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How to design a personality in 12 days: Part 2

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Welcome back! So you want to know how to design a voice assistant in 12 days, huh? Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A super awesome team of 8 amazing people (each from different specialty streams: Design, Data, DevOps, and AI/Machine Learning)
  • You’ll need about 8–12 days, full-time participation, a lot of dedication, collaboration, and hands-on, self-directed learning.
  • Lots of snacks, Timbits, caffeine, and sticky notes!
  • At least 2 highly skilled developers that know the wizarding ways of AWS.
  • And a willingness to think outside of the box, be open to new and different ideas, and check your biases at the door.

We were ready to start exploring different, potential solutions. We spent the next three days engaged in various Design Thinking workshops, underscored by improv exercises in order to generate a wealth of ideas. We revisited our problem statement which entailed redefining our design challenge, ideating, developing our initial proof of concept, and getting ready for prototyping. We wrote out our current problem and began brainstorming ideas to solve it.

Brainstorming and ideation (aka idea formation) is an important step when ‘solutioning’. The purpose of both are to generate a large quantity of ideas (as many as possible) within your team, and defer judgment. The more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have at reaching a truly brilliant solution.

We followed the Stanford brainstorming workshop for our brainstorming and ideation sessions. We challenged ourselves to think outside of the box, freely, with reckless abandon, only applying constraints at the end, once all of our ideas had been generated.

*The most important lesson I learned during brainstorming and ideation was that the most obvious solution is not always the best or most effective.

What/How Might We

Like IDEO U, the Stanford brainstorming workshop follows a similar approach to framing the problem, however, rather than asking how, they ask what. “How might we” emphasizes the approach to solving the problem, whereas asking “what might we” first, forced us to critically assess what could be possible, before even looking at how we might make it possible.

We started off by asking ourselves the following statement, which we later refined further during prototyping:

“What might we create for Canadians that helps them find the correct mailing address for their forms?”

Yes, and…

The “Yes, and…” exercise is a well-known improvisational comedy technique. In fact, using improv activities for Design Thinking is a really great way to get teams to collaborate. Being the ambivert that I am, I had more confidence blurting out random ideas because the improv approach encourages that.

I know what you’re probably thinking — how can the principle of improv translate to your work? If you recall from the start of Part 2, I mentioned the importance of leaving ego and biases at the door, whether you’re working on a multidisciplinary project, or any project. There’s no room for ego when working collaboratively to solve a problem. You need all hands on deck. You need to generate many ideas as a team. You need openness. That’s the purpose of the “Yes, and…” approach.

Using “Yes, and…” statements allowed us to openly explore any and all possible ideas and solutions, free from judgment of whether or not it was a good or bad idea. It fosters creativity, innovation, and more collaborative idea sharing within a team, as it builds off of the previous idea(s) before it. Most importantly, “Yes, and” devalues the word No in favour of Yes, and what about [insert literally any idea under the sun]!”

Time it took: 1 day

By the end of our brainstorming session, we had generated over 40 sticky notes of ideas ranging from totally doable to absolutely absurd and hilarious. We knew we obviously couldn’t use most of the absurd ideas; but again that isn’t the purpose of brainstorming. The purpose was to produce MANY ideas; a storm of ideas, if you will. So we continued brainstorming, but this time with constraints.

How to brainstorm with constraints

  1. We started with our brainstorming question from earlier: “What might we create for Canadians that helps them find the correct mailing address for their forms?”
  2. Then we added these constraints:
  • Every idea must get you in trouble with your boss.
  • Every idea must cost at least $1 million to create.
  • Every idea must get you in trouble with your boss.
  • Every idea must involve fantasy or magic.

We generated as many ideas as we could with each of these constraints applied to our initial brainstorm question. We let the ideas flow, remembering to treat every idea as a possible solution, and replace “No, that won’t work” with “Yes, and…”.

Time it took: 1 day

This was a great thinking technique that helped us gain fresh, unexpected insights. Thinking of analogous situations within the context of our problem allowed us to approach our problem from a different angle, free of limitations.

Part 1: Start by thinking of analogous situations.

We chose a physical action and or mental change that we wanted to evoke through our solution: Trust and confidence. Next, we thought about what/where/who evokes trust and confidence and does it well? We noted down: Amazon, Costco, pilots, first responders, and nurses.

Part 2: We asked ourselves how they would do it.

For example: “What might [insert analogous situation] Amazon create for [specific group of people] taxpayers that makes them [a physical action or mental change] trust us/have confidence in us?”

Part 3: Using sticky notes, we wrote down a bunch of ideas for each of our situations from step 2. The purpose of this step was to inspire new ideas, regardless of how ridiculous the analogy may be.

Time it took: 1 day

Between brainstorming with “Yes, and…” statements, then with constraints and analogous situations, we generated a lot of ideas. We needed a way to manage all of this information and prioritize our ideas. Our ideas needed focus; even better, an intentionally selective focus. We said goodbye to ideas we loved in favour of more realistic, implementable ones.

We gathered all of our sticky notes onto one giant sheet of paper. As a team, we took time to organize and select our best ideas, using predetermined selection criteria. The selection criteria we used were as follows:

  1. Q for the idea that is not impactful but quick to create or implement
  2. B for the idea unlikely to work, but most breakthrough if it did
  3. D for the idea most likely to delight the people for whom we are designing for

Each of us voted on two of our favourite ideas for each criteria (6 marks total per person).

Time it took: 1 day

After 2 days of brainstorming and ideation, we identified the top ideas worth exploring further. We voted on our best idea and collectively agreed on the best idea to move forward with in prototyping:

Develop an Alexa skill and/or conversational voice bot to help our user groups find the correct mailing address for their forms.

Now, all we had to do was develop it. How hard could that be though, right?



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