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5 Ways to Get Your Hands Dirty with Design Thinking

Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) 2013 has come and gone – once again, this year’s Innovation Labs did not disappoint.  I was fortunate to attend five really amazing lab sessions and walked away with a whole new cadre of design thinking techniques and tools to spice up my team’s as well as my own innovation work.  Like most people, the images of brightly colored post-it notes and high-fidelity white board sessions typically spring to mind when the subject of innovation comes up.  But as I discovered first-hand through the following CIW Innovation Labs, getting your hands dirty with sketching and prototyping an actual concept is where the ultimate value of design thinking comes alive.

IDEO – To have a good idea, you first have to have lots of ideas to draw from according to Linus Paulding.  We were presented a 30-circle exercise and asked to individually sketch as many concepts as we could within 5 minutes.  The main objective being to generate volume without judgment and see where your creative inspiration leads you.  At first, the circle was viewed as a constraint, but as I got deeper into the task, it became an inspiration, a starting off point and the concepts got bolder and branched out.  We then switched into a Mashup of Odd Things exercise where I worked with a partner to come up with ideas resulting from 10 items from a junk drawer and 10 items from a drugstore.  We had some pretty hilarious, strange creations along the way, but ended up with a few unexpected winners once we paired a few key items together.

Manifest Digital – the power of the pen can be as mighty as the sword – in this case, our group quickly went from a brainstorm list of potential concept features to sketching out screens that could be snapped with a camera phone and applied to an interactive mobile app mockup.  You can see my attempt at a mobile app for urban dog owner community below:

Draftfcb – imagining with your hands doesn’t just stop at sketching.  You need to transform post-its storylines into models that your colleagues and target audience can see and touch.  Working from a similar Mashup of Odd Things exercise, our group then used a hodgepodge of playdoh, tin foil, popsicle sticks and more to mock-up the ‘NaviGlove’ you see below:

Northwestern Knight – sometimes though, simple construction paper-based prototype will more than convey an idea.  During this lab, I took a needs-based interview approach with a partner to form a problem statement and generate five possible solution features around daily news consumption that were then refined into a single paper model of the ‘Daily What’s Up’ app shown below:

Inventables – my last lab was a full-on maker session – while we didn’t come up with the concept of the Loop Lamp, the process of assembling it with the various manufacturing tools and microelectronics did evoke key user insights and generate additional market applications.  My finished product in full lit glory:

I’m fortunate to have spent the week with some of the best & brightest design teams in Chicago thanks to CIW.  The biggest takeaway for me: Ideas are not enough, you have to get your hands dirty and make them into something physical that others can experience along with you.  That is where the real magic of innovation begins.


About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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