Design Day 2018 — Rethink / Refresh

On Friday, March 23rd I was invited to speak and run a workshop in Stockholm at international agency Futurice’s “Design Day”.

It was a short walk to Lilla Värtan from my hotel; perpetually photogenic view

Under the banner of “Rethink / Refresh”, Futurice flew in all designers from their 6 offices — Helsinki, Tampere, London, Berlin, Munich, and Stockholm — for a day of inspiration, collaboration, recalibration. The event was conceived around the following mindset:

The meaning of design in digital services has long ago passed a tipping point. For one, design is no longer exclusively about digital or the visible — but that’s not news. What is a bit on the newish side is a need for a different type of projects from our clients around the world.

As part of that program, 5 speakers were invited to talk about their philosophies and work, cross-media. In addition to myself, the other 4 creators on hand for the day were:

Nafisa Bakkar 
Co-founder of Amaliah, dedicated to representing Muslim women in shaping thought and acting as a tool for cultural change.

Steve Belgrave
An award-winning sound designer and creative audio director. His collaborators include U2, Noel Gallagher’s Beady Eye, the BBC, DreamWorks, Sennheiser, and Huawei.

Frida Vega Salomonsson & Sofia Quintero
Frida Vega Salomonsson, image maker and publisher, who helps shape experiences for Nike, Ace & Tate, IKEA and other leading brands. Sofia Quintero from Bad Land, one of Europe’s most influential agents within visual (film, photography).

Cultivating a Creative Culture & Inspiration Aplenty

Shortly after I landed at Arlanda Airport, it’s a short train ride into Stockholm proper via the Arlanda Express. This is a trip I’d made many times when I was the Creative Director at Nansen, and despite the time that had passed since last making it, the journey felt all too familiar.

Post hotel check-in, I arrived at the venue — Stockholm architecture firm CoDesign’s event space — to plan how my workshop the following day would integrate into the environment.

I plan to henceforth stand this cool in all candid photos. Photo credit Jaan Orvet

Having the first presentation slot the following morning — at 3AM Chicago time no less — I largely spoke on the philosophies and tactics from my book Cultivating a Creative Culture, and the synergy of inspiration between the tangible and digital realms. The talk’s backbone was derived from the perspectives and skillsets we already use daily in our work: empathy, objectivity, and creativity.

Photo credit Alina Shchurova / Futurice
A few slides from the presentation

Following the presentation, I sat down for some Q&A with the audience. The dialogue was spirited and passionate; cultural dynamics, team interactions, and client expectations represented a large portion of the chat.

Photo credit Alina Shchurova / Futurice

My workshop in the afternoon was a direct follow-up from the talk’s concluding section: inspiration away from our laptops and devices, infused back into our digital work.

I’ve been previously asked by colleagues: “how do you workshop inspiration?”

On a 7 foot-long sheet of paper, I had mapped a morning’s journey from urban commute, to coffee shop, to the office itself. Each point of the journey was tangibly represented in Lego form (which became stars unto themselves, being photographed pre / during / post-session).

Beneath each instance I had a couple columns noting what people can observe at a point along the way, and what the takeaway from the observation yielded. For example, while commuting in the city: seeing someone pause and give directions to a stranger equates to empathy. In a cafe: the attention to detail on curation and service equates to quality. For the office itself: these observations became redubbed “fuel”, and correspondingly mapped over to actual UX processes / artifacts. Wire framing, user interviews, testing and refinement, etc.

The intent was to get people to observe, process, and leverage as fuel in their creative process; the tangible informing the digital. I gave each person a Chicago-branded Field Notes and asked them, as moments presented themselves, to document (mobile phone) and record (Field Notes), so they have an ever-present fountain of inspiration always on-hand.

As much as this was about them training their eyes and minds, it was about connection; people sharing their stories and bonding, and organic dialogue. This broke down barriers for many who didn’t know one another previously.

Photo credit Alina Shchurova / Futurice

And Just Like That…He’s Gone

This was a quick trip; the following morning it was back onto a Scandinavian Airlines flight 9 and 1/2 hours to Chicago. Having been in and out of the country so fast, it was fairly surreal in the hindsight a few weeks has yielded.

The opportunity to speak to, connect with, challenge and be challenged by the Futurice team on the topics of culture and inspiration was one I immensely valued. In a field of human-centered design and processes, interacting on these vital topics with the very humans who craft experiences at the highest level was truly a great pleasure.