When I was an OpenIDEO Community Prototyper…

5 take-aways from the volunteer experience & why you should try it too

It was a late Thursday night. Now and then, there would be a roar in the background as France and Peru were head to head in an intense football knockout. Amongst all this, I was in my pyjamas with a meal in a bowl, intently staring at my screen at seven Nike Grind experts talking to us straight from their headquarters. On their wall in the back was a conspicuously hanging banner that said ‘Recycle your shoe, please.’

There were around forty-five of us on the video call: a community of innovative people in the last leg of their Nike Grind Challenge, the amazing OpenIDEO crew and a handful of excited Community Prototypers, one of them being me. Excited by the challenge we were all there with this desire to collaborate and take some shoe waste off the surface of the earth.

The Community Prototypers(CP) is a global volunteer cohort who leverage their design thinking expertise to support OpenIDEO Challenge teams in taking their ideas to action. I dived into the challenge to support teams with my product design expertise but I came out having learnt so much more than I could offer, and still hungry for more. 
Here are my five take-aways from the experience.

Becoming a ‘mutant’

It being a Nike Grind Challenge most of us were helping with making physical prototypes and I was super-excited to try out the Grind material and churn out some cool concepts. But through our first conversation, I discovered that my team, the Nike Grind Plates, had already built beautiful prototypes. Listening to their story and their needs made me realize that supporting them with user testing and business models would add real value to the team rather than making more prototypes. Chipping in where I was most needed helped me support the team to advance to their next leg in the challenge.
The role of a Community Prototyper was a first one for me and uncertainty was bound to come with it. Not knowing exactly what to do, made me listen to the team’s needs and discover the gaps where I could contribute. A Community Prototyper doesn’t have a fixed role. She is like a ‘mutant’ who walks into a team and just fills in the gaps.

A Community Prototyper doesn’t have a fixed role. She is like a ‘mutant’ who walks into a team and just fills in the gaps.

Sketching cuts across languages

The challenge teams had been working for over two months before we ‘mutants’ squiggled in. The obvious first step was to gather a deep understanding about the team’s concept and vision. On one such call, I quickly sketched out an idea we were discussing and pointed it at the webcam. Instantly, everyone could connect to it, build on it, and the dynamics of the conversation elevated to another level. 
As a designer using your visualizing skills can go a long way in communicating your idea. Sketching is a language that truly empowers you to cut across geographies and connect with everyone.

Sketching out the cohort as we talk about our interests.

Tricks for remote-bonding

Each OpenIDEO call would start of with either some fun warm-up activities, rapid QnA or just personal shares. The asks would be simple ones like: What is the time in your city? Highs & lows from this week? Draw out your feelings? It would get each one of us involved and worked as a great ice-breaker for a cohort that had never met and was working remotely. 
These exercises are a great take-away from OpenIDEO’s bag of tricks and are so simple to implement in your day to day life. No matter how far apart we were, when we heard someone’s grandparent story, their poetry or about a book that they were reading, we would immediately relate to them, leaving each call with a new learning and deep gratitude.

Posing with props at the end of our weekly calls.

You can always make time

Week by week we would put all are daily activities aside, pull out a few hours and meet on a call. Initially finding this time in my packed up schedule seemed like an impossible task. But once I was on the call it was all fun and I wanted the conversations to go-on endlessly. Funnily, halfway through the journey ‘Thursday nights’ became synonymous with Prototyper call nights. Whether I was traveling or caught up at work I would always take the call and share my current whereabouts. By simply putting it on my calendar in advance made me plan other activities around it. It was amazing to see how much I could fit in a week, once I got started.

Back to school

Working in a small start-up with an integrated team, I don’t meet many designers daily. I sometimes miss the no-frills design school atmosphere where ideas would float freely. The Prototyper cohort is a group of some amazing individuals working across the globe. The beauty of the challenge, was that it brought all of us together on a common platform. We come from such diverse contexts, with different backgrounds that each ones’ take on the weekly activities was unique and insightful. Conversation with this cohort took me back to school where there was constructive critique, open sharing of ideas and learning from each ones expertise. I would curiously listen through the chats and wonder; How would I tackle this in my context? How can I partner with them? How can I use this learning in my practice? All it took, was being open to new perspectives and listening carefully.

Little nuggets that we left with from the experience.

Let me know if you sign up for one of these challenges!
Would love to know your experience.

P.S. On a call towards the end of the challenge, Lauren asked me to reflect on How did we coordinate as a team and work remotely. That’s when these words started coming together. Thanks Lauren Ito, my remote-Insta friend, my team Convignton, Tammy & Mark, the amazing CP cohort and OpenIDEO for a remarkable experience.