I spent a few days in Pittsburgh last week at a Human-Centered Design workshop offered by the LUMA Instititue. As I begin my sixth month as the portfolio strategist for Mozilla‘s Hive Learning Network NYC, I find myself looking for effective ways to explain things to others, whether it’s defining what a learning network is (and can be) or explaining what I do and how. A face-to-face refresher in practical ways to illustrate ideas and concepts seemed like a great solution. I am excited to work with a team that understands and supports the need for such a focused deep-dive.
The workshop was concise, well-researched and practical, with a simple—but not simplisitic—approach to its subject matter. The participants were an interesting mix of makers and managers from education, government/politics and healthcare, with a steady stream of interdisciplinary professionals from LUMA Instititue’s commercial-design consultancy coming in and out of the workshop to give feedback and run activities. It was refreshing to see members of LUMA Institute’s administrative and design staff participating in the workshop as well.
Although it depends on the context, in recent years I have often settled on the term “designer” to describe my background of art-making, teaching, and facilitating projects and ideas. But it’s never a title that fits easily. As a result, I’ve become fascinated by how people describe design and the design process. One of the things that attracted me to the people at LUMA was their way of seeing things. Starting with the branding of the sister company MAYA Design. I was drawn to MAYA’s tagline “taming complexity,” and I liked the studied playfulness of the logo.
I was also struck by LUMA’s handy definition of human-centered design: “solutions in the service as people.” The workshop provided a practical guide to problem-solving by grounding the rather well-worn yet still hazy idea of “creating innovation solutions.” Identifying human-centered design as a wide-ranging discipline, LUMA provided a point of entry for both experienced and new designers. Presentations focused on three remixable practices seen as central to the practice of “designing for people”: looking, making and understanding. These demonstrations also invoked a “method sets” concept to provide guideposts through the problem framing, ideation and solution processes.
A typical workshop sequence began with a mini-lecture followed by a hands-on, collaborative activity based on real-life scenarios in business, product development, healthcare etc. During the hands-on portion, participants would explore a specific method set or technique. For example, in a section entitled “Putting People First” we practiced: developing a stakeholder map (Understanding); interviewing users (Looking) and creating a Persona Profile (Making). Individual activities ran about 20-30 minutes, providing just enough time for participants to undergo a specific process, come up with questions, and put together a quick prototype.
Bringing It Home
Focusing on a few discrete practices and how they complement one another for two days was a great reminder of the competing needs to work quickly yet thoroughly. One of the most enduring lessons of the workshop was the importance of making conclusions known and soliciting diverse feedback in order to determine next steps. Since the workshop, I have been working on a Stakeholder’s Map to illustrate the different concerns and priorities of the participants, partners, stewards and funders of Hive Learning Network NYC. Alongside recent blog posts like Hive Learning Network NYC Is Not a Funder, these rudimentary drawings begin the process of articulating our diverse points of view so that we can best focus our efforts. For me, it’s the first step of finding ways to make and represent just some of the things that I have been seeing, hearing and understanding these past months.