About tinkering and failing fast at CIID

Inspired by “Hummingbird” (Kyla La Grange)

Following gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics somehow reminds me of my own sports career. Sport still plays a major role in my life and for a very long period of time I even thought, that it would be my passion. But as you already know, it wasn’t sport but music, that made it a passion by distracting me from all the struggles. Within the last 2 years in my job, I slowly realized that I also fell in love with human behaviour and design. So, I started to think about my future more intensely. I got some extra pushes toward this direction through my trips to Copenhagen. Scandinavia, in general, is famous for minimalistic design. Shopping there almost feels like visiting a museum. However, I got curious. I’ve decided to give it a try and started to study design next to my full time job. By doing so CIID passed my way. It stands for a place where creative and innovative minds from all over the world meet to take action – the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.


Perfect – I thought and organized to take part in CIID Summerschool 2016. I chose the Service Design Class in alignment with my employer and started this exciting journey to Copenhagen. What I still remember – they directly threw us in at the deep end. Only a minimum of introduction and theory until we found ourselves at Magasin du Nord for a Service Safari.  Actually it was a really good chance to grow together as a team from the beginning. We had to find the way through a foreign town, though nobody of us had internet access. So, typical team roles quickly developed and we had time to talk on the way and get to know our colleagues very fast. It was this usual “how to survive in a foreign country” feeling and taught us about the importance of connections and how language barriers can actually affect efficient collaboration. But the Safari was only the beginning of a very intense hands-on week. What followed were presentations, brain storms, discussions, design challenges, more brain storms, more presentations, short theory lessons, guerilla interviews or prototyping sessions (among lots of other activities). We learned what it means to do a real sprint and how important time management and team roles are to come up with a conclusive concept within one week – starting with user research and ending with a video prototype of a well designed and desirable service. Even though it seemed like a huge mountain in the beginning, we learned to conquer it within days by failing fast.


You might ask me – what was the project about? First of all, we were confronted with a short brief that explained the pros and cons of smartphones. We were asked to think about whether we are consuming the mobile phone and it’s services or whether they are consuming us. Tough question, isn’t it? So we started our field research to find out how people actually think about this topic. So-called People Centered Research helped us to identify knowledge gaps and to build empathy with our future target group. We analyzed what people use their phones for: whether they see it as something positive or something negative and why. We were especially interested in what the users do, not what they say they do. So, we also observed their body language or how friends reacted to their answers if they were attending the guerilla interviews. From our users we learned that  the smartphone is an enabler and that it allows people to keep control. They also use it (of course) to connect, but more interestingly the phone makes it easy to avoidcommunication or conflicts. So, as we had to decide on only one learning, we chose the last one, as it was a very strong insight. It owned a high potential for developing a solution that addresses a real need and therefore improves peoples lives. Based on that, we started a Design Challenge that ended up in a brainstorm and later in first Concepts of a possible service. In a Service Blueprint you then try to understand your future user. You define possible scenarios, touch points, prototyping questions and involved stakeholders for all the stages of a service to get an idea of how your service actually works. But for our group the challenge was not to work on the blueprint, but first to decide on a concept. with so many creative and motivated minds in one room you can imagine how intense our discussion have been :-). In the end, we decided to go for one, but as we started with rapid prototyping we had to learn how absurd our “guessing around” rounds were, because our concept got rejected by the users immediately. Why did this happen? Within all of our brainstorms and discussions we constantly assumed that people like to connect. By doing so we totally ignored people who don’t like it. By the help of interviews and rapid prototyping we found out that even people who say that they don’t like to connect with others or who rejected our ideas, actually had a good reason for it. They told us that it’s not the lack of the interest in connection that holds them back, but the fear of failing in a (first) conversation. People dont like this moment of feeling awkward while starting a conversation and of course they don’t like even the smallest risk of getting rejected. People reported that they often have no idea about what or even how they should talk with the strangers and with the loved ones. We use small talk then. However, as it is a means to an end and very superficial we feel like the conversation is somehow fake, so that we end up feeling awkward and insecure again. An nobody likes to feel like that. So, a day before the deadline ended, we finally found this little piece of information for the breakthrough. We then knew that we didn’t have to tackle the connection topic itself, but rather this “awkward moment” problem.


In the course of the time we had to focus on only one target group, so we came up with the idea of a virtual travelers board called “icebraver” and tried our service in a hostel. For that we created a nice poster-prototype. Then we watched how people reacted and interacted with the prototype. Funnily we did not even have to ask people. The prototype rouse interest immediately and produced comments like “Oh, that’s nice, do these events gonna happen tonight?”. So we learned that independent of the kind of the prototype, our idea of a travellers board actually addressed a real need. Furthermore, people intensively started to interact with the prototype. It was fun to watch. To fake virtuality we just used post-its, drew a little smiley on it and told people “that’s you”. After the testing they even asked us whether the activities on the board will take place or when they have to be there. And as we answered that nothing of this is going to happen, they were confused and asked us “But you have a picture of me and my data, right?”, so that we had to explain again that it was just a test and the post it is not a photo of them. Quite funny, but also impressing that the method worked so well.


So on our last day we spend 3 hours of producing a video explaining our service. We also prepared a short presentation and while reviewing all of our learnings and seeing which things we did and which ideas we already rejected, we felt like working on this project for years now. This week went so fast and we created so many things and value in only 5 days and it somehow feels unreal what we actually achieved. We learned so many things about empathy and building products or services together with the user. Especially, we learned so many things about ourselves, creativity and working hands-on. I don’t want to miss this experience and I’m still so thankful that my bosses supported me in taking part in this journey. Big thanks also to the whole team and particularly to Caroline and Gizem who filled the workshop with warmth and life. Hope to see some of you again in the future.

Jessica Reps