How Might We Design a Camp?
The Attitude and Tools We Had in a Design Thinking Camp for Product Designers
Designers are mostly nocturnal, very good at hiding and are rarely seen in the wild. They make their dens in rocky ledges, under uprooted trees and sometimes in dense cities. But you rarely encounter them on a lakeside, frolicking together, enjoying being designers and creating something together while at it.
Luckily, that was just the thing we experienced at our first IxD Camp.
A Design Thinking Camp
IxD Camp was a 3 day intense design workshop we hosted for people already familiar with the basics of product design, the Design Thinking framework and it’s tools. The concept was to herd a smaller group of designers into a fairly comfortable place, arm them with DT tools and steer them into the direction of some local problems they can bump into on the way.
To make this more interesting, participants were split up into 4 teams of 5–6 members based on their temperament not on their skills (as a host I had the privilege to know everyone from our UX/UI courses we lead at MOME).
As Analog as Can Be
One of the things I insisted on from the start was to make this camp a fully digital-free experience. No Sketch, no Axure. No staring at the screen for another 3 days. Digital detox if you will. Turns out, not using digital devices actually boosted overall creativity in every team (team mentor Ákos Csertán wrote more about this in the article Throw Away Your Computers).
A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.
— James Lopez
Companies often make the mistake of hiring people based on software proficiency. But an average grown designer learns tools like Sketch in a matter of days. Designers can’t be defined by the tools they use and especially not by software, besides there are so many other methods you can learn outside. During the 3 days we had no shortage of them:
Day 1 — Research
Designers often tend to be shy creatures that are afraid of other humans.
On the first day we’ve gathered insights about the cozy little town called Kenese, where our design camp took place. We dedicated this day to UX research. More precisely, our pack of designers conducted an ethnographic research.. Go out into the wild, collect artefacts, explore local problems to work with. Who are the people who live there? What are they usually up to? How are they experiencing everyday life? Why are they experiencing it that way… And at least another four “Why”-s so we can practice the 5 Whys technique on the go.
Asking random people about serious things is hard and we were thrown out from places a few times. You need to be prepared for this mentally but also technically: One of the tasks was to write an Interview Script with proper structure and questions.
A designers work starts with questions. It’s the best way known to uncover pressing human needs. It’s also the best way to emphatize with their soon to be users.
Day 2 — Ideate
While designers on their own can blend in easily in the wilderness of our society, they still are remarkably proud beings. We know that as we were launching the “brainstorming” day of our camp. A sprout of an idea in such a fragile and transient project team can instantly end friendships.
Teams therefore were encouraged to try new methods of brainstorming and come up with solutions for the problems they’ve found on the first day. Tools such as 6–3–5 Brainwriting, Design Studio, storyboarding or the Crazy 8 not only helped to find ideas but also made us more cooperative. No pompousness can slip through such variety of defenses. But ideas are born to be unequal in quality and feasibility, which still can cause problems in group dynamics. With the absence of digital devices, most teams created services instead of products and quickly evolved into service design projects.
Scenery Unlike Any Other
Designers are highly territorial, especially the cheerful loners called Visual Designers. But even so, war rooms are sanctuaries of ritual collaboration.
It usually means walls fully cluttered with post-its, photos, artboards, inside jokes, drifting doodles.
No matter what subspecies of designers you belong to, it gives you shivers. These temporary spaces of hard work and heartening coexistence create the perfect stage to present all the insights foraged, all the good and bad ideas your team has come up with and all the plans you finally have for a prototype.
Day 3 — Deploy, Show & Tell, Destroy
Designers can marvellously create stuff from items lying around in their environment. The third day was all about prototyping where we created something that can be deployed in the wild, tested and evaluated.
Every team was working hard to create a presentation for the whole camp. No PPTs were allowed here either. Going digital-free proved to be incredibly useful in this situation. Teams came up with totally different forms of presenting their projects:
- An low-tech augmented reality presentation
- An open exhibition with paper prototypes
- A design theater where spectators were involved in the presentation
- A simulation of the town mayor’s speech dedicated to a prototype
Most of us just stood there in awe of all the performances the teams created in just a few hours. ( Read a full case study of one of the camp’s projects in Csaba Varga’s article)
Exhausted from the intensity of the days behind us we’ve got emotional quickly when upon a brilliant idea of my friend Csaba we’ve lit up everything we made in one huge campfire on the last night.
Burning Man IxD. It was a culmination and closure of 3 days being together, doing what we’re the best at, learning from each other. A ritual, reminding us that we must be able to let go of our carefully cuddled ideas when needed, move on to explore new ones.
No Ire Amongst The Happy
Working in groups can be as uplifting as stressful. You can’t avoid confrontations nor personal failures. I’ve learned to embrace such situations and was proud to see how seamlessly teams actually overcame them. Long working hours, frustration, interviewing random individuals, getting out of your comfort zone, working with people with weird ideas can bring anyone down. But we remained extremely excited, cheerful and there is a good reason for that.
Happiness. Hanging around with like-minded, creative people: collaborating with designers who want to improve the world around you is an experience beyond words. It’s the mindset that matters. Acknowledging the fact that we are the problem solvers deflects every negativity while we work.
The most fascinating thing about the best designers I know is that they are able to adapt to any situation without complaining. They are fueled by the same drive, have the creative tools and means of solving problems or at least easing them. I had the honor to work with them mentoring our teams.
Make sure you read their camp stories too:
All artefacts, prototypes mentioned here were created by the campers Balázs Varga, Benedek Gulyás, Daniella Vörösmarti, Dóra Zsófia Kovács, Edina Gál, Gergely Jankó, Ildi Csomor, Júlia Tünde Gál, Sára Káldy, Tamás Kuti, Richárd Nagy, Rita Csenki, Sára Tünde Kocsis, Mika Seidl, Tímea Mónus, Zsolt Balai and Vica Barta … with help from the IxD Camp UX designer mentors Eszter Könczöl, Ákos Csertán, Bálint Ferenczi, Csaba Varga, Gabor Suhajda, Norbert Krizsan, Péter Balázs Polgár and myself.