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  • They Rebuild a Village with Design Thinking

    22 November 2016
    S.Point, Member Firm (China)

    A group of young people came to Wangjiawan, Foping County.

    It took a 4-hour ride for them to arrive at the suburban location. They would have to stay a few days. Their aim was to implement design thinking. Well, what does the Wangjiawan village located in Foping Country, Hanzhong City, Shaanxi province, have to do with design work? Were they going to design some specific product in here? Or they were expanding creative thinking and conducting some innovative experiments in here?

    Design is boundless. Design thinking is a methodology centered around people. It starts from people’s needs. It explores innovative solutions for multiple topics. In other words, design thinking is not about specific products; rather, it is about creative thinking in action. Wangjiawan provided the place for the young people to innovate bravely.

    The trip to Wangjiawan was part of the Design Thinking Workshop jointly launched by S.LAB and EAAD. “It’s like a cross-disciplinary co-creation experiment,” said Jin Ge, S.LAB co-founder. “S.LAB is committed to facilitating cross-disciplinary co-creation. Our market insights and creative methodology accumulated in the past enable us to be the catalyst to co-creation and initiate the chemical reaction chain.”

    The young people were curious to know how design thinking was going to work in the mountainous village. They came from different majors and from multiple regions across the country. Design thinking raised their interest in problem solving through innovation.

    In the first three days of the 7-day workshop, they learned about the five principles of design thinking (an open mind, empathy, discovery the unusual in daily life, detachment, and inclusion but not jumping to conclusion) with the mentoring of the S.LAB teaming team. They were also exposed to four areas of thinking training: initial investigation, insights and opportunity space, innovative solutions, and quick verification.

    In the first evening, the young people were divided into three groups. They explored three areas including environment/rubbish recycling, teaching courses/raising students’ interest, and safety/college girl students walking alone. Like semi-professional designers, they prepared interview plans and outlines. They interviewed people on-site, including “extreme users.”

    In a brainstorming session, they began to gather customer insights by exploring potential opportunity space. The brainstorming generated crazy innovative ideas. By telling stories, they presented their innovative ideas. The process was similar to how a designer’s approach in real work. The time to experiment was about to start.

    Innovative challenges defined, interview outline developed

    How does design change a village?

    Some solutions are romantic, such as design inns and artistic tastes that ignite the imagination on the internet and generate tourism revenue. Then, what might be the best sustainable approach? How to maximize its impact?

    The workshop attempted to answer the questions. A key innovation challenge was to produce the innovative solution for the village, building on the philosophy of working, living, and sharing together, involving multiple stakeholders such as government, real estate developers, farmers, and consumers while combining multiple perspectives and taking into account realities in the field.

    Following a 4-hour ride, the young people didn’t have much time to rest. Following a briefing by the real estate developer about the local conditions at Wangjiawan, the young people started to prepare interview outlines. Joining the process all along were S.LAB designers Ye Yingwei, Bi Jiatao, Lu Yang, and Wang Yongsheng as well as project planner Wu Jianying. The young people and the designers twice called on local farmers at their homes. The field trip and interview helped generate valuable insights.

    Insights generated through meticulous study, followed by big brainstorming session

    A former hoped to change his house into a rural resort in an effort to generate more income. Such idea was one of the demands discovered by a group of young people. The farmer had crops. He wanted to maximize value. Workshop participants must provide innovative solutions. Other groups thought about how to reconcile incoming outsiders with local cultural tradition, including the potential impact and conflict brought about by future development work. Another issue was how to leverage incoming people to improve local education.

    Local produce, trust, and education. These represented the opportunity spaces discovered by the workshop participants following observation and study at Wangjiawan. The following brainstorming session ignited creative and produced innovative ideas.

    The question about local produce was about changing the mind, so as to maximize local resources and generate sustainable revenues. The workshop participants believed the rural resort might be limited in business model. To enhance relations between farmers and the developer, they recommended to set up a virtual farm, which would be a virtual game space whereby players would set up their farms, buy items needed, and hire farmers to operate. The players would regularly visit the physical farm and broadcast the farming operations live online. The combination of virtual and physical operations would help promote local tourism and benefit multiple stakeholders.

    They also analyzed the Flower World project, a local agricultural attraction. The workshop participants tried to look for innovative operations to link up farmers, developer, and consumers. They recommended to change the flowers cultivated so as to attract consumers.

    The combination of crops, husbandry, and flower cultivation may bring about more possibilities. This would change the single operation of flower cultivation. Based on types of flowers cultivated, derivatives would be developed. Bees and honey business would be developed.

    They thought about senior citizens. The goal was to run long-term business and maintain viscosity of users. They considered setting up health clubs targeting senior citizens, leveraging local natural conditions and fresh air. Also considered were good food cooked using natural ingredients and combination of medicinal and food materials. The tourists would be encouraged to stay longer and in-depth cultural exchange would be sought after.

    They got innovative ideas for education too. There was more than disruption of local culture brought about by incoming tourists. The question would be how to leverage the positive effects.

    The workshop participants would encourage tourists to be deeply involved in local culture and education. The tourists brought about impacts on local education from multiple areas. A two-way information exchange system would be set up.

    Innovative ideas presented through storytelling

    On the morning of the sixth day, the workshop participants were excited.

    It was when they would present their creative plans through storytelling. In fact, they had done the preparation one day ahead. Thanks to the designer, they got to sort out their story, ready to sell their ideas and solutions through the presentation.

    On the sixth day, they presented ideas about use of local produce, building trust, and enhancing education through storytelling and role play. They might not have known that in the previous days they’d just completed typical work of a designer – definition, survey and interview, insights gained, brainstorming, innovative solutions produced, and storytelling and other formats to present the ideas.

    Final presentation - workshop participants demonstrate results

    They re-discover the issue and ignited new thinking and innovative ideas. They strove for better solutions and achieved higher creativity. The group of young people experienced the process in the seven days. Such thinking process and solutions would be applied to wider areas. “In the process, the participants got to experience inclusiveness of a community, parallel workings of the left and right brains, and learning by doing, all elements key to design thinking,” said Jin Ge.

    Apart from innovative experimentation, the workshop included a design lecture, outdoor experience, and interactive activities. As Jin Ge put it, the workshop itself was a cross-disciplinary experiment, with participation by Wanhe Group (a commercial company), Qinling Folks (a local community group), EAASD (an educational institution), and S.LAB (an innovation consulting service provider). The cross-disciplinary effort helped the workshop to go on in distinct formats.

    The 7 days might be only a short experience for the young people. However, exposure to design thinking and to discover solutions using such thinking would be a very valuable experience.

    As you know, design and innovation represent indispensable competitiveness of young people today.

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