Now that I've had a chance to explore a micro-discrete instance of the Design Thinking process away from my own project, it's time to fold this valuable framework into my own fieldwork process for Making Sense. So, now, as identified in my Gantt timeline, this week I'll be taking the time to analyse the components of Design Thinking a little bit more and initiate my first step in this process - empathise. Design Thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. There's several flavors of this stuff but it's all ground from the same bean, and that bean is the juicy-juicy collaborative pod of participatory design:
I have to say, this kind of human-centered design process is not unfamiliar to me. Back in 2016 we roasted our own special blend of Design Thinking via our now well-established project everyone initiative down at pyka. Made up of 3 key phases (immerse, explore, and create) it has proved to be an incredibly powerful framework for engaging and involving pyka's target audiences in the design processes for all of our creative, expressive tools and interactive experiences. Because of this, we have always been developmental intermediaries; between people of all ages and backgrounds, and the problems they face in gaining access to creative digital experiences. Now, in regards to Making Sense (and in a somewhat meta consideration towards my application of Design Thinking), I will be steering well clear of the "that's the way we do things here" mentality that Design Thinking itself asks us to avoid. So, as I move forwards from today I will, therefore, be exploring the nuances of the broader universal blueprint of Design Thinking: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement:
I kicked this week off by producing a Gantt timeline to help me map out when I would be moving through each of these phases. To establish this, I sat down and audited all of the activities that would make up my Fieldwork journey for Making Sense and brought this together in a timeline doc that will enable me to manage the various strands, crossover, and required timings of key activities that will form the entire fieldwork journey. This timeline can be found here.
Gotta love a Gantt timeline! ...and as opportunities arise and fall, I'll be keeping this timeline up to date over the coming weeks. Right out of the gate and into the first segment of my gant - who am I empathising with? ...and where am I empathising? To know this I need to triangulate the location of me and my cards and find out where we sit and where we are relevant.
So this week it was time to do some sector mapping!
At this stage in the fieldwork process, it made the most sense for me to identify what I have already established in regards to my professional identity. After all, Making Sense is a project (a product!) that represents an effort to materialise my own brand of creative freelancing and make this accessible to others. For this to be a successful product, I will need to extract the relevant ingredients from my existing profile in order to start identifying the best rabbit holes in the sector to utilise and explore. I first audited all of the components of my professional practice. Which looks like this...
Freelance producer. Director. Facilitator. Educator. Everything that I do, and wish to continue to do, falls under one of these four core occupational headlines; with each workflow that I concern myself with listed under each branch. Each of these areas, and each of the workflows associated, connect me to a wide variety of audiences/markets/networks. Which look like this...
...and I've tried to keep each channel unique here. Because, although I've experienced plenty of crossover between these occupational headings, each of these avenues has undoubtedly brought about a unique set of channels for me to access as a professional over the last decade. Being a Freelance Producer has taken me firmly down the jobs market, and connected me with a wide variety of partners and organisations. Being a Freelance Producer has seen me compose soundtracks for video games and film, create interactive artefacts and experiences, produced illustrations for children's books and AR platforms, character design for animations, graphic design for digital user interfaces. And the list goes on - because this really is the most established element of my career ( it's what I first did, and what I will primarily continue to do) it is without a doubt the spinal column of the skeleton to my entire professional identity. After several years of freelancing, I became a Director, which catapulted multidisciplinary-me into the world of education technology through the co-founding of pyka in 2015. Through this venture, I've not only added one or two strings to my multidisciplinary bow (i.e. object-based programming and UX/UI design to name 2 biggies) but this is where I cut my teeth on some of the most powerful transferrable skills I have ever acquired - project management, team coordination, creative direction, and fundraising. Then (brought on by a combo of the previous two) I have also worn the hat of Educator for the best part of 7 years. Under this header, I have worked on the development and delivery of both curriculum and extra-curricula learning programs. As an organisation pyka has worked directly with over 10000 students in over 100 schools across Wales and the UK, spanning ages 3-18. And in recent years, I have expanded on that outer age barrier within education as I began working as a lecturer in music and digital media back in 2017; first at University of South Wales, and now, at The University of Gloucestershire. Through pyka alone, I have personally worked directly with around 80% of those learners/schools included in the stats above, and this has provided me with a powerful line of sight on the nature of education across all key stages and beyond. The most valuable thing that this unique situation has afforded me is that I have been able to explore how the same complex skillsets and processes can be introduced to learners from early years through to young adults (like app design and development), in a way that will see any of these age groups producing results; it's a process that provides access to the very same opportunities, but presented uniquely to every age group we work with. And lastly, my role as Facilitator has enabled me to move my workshop and lesson facilitation skills into the wider public domain, with families engagement workshops, creative mentoring for at-risk groups, training seminars, creative workshops at festivals, skills training, and CPD opportunities all spanning the cultural and heritage sectors and even the festivals market.
I know... it's safe to say this personal sector map is already quite broad. On the one hand, this is great! ...as this provides many lines of sight and rabbit holes to potentially pursue, but also problematic on the other - no one wants a dilute professional strategy, and it's safe to say that not all of this map will remain relevant as I mine at this coalface during fieldwork process for Making Sense. But for now, this is at least an all-inclusive map of who I am, what I'm connected to, and therefore and most importantly - where this project is potentially relevant. Now! What to connect and what to leverage? Well looking over this complete sector map, I began to highlight key ingredients that I feel are valuable/worth leveraging to support the development of Making Sense.
Firstly, without a doubt I'll be leveraging my knowledge of all the disciplines I practice as a Freelance Producer, this is a core part of the Making Sense framework and is vital to the design of that product. Then drawing on my channels as a Director, I have 5 years of experience connecting with, interviewing, and recruiting a wide variety of practitioners who have joined us as part of commission contracting, fixed-term, or long term positions at pyka. Leveraging this kind of workforce networking will make it possible for me to reach other freelance practitioners throughout this participatory design process for Making Sense, not just for the impending target audience surveys, but the participatory design trials that will ultimately come later in the Design Thinking cycles. Beyond this, it also dawned on me that some of the transferrable skills I mentioned as a result of my role as Director are also coming into play here. Making Sense is about adding a structure to nebulous creative workflows/modern creative freelancing. This is very much about project management and creative direction - another key ingredient of my professional practice that I will be utilising - both in the management of this Design Thinking process for fieldwork, but also in the design of the cards themselves. Based on what I've highlighted here, in the early stages of this Design Thinking cycle, of empathising and fact-finding it looks like it's the jobs market and the freelancer community that I will be fixing my gaze upon. This is who I'll need to empathise with. This is where I need to test my Making Sense hunches and allow this Design Thinking process to begin moulding the product. So. Just like in groundwork, when I asked myself how I feel about my creative practice and begin to explore what it was that I wanted, I need to ask the very same questions to individuals in this sector. "How do you feel about your creative practice? ...and what is it that you desire within this role?" I am however still in a process of empathising in order to define the problem that Making Sense will address in a way that is suited to my target audience. But now that I know who to start approaching, I need to know what I'm going to ask them. This was something I was rather rapidly able to hone in on very recently at the Growth Hub in Gloucester. On the 28th Feb I was able to attend the SAGE Start and Grow 2-day start-up seminar, and boy oh boy was that worth the visit... and the weekend sacrificed! These sessions were designed to help individuals in laying the groundwork for establishing either a new start-up or a new freelance trade career. Now... yes, as detailed in my sector map above, I have plenty of experience sustaining both a freelance career and a start-up business, but remember - Design Thinking! - challenging assumptions, and breaking the 'that's how we do business here' is running deep for me right now! Much of the stuff around how to 'freelance', how to run 'self-assessment tax accounts', etc, were already very familiar to me, but the granular details provided around the Strategyser's Business Model Canvas, and how to get inside the heads of your target audience were fascinating and very much expanded on my existing knowledge of this front greatly! The second day, in particular, is when this blew up significantly for me. Through a stroke of luck, and being the odd participant left over when the entire group was shuffled and paired up with someone, I was partnered with the Start & Grow seminar event leader, Tamsyn Harrod-Beck, and this ended up being a valuable moment to gain useful insights from her about how to approach and interview/survey my intended target audience for Making Sense. Through this discussion and dummy run interview, Tamsyn had helped me to establish and refine a set of 'blind' target audience questionnaires (i.e. questions that were designed to help me learn about valuable ingredients of my making sense product, without directly revealing the nature of the product itself). This was to ensure my audience would express their wants and needs in response to open questions, resulting in authentic expressions of their own desires and problems, and not feedback on any solutions at this point. This process resulted in the following target audience survey. Shortly after this event, I published my survey via Google Forms and distributed it via a number of social media networks and online portals in order to reach as wide a mix of creatives as I possibly could. The survey itself is balanced with measurable, quantifiable questions, and follow up open questions which enable the nuances of personal preference to shine through on a person to person basis. The survey has been out for just over a week now with responses already coming from a wide variety of creative individuals. More on this to come in future posts once I've received enough responses to work through a useful analysis. Next week, I'll be developing profiles based on the audience of freelancers I've honed in on in my sector map, and generate some use case storyboards that explore the value relationship between Making Sense, and freelancers/producers/creatives.