Sneakers as a Tool for Learning Design Thinking

Today I’m running a “Sneaker Design Workshop” at the Juneteenth Festival at Southside Community Center. The theme of this year’s festival is “Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship” so I thought I’d bring a little entrepreneurial thinking to the table. In the workshop, we’ll use tools from Design Thinking (DT) to develop a concept and brand for a pair of shoes that carry a message. Think Tom’s Shoes “Buy One Give One” message or, of course, Nike’s “Just Do It.”

Sneakers are great carriers of messages. Just like graffiti on the El Trains in 1970s New York, sneakers are colorful and mobile. They have visibility and are great platforms for communication.

In this workshop we’ll use the five phases of Design Thinking to approach the project and then iterate. The five phases are: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. I’ll flesh out the specifics below.

EMPATHIZE: Most often DT asks us to empathize with consumers. But there are other stakeholders to consider when trying to develop a great idea. For this challenge, I want the designers to identify a person or people that they wish to help. This desire to help becomes the cause of the brand. Like above with Tom’s Shoes, Tom’s aims to help people who can’t afford shoes with their BOGO business model. Furthermore, the aesthetic of Tom’s Shoes expresses humility and simplicity which are values in line with the cause.

DEFINE: Once the designers have identified a cause, they need to define the problem. Design Thinking problems always start with “How might we…” So their design problems will look something like this: “How might we create a sneaker brand that promotes ______ cause?”

IDEATE: Here’s the fun part. Once the designers define the problem, they need to engage in “out of the box” thinking to discover resonant solutions. What does a sneaker that promotes X cause look like? What does it smell like? What does it taste like? How does it make the wearer of the shoe feel?

PROTOTYPE: You might think that a prototype would be a model of the actual sneaker. But in Design Thinking, we’re focused not only on creating great products but on creating great experiences. So we start with drawing storyboards. In the storybaord we explore quesitons like: How does a person hear about this sneaker brand? What do they do once they hear about it? How does the person feel once they are wearing the shoes? How are they now connected to the cause?

TEST: In our first test, we aren’t only validating our ideas but discovering its weak points. How do we do this? We share our storyboards and listen for feedback. Some feedback is prescriptive “You should do this or that,” while other feedback is descriptive “Something about this part doesn’t sit well with me.” It’s the designer’s job to elicit feedback, listen carefully, then interpret that feedback and go back to the drawing board for revisions or consider changes in direction (called “pivots”).

ITERATION: This isn’t a phase of Design Thinking but rather a mode that underlies the entire process. At anytime we might get feedback either from our own eyes when building a prototype or from our team or from potential users that causes us to make revisions. Being able to listen to feedback and revise is what separates amateur designers from the pros.

In the sneaker workshop, we’ll revise our storyboard and then design a profile of the actual shoe using brightly colored card stock. If we had all day, we’d prototype and test a few rounds. But today we’ll only do it once or twice, then present our ideas in short 1-2 minute pitches. I can’t wait.

related:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/design-thinking-opportunity-problem-solving-suzie-boss

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