VIVITA Design Sprint is a two-day workshop series regularly organized for everyone fresh on our members list. Its objective is to familiarize kids with the design thinking process and provide them with tools they can use deliberately when working on their self-initiated projects at VIVITA. Since the last sprint in December 2019, we took some time to reflect upon our experiences so far and integrate what we have learned into practical activities that are better suited to our audience, meaning more fun and games! We also came up with an improved structure and flow for the workshop, this time carefully crafting slides and graphics to help us stay on track. Added bonus: these also worked as visual cues for the participants at each step of the way.
As this was the kids’ first encounter with the design thinking methodology and terminology, we strived to create a format they will find understandable and useful. We especially wanted to use digestible vocabulary, so building on knowledge from established practices, such as the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten and Stanford’s d.school, we developed our own working version of the design thinking process (see below).
We followed quite a strict structure and supported our participants through group facilitation and dedicated mentorship in each team, but by no means to constrain them, rather to create ample atmosphere for creativity to unfold. Convinced of the power of kids to solve wicked problems, we tackled another real-life issue chosen from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: water pollution. Together, we started to discover the topic by mapping our thoughts and experiences, but also relating how we feel about it. We then helped children focus on a specific challenge, imagine many ideas, build prototypes through play and share their solutions.
All this they did as part of a team, which was our main objective this time around. We wanted to overcome the children’s natural desire to defend and hold on tightly to their own and very first ideas as this really presented itself as a challenge to team formation. We decided to tweak a few things here and there, work out in more detail a few of the tasks in the process, assign a mentor to each group, and voilà — teamwork flourished! What helped?
We dived into our topic straight away with a hands-on activity: we had prepared 10 jars of water from different sources — from tap to bog to sea water, and asked children to observe its qualities and attempt to guess where each sample came from, then arrange them from the seemingly cleanest to most polluted water. Surely, this was by no means a scientific experiment, but got them energized.
Mapping problems together wasn’t informed only by the research children did as part of their preparation for the workshop. Having watched some inspirational videos together and shared our personal experiences, we also visualized how we would feel if the problem were solved or, alternatively, if we did nothing about it. Tying our emotions towards these utopian and dystopian futures to the metaphor of a hot air balloon struggling to lift off served as inspiration to get us to work.
Finding shared values
We identified patterns and similarities among the issues we brought up together, but let children choose the ones they felt most interested in and connected with so teams formed naturally around the topics. But within the teams we did help them dig deeper — asking multiple times why we want to address precisely this challenge and in what ways might we do it. This way we were able to untangle many complex layers of the issue and reveal what matters to us the most. Was the team interested in coming up with a very specific solution? Or rather, more comfortable addressing abstract needs, such as safety, community, survival? Having reached a sense of shared purpose, each team redefined their design mission.
When children were ready to set off on their design mission, we asked them to first ideate individually within the teams, share their ideas and select favourite qualities, functions or add-ons to be then integrated into a brand new concept. This proved productive as all teams were able to come up with a solution that was the result of their shared efforts and everyone felt connected to it throughout the workshop.
Presenting quick prototypes to other teams and seeking feedback was one another addition to the process we made. Children were surprisingly skilled at asking the difficult questions, but also quick to come up with smart workarounds on the spot. We held feedback rounds both after the first prototyping task, as well as at the end of the workshop when we got to test the more complex prototypes developed with everyone’s input in mind.
Building bridges to reality
The challenges we identified and decided to tackle during this VIVITA Design Sprint were the industrial pollution of water, the impact of water pollution on plant and animal life, and oil spills in oceans. Children were eager to share their solutions with the wider community and wished to appeal to scientists to help bring them to life, so here they are:
Looking back on these two days with a strong sense of being on the right track, we carry on our mission to keep improving the Design Sprint format we run, making it even more playful and child-friendly, but also bringing children’s ideas one step further into the implementation phase. Something’s always cooking at VIVITA!