September 2012 Weekend Workout with Holstee

Twenty-one students last weekend were pushed to the max over two and a half days, all in the name of better understanding and, more importantly, executing on the design thinking process. Throw in a session with an improv teacher, real world clients, and all of a sudden this fun weekend has turned into a race going at full tilt. But the next thing out of people’s mouths is how worth it the weekend was. This is an account of how The Design Gym, in combination with Holstee and Improvulation, spent this past weekend solving some big, hairy problems.

Last Friday a diverse group of strangers ascended upon the Brooklyn Brainery, giving up their weekend with the common goal of figuring out what this “design thinking” thing is all about. The first hour was a quick overview of the weekend to come, as the Design Gym folks walked through the 5-phase process of design. But academics and powerpoints aren’t exactly how things roll at Weekend Workouts, so things took an unexpected twist as the class was prompted to see creativity through the lens of improvisation.

[Enter several cases of Brooklyn Lager and a whole lot of students suddenly questioning if they made the right weekend plans]

Luckily, Holly Mandel, owner of Improvolution, was on site to help ease everyone through those instinctual fears, and proceeded to set a tone that would last the rest of the weekend. She facilitated the room, teachers and all, through activities demonstrating some uncomfortable scenarios that were sure to crop-up during a fast-paced, group intensive weekend. By exercising principles like ‘Yes And’ and ‘I made a mistake’, the class loosened up within minutes.

“Although the “I Made a Mistake!” exercise often annoys people at the outset, at some point there’s a flip and you can feel the room has now accepted that making a mistake is ok – we all do it, it can often suck when we do…but it doesn’t have to.” – Holly Mandel

Saturday started early, but was greeted with an immaculate spread of food from Jump Kitchen. Fueled on vegetarian chili, finger lickin ribs, and lots of coffee, it was time to begin digging into the theory behind the 5-phase design process. The class broke into groups and were given a design challenge all New Yorkers can relate to – “How might we make the urban moving experience less burdensome?”

The class tackled the prompt throughout the entire day, using it as a foundation to better understand the design process. By the end of the day the students had conducted interviews, identified themes, ideated solutions, prototyped the solutions, and had even crafted a compelling story. Concepts were as diverse as platforms for introducing people to new neighborhoods to financial models for providing loans to those that need to spread out the lump cost of moving.

With a round of beers, the class retired for the day, equally as exhausted but much more confident than the night prior.

Sunday means action at The Weekend Workout. After breakfast, Ankit Shah from Holstee kicked off the day with a design brief for an initiative called #BlockFriday.  Holstee is first a mission driven company, which secondarily just happens to be in the form of an online retailer. This was illuminated to the class as Ankit recounted a story from the prior year.

For Holstee, Black Friday typically accounts for 10-15% of their annual revenue, but they began realizing the hustle around driving consumerism on that day was exactly the opposite of the mission they’d set out to achieve. As a reaction, Holstee shut down their on-line store for the day, blocking it with a note kindly reminding their customers of the real purpose of the holidays, and that they would always be there to supply them with high-quality goods. Thus, the concept of #BlockFriday was born. This year, Holstee, in partnership with a large number of other retailers, is transforming that single act into an entire movement, and the Design Gym students were there to help.

The class again walked through the 5-phase design process, but this time as owners, not students. They tackled questions like how to get retailers interested, how to make the biggest splash and how to make the deepest possible connection with their loyal customers. Often too focused for breaks, the students dove headfirst into better understanding people, the founding principle of good design. The day concluded with passionate, story driven presentations to none other than the founders of Holstee, who were delighted for a jumpstart to their new initiative. Oh, and of course a final round of beers to celebrate.

It’s exhausting to even read through the activities of the weekend, but to us it’s about much more than just providing a class to really rad students. It’s about learning through doing. It’s about connecting passionate learners with dynamic, local organizations like Holstee that are grateful for their input. It’s about getting out of our comfort zones with partners like Improvulation. It’s about joining a community who shares an interest in making big change in a people focused way.

But most importantly, it’s about getting excited to learn again. Getting excited to do what we’ve done for years, but with a new approach and therefore energy. It’s about creatively solving the world’s biggest problems.

Sounds like this is an event you would like to attend? You can learn more about our upcoming workshops and classes here.

Daniel Stillman
daniel@thedesigngym.com
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