As a design thinking novice, being a part of this project was a deeply inspiring experience – I enjoyed learning from my peers, putting design techniques to practice, and taking advantage of collaboration to enhance our creative and problem solving abilities. Prior to this I had engaged in a fair number of artistic pursuits, but was clueless about how to streamline my creative process and ensure that the end product was in fact serving the needs of those I was designing for – I relied on whatever requirements were initially provided to me, found inspiration from similar projects, and ran with whatever gut instinct I was drawn to. I feel that this brief training in design thinking techniques has already opened up a new world of possibilities for me in becoming a more effective designer, software developer, and student.
Throughout the semester, the most enlightening aspect of the process for me was the empathy phase. I quickly learned how vital it was to ground all of our decision making in empathy and continually refer back to it throughout the entire design cycle, as opposed to following our own intuition. I’d been exposed to the concept of human-centered design, but had no idea how to actually gather research or figure out which questions to ask. Conducting interviews was a challenge, but I feel that I improved on this over the semester as I learned how to shift my focus to understanding the user in a broader context rather than limiting my discussion to questions that were directly related to the end product. As I engaged with people on campus about our project and listened to the findings of others on the team, I felt more in tune with the needs and experiences of our community and this informed my ideas in ways I did not expect.
While I learned the most during the empathy phases, I definitely found the ideating phases to be the most exciting, both in the preliminary introduction to design thinking that I took part in at the beginning of the semester (with Bailey, Claudia, and Jackie) and the ideating sessions with the creative team and the learn group. I was surprised by how the physicality of the post-it method aided in our ability to generate and organize ideas. Letting my mind roam far past the realm of practicality was something I had never tried before, and I really enjoyed how the process of ideating with other people seemed to boost our creative thinking. Although I was at times overwhelmed by the scope of our design problem (fostering a sense of belonging on campus), I feel that having a well-defined method to refer to provided clarity in the creative process that was crucial to maximizing our collective creative potential and developing our final prototype, SmithReACT.
I felt that I was able to contribute most effectively by taking advantage of various resources on campus such as the CMP and Imaging Center in order to collect the materials needed to construct our prototypes. As a less experienced member of the team, at times I lacked the confidence to voice my opinion, however, as the semester progressed I grew more comfortable with creative collaboration in a way that I hadn’t experienced previously during my academic journey. I am excited to bring the design thinking mentality to my future pursuits and see how it expands my creative abilities.