Saturday, June 25, 2011

Prof. Ulrich Weinberg on Design Thinking

Thanks to Prof. Rajeev and Supriya Dey of IIMB, yesterday I got an opportunity to meet Prof. Weinberg over lunch and subsequently attended his presentation “Design thinking: Looking beyond obvious” at IIMB. Prof. Ulrich Weinberg is the director of the School of Design Thinking at Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany. The school is modeled after D-school of Stanford. According to Prof. Weinberg at HPI D-school you get no credit points, no grades and no certificate worth any official value and yet within four years of its founding it has students from 70 disciplines and 20 nations. Natural question is: What is going on there? And what exactly do these students do that they value learning experience over credits and certificates?

The students participate in 1 hr, 3 hr, 1 day, 3 day, 1 week, 3 week and 6 week workshops / projects which progressively prepares them for the 12 week final project. Every project starts with a cross-functional team of 4 to 6 students and students rotate after every project. With students coming from disciplines as varied as art, history, medicine, engineering, psychology, law, forming a cross-functional team is not a challenge at HPI. The faculty works with industry-Government partners to generate a set of challenges. One such challenge came from DHL: How might we transfer packets from point A to B in the inner cities of future where no cars are allowed? London, Beijing, Mumbai are good candidates. If you feel that the challenge statement is simple looking, mind you it would have taken several days of work for the faculty members to work with DHL to arrive at the crisp looking statement which reflects user needs and pain points.

Out of the 12 weeks, half the time i.e. 6 weeks would be spent in understanding, observing and synthesizing the experience. This means going to the inner cities and observe how things work. Students observe how people walk to bus stops or train stations or cycle. In the DHL project the team was inspired by the workings of Dabbawalas of Mumbai. The most difficult part of this first phase is to switch your solution engine off. This is especially harder for engineers who are so used to solving problems. One of the deliverables is the creation of a detailed persona of the customers whose pain you are addressing. In the DHL case it could be thirty-five year old Chris or a twenty-two years old Sangeeta, a resident of the future city who either works for DHL or partners with DHL in moving the packet forward.

The next phase consists of ideation, prototyping and testing. Since the team has spent enough time in the field, ideation generates hundreds of ideas relevant to the problem. The school has created spaces with movable trolleys and white boards that help these teams in brainstorming. Every day there is a three minute presentation to the rest of the class on your prototype and you get immediate feedback. Weinberg says, “No other feedback can be as powerful as this inputs from your colleagues and faculty”.

The team working on DHL problem came up with an idea of citizen participation in packet delivery. They named it Bring.buddy. It taps all the consumers moving through a city each day, whether via bike, public transport or on foot. Interested participants indicate their travel route for the day using a downloadable smartphone app; a text message then lets them know of any packages needing delivery along the way. When there is such a package, the participant picks it up from the local kiosk where it's waiting and delivers it as they go about their daily business. In exchange for their help, the program rewards them with points that can be redeemed for free train tickets, merchandise coupons or CO2 credits. Check out the YouTube video BringBuddy.

Bring.Buddy created so much buzz in Shanghai trade show and even in Berlin that people started asking DHL when they are implementing it. Finally DHL has decided to pilot it in China along with the student team at HPI. Whether the service reaches market is anybody’s guess. However, can you doubt the learning the students are getting in the process?

If you want to get a glimpse of what design thinking experience might look like, I suggest watching 3-part video of Ideo’s Deep Dive.

No comments:

Post a Comment