Innovation Waffle MakeShop
Here at the Fjord London Studio, we recently hosted a MakeShop for an interactive installation project for a client. Brainstorming during the workshop involved teams working with physical 3D models that I made from foam board, in order to help visualise how the showcase space would be organised, and to role-play the users’ journeys through an interaction with the space.
After proving how the results of this approach brought the client workshop to life, we thought it would be a great idea to share the thinking behind our MakeShop with other designers. We have a working breakfast every Friday in the studio, so during a lighthearted chat with our technology design lead, Leon Bovett, I had an idea to organize a waffle MakeShop for the next breakfast event (Waffles were chosen as the breakfast option due to their structural integrity – they are perfect edible building blocks!)
Sometimes design constraints are a great way to focus creativity. With this in mind, I set a theme with some constraints intended to combine creativity with playfulness, encourage collaboration without stress, and unleash a child-like mind-set: – “Illustrate your interpretation of the Fjord Trends 2016 using waffles and other breakfast themed building materials.”
I was very excited to conduct this workshop. I started to make a list of ingredients and created workshop materials such as Fjord Trends cards (of course waffle branded) and waffle construction planning worksheets.
I banned the use of popular brainstorming tools such as Post-its and Sharpies during the session, and mandated the use of pencils and paper. It is sometimes better to use unorthodox methods to encourage the creation of new ideas.
I split the hungry contestants into small groups, and gave each group a waffle trends card. The participants were given five minutes to sketch their first idea. When they were ready, I unveiled the breakfast ingredients, before they started creating their dream Fjord trend waffles.
Every team made a creative and unique waffle sculpture. I was particularly impressed by the Ski Jump team, who used chocolate sprinkles to represent snow (or maybe it was more of a mud slide?) This turned the presentation into a performance. All the participants seemed to enjoy the making process, and particularly enjoyed eating the sculptures in the end.
A MakeShop can be a powerful tool
Through previous exhibition experience design projects before joining Fjord, and MakeShop facilitation experiences at Fjord, I have seen how effective tangible brainstorming can be. I know the importance of playing with physical models for idea development, both in terms of the creative process, and also in terms of the interpersonal dynamics of groups of people that have to work and communicate and evolve ideas together. A few of the main advantages of physical creation are:
1 – We can save the time
In conversation, people would have to describe the objects, their appearance, and how they are located relative to the space. The perception of the situation might be different from person to person, as it is difficult to keep the same mental model in each person’s mind. But if you can play with a physical model, the conversation changes from a long monologue to just moving an object from one place to another (a never-ending conversation can be reduced to a single swift movement.)
2 – Simultaneous development of ideas within the group
This is a big discovery for me. When I was facilitating a workshop, I saw a participant who was not participating in verbal brainstorming. However, in the MakeShop session she was powerfully engaging in the idea creation process, getting her hands on the model, creating new items with colourful paper and pens. I realised that in a three dimensional workshop, everyone can give their opinion in parallel, in real time, rather than needing to wait for an opportunity to verbalise an idea. It’s a tangible fun process, where the team works as one whilst the end results are constructed collaboratively.
In brainstorming conversation, speaking skills and dominant personalities are often highlighted rather than actual idea development. If you are not a “think out loud” person you will often get side-lined during the process. Workshop specialists often say quieter people often have better ideas, so therefore we should create situations where everyone feels comfortable contributing.
Workshops should be focused on democratic idea creation rather than being a presentation skill competition. Design thinking rituals and processes can be powerful tools to enable a group to perform structured ideation, but the best creative experiences come from dynamic and unexpected interactions.
A key element for making three-dimensional workshop materials is making sure the materials are tailored for each occasion. Participants perhaps don’t always want to play with just one material (e.g. Play-Doh) for brainstorming; there is a range to consider. The materials should be relevant for the task.
During this time of growth for design thinking in business, tangible MakeShops should be considered more fully as a standard part of the design toolkit. We should aim to solve our challenges in creative and enjoyable ways.
Special thanks to Lisa Williams, Sarah Ellis and Leon Bovett for event recordings, logistic supports and advices.