The Blend Podcast EP005 – Design Thinking

Tom Payani  00:28

Today we’re going to talk about how to make yourself more creative and structures, and certain methodologies we can use to help help encourage that creative aspect of your brain.

Brendan Cox  00:47

Up until the last sort of century, creativity was always seen as this sort of ethereal muse inspiration or thing from the gods where some people were creative, some people weren’t. You’re either born it or you weren’t. And actually, there’s a lot of things that can you can do, and anybody can be creative. So yeah, so we can chat about that.

Tom Payani  01:09

Speaking from a very personal point of view, when different sort of models have helped me structure certain processes. And I’ve haven’t had to worry about frameworks, and I haven’t just had a blank canvas just staring back at me, I found it much easier to sort of click that creative part of my brain and really come up with some interesting ideas. 

A lot of people, they feel sort of overwhelmed or paralysed at the beginning of the creative process, they don’t know where to start,  they don’t know what step one is. And we’re gonna talk about things like design thinking and the ADDIE model and stuff like that. But there’s, there’s multiple models, loads of models out there. But these things, I think, have a fantastic way at just doing the grunt work for you, so to speak.

So you can just use your creative part of the brain and worry about coming up with loads of interesting ideas, and giving you that structure to do that as effectively as possible.

Brendan Cox  02:11

It doesn’t really matter what model you use, and they’ve all got their pros and cons. And I think the thing is, is having a framework is what helps you actually be creative. It’s like that thing of, if you go to the gym, and you don’t even know how to use the machines, and you don’t know what any of the exercises are, you’ve got no written out regime to do, it’s really tricky to get started and get a flow. 

It’s like if you’re trying to build a house, and on one side, you’ve got Lego, and instructions. And the other side, you’ve just got a load of lumps of playdo, it’s suddenly a lot. If you’ve got no structure to it, it’s really, really difficult. If you’ve got instructions, if you’ve got building blocks that you can work with, suddenly everyone’s got the propensity to be be creative.

Tom Payani  02:56

Yeah, and then coming back to your gym analogy, I think taking it even a step further. I don’t think it’s if you don’t know how to use the machines or not, I think even if you do know how to use the machines, it still doesn’t matter. Because you need to know, okay, this day of the week, I’m going to train this muscle, or I’m going to do shape this amount of sets and this amount of reps. So you need that extra level of structure, ironically, to help you be more creative.

Brendan Cox  03:24

Yeah, yeah, totally. I think there’s, there’s some really good examples of say, for example, someone like Ridley Scott, or James Cameron, who build in…they basically are engineers. So they draw and design every little thing that goes into all their movies. 

And because they structure and plan it all out, so much in advance, that it gives them the freedom to when they’re actually filming be quite relaxed, and they can get into the process and enjoy it. But there actually is because they’ve built that framework beforehand, as opposed to people that go well, we’re winging on the day, you turn up and it’s all panic, and they’re not sure if they’ve got the right bits and the creative, the there isn’t the freedom to be creative, because the structure is not there. Suddenly, you’re worrying about how you’re doing it, not why you’re doing it.

Tom Payani  04:13

Absolutely. There is a sort of model or process. I’m not sure how you’d want to define design thinking, but I’ll let you sort of introduce that.

Brendan Cox  04:24

Yeah, so basically, design thinking was pretty much started in the 1950s, by John Arnold. And basically, he wrote about it from an engineering perspective. It’s more of a scientific approach, sort of like a structured organised way to creatively solve problems. 

And at the time, it was just within engineering and that side of it. And then in the 90s, basically, David Kelly created a company called IDEO, which was a design consultancy made up of a couple of different companies. And basically what they did was they took this very engineering approach to solving a problem and adapted it for business. And from that point it started to take off because it was basically a structured framework that you could solve problems quickly. 

It was almost like building blocks that you could solve different types of problems using different techniques. And so they basically they got to a point where they defined it as five stages. So you’ve got empathise, so you’re getting into the heads of your users, or the person that the problems for, which is where you might hear the phrase human centred design. And basically, the idea is is focusing on who’s going to be using this thing, whose problem are you solving. 

So the first one first stage is empathise, the second stage is defining that user’s needs, their problems, and the information that you’ve got an insight about – basically just coming up with solutions. And so you take what already exists, and you start piecing together different parts of it, to create an idea and come up with a solution. 

Then basically, you prototype it. So you test it, and then you basically analyse what’s been tested, and you come up with a finished thing. The advantage of this is that you can actually add an extra stage where you iterate on it. So you take what you’ve discovered from prototyping and testing it and take it back way round into the process again, you then redefine it, you can come up with a better solution, prototype it and then you test it. 

Something like that means that you can do a constant feedback loop of improvement. And that’s something we’ve actually been doing as a duo while we were doing building Blend. So we would kind of find out a way to quickly test everything based on discussions with our clients, show them what we’ve done, get their feedback, iterate it, build it again, show them again. And that way we can sort of move forward through the building blocks quickly.

Tom Payani  06:50

It’s our sort of variation of the ADDIE model, because as much as the ADDIE model is popular for a reason, because it’s a pretty solid framework, it’s a bit too linear at times, isn’t it? And for us, the problem with the ADDIE model is you have to complete the previous step to go to the next step. 

Like I said, the ADDIE model is like a linear process. But what we try and do at blend is we we try and get that MVP, you know that that prototype as quickly as possible and iterate as we design.

Brendan Cox  07:22

The design thinking approach to it empathise, define a prototype and test, there’s this big thing like Elon Musk says, and in fact, loads of other people is that you want  to test as rapidly as possible, and iterate as fast as possible. I mean, Mother Nature is like the ultimate designer, because she’s constantly creating things, and constantly testing them, and basically means that animals ideate, and then basically iterate through evolution. 

So the faster you can prototype, the faster you can test, you can break it down to everything to the point of like, okay, let’s prototype five different ways of writing this email. And then you quickly do it, you see which one you feel better feel is best, and then bang, you’ve done it. And you can go down to the micro scale on that. Or you can expand it all the way up to a whole project and test the whole thing. But what we found is actually, the faster you prototype, and the more you dig in and quickly iterate, it can be used for the entire stage in all the stages. 

Tom Payani  08:27

That’s what I was getting at before because with the ADDIE model, you do your analysis at the beginning, your needs analysis, your learner analysis, all of that sort of stuff. And you design it, then obviously, develop, you actually build the project, and you implement it, on a learning management system or whatever, on whatever platform you’re using it on and then you evaluate. 

The problem if you follow the ADDIE model too strictly is you need those evaluation stages throughout the process, even during the design and the development.

Brendan Cox  08:56

As an animator from my background in motion design and things like that, there is always assumptions made every level between everybody. And so if you’ve got a client comes to you, and they say, right, okay, this is what I want. This is the brief. You go great, I’ve got you, I’m going to go make it. 

So what you do is you go off and you make a load of animation, and you give it back to them. And they’re like, well, that’s not what I was thinking. Because the things that you’ve connected in your brain to solve the problem are not necessarily the same thing, the users, that your clients connected. 

So what you do is you add in an element of design thinking. Based on your brief, I’ve written a script. Then from that script, we agree, we basically prototype and test it is write the script, we discuss it, test it on the client, they go, yeah, great. That’s exactly what I was thinking. 

You then basically build a shot list. So you write down what you want to happen at each point in that script. You ask him, you test it, they say yes. Then you do storyboarding. You show them visually what look like and how it flow, then you style frame it, where you actually draw it out as a finished thing. So they can see the look of it, the actual finished look of it, and they sign off on that. 

Then you build an animatic, where you animate it, and they get a feel for how it moves. And then you can basically start building the final thing, and then by the time they get the good thing with this is that you never assume anything, you don’t have any nasty surprises, there’s not this sort of, okay, give me the money, I’ll go off and make it and then there’s a big reveal, it’s literally there with you the whole way along. 

The good thing is by using design thinking you can really engage your user and your actual client at the same time. So they’re all at you all aligned the whole way along.

Tom Payani  10:38

When you’re explaining all this it is making me think where we’ve got a massive advantage, you know, where it’s just the two of us, we don’t have a big team, we’re not a massive agency. So we have much more flexibility and fluidity in terms to change quite quickly, manoeuvre a project quite quickly if we need to.

Brendan Cox  11:01

We can do that, because we’ve known each other for 20 years, or whatever. And so  there’s a rapport between us as well, that means that we can bounce stuff back and forth. And I know what you mean by this. And you know what I mean by that, but what’s nice is that when we’re using the design thinking stuff, we we bridge the gaps between each stage of the process, and we use tools that are really visual, to actually work stuff out at each stage, that clients can follow along as well. 

And they feel like they’re part of the process. And then everyone is always aligned with it. And the nice thing is that they can see each step of the journey, and it never goes too far off course, it can always be course corrected easily without being expensive or going in the wrong direction.

Tom Payani  11:50

Well, that’s it, you hear these  nightmare stories of a client asking for a certain project and having a certain brief that they’ve given to  the design team or the studio or agency or whatever. And they come back with this finished project. And it’s a disaster for the client, because it’s not what they meant at all, because they didn’t have those iteration stages embedded in the process.

Brendan Cox  12:14

Yeah, I think that’s the thing is that you have to manage expectations as well – it doesn’t lead to misunderstanding. And to be honest, this is a good way of communicating all the way through each step of it.

Tom Payani  12:26

There’s transparency, isn’t it?

Brendan Cox  12:28

When you’re trying to solve a problem for someone, and you go in with a solution already planned out, because it is the thing that all of us creative people have, which is that basically, as soon as someone says something, you come up with an idea. And there’s an assumption built into that that like your idea is actually like what you’re going to tell them. 

So when you tell them something off the bat, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s actually what they need so you have to dig in, so you use the empathising part to help them understand what their actual goal is. Because quite often, say, for example, someone goes, Oh, I need a new website. And you’re like, Okay, why do you need a new website? And then I say, Well, no, I’m not selling very much. Okay, well, how do you normally get work? There are whole food recommendations from our existing clients. 

Then you’re saying, well, okay, so what’s a way that we could strengthen that relationship with your existing clients and get the word out to more people and encourage that side of it? Do you think that would be stronger than say, just building a new website, which would essentially be a lot longer?

Tom Payani  13:34

In the analysis phase, it’s so important, isn’t it? Even before you’ve you started designing anything to question the client’s assumptions, because they could be looking in the wrong place for a solution before you’ve even started?

Brendan Cox  13:47

Yeah, and there’s a whole other podcast we can do on how to do that. But the key is, is that basically, pretty much any problem you should always avoid making assumptions is ask why? So the core of it ask why until you can’t really go any deeper. And you’ll often find out what the core issue is and the core problem and then you can start focusing in on it.

Tom Payani  14:12

If in doubt, always act like an annoying six year old who’s just like why but why but why, you know until you sort of head explodes and you just gets a bit too like too deep level of consciousness to understand what’s going on.

Brendan Cox  14:28

Yeah, until you hit bedrock basically. Yeah, you do your best. You just keep digging in until you you know you’ll feel it when you when you’ve asked enough questions. And you can always tell when you’ve not asked enough because it will feel really ambiguous and you’ll start to kind of question whether or not you should show them yet and things like that.

Tom Payani  14:50

Whether or not you exist, your plane of existence.

Brendan Cox  14:54

Yeah, everything everything becomes 2d and loses colour.

Tom Payani  15:04

Yeah, so you’ve told us about the stages of design thinking. So how has it helped you personally?

Brendan Cox  15:13

I’m easily distracted, as everyone knows..a lot of people basically find it difficult to operate with complete freedom, especially on problem solving and creative things. Because the thing is, when you’ve not got signposts, and you’ve not got a structure to it, it’s almost like the your entire world is your oyster and you get analysis paralysis, you basically just like, I’m spoilt for choice, I don’t know what direction to take this in. 

That often comes from basically starting to fall down the process. So it’s like, right, I’m gonna go off and make something now. I don’t know. But what the hell do I make? What you need to do is signpost it for yourself. So you almost write a brief at each stage. So it’s really helped me because even on really big problems, or really big projects, where it feels almost overwhelmingly complicated, you can break down everything into little bits. So it’s a bit like Lego.

So you’re not trying to build Hogwarts out of Lego all in one go. What you’re doing is you’re using design thinking approach to basically build one little component. Once that’s done, you kind of step back from it, and you go, okay, what’s the next component and you build that and bit by bit, you build up a solution out of all these pieces, and you can handle massive, massive problems, if you just break it down. 

So that’s really helped me because it means that we can basically do all sorts of stuff really, really quickly, because we’re not slowed down worrying about the overall thing, what we’re doing is, once we’ve defined it, we just dig in, and dig in and ask ourselves, why break it down into the smallest component. And I can just focus and that whole thing of getting into flow state, I can do that. So it really, really helps me in terms of like giving me focus on one thing at a time.

Tom Payani  17:03

And obviously, since you’ve been using design thinking principles for a long time, and since I’ve started working with you on blend, and starting to understand these concepts more, one thing that I really like about it is a lot of the activities, a lot of the tasks you do during design thinking workshops, and tasks is it’s just about generating as much ideas as possible, brain dumping whatever’s in your head, just to kick off that creative process within the templates they’ve given you. 

I like the fact that you can’t really fail. It’s just about getting any everything down there. It doesn’t matter how silly or irrelevant, it seems. And you just get all your ideas that and I think for a lot of people, this is a big problem in general, people think an idea sounds stupid, or they think well, that’s irrelevant. What’s the point in saying that, but it’s this concept of like, you know, ideas lead to other ideas. And you’re not going to get the big idea straightaway. 

Maybe you need to put a few silly ideas down to lead you on the right path to something that’s more effective. And I think design thinking is really useful for that. But I know in the in the process as well, you have you use a lot of example, demos to seeing how other people have solved similar problems to what you try and solve. And then that helps you generate your own ideas. I really like that as well.

Brendan Cox  18:24

Yeah, because we use Miro, we started off using Miro is like a whiteboard app, we will link to it in the show notes. And basically, what we found was that I used formal approaches of using it. So like templates almost, to kind of structure our problem solving. And I realised quite quickly that actually, both of us responded really well to just doing a mind map, which is basically for want of a better word is basically a brain dump onto the paper. 

So we just put everything that we’re thinking and we structure it. So we try and see, like one of those giant detective walls of a crime investigation. And we basically map out all of the different parts that we’re thinking. And what it does is it helps get everything out of your head and give a relative sort of positioning to everything else you’re thinking about. And so something that’s just because you’re thinking of it, this instance, feels the most important might actually not be and so having it all on the paper, you can really get a sense of how everything’s connected. 

It works for everything for us. It’s quite nice. So we can say let’s jump in on Miro and let’s mirror it. Just structuring it on that really helps. And so there’s things like visualising references, getting them on there as well, basically getting everything everything as visual as possible, but because that’s the way we work, and that’s the way we we sort of map out our actual problem and the different various things that can can solve it.

Tom Payani  19:52

Yeah, I mean, we we use design sprints all the time, especially during what we call the discovery phase, where this is the sort of analysis phase of the ADDIE model or before we get started designing a project – we use a couple of design sprint tasks.

Brendan Cox  20:09

Yeah, so basically a design sprint is like the fastest possible way of doing those stages. So the idea is, rather than go off and do a tonne of research, take our time about it, what we do is we sprint through the stages. 

So for example, if we were going to do the empathise and define parts of it, what we do is we basically jump in really, really quickly to  the people that are going to sign off on the project in on the workshop with us. And what we do is for over an afternoon is build all of the discovery sections. 

So we’ll map out everything to do with the problem. What is the problem we’re trying to solve? What are the challenges? Who does it involve? What’s the personas of the people doing it? What are the things that currently address the problem, what things can be what kind of like stuff in the way different approaches that are already solving a similar problem. 

What we try and do is just get it all out in one workshop. And then at that point we basically create the list of challenges that we need to solve. And one of the cool things that you can do is in the toolbox of design thinking is How Might We? So in a way that a therapist will rephrase a question to help you answer it.

So what you can do is rephrase it.  And so when you ask it like that, you almost are your own psychologist and just going, Okay, so how might we do this? And at that point, then your brain, the brakes come off your brain and you start going, Okay, well, we could book offices to like private offices to work in, or we could buy noise cancelling headphones. Or we could ban the really noisy guy from the office. 

So what you can do is actually iterate really quickly and just come up with lots of ideas. And then what we do is to align everybody, we sprint through the process of basically, silently without anyone talking, we let people vote on the solutions. And what we find is that basically, you end up with a heat map. So everyone gets a spot, and they put the spot on the the challenge that they think the main one. 

And because it’s anonymous in terms of what it’s not personalised and no one’s name is next to it, you just get a heat map of what the general consensus is. And then what you can do is if there’s some sort of top dog that’s in the meeting, they get the final say on it. But they’ll have an informed decision, because they’ll already get a sense of everyone’s sort of overall expertise, combined into the general consensus. 

So what you can do is go through a problem like that. And it means that we can in the space of an afternoon, we can basically work out what the key challenges are.

Tom Payani  22:59

Yeah. I also think just backtracking a little bit, when you’re talking about how might we rephrasing questions, is something so simple, when you explain it the way you just did, it completely changes your whole mentality of solving a problem. It’s such an elegant solution. And this was something that I found super effective, and I didn’t think it would be as effective as what it was. So much, so that we even created our own design sprint problem solving project, then we as part of our own portfolio.

Brendan Cox  23:32

I’ve been using design thinking forever for a while. It’s just a methodology or a framework that could literally be used for anything. So I started doing physical workshops with groups of entrepreneurial people, none of whom knew each other. And basically, the idea was that we do we teach the process of doing a mini design sprint, by getting them to pick a pick something that was basically wasting their time at work, and then through the short workshop actually work it out. 

It worked really well. Turns out, everyone was like getting aligned on it. And they could come up with really good solutions really, really quickly. So then we thought, Well, why don’t we try it remote, and then Coronavirus kicked in. So we tried the same workshop using these little tasks of writing out the challenges and voting on them, rephrasing them, then voting on them again, then coming up with solutions. And it went really well as that as well. 

So then we thought actually, is it possible to actually automate it? And I mean, the idea of the original idea of design thinking was to put structure to the rather a theory or process of be creativity. So the natural kind of evolution of it is to automate it to a certain degree. I mean, it always needs humans and people to put those connections together. Yeah, so we built the problem solver. So what it does is it takes someone it leaves Someone through the process of what we did in the workshop, but with instructions rather than me standing over the shoulder talking them through it. 

And it works quite well. It’s it’s freaky how simple it is, it seems now less complicated. It’s like the most elegant design is it is reductive. So like, the more elegant something gets, the more it’s designed, the simpler it gets to the point where it almost seems obvious. And that’s where the How might we kind of odd, because you’re like, this is this is silly. But then as soon as you use it, it works so well that you can you can use it for anything. So I mean, I encourage people to have a go on our problem solver on our website and see what you think.

Tom Payani  25:33

That’s a core tenet of design, isn’t it? You look at companies like Apple or whatever. When something seems so simple, that’s because – it’s like you said – it’s been reduced. Out of all the things we’ve done, probably the problem solver in one way, in one sense is what I’m most proud of, because I’ve used it with friends with family, people who’ve got like business ideas, and they don’t know where to start people who are feeling like this sort of analysis, paralysis type thing, when they want to get an idea off the ground, they want to start their own thing, or whatever, I’ve used it for myself and in other aspects of my life. 

It really helped me, it’s really added value. And I think it’s just a sort of homage, I guess to to design thinking and how to design sprint, basically. It is quite simple, is it? I think it’s really elegant. And I think definitely if you’ve got a problem you want to solve or you need a bit of a push in the creative process of something, get on our website and have a go at it.

Brendan Cox  26:33

Yeah. And I think that’s the thing is that it can work for everybody.

Tom Payani  26:37

I mean, the point is design thinking helps you just take action, and it’s this whole saying of done is better than perfect. You look at a highly inspiring people, people like Gary Vaynerchuk. They’re just saying, just get on with it. Just do something, and I think design thinking fits into that mentality.

Brendan Cox  26:59

Yeah, exactly like Elon Musk. The reason they’ve got so good at making rockets is because they’ve made a lot more of them than anybody else. And that’s the key. I think, basically, don’t worry, don’t overthink it. Don’t make assumptions. Just crack on. Make a make a prototype, test it, iterate, keep going that way, and you’d be surprised what you can come up with.

Tom Payani  27:18

You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think.

Brendan Cox  27:21

Yeah. In a good way.

Tom Payani  27:23

Yeah. All right. A pleasure as always and I will catch you soon.

Brendan Cox  27:28

Yep. And anyone that’s anyone that’s been listening that wants to chime in or share well, their, their kind of design thinking processes and stuff and how they get creative and stuff together.

Tom Payani  27:39

Thanks a lot. Cheers.

Intro/Outro  27:42

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top