Bethan is a Project Coordinator who joined Shift this year. She has a background in the youth sector (previously working at Youth Music and at The Challenge) but was relatively new to design thinking before she joined Shift. Bethan is currently working on our Quality Systems, Throwback and Changing Places projects in partnership with NCS.
Here, Bethan shares 8 things she’s learnt as someone new to design thinking, particularly through the design and creation of Changing Places, a national campaign inviting young people to build up a picture of what it’s like in their area.
1. Always keep in mind the user – and don’t forget that they’re human
- The first thing I learnt about user-centred design is… it’s user-centred. The user must want or need to use the product – you should always keep in mind why they’ll be using it, will they enjoy it, and will they find it useful.
- I’ve realised the importance of trying to put yourself in their shoes too. For the NCS project we were developing, we were asking young people to make videos about their areas, so me and the project team at Shift made a video about Farringdon (where our office is located). It gave us a better understanding of how young people would feel completing that part of the activity
2. Uncertainty is OK
- I really enjoyed the buzz of creativity in the first stages of design, with the walls of post-it notes that show the thinking in progress. At this stage, no idea is a bad idea. However, I was unnerved by the lack of certainty in this phase; there were plenty of questions but very few answers. There was an overall feeling that we would eventually pin something down and run with it, but it tested my nerves as I couldn’t see any concrete solutions.
- I’m now a firm believer there should be a design process in place for every project you work on, as it is really helpful to keep everyone on track, but it seems there will be times when you wander slightly off the process and have light-bulb moments. Let those happen
3. Inspiration can come from anywhere
The most helpful inspiration will probably come from the people who are likely to use the product. We held several co-creation sessions with various stakeholders – young people, team leaders, programme managers, and NCS staff. This helped us understand how the activity would work from everyone’s point of view. Ideas came out of these sessions that we might not have had ourselves
- As our activity was developing we met with an ad agency – meeting with more creatives meant we honed in on the imagary and feeling we wanted to portray throughout the activity. We wanted a gritty vibe, similar to the Nike ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ advert combined with Anthony Burrill typography style – see the final execution here.
- Be open to inspiration striking at any time, whether it’s when you’re heading to the shop for an afternoon snack, at an art gallery, or having a chat with a friend over coffee. Be prepared for these inspired moments, ride it out, take note, then question it
4. Communicate well with your clients
- Be nice – if you haven’t realised already, every sector you step into is surprisingly small and people talk. Take a moment at the beginning of a meeting to find out how everyone is, that personal touch will help you in the future whether it’s on that project or another
- One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that good communication for one stakeholder may not work for another. For example, some people find it easy to deal with a quick question fired at them as and when it crops up, others find it much easier to deal with a bundle of questions
5. Do lots of testing
- I think this is something Shift do a lot of. If you can see the product in action, in the environment it’s designed for, you will learn so much. You will notice the big and small issues that you probably wouldn’t have found if you merely asked a tester for feedback. With testing you will see for yourself all the technical glitches, unanswered questions, and moments lacking engagement
- If you ever want to get an honest critique of something, let children or young people try it out (providing this is feasible and safe). Their reactions, questions and comments are the most honest you will receive from any audience
- We tested the Changing Places activity with young people from different backgrounds, in various geographical locations, and a variety of settings. Each time we tested there was always a logistical or engagement aspect that we just hadn’t considered, such as their not being any signal or wifi for young people to log onto our online platform. Every week there were new tweaks and iterations to the activity and user journey. Looking back on this phase it now looks like a blur of iterations, continual learning and improving – but was definitely worth it!
6. Be bold – say what isn’t going well
- People that prefer to have positive outlooks will find this part tricky (I know I did!), but it’s so important to get over the fear of saying something critical. When I started on the NCS projects I was shocked by how negative everyone seemed about the product we were creating. However, by being critical of a product you discover all the ways it can be improved, which will ultimately make it a fantastic product
- Once you bring everything to the surface that didn’t go well, it is then possible to find opportunities and build on them
7. Learn how to balance conflicting ideas and opinions
- There will be times when stakeholders will have conflicting opinions or expectations of different outcomes. A project could easily be swayed or delayed as result of this, and it’s at these points when you need to focus most on who the product is for and why they will be using it. From there you can prioritise the outcomes and reason with any strong opposing or differing opinions
- Try to reflect during the project as often as possible, individually and as a team. If you don’t take time to identify what’s going well and what’s not, then you won’t be able to improve the product or the process
- Everything can go so quickly, especially when working for a client as you need to keep to budget and deadlines. But putting time aside for reflection will reduce mistakes, and make moving forward at each stage a lot clearer
- At the end of a project or a stint be sure to hold a team retrospective, so you can have some in-depth conversations about what parts of the process went well, and which parts could be improved. If you continue working with the same team in the future, this should help strengthen your understanding of how to work well together. If you work with a different team in the future, you will notice patterns in the teamwork that you will either want to encourage or improve on.
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