What do I do for a living?
I can explain as much as I want, but people understand the Design Thinking approach I take to solving problems when they see it in action rather than when I explain it to them. When given the opportunity to do just that at the first XD Throwdown (XD is for Experience Design), I seized it immediately!
Here is how it was going to go down. REFAB, a St. Louis non-profit organization, has business problems they would like the teams to tackle using a Design Thinking approach. We will be asked to select a problem and solve it in front of a live audience. We will be given 70 minutes to do this, with a 10 minute break in between when we’ll give a quick update on our work. Our process and final solution will be dissected and judged by a panel of 3 judges who will rate our work. But the final decision of picking the winner will lie in the hands of REFAB.
Why did I want to do this?
My reasons evolved over time as the ‘rules of engagement’ were gradually disclosed. Remember, this was the inaugural installment and some details needed to be ironed out.
First thought was that it would be so much fun to bring an audience in with my team and myself on the journey to solving a problem using a human-centered design approach. My vision was we get together in a cozy place and we go through our process and see what comes out. I call my friend Eric DiFate at Enterprise. He was on board. I’m glad he was. I didn’t give him too much details, really. I think I might have made it sound like we were going to hang out and do design stuff. But I needed 2 other team members. Plenty of talent at 1904labs to tap into. Gloria Kim and Rebecca Nathanson volunteered. We had a team!
Here was the deal. If we won, we had to see our solution through with the non-profit we were solving for. I was going in to win. So that meant we had to be clear it was probably something we were going to work on for a few months afterwards. And there was the first rule of the game that started impacting our mindset. Whatever we came up with was going to be ours to flesh out down the road so we had to feel comfortable it would be feasible. That really brought home a base constraint of any solution: you have to be able to implement it otherwise it’s just another idea. But we were still okay with the idea because we would get to do something good for the community and maybe stretch a bit out of our comfort zone. We were just going to get together a small group of people in a cozy place, and do our thing…
So what’s next?
Here I was having recruited 3 talented designers to form a team except not everyone had worked with everyone else! It goes without saying, if we wanted to make the most of this experience, we had to get acquainted with each other. We took our group offsite to Gezellig and cemented our esprit de corps.
Hugues: “I’m not exactly sure what it is all that we’re doing or how to go about it because I’ve never done it, but it’s gonna be awesome! What should we name ourselves?”
Eric: “You always make that stupid dad joke about ‘that’s a no Gouda’…”
Rebecca: “Let’s make it more positive. How about ‘So Gouda, It’s Gouda!”.
That works! Nobody will take us seriously. That will just add to the challenge.
Glo: “So what’s you guys’ background? What did you study? Where did you work?”
“What are your strengths? What do you like doing?”
Now we really started to have a TEAM. Enough that we decided to meet again to talk about our strategy and approach for the Throwdown.
Captain on Deck
So as the captain of the “So Gouda, It’s Gouda” team, part of my job was being the point person to connect with the XD Throwdown organizers through Matt Lynch, our contact person. Matt was great at keeping us in the loop and answering any questions we had. Matt calls me to let me know they had settled the timeline of the event. Doors will open at 6pm. They will do the intro, and get things rolling at 6:30pm. Then we start the Throwdown at 7pm. We’ll have two halves of 35 minutes with a 10 minute break in between to give an update on our work. Okay, thanks, Matt! Wait what? 70 minutes?
A little bit crazy
The idea sounded a bit crazy, to be blunt. 70 minutes? Really?
In my line of business, that’s just a meeting that went a bit long. And while we are productive, we usually don’t come nearly as close as painting a picture of what a solution will look like. And that is exactly what made it so attractive? What exactly can we get done in about an hour? It looked like the tagline “Design as Sport” was going to be totally appropriate.
I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and I knew this was going to be like nothing I’ve done before. It was taken to a whole new level. But I knew I was up for it.
Working with REFAB
I was really thrilled with REFAB as a non-profit because and I appreciate what they do to help preserve its history by salvaging materials from deconstructing buildings, its environment by reducing trips to the landfill, and promoting employment of local people.
I love the city, and I am also eager to do something good for the community. This was a great opportunity to contribute something positive to the City of St. Louis.
There were so many interesting challenges all wrapped up into this seemingly simple competition.
If you are interested in competing in the next #XDThrowdown just contact one of these people on Instagram: Jeff Schnelle, Laura Tromben, Matt Lynch , or Dan Dorsey or email them and they will help you get started.