Anyone can be a designer with the right mindset. Source: http://vhirsch.com/blog/2010/06/14/people-centric-design-rules/
Anyone can be a designer with the right mindset. Source: http://vhirsch.com/blog/2010/06/14/people-centric-design-rules/

Multidisciplinary teamwork, simple but effective tools, virtual work, visualization, prototyping, design thinking… There are tons of different tools designers can use in their work.

This is my final blog post about the designer tools our innovation team uses in our everyday work here at the UNICEF Headquarters in New York. This time I’ll introduce two projects relating to Design Thinking and discuss how this discipline has helped us to approach things from new angles and to perceive projects from the user’s perspective. Designing with the user is possibly the most crucial part of design and prerequisite for successful solutions.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our way of working and that my posts have provided you with inspiration for your own work.

Global Design for UNICEF Challenge encourages students to design solutions that fit the problem context. 5 Why's is one of the Design Thinking tools used in the competition curriculum. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ
Global Design for UNICEF Challenge encourages students to design solutions that fit the problem context. 5 Why’s is one of the Design Thinking tools included in the competition curriculum. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

Design Thinking helps students approaching difficult challenges

Norah Maki, our Project Assistant, is also an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) candidate in the Design for Social Innovation Program at School of Visual Arts. Because of her background she pursues design thinking in her work.

Her main project is the Global Design for UNICEF Challenge, an academic partnership and design competition that engages students in coming up with creative solutions for pressing development problems. This year the Challenge is being scaled to include new universities outside The US, beyond The City University of New York (CUNY) that has served as the flagship partner for the competition.

In the process of moving towards the global Challenge, Norah has developed the competition curriculum and provided the students with more design thinking tools. This enables them to approach the challenges from the user’s perspective and to design feasible solutions that fit the problem context. The competition process now includes the following tools to encourage creative thinking from students and help them accomplish all competition checkpoints: User Journey, 5 Why’s, Stakeholder Mapping, co-creation, and consultation with experts. The winners will have the chance to go to the field to test their prototypes and do some actual co-creation with the users: the children!

Tile game pushes people to think beyond current frameworks

In my latest blog post I mentioned different prototypes we have around the office. There is also a prototype of a game on one of the bookshelves.

As a side project, Norah is developing a game for our country office staff to create new kind of conversation and to enhance co-operation between different projects. She describes the game as “a tile game that leverages the physical capacity of moveable game pieces and the structure of game rules to shape new conversations and collaborations in country offices. These elements push people to think beyond current frameworks and offer new strategies for evaluation problems and solutions”.

Testing playing the tile game. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ
Test playing the tile game. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

Players compete as different stakeholders for resources, opportunities, and partnerships. The game brings together UNICEF country office staff from different projects, and the mobility of the tiles allows for a dynamic debate about differing perspectives on relationships, resources, and approaches, that occurs as a strong visual corollary for the work that is happening on the ground. By opening up the system to be seen from new angles, the game enables staff to discover new points of intervention and opportunities for collaboration.

Let there be no limits for design

The tools I’ve described in this series of posts represent just a fraction of different methods and tools out there – just a taste of what we use ourselves. My initial idea was not to summarize different design tools (which would be an impossible task) but to show you some of the tools and methods we find useful.

Design basically touches everything, which makes it a huge field. Imagination only widens it – so let there be no limits. Use whatever tools you feel fit your project best and create some of your own. Even though reading about this topic helps us to understand it better, don’t let textbooks limit your design.

Albert was a wise man. Source: http://www.wallwritten.com/catalog/uplifting-and-inspirational/imagination-will-take-you-everywhere-staggered-version-2455.html
Albert was a wise man. Source: http://www.wallwritten.com/catalog/uplifting-and-inspirational/imagination-will-take-you-everywhere-staggered-version-2455.html

What I have realized is that design can be, and should be fun. Even though the subjects we tackle every day are serious, it is worthwhile to be ready to go a little crazy (and use humor on the side) and open up your mind to outrageous solutions that can be adjusted to workable real life solutions. Don’t let the reality restrict your ideation – you just need a little bit of imagination and you, too, can be a designer. You can only do so much with your hands, but what you can do with your imagination is where the magic lies.

I would love to hear what tools you use in design, please share your jewels and let’s discuss!

Erika Pursiainen
Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

See our principles for Innovation and Technology in Development one of which is designing with the user – a crucial part of design and successful solutions.

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

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See also my other posts:

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 4/5

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 3/5

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 2/5

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

Innovation versus an intern’s comfort zone

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