John Ellison

Day 51: Designing A Design That Designs Itself

5 min read

One of Those Rare Days

Day 51 seemed to be one of those rare days: Uprooted from time yet filled with energy from a thousand years. Everything started making sense...

The vast range of ideas that I had generated during the past few days in designing a value proposition for the Training Project seemed to open up a door. All of these disparate concepts began to fit into one another with great resonance.

Meeting With James and Clare

The day started off early with a meeting between James Box, Clare and I. I brought James up to speed with the current state of the Training Project and showed him my process.

He read through the propositions I'd generated the day before and asked a few questions. It looked as if James saw some potential and wanted to make sure he fully understood the concept I was trying to communicate.

Between the three of us we bounced back and forth between question and clarification. We each sketched ideas to communicate visually what we were describing in words.


sketching back and forth 2




Within five or ten minutes it seemed like we had a pretty solid level of shared understanding.

One Last Thought

We started talking about next steps for the project when I felt I needed to introduce the ideas that emerged from my late night thinking on Day 50. I had created a quick concept template in in the ten minutes before our meeting started and used that to introduce this additional layer of ideas ontop of the concepts we'd already discussed.

When I finished introducing the concept, I felt like James and Clare were slowly moving their seats backwards. They weren't saying anything.

I wondered if it was too vague and complex and told them not to worry about it if they didn't think it could work.

But James said something very interesting. He said that it was novel. I'd never heard him use that word before. He also said it was unique. So aware of his own internal thought process and emotions, James expressed what was happening. He said that they were feeling resistance—not because the idea was bad but because it was novel and unique.

We talked through the concept a bit more and the energy slowly escalated with each exchange. It was like the energy was a bouncy ball being tossed between walls in a corridor—gaining momentum with each bounce.

The Glue for It All

James made an incredibly valuable insight about a product which could become the cohesion between the service that I was describing. He obviously understood what I'd described—maybe even better than I did as I was describing it—and suggested a product concept.

sketching back and forth 3We had another series back and forth. Then we all seemed to sit back in our chairs. With our chins in our hands we smiled.

This was exciting.

This was new. This was innovative.

After four or five weeks of exploring a user-centered process around the whole landscape of training and design education we'd finally arrived on something novel and unique.

sketching back and forth 1The Next Task

James told me not to worry about communicating this idea to other people but to spend time making sense of the concept myself. He told me to go back to a user-centered level and think about each of the users that represented each of our audience segments. He told me to look at each of their individual stories and then see how they all came together.

I jotted down the instructions and both Clare and James headed off to other meetings.

I rolled back in my chair and put my arms behind my head and laughed. I did my best to breathe and re-center myself.

I took a little break and then came back to my desk and took photos of everything. I pulled off all the sticky notes and prepared myself for the next task...

While I wont' go into detail at this point, here are the sketches that I came up with:

sketch 1

sketch 2

sketch 3

I am definitely looking forward to working on refining this concept tomorrow with James.

Creating A Problem-Solution Map

James suggested that we break down the concept into its core actors (or users) and look at each of their problems individually and analyze how their problems are being solved by the other actors in the system. We would start small and focus on well-known problem-solution transactions (like a student and a teacher, for example) and then build out in complexity through that same model of problem and solution...

Breaking a complex concept into a simple diagram of problems and solutions between actors seems to be a really simple and elegant way to reduce complexity. I am looking forward to giving it a try tomorrow...

On The Way Home

On my busride home on Day 51 I started coming up with loads of ideas and descriptions for the product that was brought to life in the discussions that day. I usually carry around a small sketchbook with me at all times but somehow I'd forgotten it at work so I was scribbling down words to express the thoughts in my mind, but the medium of a phone is such a poor medium to try and capture ideas at the moment of inspiration. I don't think anyhting can beat a sketchbook for that purpose.

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