New York, 2013. Sketching on windows gives you new perspective. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
New York, 2013. Sketching on windows gives you new perspective. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

This post is a sequel for my last one that dealt with teamwork – one of the most important tools in design. I briefly introduced our team’s working habits here at the UNICEF Innovation Unit in New York. Now, I will discuss simple design tools that have a much bigger impact than we might first think.

Simple tools, major effect

In addition to two assigned rooms, we sit in an open space where we can choose our working spots daily. Everywhere you go there are sticky notes, sketches, white boards, plans, graphics, process charts, hand-drawn calendars, pictures, you name it.

Though it sounds like a no-brainer, I want to emphasize the importance and effectiveness of tools that we use every day. Designers love tools like those mentioned above because they are great at illustrating the relationships between information, communicating with colleagues, organizing info, clarifying ideas, etc.

New York, 2013. White board and sticky notes - two of designer's best friends. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
New York, 2013. White board and sticky notes – two of designer’s best friends. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Chris (Fabian, Innovation Unit Co-Lead) always emphasizes the importance of visualization in communicating ideas, so we draw and write on white boards, sketch books, even windows, etc. Even though I try to be greener by relying mainly on electronic, I have recognized the effectiveness of the traditional pen and paper method. Sometimes it is simply faster and easier to sketch something on paper to visualize and express your idea.

Sticky Jots for those who heart stickies

For a short time I had the honor of working with Rachelle (Rae) Milne, an interaction designer who was part of our team over the summer. One day I saw her using special sticky notes when planning a video with Mini (our Design Lead whose favorite tools I will introduce a bit later).

Rae recently launched Sticky Jots, a line of paper prototyping tools and storytelling stickies that encourage conversation through sketching and sharing ideas. They are ideal for designing process steps such as storyboarding videos or mapping out how your target audience might engage with what you are designing. “Sticky Jots was great for storyboarding ideas at UNICEF,” says Rae.

New York, 2013. Storyboarding stickies action by Rae and Mini, brainstorming a video for UNICEF Innovation Unit. Photo credit: Rachelle Milne
New York, 2013. Storyboarding stickies action by Rae and Mini, brainstorming a video for UNICEF Innovation Unit. Photo credit: Rachelle Milne

Don’t rely on your memory – make notes, notes, and notes

I’m only a beginner in design, but I’ve realized that writing down every idea, thought, or quote is very helpful, since our memory capacity is indeed restricted. I also try taking pictures of interesting things, people, and behavior that give me ideas or that I think are cool. Again, visual things can be very inspiring and thought provoking. So: make notes, write down quotes and references, draw, take pictures and save little things for later.

Get out of the office

While studying and working full time over the past three years, I have realized how important and inspirational it is to get out of the office and seek ideas from new working environments and contexts. Thus, my advice for you is to attend different events, workshops, go virtual, or enroll in a class about something totally new for you. Get out there and seek for inspiration and ideas through observation and multidisciplinary interaction.

In October our team got out of the office to visit Brooklyn Research, a cool R&D lab we are looking to collaborate with on several projects. The lab is a co-research space for building new technologies, prototyping, and software development among other services. The people at Brooklyn Research showed us around and introduced us to some of their current projects such as RePlayables, games for kids that have no predefined rules and “can be played and replayed with new variation that each player or group of players brings through experimentation and modification”. RePlayables aims to build “core abstract concepts that can be applied to real world problem solving later in life”. (Source: RePlayables)

Brooklyn, NY, 2013. RePlayables. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
Brooklyn, NY, 2013. RePlayables. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Anything and everything can be a design tool

RePlayables reminded me of a course that I took two years ago on design thinking. During one class we used Lego blocks to ideate on service delivery. At that time it seemed silly to me and my peers but since the course ended, I have started to realize the importance of utilizing tools outside your normal working environment that have the potential to evoke ideas beyond your traditional thinking patterns.

Whether it is Lego blocks that revive childhood imagination, cutting pictures and words from a magazine to create story boards, or just simply getting out of the office, we should take off our blinders and use whatever helps us to approach things differently and create new ideas. Only your imagination is the limit.

Virtual work will be the theme of my next blog post that will be up in a few days. It is a subject that cannot be emphasized enough in today’s working environments.

Erika Pursiainen
UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
epursiainen(at)unicef.org

This post has been prepared for the writer’s school blog http://sidlaurea.com/.

See also my other posts:

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 1/5

Innovation versus an intern’s comfort zone

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