The first part of our Design Thinking module was to learn about different theories and how to apply to our different projects. I started to think about design thinking even for my life sometimes. It has been a trend for the past few years and as Hagerman (2017) points out, it has been implemented in all kinds of organisations and even governments.
Design thinking focuses on the user rather than only focusing on the product or service you want to create. It talks about the problem and as Stickdorn (2011) says it focuses on providing a benefit to the user and its needs. This was a key insight I learned in this module. It’s all about empathy.
When we started last year, one of our first activities was to create a product (shoe) that fits the needs of our users. We went around the university and tried to understand what our customers wanted and why they chose the shoe they did that day. We tried to emphasise with them, we tried to understand their stories. And that’s what design thinking is all about. Seeing a problem and trying to solve it, the end product or service is just the last part, the most important part is trying to create something that would be useful to someone.
But how do you understand someone’s problem? Or how do you see a problem around? We go through many different problems and challenges every day. And we solve most of them every day. The value is in realising that we can create something that can help people make their lives easier. Sounds simple but it’s actually not.
There are several ways of understanding the needs of a user. Using empathy as our base we can observe our users, just like we did with the shoe project, and see what their needs are. Then we need to test our product and to do that we first need to create a Minimum Viable Product (Ries, 2011). This MVP needs to be functional enough to take it to the market and test it. Before that we need to do several prototypes to iterate if it needs to. But the main thing is to start creating and testing. Because usually you will fail. But it’s better to fail fast so you can learn. Kelley and Kelley (2015) believe that we can learn from every challenge and every problem in front of us. They also state that every person can be creative if we give them the freedom to be. But as we are free to be creative we also need to be free to fail. And it’s from some of our greatest failures that we learn the most.
It was time to experience it ourselves. We had to come up with a product or service and create our first start-up in groups. Our group, consisting of five very creative women, coming from dance, design, film and marketing world decided that we wanted to do a service. One that had to do with performing arts and making a change in society.
We started brainstorming and came up with a socially conscious theatre based company. It all sounded great, we had the skills and the experience, as well as the passion for it. Then we were asked in class to create a Business Model Canvas. According to Osterwalder (2017), creator of the Business Model Canvas, the reason why startups fail is because of a lack of a viable business model. In order to see if your idea is good or not, you need to create a business model. Then, you need to test it and change your business model if necessary.
The Business Model Canvas helps you take a deep look at your product or service and identify the benefits of it. Only after creating it we started to see the flaws and the pros, as well as the value of the business itself.
What we realised is that maybe our service was a B to B instead of a B to C. But also that we were thinking of what we wanted to do but we were not necessarily solving any problems. So, instead of thinking about a problem first, we thought about what we thought was a good idea. We were not using the lean start-up method on thinking about the customer and the problem first. Luckily, we realised this as soon as we starting developing our business model canvas. Then, it was time to pivot, before we even started.
After this failed attempt. As we worked as a team and realised our first idea was not going to be viable and that we needed to pivot. We used several methods of design thinking like brainstorming, observation, prototyping. We decided to look at problems in our own lives. Things we face every day. During brainstorming, grocery shopping was a big topic among ourselves. Specially here in the UK, where they are trying to reduce the use of plastic bags, we thought we could do something about it. It’s not much about how we need to pay every time we want a bag but what we do with those bags after that. We accumulate and throw them. And then? They stay in the environment. And actually, plastic takes 500-700 years to deteriorate. It also damages the water and animals living in it. We are really harming our planet.
The UK decided to take action about this problem. In 2015, retailers started charging for bags being used. Research from Gov.UK (2015) show that people already have at least 40 bags around the house. This research also shows that “7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s something like 140 bags per person”. After this was implemented, last year, the number went down to 2.1 billion bags (GOV.UK, 2018).
When we looked at this numbers we thought there was a gap there. We know there are reusable bags out there. But sometimes when we go shopping we need more than one bag. We also want to separate our cleaning products from produce. And we also wanted to do something that helped the environment not harm more. That is how after a lot of talking and researching about what was our there in the market we came up with the idea of Edamame Pod: a three in one reusable shopping bag.
The name Edamame Pod came from the fact that our product has three bags in one, just like Edamame. We tried to stay focused on the customers and the problems they faced in order to move forward this time.
We created a sketch to show what our product would look like. It was also time to prepare our pitch for our first Dragon’s Den. We realised that our product was difficult to understand at first. So we decided to create a prototype with paper and plastic just to show what it could look like.
For our pitch in front of judges and classmates we chose to do a short role-play first. This would demonstrate what our problem and who our customers where in an interesting and fun way. This was very well received and it demonstrated how we were solving a problem.
After this first phase, we needed to move forward. We needed to figure our pricing, materials and target market. Here is where the struggle begins. We had many problems when trying to move past this first stage.
When you have five very strong people in a group that care about their business is great, it is also hard to agree on something. We had our first trade fair in school and we had to start thinking about marketing and product. We didn’t agree yet on how our pod would be made and which material. So we decided to create another prototype. A smaller one that would fit in a pocket. People seemed to really like it. We also decided for our marketing to match our cause, sustainability. We used recycled bags to make signs and tried to keep it as lean as possible.
Looking back now, I think doing the prototype again with materials that were not going to be real was a mistake. It was one of our failures that we learned from. It was really hard to go back and create something real that was as small as that. But if we wanted to stick to our idea of three bags in one, it was just not possible.
We also participated in Bright Ideas competition. We had a whole weekend of workshop where we changed our business plan, learned about marketing and pitch our ideas. It was fun and specially engaging to hear other people’s ideas with such enthusiasm. It gave us a little push to keep going.
Our next step was looking at materials and finding a manufacturer. We started researching manufacturers here in the UK as well as abroad. But we weren’t sure about the material yet. This took longer than we expected. Reflecting on that now, it would have been helpful to set deadlines and goals we had to achieve at certain times. This would have given us a better management of time and resources. We weren’t really dividing chores either, which made it much more complicated to achieve something.
After a very interesting class on materials we “fell in love” with cork fabric. Cork is considered highly sustainable as the tree is not cut down to produce the material. The cork bark sheds naturally and has no effect on the tree itself. Benefits of this eco-friendly fabric include, being naturally water resistant, light weight and durable. We decided to use a button made from coconut shell.
Our first idea was to use a completely sustainable material like cork for the bags inside. The problem we encounter was our price would go up a lot and it would not allow us to make a profit. We were also struggling to find a manufacturer within the time frame we had. We decided to order cotton reusable bags and put our little touch on them.
Our great designer, Apeksha, created some images to put on our bags to give a unique touch. We also got in contact with someone from the fashion school and got her to help us manufacture the outside of the pod. The actual product was now much bigger than we intended. So our first proposition of creating something that you could carry in your pocket was not true anymore. We also wanted to solve the problem of forgetting shopping bags which now didn’t make sense since the pod was much bigger.
When some of our team members were working on the product others were working on marketing and branding. We created a website and all of our social media. We decided to focus on the cause at hand. By creating awareness about climate change, sustainability and the effect of plastic in our environment, we managed to attract people interested in these topics. Instead of focusing on the product we were selling we focused on the problem we were solving and the cause we were backing. And that was one of our best decisions.
It was finally time to show our product to the world. We had another trade fair, this time outside school. The only problem was, it was one of the coldest days of the year and it was snowing heavily. Even though we didn’t get many people at the trade fair it was fun to pitch to a new audience in the “real world” and to show our product.
Our last trade fair came along and we were much more comfortable with our sales pitch and with approaching clients. We also had a final celebration and awards ceremony organised by Enterprise! To our complete surprise, we won two prizes! Best trade stand and best sales pitch. It was a great recognition for all these months of hard work.
I feel extremely proud of our team. Even though we had struggles we were able to learn fast and change. We were able to adapt and we always worked hard in order to get to our goals. It was not an easy ride but it was worth it. We learned so much about team work, time management, short and long term goals as well as empathy. Not only with our users but within our company. It was a great experience and all the learning I will take it to my next ventures.
David Kelley (2012) says that in order to have creative confidence we need to turn fear into a familiar feeling. What he means is that we do not need to be afraid to fail. I think all these little failures that we had throughout the year gave us the opportunity to grow and learn fast. This gave us confidence in ourselves to try anything we want even though we might fail. If we don’t try, we would also not be able to succeed.
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