Design Thinking Camp 2016

So, there’s this thing called Design Camp hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design in Chicago. It is a five-day, immersive, design thinking camp meant to teach students the design innovation process.

Student who attend IIT: ID will get to spend years studying and practicing this way of thought but those in attendance at Design Camp just had 5 days. Given our shortened timeline, we were taught one concept, or step, a day.  There were about 20 people in attendance at the Summer Session 2 course. We were divided up into four teams to solve the problem: Redesign the Temporary Space at Merchandise Mart (aka TheMart) known as The Hub. Merchandise Mart is one of the largest commercial buildings in the world, opened in 1931.

My team was composed of 4 other very smart and accomplished professionals from around the U.S.

Day 1: Reframing

This was possibly the hardest concept to wrap our minds around. It involves relative comfort with ambiguity and confusion, which is not something we tend to naturally feel comfort with as human beings.

We were told that the best projects start with no solution in mind but were given some processes we used to get a better handle on reframing. One was is to create a “How Might We” statement that is neither too broad nor too narrow so as not to limit the scope nor create too many possible questions that need answered. The goal was to identify the Object, User Group and Constraints of the issue in order to begin using the Design Process to create solutions.

As you can imaging, reframing a project or even just creating an aspiration statement at the beginning of a project can seem overwhelming, confusing and a little impossible without having done any research, polling or other fact gathering activities.

After our feeble, noob attempts at reframing, our course instructor, blessedly, gave us a break by planning a fun team building activity at Second City, one of the world’s premier comedy schools.

Day 2: Research

Yes! I love this part. We had about an hour lecture then walked over to TheMart to interview users of the space and speak to the CEO about his vision. After hearing from the CEO we discovered that his vision included the space remaining a hub in the building as well as a revenue generating source for TheMart.

Our interviews with current users of the space, however, differed in use from that of the CEO’s vision. Most users mentioned that they enjoyed having the space as a get-away from their offices and for people-watching.

Scientific method vs grounded theory

We were careful not to lead any of our interviewees since we learned earlier that day that our questions should align with the Grounded Theory approach and be open-ended in order to get the most holistic view of the intended user’s thoughts.

Day 3: Analysis & Synthesis 

Now that we had our research in hand, we were tasked with drawing insights from it. Those insights would become principles. Basically, insights are the themes and principles are a more drilled-down and holistic interpretation of the insights. If those two things sound like similar to you, you are not alone. It took us a while to fully understand the differences between insights and principles.

insights to principles

Based on the above, we decided that our Principles consisted of two things: Relaxation and Connection within the space.

Now to synthesize. Taking our Principles, we needed to explore different options that would be feasible, taking into account the limitations, stakeholders and functions of the space.


Sticky notes are a huge part of the design thinking process and at this point, we began to organize ours into concepts based on feedback, interviews and observations while keeping in mind the above stakeholders.

With all those things in mind, we came up with several good ideas that would transform the space into a relaxation oasis that allowed for multiple types of relaxation styles.

Day 4: Prototyping

This was probably my favorite part of the course – we got to go to the Prototyping Lab to do some building. A prototype isn’t always a physical model – it can also be a vision board, collage, illustration, video or a performance with props. We chose to build a small model of the space and include our ideas for a more tangible illustration of our designs.

Given the two themes of relaxation and connection, we chose to create an oasis where tenants and visitors could come to relax in, in which ever style of relaxation works for them – active or passive. We suggested that TheMart install stationary bikes, relaxed seating and seating nooks on the stairs, facing the projection wall for those that find light activity relaxing as well as for those that want a quiet place to themselves to work or people watch. The projection wall would be showing a bike path and have the ability to listen to the sounds of nature via bluetooth technology.

IMG_3876 IMG_3872 IMG_3871 IMG_3870 IMG_3866IMG_3877

Within the space at the top of the stairs, we created a walking path enclosed by an indoor arboretum with seating throughout and a treehouse winding up one of the columns.

IMG_3874 IMG_3869 IMG_3865 IMG_3864

In the room off the main room, we designed an immersive swing experience. Users would be able to reserve selected experiences around the world to be immersed in for 30 minutes to an hour. Through projections and other sensory details, users would be completely immersed in their chosen location while swinging back and forth a foot above the floor, relaxing.



Day 5: Communications

Communicating the solution that our team created would take skilled storytelling methods. We needed to impart not only our idea but what made it worthy of testing in the space and why it might benefit TheMart to incorporate our suggestions. We decided to present a fictional scenario of typical millennials in today’s workforce. Our Chicago Regional Office Executive, played by yours truly, started out complaining that her millennial workforce was always so overworked, complaining about the go-go-go and asking for so many personal days. Enter our solution: the oasis in the midst of a busy office building where workers could come to relax, recharge and spend some time with nature.

Many of our suggestions could be easily tested in the space. The projection wall above the stairs was already in place and could be used to show nature paths with accompanying music and sounds and serve as a test case for adding stationary bikes or more private seating or even the pie-in-the-sky immersive swing experience.

This is where we left TheMart team but we were hopeful that they would take our suggestions and at least test some in order to build a space that enhances their attractiveness to their current and future tenants and visitors.

The design process is divided up into the 4 quadrants pictured but as we were told in the beginning, it would be a non-linear journey following more along the red line – which we found to be entirely true to our experience.

non linear

This was one week that I am so glad I took the time for – not only because of what I learned but also because of the wonderful people I met and connected with.

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