A learn-by-doing community for creative professionals.


February, 2014

3 Week Studio Project with Applegate

The Studio Project is an in-depth, 3-week project that brings the challenge of an aspirational company to the brains of a diverse set of whip-smart professionals. Ranging from advertising executives to Nickelodeon Product Managers to global non-profit innovation leaders, the participants brought diverse knowledge, skillsets, and networks to conduct research with. You can register for the next Studio Project, April 23rd-June 4th here.

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The client for this Studio Project was Applegate, a bold company with a mission to ‘Change the Way We Eat Meat’. They are in the midst of launching some new products and businesses, and decided to open their doors to get some fresh eyes, new perspectives, and passionate hustle applied to their challenge.


The results of the project are confidential as they relate to a new product launch, but here is how the process worked:


– Kickoff Meeting – The teams were given an overview of Applegate introduced to the process we would be following. They got to meet each other, and begin working on secondary research and recruiting friends and family for primary research.

– Work Session 1 (w/ client) – Several members of the Applegate team joined to present the brief. After getting some training on research planning, research methods, and best practices, the class split into two teams and got cranking. By the end of the night they had research plans in hand.

– Working Week 1 – The teams spent the next week in the field, conducting a ton of research, ranging from long-form interviews, short interviews, shadows, focus groups, surveys, and intercepts. The research took place in NYC, PA, VA, and even NC! They interviewed both parents and children, and participants covered both current Applegate consumers and not.

– Work Session 2 – The session kicked off with a final round of research, as we were joined by a full family. The family split up and the teams were able to conduct a final interview with them. Next the teams were trained on insight development through the use of frameworks to pull out the patterns in the data they found.

– Working Week 2 – The teams continued to cluster, sort, and organize their data in different ways to extract new learnings from their research. Both teams also participated in a facilitated office hours with the Design Gym team to really learn the ins and outs of insight development.

– Worksession 3 (w/ client) – The Applegate Team joined again for the final session, which kicked off right away with insight presentations from each of the teams. They shared out new learnings, top stories from their research, and visual frameworks to support their learnings. They also were able to start teasing out prompts, phrases that help turn unique insights into stimulus for creating ideas against. The teams got client feedback, then jumped into over an hour of ideation, generating hundreds of different ideas. They narrowed them down to the top ideas, then spent some time visualizing them and creating their final pitch before presenting to the client.




Protected: 3 Week Studio Project with Applegate (Outcomes)

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Design Thinking Weekend Workout with the Brooklyn Brainery

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The Design Gym is a community at the intersection of learning and creative problem solving. We bring together classes of diverse professionals to work on projects of aspirational organizations – learning by doing. This month’s weekend workout focused on the challenges faced by the Brooklyn Brainery as they plan a new offering outside their wonderful four walls.

Below are four videos and summaries of the insights each team delivered after just one day of work, along with feedback from the Brainery Staff.

The right process and amazing people is an irresistible combination! Photos from the day are at the bottom, too…

Thanks to all the amazing people who came out to the workshop and the Brooklyn Brainery for spending your sunday thinking about the future of your business.


Retention Expansion Strategy:


We want to launch a community membership program that allows people to progress from a one time student to a teacher within the community. Each time a new community member takes a class they are given two cards. One is a card that acts as a tracker for progression in the community and as a way to know how the most devoted members are. The other acts as a promotional card that can be given to a friend, and gives them 20% off their first Adventure Club trip.

As people continue to take more classes they work their way through different levels, gaining access to new opportunities and benefits. A new community member would begin as a Novice, progress to an Explorer and finally become a Dundee.


Brooklyn Brainery Feedback:
I like that it takes an informal behavior that’s already happening (people beginning as students and becoming teachers) and begin to formalize it. We have a lot of instructors who both take classes and teach classes, this would give structure and a clear progression to that.


The Real Little Italy Concept:



Experts who love their neighborhood and have a rich knowledge of its history and culture can share what they know with a greater audience. For example many people don’t know that the original Little Italy is actually in the Bronx. Helen has a great deal of knowledge about the people and establishments in the neighborhood that have made it what it is and a desire to share this knowledge with others.


Brooklyn Brainery Feedback:
I love the idea of engaging new people who just happen to know and love sharing a great deal about their neighborhood. Even just sitting down at a bar and hearing their stories could be really interesting.


Creating Comfort in Adventure:



Utilize the already existing brand to create social circles of people who want to connect throughout New York City, based on where they live. During these happy hour’s they will connect with teachers who are local to the area in which they live.

This first meeting is a one time experience to create comfort for people who might be intimidated to go out somewhere with people they’ve never met before and introduce them to this new concept.

Use instructors they already know to keep something familiar and show examples during the Happy Hour of what different excursions might look like.


Brooklyn Brainery Feedback:
I like the idea of a mixture between the known and unknown. Grabbing pictures allows people to know what the experience may be like but also allows us to catalogue all these experiences.


Financial Flexibility: 


People new to the city are going to have different amounts of time freedom and flexibility; we believe that payment options should also be flexible to accommodate different varying schedules. Single event based pricing for those that can only make an event or two per month, with an option for a monthly payment that gives them access to a variety of events each month.

In addition to the financial flexibility, another benefit would be an email sent to each attendee before the event takes place. This email covers who else has already signed up for this event, a quick blurb about them and some points of common interest amongst the group to spark conversation.


Brooklyn Brainery Feedback: 
“My favorite thing about this, is getting the email upfront that says this is who is going to be at the event and that the email comes after you’ve already signed up. It allows you to know who will be there without selecting purely based on that”.


Photos from the weekend:

Design Thinking Bootcamp

The Design Gym is a community at the intersection of learning and creative problem solving. We bring together classes of diverse professionals to work on projects of aspirational organizations – learning by doing. We recently did one focused on airbnb, because we think it’s a pretty rad company, and our students were pumped to work on their problem for a day.

One day, a doctor, an ad executive, and a design student go out to lunch together to learn about the state of hospitality (no…seriously). This is how it goes down over the course of a full-day:



Each team refined their insights, sourced from their interviews and issues maps, pushed through prototypes, storyboards and iterative testing over the course of the afternoon. Each team presented a vision for AirBnB going forward:

– Air Home & Hood – an online service that allows home renters and buyers to test out a neighborhood or city before fully committing to making the move. It’s complete with a neighborhood guide matching system.

– AirBnB KEY – an iPhone app that unlocks the world. Just grab your keys, wallet, and phone, and go. Through a new hardware device, users can unlock their Airbnb rentals conveniently, and through partnerships are able to easily access rental services and currency exchanges.

– Airbnb +plus – An add on service that allows users to supplement their home rental with services such as cleaning, local guides, recreational equipment, and even a weekend pet.

– Airbnb Experiences – People search endlessly to get an authentic experience or have a serendipitous encounter with locals – why not make that easier? Airbnb experiences connects travelers with local communities and people to break bread, explore the town, and build empathy far beyond the normal travel book’s recommendations.

Street Research Insights

How do you get inside the head of your customer? What really motivates them, and how do you reach them where they are?

Our current answer is a dual-learning model. We bring companies we’ve trained in design thinking together with people who are also training in design thinking to collaborate on insights.

Applegate Farms works with us to develop a more agile and autonomous atmosphere of innovation. Coming to this workshop to get insights about their customers and products (instead of paying a consultancy to tell them what to do) is one way they’re changing their culture.

This class had three phases:

1. Workshop One: The Company and the Class interact, exchanging information and framing the challenge.

2. Field Work: The Class goes out into the world and does low-barrier ethnography – one-on-one interviews, shadows, intercepts.

3. Workshop Two: The Class comes back with their user research and synthesizes it, pitching back their findings .

Why should this company listen to these people? Firstly, they were an astounding assortment of people, that any company would want to have in their corner. They work in the Mayor’s office, as business consultants to the mental health industry, VPs at ad agencies, doctors and teachers. Secondly, they were able to bring in about 50 user profile data points – far more on-the-ground insight than most market research firms can complete in the same time frame.


The first group focused on interviewing families while grocery shopping and at the butchers. They thought that health would drive decisions more than they heard from their interviews. They pointed out that taste and quality of the product were more important than labels and brand.

The Second group peered into the extremes: A Key Foods in Bushwick and the Dean and Deluca store in SoHo. What they found was a hazy middle section of consumers. Sandwiched in between the extremely informed and those who don’t want to be informed are a large segment of people who know some buzzwords and know they “should” care more than they act on.  What will get this “twilight zone” of people into the more active region of engaged customers? Ethics and health played a role, but very few do research before going into the store. Their data and insights sorted on ‘hyper-informed vs. disengaged’ by location is pretty interesting.

Group Three felt that some buzzwords fell into the noise…they look at ingredients, and want to compare items in the store, where it seems that many purchasing decisions are being made. Applegate products should be placed side by side with other products to allow users to see the better ingredients and healthier product that Applegate provides.

Group Four insights included the recognition of “single” issue voters on food, and that labels needed to have information as clear as possible in order to win them over.


What if I Screw Up?

If you’ve never read the Valve Employee Handbook, it’s worth a read. They have an amazing attitude towards their internal organization, culture and ways of working. It is maybe the only Employee Handbook you’ll ever read in one short sitting, happily. With a lighthearted tone and great diagrams, it’s an education.

One amazing point, on Page 20: What if I screw up?

Screwing up is a great way to find out that your assumptions are wrong or that your model of the world was a bit off.

As long as you update your model or move forward with a better picture, you’re doing it right.  Look for ways to test your beliefs. Never be afraid to run an experiment or collect more data.

This attitude of Make, Test and Reflect is amazing…you can talk about ideas forever, but until you make something and test it (or screw up) in the real world, you’ll never know.


Always Be Capturing

If you’ve wanted to run your own design sprint, you can always hire The Design Gym…but frankly you can do it yourself if you have enough Creative Confidence!

There are lots of great resources on the web, but DesignStaff.org from Google ventures has some great stuff. This article is about how to keep your meetings moving forward by keeping them visual. If you want to get some practice before you try it out, we have a class on Visual Recording coming up in March. Some critical points:

1. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Don’t trust yourself or your team to remember your great ideas. Write them on a post-it, a whiteboard or take pictures with your phone and have a shared folder

2. Appoint a facilitator: having someone who’s *job* it is to do the pre- and post-meeting work to collect and arrange some of these team-shared resources and agendas is essential

3. War Rooms: If you can, maintain a project room. This can allow some visual memory from meeting to meeting, instead of having to erase everything. Substitures are shared asana lists, trello boards or straight up google docs.

If you need other things to “always be” doing, besides closing, read Danny Meyers’ book Setting the Table. He talks about always “collecting dots” and “connecting dots”, a great metaphor for developing a designer’s mindset.

Hacking Networks: Barbed Bells

If you don’t get Now I Know, the awesome daily email on random things that are interesting, you should!

This article from a few days ago was fascinating, and about a very early hacker’s network: Farmers and Ranchers in the early days of the 1900s, using barbed wire for phone lines!

In 1894, the patent on the phone ran out, and Alexander Graham Bell no longer had exclusive rights to sell it…but his company *did* own the largest network on which to run it and make it useful. Someone discovered that barbed wire fences made a decent conductor, however, and was able to turn the fences stretching for miles from ranch to ranch and farm to farm into a massive party line – anyone could talk and listen, and distinctive ring patterns were used to separate who was calling.

To get around this… some communities developed a system where each ranch had its own ring — a unique combination of short and long sounds. Due to the nature of the phone system, the ring would sound on every phone in the network, day or night. Also, while it was customary to only pick up if your ring was the one being sounded, anyone else could (and often did) eavesdrop.

Second, the barbed wire fences were only good transmitters if they stayed up. The bulls that the fences held in were not privy to this system and didn’t always cooperate, at times taking down the entire phone network as they made their escape. This had a silver lining, though. As the New York Times noted in a 1901 report on barbed wire phone systems, at least the ranchers now had a way of knowing that the cattle were escaping: the phone suddenly stopped working.

What’s amazing about this system is that it persisted and grew for many years…until the main system, with it’s superior switching system which *wouldn’t* ring everyone at the same time, took over. The hacked network quickly fell from use.

What networks can you hack to accomplish something new?



Open-source Design MBA

“Design is the Future of Business” says author Nathan Shedroff. He’s written a host of books, started a school, and has the guts to open his materials up for anyone and everyone to use. Take a look here for his MBA curriculum. 

His Experiences studio is right on: everything is an experience and experiences can be designed.

He outlines the Six Dimensions of experience, and they’re all right on. Finding ways to shape, control and manage these triggers help shape a design experience.

1. Significance: Function/Performance, Price/Value,
Emotion/Lifestyle, Values/Identity, Meaning. Refer to the Meaning
Template for instruction on how to assess meaning.
2. Breadth: Product, Service, Brand, Nomenclature (Naming),
Channel (Environment), Promotion, Price.
3. Intensity: Reflex, Habit, Engagement.
4. Duration (Time): Initiation (Start), Immersion, Conclusion (End),
Continuation (Repeat).
5. Triggers: Taste, Sight (Visuals), Sound (Music, Voice, Effects),
Smell, Touch/Texture, Concepts, Symbols.
6. Interaction: Passive, Static, Reactive, Interactive.