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Designing With The U School Staff

This past week I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing U School staff. They have been spending the past month in intensive professional development sessions, while simultaneously building an entire, design-based high school from scratch. Their dedication and passion for young people is beyond inspiring!

During our time together we focused on creating the curriculum for the Innovation Labs. A U School student spends 85 minutes of their day in one of the three Labs: Build, Highlight, and Organize. Each student experiences each Lab for roughly 40 days, and will go through all three by year's end. The Labs aim to teach a variety of skills, from making physical objects to media literacy to community organizing. In addition, the Labs lead the students through an iterative Design Process, exposing them to aspects of Design Thinking (what I like to refer to as the "Three M's": mindsets, methods, and materials).

The U School Staff working on "portraits" of current, incoming U School freshman and future U School graduates.

The U School Staff working on "portraits" of current, incoming U School freshman and future U School graduates.

Brainstorming ideas for teaching different steps of the design process in the Organize Lab.

Brainstorming ideas for teaching different steps of the design process in the Organize Lab.

We spent the first day building a shared understanding of what we were designing (the curriculum) and who we were designing for (the students). Our process focused on externalizing/making visible the research and individual work (related to the Innovation Labs) that had happened up until this point.

Once we felt that we were all on the same page, we split up into small groups to begin brainstorming ideas around the outcomes and outputs for each of the Labs. We tested different brainstorming methods like Action Storming (a technique derived from the KJ Method) and a form of "forced provocation" with the Fast Idea Generator tool to help stretch our 'out of the box' thinking. This also helped the staff learn about different design methods and tools they could use with their own students. This is an example of the "meta" experience the U School Staff had during our design week–they were both learning about Design Thinking and the Design Process, and planning how to teach it (quite a feat!).

Between the three Labs and the six steps we denoted for the U School Design Process, the Staff had many different "units" to consider as they fleshed out the curriculum. To help stay organized we created the grid you see in the image below. We posted this grid on the wall in our workspace and referred to it often throughout the week. 

The first version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

The first version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

I intentionally built the grid out of low-fidelity, removable materials (painter's tape, masking tape, and stickies) to encourage revisions as we learned what worked and what didn't work. We used it for iterating how the work groups were structured, the flow of our work process, and how the content being taught and assessed was delineated across the three Labs. The image below shows the final form of the grid taken on our last day of the design week.

After many iterations, the final version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

After many iterations, the final version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

The week ended with feelings of exhaustion, accomplishment, pride, and I bet some stress around what still needs to be fleshed out before the school year begins on September 8th. But, after designing with them for a week, I know there is no one better cut-out for the job than the people that make up the U School Staff. I am very excited to see all of their planning and designing be put to the ultimate test with the end users–the students!

More updates to come as the school year kicks off in early September... 

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Wrapping up the FastFWD Project

The FastFWD accelerate program has finished and we have been able to step back and take the time to reflect on our experience. We chose to use the After Action Review method to structure our post-mortem meeting. This helped us to de-brief on what we expected to happen, what actually happened, what worked well, and what can be improved going forward.

Davis and Christa meeting with Legal Science Partners

Davis and Christa meeting with Legal Science Partners

Here are some of the points from our review...

What we expected to happen:

  • Our planning/framework would set-up design's role clearly, and allow Entrepreneurs to easily understand how design could be valuable to them during the FastFWD program
  • The design students, MBA students, and Entrepreneurs would all work closely together
  • The Entrepreneurs would want "free" design assistance
  • User research and user testing would be “top of mind” for the Entrepreneurs

What actually happened:

  • Initially we struggled to set clear expectations with the Entrepreneurs and the design students, and to communicate the role of design in FastFWD; however, in the end we got there whether everyone realized it or not
  • The design students and MBA students were disconnected and did not collaborate
  • Some Entrepreneurs were not interested in receiving design support, while others welcomed it
  • Entrepreneurs were less focused on design research/testing and more interested in getting graphic and product design assistance

What worked well:

  • We learned early on that a “one size fits all” approach didn’t work, so we re-calibrated to more personalized engagement

  • Inviting professional Designers/design firms (i.e. Think Brownstone, Andculture, Think Primed) to lead talks and workshops

  • Design students with a product design and/or graphic design skill set were able to meet the Entrepreneurs' desires, which helped to build trust and ultimately lead to doing more meaningful design research activities

What can be improved:

  • More integration of the design and business curriculums

  • Conduct a stronger assessment of the Entrepreneurs' design needs at the beginning of the program
  • Focus on match-making between the design students and the Entrepreneurs at the beginning of the program to align level of interest, Entrepreneur's design needs, and skill sets

From the After Action Review, we extracted what we felt were the most critical points for the next iteration and created a list of recommendations...

When it comes to recruiting design students, we recommend:

  • Identifying design students who have existing knowledge and interest in basic business concepts and social entrepreneurship

  • Finding enough design students to allow for a ratio of one design student to one Entrepreneur

  • Setting the relationship up as an internship or independent study structure versus a class project

When it comes to on-boarding Entrepreneurs and design students, we recommend:

  • Stronger assessment of Entrepreneurs’ design needs

  • Match-making at beginning between design students and Entrepreneurs–for level or interest, specific design needs, and Designer skill set

When it comes to the Entrepreneur–Student teams, we recommend:

  • Building a stronger relationship between the Entrepreneurs and their assigned business and design students

When it comes to framing the design output, we recommend:

  • Setting a clearly defined, tangible goal that is the same for every start-up company (i.e. the City pilot proposal document and presentation)

  • Emphasizing user research by assigning deliverables such as: personas developed from interviews, testing results from live usability testing sessions, etc.

When it comes to the design program structure, we recommend:

  • Integrating the design professionals (i.e. Think Brownstone, Andculture, Think Primed) beyond just a one-time talk/workshop

  • Assigning a dedicated City staff member to manage meaningful engagements with community members and other stakeholders relevant to the Entrepreneurs’ needs.

  • Build in presentation of design work throughout (either in slide format, or physically hung in the space) to demonstrate value and encourage interest from the Entrepreneurs who were initially more skeptical of design

When it comes to the physical workspace, we recommend:

  • Finding a physical space that allows each team to have a dedicated space where they can externalize/make visible their work (i.e. hang photos, graphics, research, etc. on the wall) for the duration of the program

Entrepreneurs getting to know each other

Entrepreneurs getting to know each other

Our role with University of the Arts and the involvement with the FastFWD project was a very valuable learning experience. We enjoyed working with all of the partners: GoodCompany, The City of Philadelphia, Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the Impact Hub, and of course, the FastFWD Entrepreneurs. For the University of the Arts, one fundamental learning was that the schedule and time commitment of the FastFWD program does not align well with the higher education school schedule. Because of this, the University of the Arts and EBEE will not be continuing in the same capacity with the FastFWD Fall 2014 cohort. We have passed our recommendations on to GoodCompany to implement and wish all the best to not only the first cohort of Entrepreneurs, but to all the Entrepreneurs who are tackling wicked social and civic challenges around the world! 

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Storytelling Strategies for Start-up's with @Andculture

The culminating moment in the FastFWD program is an event where the Entrepreneurs each deliver an eight-minute pitch presentation to a room of impact and angel investors. To prepare for this event, we invited Andculture, an experience design firm located in Harrisburg, PA, to talk about crafting business stories.

Justin (left) and Dominic (right) from Andculture talking about their work

Justin (left) and Dominic (right) from Andculture talking about their work

Throughout the accelerator the Entrepreneurs experience a deconstruction of their business model–examining and refining each part separately. Beginning in Week 9 (of 12 total weeks) they are ready to put it back together and build the new "story" of what they have to offer. This "story" is not singular, rather it is used to represent the various ways a start-up explains their business model to different audiences. One of those stories is the eight-minute investor pitch, and the tight timeframe makes it one of the more difficult ones to tell (also because there is a lot riding on it–investment money!). It requires the Entrepreneur to have a strong understanding of their audiences' needs/desires/interests and to deliver a message that resonates with them.

Dominic from Andculture explaining the first strategy

Dominic from Andculture explaining the first strategy

Dominic and Justin began their talk by sharing 10 key strategies for crafting stories. The points they covered are listed below, and the full presentation can be viewed on Slideshare.

Andculture's 10 Storytelling Strategies for Start-up's

  1. Use analogy and metaphor
  2. Ask "so what?"
  3. Make it real
  4. Use your audience's language
  5. Provide context
  6. Consider your constraints
  7. Be mindful of expectations
  8. Have intent: stories can accomplish a lot of things
  9. Know your audience
  10. Tailor your story
Sharath from Village Defense (one of the FastFWD Entrepreneurs) working with Evan from Andculture

Sharath from Village Defense (one of the FastFWD Entrepreneurs) working with Evan from Andculture

Following their talk, Dominic and Justin led the FastFWD Entrepreneurs through a tightly timed activity to begin understanding their potential audiences and how they might tell their story to them.

Dominic and Justin first instructed all of the groups to divide their large paper into three columns–people, wishes, and responses. Then, they had the Entrepreneurs rapidly write out all of the possible audiences (people) they might be talking with–one per sticky note. Next, the Entrepreneurs prioritized the audiences by importance and chose the top three. In the following task, they outlined the perceived needs/desires (wishes) of each of their top three audiences. Lastly, Dominic and Justin encouraged the groups to consider the points they had covered earlier in their talk and to begin listing "responses" to each of the top three audiences' wishes. In the end, the Entrepreneurs left with three story outlines ready to refine, as well as a tangible method to replicate whenever they needed to re-frame their stories for new audiences.

A big thanks to Andculture for delivering such an informative talk and valuable work session!

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Conducting and Analyzing Stakeholder Interviews

I (Kelly) am finally recovering after a couple weeks battling pneumonia, and breaking the drought of blog posts! Prior to getting sick I attended a workshop about conducting stakeholder interviews, and analyzing and visualizing the data gathered. The workshop was delivered by Johann W. Sarmiento-Klapper, Ph.D., an Internal, User Experience & Strategic Consultant at SAP. 

Workshop participants

Workshop participants

Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper began the workshop with a quote that described his way of thinking and the context for our discussions: "What I am going to argue is that the critical mind, if it is to renew itself and be relevant again, [needs] to be found in the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude, but [the type of] realism [I would like to propose is one] that [is able to deal] with what I will call matters of concern, not matters of fact...A matter of concern is what happens to a matter of fact when you add to it its whole scenography, much like you would do by shifting your attention from the stage [of a play] to the whole machinery of the theater." He referred to usability testing as the method for discovering/testing "matters of fact" and user experience research as the method for discovering/testing "matters of concern."

"Spur-of-the-moment" info visualizations following our interviewing activity.

"Spur-of-the-moment" info visualizations following our interviewing activity.

Throughout the workshop Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper talked mostly of the methods and tools used in user experience research. He covered foundational topics like: which types of design research questions are a good fit for interview, and how to visualize findings in a clear and compelling way. He spoke about how qualitative data, such as the kind that you can collect via user experience interviews or direct observation, is usually quite rich, detailed, and full of the authentic and interconnected representations (and some traps) that we all use to communicate meaning and context. Analyzing such data and presenting the insights derived from such analysis can be daunting but also fascinating, and the process of information visualization, part science part art, can play a very crucial role in helping us both analyze data and communicate insights/results. We only had time to cover basic 2-D formats during the workshop, but Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper recommended exploring one of the most exciting topics in the field of information visualization today: how to present data and insights in an interactive/dynamic way.

Here are some of the data visualization resources he recommended:

Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper presenting his infographic work.

Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper presenting his infographic work.

About Johann W. Sarmiento-Klapper, Ph.D.

Dr. Sarmiento-Klapper is an Internal, User Experience & Strategic Consultant at SAP in Philadelphia, PA. He designs and executes internal strategic and user experience consulting engagements at SAP in order to understand, create and improve processes, technology tools, and other resources related to the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction of all SAP employees. A key focus of his work is around Knowledge Management or Knowledge Enablement, including the way we all access and use information, find and participate in learning/training opportunities and connect and collaborate with people at SAP.

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