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MINDSTORMING: collaborating to inspire and effect social change

How to plan, execute, analyze and present findings from collaborative and participatory design sessions

Mirroring a global trend towards collaboration to effect social change, participatory design methodologies have become more prevalent and mature, and are now favored for their ability to deliver meaningful innovation. This workshop describes the activities, framework, and rationale of design collaboration as an intensive apprenticeship, where participants learn by doing.

Tutorial by Dante Murphy (Digitas Health)
9:00am to 5:00pm on Tuesday, June 21, 2011

About the Tutorial

Introduction (15 minutes)

I will introduce myself and briefly speak about my experience planning and executing design collaboration. A series of bodystorming activities, in which participants plot themselves on a 2-dimnesional grid, will follow to assess the experience, interests, and expectations of the audience.

Definition of Design Collaboration (15 minutes)

I will present a definition of design collaboration that includes participatory design, collaborative design, and design workshops. Each is optimized for a specific audience and leads to a different result.

Participatory design is used to gather contextual individual insights from non-expert users of content, tools, and services. Participants do not directly control the elements of the design, but rather indirectly inform those elements so that the design team can create innovative and meaningful solutions that map directly to user needs, desires, and situations.

Collaborative design includes expert users of the content, tool, or service who are empowered to directly manipulate elements of the design with assistance from the design facilitation team. This methodology may also include non-expert or subject users to enable rapid validation. The output of a collaborative design session requires less synthesis because it is a more literal representation of the object.

Design workshops and brainstorming session allow professional designers and subject matter experts to rapidly explore concepts and processes to refine their ideas or achieve consensus. Workshops can be used to explore ideas for a product or to explore methodologies.

Once each definition has been fully described, participants will be asked to share their experiences with each so that specific questions can be explored.

History of Design Collaboration (30 minutes)

I will discuss how design collaboration has evolved as the process of designing and making objects has migrated from the physical to the virtual. The history of collaboration to achieve efficiency and innovation will be discussed, with examples from military, industrial, and sociological contexts. I will plot the migration of design from a culture of artisanship to one in which everyone is an expert at something, even if that expertise does not extend beyond their own actions, ideas, and emotions.

When to Collaborate on Design (30 minutes)

I will provide criteria and best practices in matching the appropriate design collaboration methodology to a specific project or initiative. Alternatives to design collaboration will be briefly discussed for the purpose of comparison. Common myths about the limitations and complexities of design collaboration will be explored and, for the most part, dispelled, such as high cost, the need to segregate sessions, and the need for extensive stimulus development.

The Common Narrative of Design Collaboration (30 minutes)

All design collaboration methodologies follow a common narrative, dictated by the inherent commonalities of social behavior and problem solving. I will describe the narrative framework of design collaboration as a series of steps starting with Introduction, a phase in which participants are introduced to the design challenge, the mechanics of the methodology, and each other. Having established bounding assumptions and constraints and worked towards a shared vocabulary, participants then move into the Activation phase. In Activation, volumes of ideas and insights are cataloged for later exploration and analysis through a series of engaging activities. Activation ends with the selection of leading candidate solution elements which are then explored in greater depth during Validation. This phase often includes exercises that demonstrate the solution element over time or in an evolving context to assess its strengths and shortcomings.

As the phases are described, how they map to social interaction and the cycle of continuous learning will be demonstrated and reinforced.

Activities and Goals of the Introduction Phase (60 minutes)

I will define and lead the participants through the practice of all the activities and methods relevant to the Introduction Phase of the collaboration narrative. This will include an overview of the description, goals, facilitation, estimation, stage plot, and observation of the following activities:

· Speed dating: a technique where each participant spends a short, fixed amount of time discussing one or more prepared topics with another participant. At the end of the allotted time, participants change partners and repeat the process.

· Bodystorming: the practice of having participants change their position on a 2-dimensional grid to correspond to their to a question of attitude or behavior. The facilitator can explore the data and ask questions directly to data clusters and outliers.

· Storytelling: participants will learn how to facilitate storytelling to reveal emotions, impressions, and values within discussions of experience.

· Mad-libs: an exercise where participants complete pre-printed cards with their own ideas matching a general description of the missing element. The common structure of the statement makes comparison of responses easy and direct.

· Confessionals: similar to storytelling, participants will learn how to structure confessionals that are evocative and respectful of privacy and anonymity.

Activities and Goals of the Activation Phase (60 minutes)

I will define and lead participants through the practice of all the activities and methods relevant to the Activation Phase of the collaboration narrative. This will include an overview of the description, goals, facilitation, estimation, stage plot, and observation of the following activities:

· Card sorting: participants will learn how to execute card-sorting in a group setting, driving to consensus and eliminating the need for data-intensive analysis.

· Sketching: the facilitator will lead participants through a sketching exercise, demonstrating facilitation techniques that focus on meaning over aesthetics and encourage engagement from all participants.

· Affinity mapping: participants will learn techniques for organizing concepts in real time in both controlled and unstructured vocabularies.

· Divide the dollar: this technique enables comparison of priority across diverse participants. I will demonstrate how to structure a meaningful exercise and how to analyze results.

· Journal writing: in longitudinal design collaboration, various journal writing techniques can be used to enable offline data collection and free-form expression. I will discuss ways to structure the exercise and how to make meaning of various kinds of input.

· Model building: especially useful with expert participants, allowing subjects to directly model solution elements and concepts can lead to deep engagement and mature hypotheses. I will demonstrate and lead participants through several model-building techniques.

Activities and Goals of the Validation Phase (60 minutes)

I will define and lead participants through the practice of all the activities and methods relevant to the Validation Phase of the collaboration narrative. This will include an overview of the description, goals, facilitation, estimation, stage plot, and observation of the following activities:

· Role play exercises: perhaps the most common and evocative of all design collaboration activities, role playing allows the exploration of ideas, personas, and contexts. Using theatrical techniques, I will demonstrate how to execute and improvise for maximum insight,

· Design charades: this exercise allows the act of completion to measure resonance between a hypothesis and the mental model of the participants. I will discuss techniques for creating charades that do not lead participants to the answer and thereby issue a false positive read on validation.

· Storyplotting: using this visoneering technique, I will show participants how to assess the potential for innovation and differentiation in their hypotheses.

Synthesis (30 minutes)

I will review the elements of observation for each activity discussed in the previous sections and illustrate the value and use of the structured notes template. Based upon the use of the notes template, I will demonstrate how collaborative synthesis can quickly process a large number of data elements into actionable insights through affinity mapping, Delphic card-sorting, and storyplotting.

Testing (15 minutes)

I will emphasize the need for additional refinement and validation of candidate solutions using rapid usability and scalability assessments. Techniques for rapid prototyping with paper will be explored.

Reporting (15 minutes)

I will present the format of the two planned deliverables from the design collaboration process, the Observations Report and the Findings and Recommendations. This segment will focus on how to keep the report brief and on-target without sacrificing insight.

Planning (15 minutes)

I will present the planning and estimation template and walk through the process of planning one or more sample design collaboration sessions.

Close (15 minutes)

I will present links and recommendations for additional resources on design collaboration, including case studies and a reading list. I will answer any remaining questions and distribute evaluation forms.