Before IDP 116, I never fully understood the importance of problem framing. From the reading, I have learned that a problem can be framed in infinitely many ways. Depending on who we choose as the user, what we decide the user needs, and what insight we draw from our observations, the problem is framed from different perspectives. Before joining the class, I thought the process started with a problem we needed to solve. Brainstorming activities were designed to discover possible solutions. I now realize how much work goes into the process before arriving at the final, “what is our solution” phase.
In IDP 116, our design group found the subject matter we wanted to address, composting at Smith. Soon after we made this decision, we observed behaviors in the dining halls and interviewed students to put ourselves in their shoes. From our observations and interviews, we narrowed our focus to a single point of view statement, framing who our user was, what they needed, and why we believed they needed it. It was not until the after completing many activities to help us define our point of view and frame our problem that we finally started brainstorming for solutions.
I realize that my misconceptions about the design thinking process came from my first engineering class where we had a final design project. In this class, the teacher “framed” the problem for us, and the main focus of our assignment was to find possible solutions. Interviewing and observing users was only an afterthought. Often times, it was only when we were writing our report that we would need to formally identify the user.
This reminds me of a promotional video I came across when applying for colleges during my senior year of high school. The video was for the engineering program at a local college and summarized a group’s design project. The prototype was for a gumball dispenser design. When interviewed, the students said the product could be for candy, cereal, or even an elderly person’s pills. I found this interview very strange since the uses were so diverse. It seemed as though the team focused too much on a solution, building a better gumball machine, than actually examining and framing a user and a need.
In contrast, I have heard a fair amount about professional design teams rethinking different processes from the ground up. For instance, the success of Airbnb speaks for itself. The idea rethought how people can find lodging. Instead of making an existing hotel better, the creators rethought how the whole process could function, focusing on what the user is looking for. Such success is what can be expected when applying design thinking concepts and specific activities explored in this class.
In general, I really enjoyed the class and appreciated the experience. I especially liked the reading that was due before class. This reading was a good way to familiarize ourselves with design thinking before being thrown into the process itself. I wish there were a scheduled block of time during each day of J-term that could be reserved to work in groups. I found that our group often had after-class conflicts. If we had even just an hour blocked off in advance to work on the project that would have been greatly appreciated. I wonder how further testing would have gone had we been afforded the luxury of time. So often in school, we come up with a single prototype as the final project. I would be really interested to see what more finished models of our designs would look like if we had the time to continue them.
I will take away from IDP 116 the importance of problem framing. I see now how a lack of problem framing can easily result in a prototype that is “cool” but not “useful.” It is with problem framing that innovative, new ideas can arise. As an engineering student, group work, especially involving design projects, is inevitable. I look forward to the opportunity to share the concepts learned in this class with other engineering students to help foster the best possible designing environment.