Design Thinking & Facilitation

Message From andymangold, who says, "Design is much more than my job." 
If facilitation was design, how would you do it?

The 'design thinking' movement is infiltrating business and management.  Some examples include:

  • The increasingly popular TED Talks put design alongside technology and entertainment when discussing 'Ideas Worth Spreading'.
  • David Kelley of IDEO is an evangelist for design thinking; including in the magazine Fast Company (another forum bringing together design and business concepts) and in a video at the Design Thinging blog.
  • Care of Edward Tufte, and more recently David McCandless, visualisations bring business data and often social data into the design realm.  For more on this, Cameron Chapman has posted a list of 50 Great Examples of Data Visualisation

My friend Simon Terry introduced me to Edward Tufte and his excellent book Visual Explanations many years ago, which incited the curiosity about visualisation and design that has led to this post.

Design thinking is about shaping people's experience.  It is a very user-centric approach.  It is about colour, movement, emotion and involvement.  It is also a process - from idea to implementation and beyond.  And it is hyper visual.

For the facilitator, there are some useful ideas here, including:

  • Focusing on the user, or in your case, participant.  Shape the session around their wants and needs.  Or better yet, hand the reigns over to them.  (I have written about doing this with sticky notes and telling organisational stories.)
  • Use colour.  Black markers on a white background may give a retro monochrome look, but is not particularly interesting, and you will struggle to distinguish between different pieces of information (such as pros and cons or headings and key points) in a single colour. 
  • Use movement.  You don't want people to sit still too long, and don't stand or sit too long yourself.  Movement keeps your blood running, and creates dynamism.
  • Emotions are tricky for the facilitator.  However, they can also be powerful in drawing people in, and in making an experience memorable.  Ignore the value of emotion at your peril.
  • Involvement is about getting participants to participate - they are not an audience, so don't treat them as such for long.
  • Many times when you facilitate you are seeking new ideas, or at least trying to lodge new ideas into the minds of others.  There are many processes for doing this, from brainstorming and flowcharting to experiential learning, such as imaginary and real simulations.  For some great ideas, see the Stanford Design School's Bootcamp Bootleg, a free online resource.  The Creative Whack Pack is also a great resource for identifying new ideas, transforming ideas, and evaluating and implementing ideas.
  • By referring to 'implementation and beyond' above I mean that implementation is seldom an event, it is an ongoing process that can continue after the session is finished. 

There are a lot of links in this post.  If you only have limited time, I commend to you the article about David Kelley in FastCompany, in which he describes why IDEO started using the term 'design thinking', and the TED presentation by David McCandless which shows an amazing way to appreciate really big amounts of money.