IDEO’s Design Kit — Inspiration Phase

Research creatively — that’s the phrase I repeat to myself when I encounter a slump. Sometimes, when a field is so foreign or when it’s all too familiar, it’s really hard to get started because either 1. I don’t even know where and how to begin the research or 2. I already have too many obstructive assumptions in my head.

Came across IDEO’s design kit that breaks down the design process into phases, and each phase comes with recommended methods that can help to tackle demanding design challenges. I’ll be highlighting a few interesting ones under the Inspiration phase.

1. Analogous Inspiration

This method aims to help researchers gain a new perspective by situating the research topic in a fresh context. For example, I may want to study the emotion of feeling cosy prior to designing a product. The next step is to list out settings and situations where I can observe this and then get the team to vote on the sites to conduct observations as a way to draw inspiration.

2. Collage

I personally love making collages. Sometimes I find language ineffective in conveying complex ideas and emotions. Visuals can be used to support this communication. I’ve created a collage while doing up a product concept in school and I also find it useful when it comes to setting a scope and direction. Sometimes we have lots and lots of ideas and it’s tempting to throw everything into a product. A collage can then be used as a way to decide on key features, using visuals as emblems to remind designers to stay focused.

A collage I put together for an air purifier product concept.

3. Immersion

I really want to try this someday. There are gaps and challenges when it comes to researching outside the user’s context so immersing in the end user’s environment and activities is one effective way to counter miscommunication and promote greater understanding.

In school, I worked on a qualitative research project which involved studying social contexts. I decided to visit my mum’s hairdressing salon to conduct a field research there. Sometimes I would hide my identity when chatting with the other customers, other times I would sit and quietly observe. It was effective and I got a comprehensive understanding of the context, activities and people involved.

It wasn’t just a salon; many retired seniors in the neighbourhood used it as a gathering space to socialise. Interestingly, the salon is one of the few places that lies in the cross-section between the private and public space. Customers that visit frequently do not mind sharing their personal stories even with strangers around and the salon serves as a restorative space — both physically (new hair yay!) and emotionally. The research helped me to see my mother’s changing roles as a hairdresser, a friend, and a counsellor to some of her customers.

P.S. The neighbourhood salons in Singapore are one of the best places you can go to if you need to do some guerrilla interviews with the elderly! Build trust first, and the seniors there would be more than happy to help. Free kopi is also welcomed!