MDF Design Strategy 2022

There’s nothing that’s so contradictorily both more fun and more hateful than having to wrangle your findings and insights into some kind of vision, action or buildable thing. Weirdly it’s the key thing leveraged least in design practice — the designing part. I’m not sure why. Most businesses don’t trust designers to build things which are viable or feasible is my first guess, so design research is typically completed with an “insights and recommendations” document and a call to action for the internal team to take all that nuance, literacy and intent and do something meaningful with it.

Photo by SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

But anyway, we’re here to prove that that’s all nonsense. Let’s build stuff.

Building the right thing vs. building the thing right

As we covered in our last lecture, before we start building anything we want to make sure we’re lined up and are Answering The Right Question.

So far you’ve been exploring exactly what the problem is, or problems are, and synthesising them into one clear statement:

The problem we are trying to solve is _________.

Working in pairs or small groups you’ve gotten this far, and it feels about right. Your question is meaty, interesting and feels appropriate to our client’s brief and expectations while still being nuanced and, well, like we can own it ourselves. What we’re ensuring through this often fussy and fiddly process is that we’re building the right thing. Once we’ve done that, we can then begin to focus on building the thing right.

But first we need to intentionally link our problem to our goal. This is called crafting a focusing question, design question or, more colloquially, a “how might we” question (HMW).

At its most basic, a HMW is two parts:

  1. what we’re addressing: “how might we what”. This is your problem statement.
  2. the outcome or goal we’re looking to achieve: “so that we achieve this outcome.” Note that the outcome here can be precisely the stated goals of the brief. That’s okay. However, a lot of times it might be adjacent, complementary to, or in support of the brief’s goals. For our purposes, let’s stick to the brief unless we’re feeling particularly ornery or confident.

What happens next is our exploration of HOW. Concepts are different “hows” and we’ll get to that very soon.

Cover image of Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation book

Have a look at Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation (p.45–50) for a quick dive into how this all works. You’ll need your RMIT email address.

And here’s a useful explainer from NNGroup.

Once you’ve developed one (or a few) HMWs, it’s time to move into conceptualisation!

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Conceptualisation

There are a few good tried and tested methods to get concepts out fast and dirty — it’s QUANTITY over QUALITY at this stage. Crazy 8s is a good starting point for you if you’re new to this stuff:

First ideas
Over the course of your research you’ve put a bunch of assumptions and “solution-mode” ideas into your Parking Lot. Good! Let’s pull them out! Now do a sweep of all your insights and findings, set a 20-minute timer and smash out some back-of-the-napkin sketches from what you see.

IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE GOOD AT ALL. IT’S A WARM UP. JUST DO IT.

You want to start ideation with an idea of scale, scope and any other evaluative concepts that are important to you. Jot those down. Consider strategic approaches: customer, optimisation, supply, partnership, reduction etc. are all valuable.
Now, put all your ideas into these buckets.

Ideation
Ideation is such a well-trammelled concept that I suggest you do a web search for different ideation tools and methods. Go crazy. Look at lego, sketching, paper prototyping (business origami)…

JUST REMEMBER THIS: THE PURPOSE OF CONCEPTS AND IDEATION IS EXPLORATION. Each concept might mercilessly get killed off as you develop it. That’s okay. You’re learning what’s good, bad, and meh. Use red-amber-green as a way to code your ideas as they progress.
Capture the half good ideas and combine them. Smash them together. This is serious playtime. Get frustrated! Get dirty! Get happy! Just don’t get drunk, it’s less than helpful.
A comfortable level of fidelity is a concept card (link is worth signing up for — otherwise any quick search will yield a useful one).

Prioritisation
Once you’ve built out a few concepts cards (or similar), scaffold them and determine which ones you’re going to develop beyond the superficial. A quick effort-impact matrix or similar will suffice.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Picking
Choose the top 2–4 concept cards, reflect on them and how they fit/skew your work and potentially constrain your strategic recommendations going forward. It’s okay, it’s a way to be honest about the work you’re doing (either intentionally skewing towards particular strategies, partners, outcomes… it’s all documented as a part of your reflective practice and to sift deliberate from unintended actions and outcomes).
Use a concept poster to complete your concept work for submission.

In closing

The practice of design is a practice of courage, uncertainty, intellectual highs and lows, self-development (and -beratement) and, ultimately, trying to build something that’s not real yet using a narrow, biased version of what currently is “real” (to whom, when, why, how, where etc.), combined with some ideas you’ve (and/or your team have) had by trying really hard to understand and empathise with stuff that may or may not be enough to even stand a chance of making a good decision that stacks up.

So give yourself a chance. You’ve got to start somewhere!

Next week

  • Concept development and testing!
  • Storytelling your work!

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Matt Kurowski

Matt Kurowski

Senior consultant and advisor for sustainable organisational innovation (SMEs); industry fellow at RMIT School of Design. https://mattkurowski.carrd.co