Inside “Outside”

Five people with wildly varying motivations and perspectives, given three days to make “something” for lonely or struggling kids. Using a method and process we were mostly unfamiliar with. With drones flying overhead and 70 people crowding us, while all seemingly talking at the top of their voice. Would it even be possible?

Missioncamp 2017

Missioncamp is a yearly event where we pack up the entire agency — designers, content folks, coders, user researchers, event riggers, chefs, admins and even the CEO — and move office to another city.
To challenge ourselves, to work with stuff that maybe our customers just don’t know they want yet, to get to know each other better and learn lots of new stuff about a field, a method or an industry.

We’ve done different stuff over the years: we’ve gone to New York City, last year we went to London, and every year we learn something — not just about what we set out to learn, but about making Missioncamp itself fun, enjoyable and valuable for the participants. This year we went to beautiful Berlin and worked our collective ass off in Betahaus in Mitte/Kreuzberg.

15 projects

Anyone in Netlife could pitch a dream project for the trip, and in March, 30 of us did. 15 of those pitches engaged enough willing participants to end up as Missioncamp projects. I chose a team called “Outside” and our very broad mandate was to “make something for kids who struggle”.

IT SUCKS to be a kid. It really, really, REALLY sucks.

Spoiler warning: we succeeded but OMG

Unlike some teams, we did not prepare very extensively. We were a—can I say “ragtag bunch”?— of content, strategy, project rigging and UX people, and we discovered we had a bunch of problems. At the airport, we hijacked a quiet room and quickly talked through our various motivations for choosing Outside as our project. We realized straight away we weren’t coming from the same place.

k I dunno what you guys are whistlin there but imma whistle this

Being Netlifers (Norway’s most hardcore UX-ers! 💪), and Missioncamp being absolutely peak Netlife, we decided to figure it out the next day, confident that user research would help us make the best choices.

Challenges and questions

Fast forward to the first morning of sprinting and we could map our challenges:

  • No clear idea of the target audience for whatever we were making
  • Our varying perspectives meant we had to work extra hard to make sure everyone in the team was included (and not, you know, on the outside)
  • We had decided to use a modified Google design sprint, but were unsure of the consequences
  • We had no clear vision of the end result

Modifying a design sprint — from 5 to 3 days

Project manager Cecilie belonged to another project, but in advance she recommended a few particular modifications to stuff five days of sprinting into three. Very briefly:

  • Day 1: Understanding
  • Day 2: Sketching and storyboarding
  • Day 3: Prototyping and testing

We mostly kind of sort of almost used this.

Modifying a design sprint — Outside style

Iben and Sunniva (facilitator) enjoying some Fritz-Kola and pondering our persona Amalie’s trials and tribulations

We did not define very many roles. We had a decision maker (me, content nerd) and a facilitator (Sunniva, project manager). The others (Iben, interaction designer and user researcher; Jarle, content advisor; Eirik, content strategist) were participants, jumping in and out of different roles and picking up slack wherever they saw it was needed.

At times we were mostly going through the motions looking for threads to pull that would unravel our insecurities. This never fully happened, but even as we were voting for stuff and dotting things with stickers for no apparent reason, just to follow the sprint “rules”, we somehow moved forward.

Our resident hipster Eirik relaxing and stealing ideas from Marte G (on a different team)

It was very useful to have the design sprint framework to work within, with all of our dithering, as it gave us something to do even when we were very unsure of the way forward.

What really moved the project forward was a few very specific things:

  • Identifying our target audience and consequently being able to ask a few of them some relevant questions
  • Sketching out a day in our persona’s life (we did this rather than mapping a “customer journey”)
  • Asking the experts (which we did by having freeform interviews with parents of our target audience)
  • Crazy Eights sketching
  • Our Musketeers-style all for one, one for all-group dynamic

My own learning from using a modified sprint: it’s really useful to be pragmatic and method agnostic, but it’s better to go through the motions than get stuck when there’s no clear way forward.

We’re all in this together

OH NO IT’S THE CEO

We spent all three days pretty much glued to each other and our allotted table (as well as the three tables we annexed invasion style) in Betahaus Innospace. Very rarely did we complete or work on tasks alone. I did not see any single one of us with headphones on at any point.

This facilitated really great, inclusive discussions.

Remember I told you we came from very different places into this project? We spent our days buried in some heavy, depressing, black matter: How mean kids can be to each other, how loneliness can feel so crushing and how destructive outsider-ness is. We did not all agree all the time. But our feeling of being distinctly on the inside of something ensured we listened to each other and approached each other’s ideas with respect and curiosity.

The role of decision maker was also very helpful: by assigning this responsibility wholly and formally to me, we could arrive at decisions and stick by them more easily.

It wasn’t perfect. We had some communication fuckups and misunderstandings. With two more days we would have been able to fine-tune our ears much more to whatever was left unsaid and assumed. Even though we had only three days, we chose to take the time to address these whenever they were uncovered.

Listen without prejudice

By discarding all roles related to fields of expertise for this brief three day phase, we managed to work in a truly interdisciplinary manner. This was a huge boon for the process we were in.

Iben (UX designer) interprets notes and dives headfirst into content work

We were super pragmatic in our approach to the actual Making of the Thing, so we did at some point divide up prototyping tasks simply to be able to finish, and non-prejudicial in everything else. We all had the right to be totally opinionated about everything, regardless of our professional background.

I very much recommend keeping particularly project managers much closer in design processes and being curious about their views and opinions. You will be surprised. My experience is they often have a truer interdisciplinary understanding of the process than most other roles.

The conclusion

Well.

We made a thing! Not a functioning thing, but a concept. Half of the group (Iben and I) were very worried the final day. We had existed in a bubble of our own ideas — just how do you know if you worked on the right thing?

Emotional rollercoasting is part and parcel of working so intensely. The fear struck two of us that day because of course this was not just playtime for the design agency. It was always meant to end up with a prototype to be pitched (in a maximum of four minutes) to a very strict panel of investors: all of Netlife, as well as external investors like Yuki Sato (from Wired Japan) and Matthäus Krzykowski (Berlin tech-investor) and a few guests.

Rough translation: Norway UX agency Netlife was for three days in Berlin. During the final presentations, was allowed to participate as a jury member 😊 touched by serious demo ✨

We were paring down and adjusting our presentation until the last second. Out of all the ideas we explored, sketched and prototyped, we showed almost nothing. We would have loved two more days to work on Outside.

We did OK, I guess. Out of the 15 projects, ours was voted number 1.

All my love and tusen takk to Team Uttafor: Iben, Sunniva, Jarle, Eirik and Julie (whom we sorely missed). ❤