with an iPhone app as my slingshot, it would seem I'm hopelessly over-matched.

There are a ton of "mental models" or beliefs about emotions or feelings (I use the terms interchangeably) circulating in our culture. Perhaps the most popular one is that feelings are positive or negative as opposed to just, well... feelings. Feelings don't make you a good or bad person, either.

Still, it's easy to see why we carry around these misguided notions - we are constantly bombarded with messages that it's not okay to feel. It's so pervasive it's often difficult to put your finger on. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in their book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk summarized the types of responses we're used to hearing when say trying to talk to a friend about a problem:

Denial of feelings: "You're over-reacting." or "Your probably just tired and not yourself."
The Philosophical Response: "Nobody's perfect - life doesn't always turn out."
Advice: "You know what you should do..."
Questions: "Has this ever happened before?" or "Why didn't you..."
Defense of the Other Person: "I can understand why that person reacted that way."
Pity: "That's terrible!" or "You poor thing!"
Amateur Psychoanalysis: "I think the real reason you are upset is..."

These responses are meant to be helpful, but instead often prevent us from dealing with our emotions and therefore our problems.

However we may deny it feelings underlie all of our interactions and everything we do. Yet, we walk around, stepping over the roots of the issues. Sometimes, I think I must be going crazy because I see how emotion affects children at school, adults at work and even our physical health, but no one actually talks about it.

I can empathize with just how difficult a topic feelings is. Emotions are numerous, complex, and facing them is challenging. Sometimes we even couch our feelings in the few feelings that we believe are okay to have like only women can be sad or only men can be angry.

Understanding emotions and how they affect our communication and behavior, are so important however, that one of the finest institutions in our country, the Stanford Graduate School of Business in a class called Interpersonal Dynamics (ironically dubbed Touchy Feely by students) teaches future business leaders emotional awareness skills. Which should be a sign that self-awareness skills differentiate leaders who rise to the top. And frankly, also makes me wonder why these skills aren't taught elsewhere.

Sure, we may have received a few lessons in feelings when we were children, but like a language left unused, if we don't continue to practice identifying, expressing, and managing our feelings, our skills deteriorate.

I suppose I'm so adamant about it all because for the longest time I didn't know how to feel. I'm well educated - I went to Stanford University and Stanford Law School, but the difficult truth is I didn't get what I could from these fine institutions. I didn't know how to extract the value the experiences yielded or what I needed from them, because I was too distracted by my emotions. I was having a lot of them but without the tools I couldn't manage them and I missed out on a lot.

I find myself catching up now. I don't think I'm alone in the effect mismanaged emotions have had on my life. But it does seem sometimes like I'm alone in seeing it as the cause. Still, as Patton and Heen in Have Your Feelings or They Will Have You put it, "Solving problems seems easier than talking about emotions."

I get that expressing our emotions feels risky. It feels scary because we think it makes us vulnerable. Yet, we have that turned on its head. Not saying what we feel or not accepting how we feel is what truly makes us vulnerable -it leaves us open to the decisions, whims, and judgments of others. We risk something alright - we risk losing ourselves; we risk forgetting how to feel.

How to be Heard

Course: Silicon Valley Thought Leadership Greenhouse

Institution: Clayman Institute, Stanford University

Instructor: Katie Orenstein and Lori NishiuraMackenzie

Location: Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

I didn’t understand the email at first – it talked about thought leadership and used way too many buzz words. Academic speak. Consultant talk. “Imperatives.” “Initiatives.” What does that even mean?

And the price was steep. It gave me pause. It seemed like any other conference and I am skeptical of the relative value of most conferences in terms of pure ROI (that’s finance talk for return on investment – will I get enough out of this to justify what I’m spending to be here?). Plus the hours seemed lengthy. I had to wonder, why now? Why me?

I demurred. It didn’t seem like a fit for me. I mean how do you mold a thought leader? Aren’t they just born?

Turns out thought leaders are made, not born. The program teaches women how to see themselves as leaders and how to get their thoughts and ideas heard and known. And really, that’s what makes someone a thought leader – they are willing to share their ideas. Unfortunately, women are pretty hesitant to do this publicly.

As someone new to voicing my thoughts and even more new to doing it publicly, I was intrigued. While I do have this dear blog and 11 loyal readers (and no, most are not my family - which come to think of it, is pretty embarrassing - I digress), I was curious how I could make my ideas more known and frankly, if my ideas had any value.

The program is a collaboration between The OpEd Project, Stanford University, and the Clayman Institute on Gender Research at Stanford. At the center is an effort to get more women voices published in venues with reach and this means national media like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN. What’s one way to do that? Write an OpEd. 84% of all OpEds are written by men. Before your feminist ire is stoked, note that only 1 out of 10 submissions are from women. So, if you think about it, we’re accurately represented. The OpEd Project’s goal is to change this imbalance by teaching and encouraging women to write and submit OpEds.

Truth be told, I had never even read them before and really had never given them much thought, as my head was invariably buried in an US Weekly. I needed to learn their value. But other women had trouble with understanding theirs. Invariably when the idea of writing an OpEd is proposed to women they say, “but I’m not an expert in anything.”

So that’s where the program started – getting us to see that we had interesting things to say and the expertise and credibility to be heard.

The whole program strove to get us to answer the following 5 questions for ourselves:

1. What is your source of credibility and how do you establish it?

2. How do you build an evidence-based, value-drive argument (as opposed to rhetoric)?

3. What is the difference between being “right” and being effective?

4. What is the bigger picture and how do you and your ideas fit into it?

5. Do you understand your knowledge and experience in terms of its value to others?

Each class was meant to address the questions. The first class was about understanding our power and Professor Deborah Gruenfeld from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) came in and spoke to us about her research on the psychology of power.

The second class was about learning how to write an OpEd and we were mentored by editors like Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Ellison.

The third class was about facing opposition and the negotiating skills required to manage opposition. Professor Maggie Neale also from the GSB came in and gave us a crash course in negotiating skills.

The fourth class we were given an opportunity to hear from leading media outlets like the New York Times and CNN about how to pitch ideas and build relationships with journalists/reporters.

The hours were long but the caliber of women in our pilot group was second to none. The access to resources and expertise, both from the teachers and classmates alike, was amazing. But the real benefit was I left understanding my own power and motivated to share my ideas with others, hopeful that I can have a larger influence. How’s that for ROI?

I highly encourage women to participate in the The OpEd Project

In the Know

Today is Travis’, or as he is lovingly referred to here at Consorte Media, Intern2, last day.   Travis’ story is not your typical story.  Nor is it, unfortunately, unusual.  Travis grew up on the Umatilla Indian reservation in Pendleton, Oregon.  He went to a community college for one year and then transferred to Eastern Oregon University.  He starts his third year this fall.  He will likely take 5 years or more to graduate.

He, despite being technologically savvy, doesn’t type well or fast, he’s new to Excel and Power Point (essential workplace tools these days), and he knows next to nothing about online advertising.  In fact, most of his work experience has been summer jobs in construction.  There are a lot of young men out there that I am sure can relate.

Travis got his internship with Consorte Media via his brother who knows me.  It’s this fortuitous connection that landed Travis in his first office job and his first technology start-up.   The reality is that had Travis not had this connection he probably would have been in construction jobs for some time.  I’m not knocking construction jobs, but trying to illuminate a point: it’s all about exposure.

Travis didn’t grow up exposed to business, technology or online advertising.  His parents didn’t run a business or don suits; they didn’t even go to college.  There are a lot of young people like Travis out there and his is very similar to my own story.  My mother didn’t make it past the eighth grade and my father only graduated high school.

Where does that leave people like Travis?  Behind.

In my last year of college at Stanford, I had the honor of being told by Jerry Porras, the author of Built to Last and a professor emeritus at the Stanford Business School, that I was behind and would always have to work harder than everybody else.  How was I behind exactly?  I could stand my ground, I was quick on my feet, and I was a loyal friend.  I hated him a little bit when he told me that.  But you know what?  He was right.

I was behind because my life and socio-economic status kept me in a pocket of limited options, not a bad life mind you, just a limited one.  I wouldn’t have even discovered Stanford University if my sister Maria hadn’t brought home a Seventeen Magazine one day.  In it she read an article that said Stanford was the best school in California.  She said, “You’re good at school.  Why don’t you apply there?”

Not knowing any better, I did and I’ve been playing catch up ever since.  Going to Stanford was my first exposure to a world that included terms like investment banking, entrepreneurship, and Silicon Valley.   My college roommates had computers; I had an electric typewriter.   One had traveled to Africa; I had never been outside of the western United States.  Another of my college roommates actually boarded her horse at the school’s stables.  “Man, what does your dad do?” I often thought but never ventured to ask.

When I got to Stanford I had a huge chip on my shoulder.  I didn’t realize I had stepped into a new game and resented having to play.  I only started wanting to play catch up when I finally got to see – what others have been fortunate to be exposed to from an early age - that it’s a big world out there with huge possibilities. Something really hard to see when you live next to a gas station in La Puente or on an Indian reservation.

I wonder what Travis will remember from his few weeks at Consorte.  It was short and definitely not enough time to relay everything about online advertising.  The time I spent with him I focused mainly on how to create and understand the elements of an income statement: the basics of building a business.

At the very least, I hope he will take with him a sense that there are people in the world that care about his success. That success requires hard work (no matter how talented you may be and if you don’t have a great talent ala Kobe Bryant – it takes a whole heck of a lot more hard work).  And that while Travis is capable, knows more about living off the land than most, and has already surpassed his parents in education, he’s stepped into a new game and he’s behind.

But that’s not a bad thing.  As I have learned, you can come from nothing and build something.  That, to borrow an oft repeated saying by Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.”  Consorte Media is only one glimpse of what’s out there.   I can’t wait to see if Travis plays.