Posted in creativity

“The Play Wave is Cresting”

A new year means new beginnings for many people. For me, it means engaging in new modules at Kingston University. This semester we are looking at creativity, and how creativity emerges as a result of a collective process – more specifically we are looking at how to manage creativity successfully, what skills and behaviours enforce the collaborative creativity and innovation.

As an introduction to the module we examined the importance of play – play as an adult, as a creative individual and as a group – and how play can fuel the creative mind, and create insight into behavioural patterns from those around you. How play can help tell a story.

More than ever, we live in a performance-driven culture, and the development of technology has created even more ways to measure and enhance performance. In our search to create a perfect frame for our professional development, we forgot how to play. According to Stuart Brown (2008), play is essential in order for our brains to develop, and nothing “lights up the brain  like play” (Laverne, 2014).

So as with everything else at KU, we engaged in a practical exercise to understand the effects of play, and how play, as a part of teamwork, could better the result of creative solutions.

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A collaborative activity – “Mind, movement, passion”.

To conduct the exercise we were given a set of LEGO Play. LEGO created the series, because the CEO and managers at LEGO felt they needed a new, more collaborative and creative way of solving problems in design and product development. It is now widely used by companies to enhance creative solutions (Kristiansen, 2016).

One of the exercises we had to complete was to illustrate – through the use of LEGO – a day where we felt creative. One described the day as characterised by movement, one as a ‘mindfulness’ situation (not in its traditional “meditation”-sense, but more as a day where nothing interrupts the creative flow), one as a perfectly connected mind/body, and one as a day filled with passionate activities.

As a collaborative exercise we then had to pick the most important illustrative piece from our LEGO-creation, and combine all four into “The Perfect Creative Day”. The photo above is a result of that creative collaboration. I’m not going reveal what the different pieces represent – maybe it obvious?

The exercise gave us all an insight into what drives us to be creative, motivated and innovative. I imagine that this particular exercise is perfect to break the ice in new collaborative environments. Not only does it give insight into the ideal scene for creativity, but it also tells us a lot about how people assign meaning to projects and creative outputs.

“…the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression. And I think if you think about life without play — no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy and, and, and. Try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise without play[…] we begin to lose those signals, culturally and otherwise, as adults. That’s a shame. I think we’ve got a lot of learning to do“.  – Stuart Brown (Brown, 2008). 

 

References:

Brown, S. (2008). Play is more than just fun. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital?language=en [Accessed 27 Apr. 2017].

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Posted in Prototyping

“I’ve not failed – I’ve just found a 1000 ways that won’t work”

The Design Process

Step 4: Prototype

After having gathered our research, and decided on some of the product specifications we went to the next stage of the Design Process – Prototyping. We had encountered prototyping before while spending the day with Unlimited Lab at Fablab London. At FabLab we learned that prototyping is very important in getting closer to the end product, and that prototyping can be done with the simplest of materials – cardboard, balloons, paper – basically, what ever household product that is available to you. Not only is it valuable in terms of design and specifications, but also it assists us in getting closer to what the product actually is, what materials we should use, as well as the packaging options. Instead of going from idea to production, the prototyping step is helpful in making sure that we’ve chosen the right materials and specifications, before spending money in the production process – it minimizes the risk of loosing valuable time and funds.

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d.Schools User-Centered Prototype-Driven Design Process

We wanted to minimize/remove the pain of sleeping with earphones/earbuds. We began by testing two ideas; An ear pillow with a build-in speaker and an ear-pillow designed so that the user/customer can use their own earbuds with the product.

For the prototyping session the two most important areas for us to test was whether or not we could create a pillow for the ears without feeling the earbud through the product – we wanted to remove the discomfort, so this particular feature was very important! Secondly, we wanted to make sure that the sound still came through the ear pillow, and that the levels and volume were still pleasant for the ear. We made our first product from a combination of sponge pads, microfiber fabric and makeup sponges.

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The first prototype made of sponges

The materials we used for the first prototype proved to be succesful in testing our two key features. By creating a designated hole for the customers own earbuds we we’re able to control where the earbud was placed, and by covering it with a soft fabric and padding, we found that we were completely unable to feel the earbud – SUCCES!

The sound was arguably lower that before, but the sound came through with all the musical nuances, and we even found it to be positive that the music levels were lower, so that the user will be able to hear their surroundings while sleeping – the fire alarm, for instance. The prototyping sessions helped decide which product was the most feasible and doable. It also got us a bit closer to the specific design – although we obviously won’t use sponge pads in the final product!

With this prototype, we were now ready to present our product at our first Dragon’s Den – more on that later!

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Testing the prototype
Posted in Uncategorized

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea”

The Design Process

STEP 3: Ideate

Having decided on wanting to do a product for those suffering from sleep problems, and who use music as a means of relaxing and slip into sleep, we now had to gather our research and try to come up with an idea of how to solve the problem of the uncomfortable headphones. We had to embrace the third step of the Design Process – Ideate.

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d.Schools User-Centered Prototype-Driven Design Process

We knew we wanted to improve the comfort of falling a sleep while wearing headphones, and our research pointed towards a couple of different points to consider in the idea generation process. First, those who use music to fall asleep, experienced the removal of the headphones or earbuds before bed as a disruption in sleep. So we started by focusing on that specific point – You had to be able to sleep through the night while wearing the product. It had to be comfortable. It had to be able to play music.

We started researching the market for what was already out there. It turns out that two companies in particular made products that had the same idea in mind. So by analyzing their customer feedback we found a couple of areas, where we could improve the overall experience. One product was designed as a headband with build-in speakers, the other designed as a sports-earbud placed outside of the ear. The customers reported that they found the headband to be too warm to sleep with, and the cord linking to the charger in the back of the product, to be extremely uncomfortable while sleeping. The customers of the other product, reported that they found the space between the earphones and the ear to be uncomfortable, and the chord connecting to the music device to be uncomfortable. Both of the existing solutions had a price between 30-35 pounds, which most of the customers reported to be to expensive considering the quality of the earphones.

Based on the research we did in our Define step and the feedback we retrieved from these customers we started to generate ideas.

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Idea Generation Process

We wanted to eliminate the heat build-up, customers experienced while sleeping with a headband, and so we had the idea of creating a product only covering the ears. We also wanted to eliminate the unpleasant cord, by creating a product with bluetooth speakers, so the customer would only have to charge the product during the day, and then be able to wear it throughout the night. We knew it had to be comfortable, so we started working with the idea of producing a ‘pillow for the ears’, where the speaker was covered enough so that the user wouldn’t be able to feel the speaker inside the design.

We went through a couple of design specific ideas, such has tightening the product to the ear by using an adjustable tread, an elastic band etc. The product had to be washable, so the speakers had to be removable. The fabric had to be firm and soft.

The idea generation process proved to be succesful, and we came up with a lot of ideas for the product – some crazy, some impossible, some bad, one good. But we knew, we wouldn’t be able to choose or get closer to the specifics of the product before we’d actually gone through the prototyping stage. We started out with a vague idea of how to solve the problem, a vague idea of what product we wanted to do. When three independent minds come together working on the same idea, you discover that you begin with three different versions of the same idea. But our ideation process ended with a mutual vision for the idea, and the product we wanted to do. Next time!

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea”, Pablo Picasso.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

“You Cannot Understand Good Design If You Do Not Understand People”

The Design Process

STEP 2: Define

In my last post I talked about Step 1 in the Design Process, namely Empathize. After struggling with our focus area, we finally arrived at a topic that we, not only found to be interesting, but also relevant for us. We knew, we would benefit from this problem being solved, but we had to determine the extent of the problem among the general population in the UK to pin down the persona we were designing for – Understand people with this specific problem.

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d. School’s User-Centered Prototype-Driven Design Process

Firstly, we discovered in our research that one of the main focus areas of NHS and the Mental Health Foundation UK had been the lack of sleep – or problems with sleep – mainly due to people suffering from a racing mind, while trying to fall asleep. It gave us the option to form a general frame of the problem in the UK, before going in depth with our own interviews. On behalf of these institutions, Sleepio conducted a survey to try and measure the extent of the problem. Their survey was conduction on more than 20,000 people, from teens to people over 60 years old, in the UK over a period of two years. Among other things, it showed that the ‘racing mind’ is the main cause of sleeplessness. Simply put, our own thoughts are the number one reason for our sleepless nights. Based on the results of the survey, more women than men seem to be suffering from sleep problems, but the negative impact on their lives seems to be similar; They reported to be feeling more alone, unproductive and helpless than those with a healthy sleep pattern. 

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Great British Sleep Survey, 2012 by Sleepio

We found that people experiencing sleep problems due to a ‘racing mind’, usually had gone through a particular stressful period of their lives with extensive worry and anxiety. People in this state of mind generally have lower levels of serotonin – by some researchers defined as the chemical that is responsible for balancing the mood. We knew from our own experience that sound had proven to be helpful in making us fall asleep, but we wanted to understand why; We found that music, or sound, can help increase the levels of serotonin and in return help people feel relaxed and calm. 

With this information we were ready to continue with our own research – we had a much better idea of where we could locate the people suffering from these problems, and verify or discard our own assumptions on the subject.

Lucky for us, our own Masterly: team member, Andrius, had been attending a NHS sleep workshop, and could provide us with some insights into the mind of those really suffering from sleep problems. His experience is an interesting read.

Our next step was to brainstorm, come up with as many wild ideas as possible that could be a solution to this problem… Next time!

“You can not understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people” – Dieter Rams.

Posted in Uncategorized

“The most important part of design is finding all the issues to be resolved. The rest are details”.

The Design Process

STEP 1: Empathize.

As our first semester is coming to an end (already?!), I look back on the last four months and feel extremely proud of my team and my class, and what everyone have accomplished in such a short period of time.

In my last post I mentioned that we, as a part of our Design-Thinking for Start-ups module, were to create a small company in collaboration with Young Enterprise, but I haven’t really explained the process of design, product development and idea generation in this process.

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d. schools user-centered prototype-driven design process

In our very first Design-Thinking session we were to work from the subject of ‘Home’, as I described in my first blogpost. In that session we were given a frame in which we could gather information, ideate and create a solution to the problems we identified whilst interacting and observing people and their feelings and behaviours. The frame made it somewhat more tangible to find a problem and a solution, since we knew what to look for.This process has been somewhat different, since we were to create our own frame from which we should gather information and create an understanding. And it has been a challenge –  where do you even begin? We’ve learned that it’s first and foremost the validity of the problem, that makes or breaks a product.

So we tried for weeks to seek out problems in everything in our daily lives, hoping to find that one problem that could be solved by a new service or product, but the more we actively searched, the less we found. We then tried to pin down a segment, a group of people that we thought we could design something for. We talked about designing for new mothers, children and students, but we soon realized that our hearts wasn’t in it – we simply didn’t feel passionate enough about the ideas we came up with.

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We soon found that we had all experienced sleepless nights in the past. Nights, where the mind is just racing, focusing on what to do next, and how you are going to solve your issue of time management; assignments, cleaning, laundry, social life etc. I especially found that sound, music and meditation worked for me, but the problem is that, after a while, it’s really uncomfortable to sleep with earphones and earbuds. After doing some research on the subject, we found that quite a few people shared that same perspective. Now we had our problem.

So how did we try to solve the problem, you ask? How are we trying to do and be better than the existing solutions? I’ll tell you… next time.

“The most important part of design is finding all the issues to be resolved. The rest are details”. – Soumeet Lanka.

Posted in creativity, design-thinking, product development

“Garbage In, Garbage Out”

Our course director always says, that she hopes that we’re now able to connect the dots in all that we’ve learned so far. I want to take a couple of seconds to talk about how a book I read a while back, all of sudden found its way into my line of dots – and share some of the dots with you. The book is by artist and writer, Austin Kleon – He is, per his own definition, “a writer who draws”, and what a fantastic combination that is! Using both of these skills, he published his second book, “Steal Like an Artist”, in 2012. Basically, the subject of the book is how to “unlock your creativity” with a series of steps to consider in the ideation and creation process.

If you’re interested in reading the book it’s available as an e-pub here.

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“Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon

One of the things that Austin Kleon discusses in his graphic book is “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. He says: “The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there is a difference… Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by” (Steal Like An Artist, 2012, p.13). 

This year, as a part of my Design-Thinking for Startups module, we are creating a Start-Up in collaboration with Young Enterprise, and as a part of that process we are involved in all sorts of exciting activities. Recently, we had the pleasure of visiting Fab Lab London for a workshop on prototyping, hosted by Unlimited Lab. The job was to come up with a product based on the idea of ‘up-cycling’. Up-cycling is the creative reuse of unwanted materials and waste materials – simply creating a new product from something used.

The criteria was to create a product that could be used by hobbyists at home to up-cycle some of their waste. How is this connected to dots and Austin Kleon, you might ask? Well, our team came up with a lot of different ideas just before the prototyping workshop. Our first idea was to reuse lightbulbs. We wanted to create a self-watering plant kit, using the lightbulb as a miniature pot to hold a small plant. Did it work? No. Not only was it impossible to remove the bottom part of the lightbulb, it was also potentially dangerous considering the thin glass on the bulb.

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Prototyping the Thermo-Mug Kit @FabLab

We went back to the drawing board just before the prototyping session, and by the end of the day, we decided to do a Thermo-Mug Kit to reuse old tin cans, which turned out to be both easy and a lot safer!

We are not hoarders in any way in our little group, but I believe that humans have a tendency to cling on to ideas even though they are complete garbage, and it was tough to come up with a new solution after declaring the ‘bulb-plant’ out, but the generation of several ideas in the brainstorming process allowed us to collect the ‘good idea’. The ‘Bulb’ was unsuccessful, so it had to go. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

 

Reference:

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal like an artist. 1st ed. New York: Workman Pub. Co.