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Building the Field

Towards a new kind of Tool

Why a Recipe?

Designers sometimes make things too complicated. We wanted to think about how we could boil different approaches into something really simple. Closer to your grandma's cake recipe (flour, sugar, eggs... bake until done).   In this toolkit we've tried to strip away the jargon so that you can start to play with design approaches in your world. We've included more information if you want to dig deeper too.  

We have a hunch it's about designing with not for communities, levelling the playing field between designers and the people they are working with, and building relationships before building things.

Recipe 1
Ask Why

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Notice something.

Ask a question about it.

Take the answer & keep asking why. 

Explore what's under the surface.

Look at the roots.

Recipe 2
See Opportunity

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Explore what's around you.

Imagine using it in a new way.

See possibility.

If a banana can be a phone

What else could the world be?

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Recipe 3
Make Something

Don't talk about making it.

Make it & try it...

Then talk about what you learned.

It doesn't even have to work

It just has to spark the next step.

Here's our challenge: Pick a recipe, gather some folks, and start a conversation. On October 25th join our online conversation to share what you uncovered.

More Details

Setting the Table

The ways we work can be as important as the things we try to work on. The setting of your conversation can impact what ideas people are willing to explore, and how comfortable they are sharing.

Take some time to think about how you can make people comfortable. Pour a cup of tea, dress for the weather, and pick a place that sparks your imagination. 

Groups of 3-5 people work best for "design" activities (and dinner parties). Any more and it can be hard to hear from everyone.

A note on Mindset

Your mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave.

Take a moment to think about how you want to show up when you are working with other people, or trying something new. 


Being open to possibility, seeing opportunities in problems, being wiling to change, taking risks, and embracing your intuition can call be doors in to what is sometimes called a "growth mindset." 

Recipe 1 Details
Asking Why...

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Design is about exploring the challenges and opportunities nested inside or around a problem. 


Ask: What local challenge or problem is top of mind? Next, dig deeper together, explore "why?" or "what's underneath that? or What's behind that?" 

Capture: Keep track of your nested answers. Notice the branches, the dead ends, and the root causes that start to emerge. What's really the "heart of the matter?" Did this reveal anything new about the place, or the ways you could look at what's going on?


Think: Exploring the deeper levels of a problem doesn't mean you always have to focus on solving root causes. It's about understanding the different dynamics that are at play, and starting to think about what the right level of problem you could work at.

Origin: Sometimes called "root cause analysis" - this pattern shows up in design tools like "DesignKit: The 5 Why's",  you could also explore this article by The Interaction Design Foundation or how they are described in the more business focused Six Sigma approach.


Recipe 2:
Seeing Possibility...

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Did you ever play the game "bananaphone?" Where anything can be anything? A big part of what designers do is to think about how to see a problem from a new angle. This practice is called reframing. 

But reframing is hard if we don't practice seeing possibility. Play this game to start to explore the rich opportunities in everyday things.

Go Explore: First, dress for the weather, and set out on a walk. As you go take turns pointing out the things you see: "a shed", "a ditch," "an old car." 

Brainstorm: Together, come up with creative ways to use, or see that thing differently. If you are stuck try listing all of it's parts & what they do (a truck holds things... could it be a mobile garden plot?)

Capture: As you go, capture a list of things & dreams that you explore. Notice those moments when a silly concept "actually feels like a good idea." That usually means there is some kind of opportunity waiting to be explored.

This recipe explores some of the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Designers (and many non designers) actively train themselves to break free of "functional fixedness". You can also see similar patterns used in different ideation techniques and challenge framing tools. Be mindful though - a clever statement is not always the solution a community needs or wants.


Recipe 3:
Make something...

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When a problem is sticky, it's so easy to get stuck talking about what we think we should try. Many design practices use the idea of prototyping as as way to "unstick" things and get ideas out into the open. Others use these tests as a way to "kick the dark matter of the universe" and understand the invisible forces in a system. 

Making something and trying it can be a way to build positive momentum and learn. It's critical to do it in a way that is both low stakes (time, resources and risk), minimizes unintended consequences, and prioritizes involving the people who care the most about the challenge. 

A prototype doesn't have to be complicated. It can be a drawing, a model, anything that helps make your idea more physical. Think about these questions, and see what you can build and try within an hour.

  • What do you really need to learn about a problem you are all facing? 

  • What could you build now to learn it? Who can you test it with? 

  • How are you going to capture what you learn? What do you need to observe (or what data could you collect?)

  • How can you involve other people in the experiment who might care about it? How can they help you shape it and learn from it?

Many design toolkits put experimentation or prototyping somewhere in the middle of a design process. It often comes after you've spend time understanding a problem better, and then ideating on solutions. This doesn't always have to be the case. Many design practitioners (and community change-makers too) "start by doing." We've experienced the power of bringing "what we tried" to the table, not just "what we want to try."

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