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The Design Process Behind Chit-Chat Phrase Book

For the Royal College of Arts student awards, I chose the Hidden Figures brief. I strongly believe that mental illness is a growing concern. There are already so many positive steps that have been taken to remove the barriers for the physically disabled. Many organisations are working as much as possible to ensure that the ones with special needs receive the same services as everybody else.

However, there still is a huge stigma associated with mental illness. People with mental conditions have a different set of needs. One of the biggest barriers they face is trying to live an independent life while dealing with their lack of cognitive skills. These barriers compromise their ability to live a  normal life. I wanted  to use the means of good design, and create a optimum solution that supports and guides people with mental illness so they can  achieve and maintain a good quality of life. Rome Jorge suggested that design solutions that meet the needs of disabled people, result in a better outcome which benefits both the abled as well as the disabled. This makes its a great design altogether. I have never really worked on something like this before, and I wanted to take  this opportunity to explore inclusive design, and to design considering all the diverse aspects of the users.

Design Thinking and Process

Understanding the brief, using scenario building as a tool

For our design process, we used the IDEO Human Centric Design model. According to me this approach made the most sense because the process starts with users you are designing for and ends with solutions that are made to suit their needs.

This process focuses on the building deep empathy which is key while designing for the disabled. We started by divergent thinking, where we thought about many perspectives as opposed to just one, using the lotus brainstorming as a tool we came up with a concrete  definition of “Hidden Disabilities”. And then to narrow down, we picked the type of mental illness by creating personas and chose the most relatable option which was Bipolar disorder. I think that bipolar disorder is like fingerprints, each person diagnosed with bipolar is unique and their symptoms can vary from one other. This makes its a design challenge, because you cannot generalise the symptoms. Diverging again, we had idea generation sessions, we explored all the possible mediums of design solutions, from awareness campaigns to game design, space design, interactive design, product design and even sound design. Nevertheless, we decided to focus on our group strengths which was visual communication design.

The process wasn’t easy, we had many ideas which were sounding feasible, but they weren’t really catering to the “needs” of bipolar patients. Our main obstacle arose when we couldn’t get access to the organisations that worked with bipolar disorder, or the patients.

We were completely dependant on secondary research, we analysed data that we received from youtube videos, personal interviews and blogs. This gave us a great insight, that suggested that language is key. The stigma makes it difficult for the ones suffering to talk about their illness and  the ones who are brave enough to reach out for help don’t receive the appropriate response. The public lacks awareness of using the normative language while communicating with the ones diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And thats when we decided to shift the target group from the ones diagnosed to “us” the supporters. And finally we reached the stage of rapid testing and prototyping, which led to our final outcome.

I would have liked to reach this stage earlier, that way we would have used the prototyping as a step in our process and could have had more time to explore other possibilities of the outcome.

Individual Role and Collaboration

Ideas generation after Lotus brainstorming

Each one of us within the team, played important roles. We used our strengths to come up with a as many ideas as possible during the first session of brainstorming

I played the role of a coordinator and the thinker. For me, it was important that we took advantage of our skills and strengths, to maximise group productivity. Hence, I made sure the tasks were divided according to each persons comfort and strengths. According to modes of collaboration (Pisano & Verganti 2008)I believe we are a Closed & Flat collaboration, where the participants of the group are chosen by an authority, and they contribute equally and make decisions and share ideas together. I tried to find the balance between an open collaboration, to ensure motivation amongst the team mates and control so we could meet the project deadline.

As a  thinker, I focused on the final outcome by paying attention to the details of our final solution as well as the content. I also was responsible for constructing the abstract idea into a practical solution. Although  I come from a graphic design background, and my interests falls in layouts and visual design, I learned when to step down. We had four graphic designers in our team, I felt it was more important for me to structure the book rather than designing it because there were already enough designers. This demonstrated my leadership quality, to take charge of what was important for the project over my personal interests.

Teams and multicultural dynamics

Lego modelling to communicate our ideas to the team

Our journey had many ups and downs, we had a period of disagreements and conflicts. Few of us had abstract approaches and some unrealistic ones. We had periods where, non of of us were sailing the same ship anymore.Initially, these arguments brought me down, I felt we were wasting time and not moving forward. Then I came to realise how these conflicts actually made a difference in our design thinking.It facilitated a more effective response and it questioned our assumptions. Claire suggests that if a conflict isunderstood clearlyfor it components and diverse dynamics it can move in the correct direction towards a functional conflict. However, as we all know disagreements can be emotionally overwhelming, but I learn’t its important not hurt anybody’s emotion while arguing about your point. And for the future I will keep in mind, to keep personal emotions  separate from team work. I also sensed that the communication skills in my team were low at the beginning. Mainly because we were such a multiculturally diverse team.

Communication is culturally learned (Connerly 2005) and occurs across differences. Most of the time it creates mutual understanding which exists when there are shared perceptions of a behaviour, gesture or body language (Halverson and Tirmizi 2008). At first, language was the biggest barrier, many a times, it so happened that while I was talking, I wasn’t sure whether or not my points were making sense to the rest of the group. Although, I could understand each ones perspective clearly unfortunately it wasn’t the case vice versa. Hence we decide to use lego modelling as a way of communicating our ideas to the team. This helped us visual the other person thoughts and enabled us to evolve the idea further.  By the end of it we could communicate effectively and empathise with each others approach to decision making and design thinking. Finally our group dynamics started to improve, and we divided the work as per our interests.

Personal learnings and Insights

Work in progress for final execution

This collaborative unit was a big learning experience for me, I learned that while collaborating with creative people who have similar mindset as you can be more of a disadvantage than a benefit.

I noticed that similar minds can have the same possible solution, but agreeing on the correct option can be a challenge. Where as, “opposite attracts” working with people with different mindsets and looking at the problem through someones else view can be more logical resulting in a better outcome.

I learned that a well structured team, has the capability of achieving feasible outcomes, even though its a slow process. I believe that due to globalisation the world is growing closer, and having capability of working in a multicultural team is a advantage in its own.

I can proudly say that i have developed individual effectiveness while working in a diverse team which has overall led to my personal and professional development.

I never experienced a eureka moment before, but after this unit, I significantly believe that when you have reached the bottom, theres no other way but going upwards again, and that when you create your magic.

According to me, collaboration work is an advantage to mix various disciplines and experiences to create something outstanding. Its a platform where someones insights and thoughts can fill in the missing pieces of your insights.