After being thrown into MACE via a design thinking a crash course during the first week, the course only got more intense. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d designed things before, I’d made things before and I’d sold things before but not all related to the same product or idea. Taking an idea from its beginnings through to production was a new challenge for me.
The formation of our team happened fairly swiftly. After completing a few smaller tasks I paired with Nika. She found two guys to join us; Tim and Nicolas. Their specialties were finance, management and presenting, where as me an Nika saw our strengths in creativity, product development and market research. Diving the roles was therefore easy.
For our first team challenge we decided to focus on developing a service. The task required us to leave the classroom and speak to real people. Not just speculate or presume but actually talk to an listen to their opinions (Brown, 2008). In doing this I quickly learnt that what you think is often completely different from what people actually want.
Through these observations and discussions with those around Kingston Market we identified and defined (Plattner, 2014, p. 75) a number of flaws with the service provided at the Market; primarily the need for users to pay in cash. With the intention of altering the customers journey by creating a centralised payment system we began redesigning the physical features of the market, the system it functions through and creating aids such as apps for pre ordering market food. However we failed to take into account that the space is transformed on different days/seasons and attempted to change to much in one go. This experience taught us to thoroughly research our target market by approaching multiple people, on varying days, in varying locations and to be focused in exploring one theme or product instead of attempting to develop a multitude of solutions at one time; quality over quantity and simplicity over complexity (Gothelf, 2013).
Our second group task highlighted the importance of identifying value in your product. After visiting FabLab we were tasked with designing a product which uses materials recyclable from the users home. The Cuddly Chair enabled users to recycle the old clothes of family members who had passed away to make a bean bag. However we quickly realised that our idea had a lack of value (Osterwalder, 2015) it was more something that you can promote as a hobby or personal interest rather than something that you could sell (Malinak, 2012). We later found a company called LoveKeepCreate. They ask users to send them old baby clothes so they can make cuddly toys which they then send back to the user. They’re product has value, they create a keepsake, targeted at families which holds nostalgia.
It then came time to begin working on our primary project. Over the course of two weeks we each wrote down problems that occurred in our daily lives. Choosing five each we pitched the issues to each other and voted on their relevance asking first do we perceive this as a real problem? is it big enough to have impact but also be achievable? (Ries, 2011).
We settled on the problem of not being able to easily carry personalised cosmetics on short haul flights in hand luggage. In knowing the problem and its aspired value but not knowing the product (thing) or its functioning (working principle) (Dorst, 2011) our team had to take the theoretical principles of design thinking’s Abduction-2, beginning by proposing a hypothesis; a solution; in the form of the idea YourTravel (Meinel, C & Leifer, L, 2012, p. 4). The idea was to create a light weight, portable, compact and connectable series of plastic container. Once at the prototyping stage we realised the cost of plastic production on a small scale. These issues with feasibility caused us to dramatically pivot and completely change our original idea (Olsen, 2015, p. 176).
In returning to our original list of problems ‘we realised that every way of carrying your keys while running had a flaw’ (Warner, 2016). Our solution was to create a pocket attachable to a shoe that could carry the users keys while running. This idea sparked a cyclical process of market research, prototyping, testing and receiving feedback to determine if the product was achieving the desired value before recessing, reconstructing and redesigning the idea and product (Taura, T & Nagai, Y, 2010, p. 103). Through identifying and exploring the building blocks which constructed our lean canvas we began to gain an understanding of our business and its value (Osterwalder, A & Pigneu, Y, 2010, pp. 16-42), making sure to understand the differences between the users wants, needs and fears (Osterwalder, 2014).
There were three problems we were seeking to solve;
Safety; leaving your keys outside your house or in a none secure pocket while running means the users house and valuables are not secure; this may make the user worry, disrupting their run.
Lack of Comfort; carrying your keys through other methods is uncomfortable and irritating; potentially annoying or frustrating the runner.
Poor Aesthetics; the products that already exist on the market are not aesthetically pleasing and runners want to look cool while running.
This lead us to Runeys;
The safe, comfortable and fashionable way to carry your keys while running. Our product Runeys helps runners who want a safe place to put their keys and valuables while running by providing a product which allows the keys to be attached to the individuals shoe. Unlike the Nike Running Shoe Wallet the aesthetic and material properties make our product more desirable and secure.
Investing around £200 we began to experiment with creating the silicone pocket using a variety of colours and thicknesses. It took a few weeks and our first trade fair for us to realise that the silicone was not fulfilling its purpose. If the silicone pouch was thin it was lightweight but easily tore. If the silicone was made thick it was secure but extremely heavy, not flexible and bulky. Added to this silicone didn’t enable us to get the professional finish we were striving for. The material was restricting what we could achieve (Lalkaka, 2006).
We also realised that despite knowing what changes we needed to make we were not working collaboratively or efficiently. Our organisational skills, division of responsibility and motivation were lacking (Belsky, 2011) and this was effecting our company and its development (Grivas, C & Puccio, G, 2011). Needless to say post first fair our group dynamic shifted and we recognised the importance of prioritising and developing the product to a sellable state.
Henry Ford said ‘failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’ (Nalls, 2013) and although the silicone prototyping had failed we moved forward as a team. We were left with a choice to scrap the concept or scrap the material. A week of debate and some advice from the Bright Ideas Judges helped us to refocus on creating a pocket for a running shoe but this time using a fabric based material. The first fabric prototype we had made didn’t fill me with confidence, it was too small, poorly constructed and not waterproof. My doubts changed though when we spoke to a small local company and had their tailor produce one of our designs. With a professional finish, waterproof material and alternative attachment method we had a product that we could sell.
This product establishment fueled an increase in productivity from our whole team. Through agile development (Blank, 2013), small incremental changes based on customer feedback, over time we altered our name from Runeys to Runeasy (so in the future we could adapt this product to other sports e.g. Roweasy and Cycleeasy), redesigned our packaging making it product specific (from a pillow box to a flat shoe shape, enabling users to see how it works and providing extra instructions on the back), altered our logo to make it more dynamic and establish an overall brand.
This was important because we now had an identity we could present to the public through developing our social media presence (Keller, 2003). Among sales our KPI’s included gaining a following on twitter and Instagram. Despite having a series of personal social media accounts I had never used Twitter before joining the course and only used my profiles to communicate with friends. Developing a social media strategy began with identifying which platforms our customers would be on (Zarrella, 2010). As the product is partly about aesthetics we prioritised Instagram and Twitter (retweeting or posting images customers sent to us). Later including Facebook when we realised our friends and family were interested in our product and it’s development. It was important to clarify our strategy because social media is saturated with advertising in the same way that conventional channels are and although it may not cost money, to be successful social media requires an active presence, through an investment of time (Nicholls, 2011).
Our sales began to increase and after only three weeks of selling we managed to break even. This may have been originally due to Tim’s aggressive sales technique but after word spread about the products practicality and security potential users were seeking us out.
Overall the experience taught me a multitude of lessons which will aid me in achieving my future. My goal is to aid in reforming the education system in the UK. Working in or via a museum or school may provide a secure job however I want to prevent myself becoming a cog in the system by striving to change the policies which influence the way children are taught, enabling the development of an environment that fosters creativity and learning.
Attempting to change an entire system is a huge, gruelling task to which I’m sure there will be many roadblocks.
Craig & Snook (2014) speak of the importance of understanding why and how you want to achieve a goal as this will aid in identifying your purpose and motivation. Currently the UK education system is based on an outdated standardised testing system which drains creativity from children (Robinson, 2010). If innovation and creativity are the ways to finding solutions, big and small, worldly and individually then environments which enhance and encourage their development are required. Hence the need for a change (Canada, 2013). Venter (2014) suggests that believing an idea is achievable even though it is bigger than yourself is the first step to achieving it and I am an advocate for being ambitious.
Completing the design thinking module taught me a lot about myself and helped me realised that personally I flutter between being completely organised, punctual and attentive to being disorganised, unprepared and late. This shift primarily occurs when I have a series of deadlines or pressurised situations. So it’s a matter of more effective time management, learning to prioritise and becoming self-aware (Jerinabi, U & Santhi, P, 2012, p. 223). Identifying this flaw and understanding why it occurs means I will be better prepared in preventing it occurring in the future.
To be able to change a system, you need to first understand it (Salisbury, 1996). Developing my social media presence, in learning how to use twitter and other platforms effectively has increased my accessibility to relevant contemporary knowledge, daily developments and provided me with a means to contact individuals already interested in similar topics of discussion. Contacting education professionals, even if just to ask about the programs that they offer in their museums and their links to local and national schools has allowed me to begin to make others aware of my existence (Morris, 2009).
Finally having to leave my comfort zone of the university campus to sell our product in the cold of Kingston Market and other locations aided in developing both my confidence and communication skills in presenting and speaking to the public. I think this is a skill that will aid in networking, explaining my ideas and in future presentations or pitches.
Although the mace course may be officially over, the friends and lessons I’ve learnt within and beyond the walls of the classroom will stay with me.
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