We gave the 76 students in the fall course Design Thinking Bootcamp a challenge: describe each design process mode in one sentence. We’ve had the individual responses posted on our wall at the d.school for a while, and we love the headlines:
Then we got curious. Could we find patterns in their responses? We aggregated their sentences and got a totally different view. We lose the students’ cleverness and style. But we start to see a rhythm revealed behind the design process.
Each slice shows the number of times a word was used. The area of a slice is proportional to the frequency of the word. We broke the frequency down further into singular and plural forms. The diagrams are all drawn to the same scale.
What does this tell us about how we’re teaching? Here’s what we noticed first: Empathy and Test, which we usually present as the bookends to the design process, sure have a lot in common for our students. This makes sense, as they both involve engaging heavily with users (see the User/Users graph). They start to look different in the Idea/Ideas graph and the Solution/Solutions graph. This suggests that the distinction we’re drawing here is that testing involves the designer’s own concepts, while empathy doesn’t. Put another way, Test = Empathy + Concept.
One more callout: it looks like students see some process modes as about keeping multiple concepts in play, and some about working down to single concepts. Students wrote about “solutions” and “ideas” in the Ideate phase, which changed to “solution” and “idea” in Prototype and Test. We know that we emphasize the broadening and narrowing, or focusing and flaring, of the design process, and that we tie this rhythm to certain steps in the process. What about building this broad/narrow pattern into other process modes as well?
About the visualization
The graph format above is called Nightingale’s Rose, after a now-famous diagram by Florence Nightingale illustrating casualties of the Crimean War. Read about Nightingale’s Rose in the Economist. Want to talk about the data or the graphs? Ping Molly. Props to Jenn, who typed this stuff up.