Creating a more accessible world with

Over the course of 9 hours, our team worked through a human-centered design process to identify possibilities and begin to create a solution that would improve the experience of people who attend large spectator events. Fortunately, we counted on the participation of need knowers who were essential in providing the insight we needed to generate insights. Here are 5 things I learned in this experience that I feel can benefit anyone in charge of decision making and making things in general.

1. Test your assumptions or better yet, stop assuming.
All too often, particularly in marketing or design conversations, we use ourselves as a point of reference for the audience or end user. Somehow we think that just because we percieve things a certain way, it must be the same for everyone else. This is never true, but was more obvious at the Innovation Sprint. For one, I do not know what it’s like to live in a wheelchair, or not be able to use my eyesight. It’s only be through empathy that I would even begin to understand. Having the participation of those who do experience these conditions was extremely helpful in order to build empathy (never sympathy) and effectively identify opportunities for design. The fact is, your intuition may or may not be valid. And in business, mistakes can be very expensive. When I advise executives about managing creative risk, I make sure they understand the value of user research that goes beyond the surveys and focus groups. Ethnography, interviews, storytelling, and even artifacts can help us understand the true motivations, and ultimately the behavior, of our stakeholders.

Ethnography, interviews, storytelling, and even artifacts can help us understand the true motivations, and ultimately the behavior, of our stakeholders.

2. Design for people’s needs, not their wants
One of the problems with focus groups is that people will only tell you what they want. Sure, that sounds great at face value, but what if they aren’t aware of what can actually benefit them? If Henry Ford would have asked people what they wanted they would have asked for faster horses. Similarly, many businesses in both the private or nonprofit sector believe that the answer to their problems is money. The reality is that to understand the root of many issues, we must be able to generate insights based on deep observation and synthesis.

3. Be confident in your creativity
Many people are afraid of creating. At some point in their life they were told they couldn’t draw, dance, sing, or practice art. Because of this they may have a false notion that being creative equates to artistic ability. On the contrary, creativity is about being able to show evidence of an idea, perhaps a work in progress. Having creative confidence is a mindset that liberates you from the fear of expressing those ideas. If there had been a member of our team saying things like “that’s not going to work” or “why would we do that?” or “that’s not what we do” that would have impeded our team from thinking beyond the very conventions that keep our disabled friends from accessing the same experiences many others enjoy. In facilitating these types of group projects, it’s important to know that at times we flare with ideas, and at other times we focus. Allowing your team to think big is necessary if you are looking to make change.

4. Work with a sense of optimism. Get rid of your “no” culture.
If you want to make change, you have to believe in the possibility of making change. Children have no problem in this area. They impersonate super heroes, doctors, and villains with ease and never once ask themselves whether it’s right or wrong. Throughout our innovation sprint, it was our optimistic mindset that allowed our team to drive possibilities. Next time you hear an idea, try “yes, and…” instead of outright saying “no”. “No” creates a sense of pessimism and in order to foster a rich creative environment, one that produces breakthrough ideas, you have to create an environment that supports it. Good design requires a sense of optimism. One of the best reflections I’ve heard on this topic was told to me by Sasha Strauss of Innovation Protocol. He said, “let us look up in wonder at the possibilities instead of down in judgement at an idea.”

If you want to make change, you have to believe in the possibility of making change.

5. Embrace ambiguity
For many people, not knowing the answer makes them uncomfortable and so they enter creative work without the ability to explore possibilities. Design thinking is about exploring ideas in order to arrive at innovative solutions that create lasting impact. One of the reasons the term “design thinking” became popular among business schools and management consulting is because they acknowledged that the way designers work is beneficial to finding better solutions to complex problems. At our innovation sprint we used a dialogue that allowed for learning and exploration. “I don’t know about this idea, but I want to hold on to it.” Think of the issues currently being tackled across sectors such as poverty, climate change, or human rights. There is no single solution for any of these problems. They are complex, big, hairy beasts, and so we have to be open to learning and uncovering what we don’t know we don’t know.

Final Thought
Our Innovation Sprint team came up with a prototype solution for designing better service at sporting events. We learned through user research that many sporting venues ask only about seating accommodations when serving patrons with different needs. Our team thought of a better way to approach this issue by creating easier ways to anticipate these accommodations and being able to identify those with special needs at the event itself. Similar to the experience of riding Lyft, or visiting a hotel, the goal of service design should always be to anticipate needs and show only intentional evidence of a process. When the hotel staff leaves a mint on your fresh pillow, it’s evidence that room service was provided. When you enter a ridesharing application, there is no need to repeatedly enter your credit card or location because you did it when you first registered. These are both examples of well-designed service. No hassles, no surprises.

To create a society that is accessible to all and one that fosters civic participation, we have to take a look at how we work, how we collaborate, and how we build. I’m glad to say that Los Angeles is taking a step in the right direction by promoting events such as the Innovation Sprint I participated in. We also have a new generation of design agencies such as Models of Impact, and Compiler L.A. that are working to improve, reimagine, or “hack” many of the paradigms keeping us from a more sustainable, thriving, business and civic environment. And with a local government that is increasingly fostering this type of innovation, we have to be ready to embrace this change. These are just a few examples of how design thinking is leading the way toward better solutions to tough problems. Each of these, however, requires us to reframe the way we work. Sound scary? Dip your toe in the water by considering my first point. Let go of assumptions.