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Anyone who has read papers  the three most important elements of Design Thinking knows that, next to the people you actually have in the workshop and the Design Thinking approach itself, it matters tremendously in which environment the session is conducted.

Many of us have in the past successfully conducted hundreds of workshops without spending too much time to get the colour of the sofa in the meeting room right (it should be red, by the way). Let alone trying to get a sofa in at all. So, why is it now so important in these sessions to be “There”, in this special environment and what does “There” look like anyway? In an attempt to answer this question, I will now talk about change of perspective, productivity and brain hemispheres.

At the beginning of the year, I ran together with my esteemed colleague Marc Dietrich a two-day workshop in the Dublin App-Haus for one of the leading global telecommunications companies. Should any of you have ever been there, it is a fantastic space for Design Thinking sessions. The whole building is essentially a white board, you can write or stick your post-it on any surface, everything is mobile, all thinkable and some unthinkable materials can be found and used at the tip of your finger. So imagine my surprise when one of the customers started talking to me about how the room set-up should be improved in order help him think differently. He would have preferred high-desks with a bar stool instead of the traditional two-jointed desks with four comfortable chairs. Sitting on a chair at a desk makes him thinking and working in a too conventional manner, the more far-flung ideas do not form and the discussions become too formal. When he can stand up, walk about and act more freely, he can also think more freely. It helps him to acquire a new perspective.

Now, I am not a neurologist but immediately an interview with Prof. Weinberg of HPI D-School fame jumps to my mind. He explained that traditional room and office layouts have been designed with theperformance of an individual in mind who are working alone most likely in a very analytical and factual way. This means that the left brain hemisphere is stimulated and we are not very creative. Which is absolutely fine when we need to determine the viability and feasibility of our ideas and solution proposals for our challenge. However, if we are in need of ideas how we might solve the challenge in a way which is desirable to our users – and be creative about it – we need something different. Design Thinking rooms are designed to stimulate the creative part of our brain, the right hemisphere and make us behave differently compared to how we share spaces and materials and give them the space to understand each other’s ideas and add to them. So, traditional desks only form barriers between the teams.

If you have not yet seen or worked in such a space, I can only recommend to grab the next chance you get to do so. You will feel immediately what I am talking about here. But although these spaces are lately popping up all over the SAP and our customers’ offices around the globe, chances are the next time you need one to run your workshop there will not be one where you are or it is hopelessly booked out. So, how can you create your own Design Thinking space when and where you need it. Here are some hopefully helpful tips.

1. You need space – A lot.

  

Try to get the biggest room you can get and empty it out. There will be masses of wall space for you to pin your brown paper on, but make sure to use the right kind of tape to avoid traces on the walls. There will be enough space for placing the high-desks and stools and the participants still can move around the room.

2. You need to be able to be a bit messy.

Do not be tempted to go for the classy board room, even if it is offered and is the biggest. Facility management is the natural
enemy of Design Thinkers and do not want expensive artwork removed from walls or windows be written on with board markers.

3. You need a friend on-site

Forget what I said above about facility management being the natural enemy. They are usually enormously helpful, as long as they know beforehand what you are planning to do. My friend from facility in the Zürich office knows in the meantime a lot more about Design Thinking rooms than myself and is now able to set one up and take it down faster than I can say “Design Thinking”.

For more detailed and specific suggestions we can provide a more detailed manual how to set up the Design Thinking space.

  

But in my mind, the term environment does not only include practical interior design aspects. What makes a Design Thinking
room a real creative environment is the true free spirit in which these sessions are conducted. It should be safe to shout out half-baked ideas without your boss starting to wonder whether he made the right recruitment decision. It should be possible for everyone to disagree with anyone without risking the next career step. The Design Thinking environment is a safe space to try and
fail in order to succeed.

Without this spirit any fancy Design Thinking room is just a collection of uncomfortable chairs and a red sofa. With this spirit any
old cupboard with a brown paper on the wall is the potential birthplace of the next ground breaking idea.

So, this is the importance of being “There” – in place and in spirit.

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5 Comments

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  1. Fred Verheul

    Hi Peter,

    Nice blog post and tips!

    I totally agree with the premise that having the right Space is very important. And I’m glad that at the end of your blog you mention the right SPIRIT (I was really waiting for that), as it far outweighs the importance of any physical properties of the Space IMO.

    A couple of weeks ago I was a participant in a ‘coach the coaches’ designthinking workshop in The Netherlands. Since this was a grass roots initiative, we didn’t have a default facility to use for the workshop, and we were very lucky to have a fellow participant (Twan van den Broek to be exact) offering us to use his company’s skybox in the PSV stadium. Although it didn’t have a (red) sofa, we were out of our natural habitat for sure, and that proved immensely helpful.

    I’ll publish a blog post about the workshop shortly, and include a picture of the Space so you can see it for yourself. I’m not sure it beats the Dublin App-haus 🙂 , but for our purposes it proved good enough.

    Cheers, Fred

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    1. Peter Mittemeyer Post author

      Hi Fred,

      thank you, I read your post as well and have to say it looks like an inspiring location to me. Did you go down and kicked a few penalties?

      The DT session also looked fun.

      Cheers,

      Peter

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  2. Tom Cenens

    Hi Peter

    Thanks for sharing, it’s an Interesting blog post.

    I just recently participated in a two day DT workshop at SAP Walldorf. The location “the mothership” which was already inspirational for me and the space where the sessions took place were DT spaces which indeed resulted a large room, with a sofa, with high tables and high seats, white boards, materials and so on.

    The participants had the right spirit, everyone was excited to get going and it really showed in the end results. We really came up with viable, usable solutions which I personally loved to a very large extent.

    Another source of inspiration for me, were the other participants. There were a lot of high profiles present. The way the workshop is build up, it places everyone on the same level, everyone is a participant, with equal rights to bring their thoughts and ideas forward.

    Best regards

    Tom

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  3. Vinicius Mendes

    Hi Peter,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I am deeply interested in learning about design thinking and helping to make this spirit more present in our daily decisions and projects.

    As an intern, I was able to participate in two design thinking sessions so far and for sure the place you are influences the open flow of ideas and helps to engage the participants in the spirit needed for the best outcome.

    For starters in design thinking it seems that the first “crazy” idea (and the subsequent contribution that improves it into an awesome an innovative idea) is necessary to brake the ice and make everyone comfortable to share ideas, experiences and opinions.

    I gave seen a website where the coach brought a big red blanket and pillows to put on regular chairs and also urban landscape pictures to put on the wall and use as boards. He called it Portable DT kit.

    Best regards,

    Vinicius Mendes

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  4. Jeremy Thomas

    Hi Peter,

    Great post! I agree and know from much experience the challenges when it comes to the ‘environment’ of a DT session. I would like to especially highlight the last bit about the ‘spirit’ part of the space/participants. Any physical space can be successful if we can inspire the right mindset. So, it makes any exercises you can do all the more powerful to focus on the spirit side of the environment equation.

    If anyone has stories to share on how they were affected as either a participant or a coach by particular exercises or experiences, I’d love to hear them.

    Thanks again, Peter!

    Cheers,

    Jeremy

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