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Structured Problem Solving: Our Day at Chicago Ideas Week

BY CHAD OWENS, VP, PLANNING DIRECTOR, DIGITAL AND USER EXPERIENCE


It’s not news that the agency world is in constant flux.
I would speculate that there has been more change in human behavior in the past 10 years due to the emergence and innovation around personal communication and computing devices than in the entire life-span of the agency business model.
Change is challenging.
But it also forces us to get out of our comfort zones and try new ways of thinking and new methods for solving problems in different ways. This is one reason why Draftfcb Chicago has embraced the opportunity to lead (for the second year) a lab and workshop duringChicago Ideas Week. Our sold-out session, “Draftfcb: Beyond the Screen,” is focused on creative ideation, using multi-disciplined teams and structured brainstorming as one method for creative problem solving.
So for the purpose of Ideas Week — and to give outsiders a fun taste of the agency experience — we have stitched together a few activities that are common within our user experience and planning practices to create an experience that gets to the heart of how we at Draftfcb ideate, evaluate and create something from the beginning seed of a design challenge statement.
We start by selecting a design challenge. Obviously, since it’s Chicago Ideas Week, the design challenge is Chicago-themed. This year, we will take on ideas big and small around the emerging bike-share business model and the impact it is having on Chicagoland commuters.
So how do we do this?
First, we establish the opportunities and barriers by taking participants through a quick experience touch point exercise. This allows us to immerse ourselves in a day-in-the life of a “user” to have a more empathetic understanding of the barriers, problems and work-arounds that they experience.
The output of this exercise becomes the input of the next exercise, which is based on game storming. Studies show that people normally tackle decisions with the logical left side of the brain first, only using creative thinking as a last resort. (It doesn't mean that we don't want to be creative; it's just how our brains are wired.) Game storming is a great way to side-step this hard-wired phenomenon and "trick" ourselves into thinking visually and creatively from the get-go. From this exercise, 16 potential ideas are sparked and pushed further and then ultimately rated. The top two move into the final round.
The final step, prototyping (with physical materials or digital tools), is a great way for cross-functional teams to collaborate, discuss and iterate ideas, kill bad ideas quickly, and strengthen good ideas with additional layers of detail. Of course, we have to put our own spin on this exercise by giving each group a prototyping kit filled with different materials.
Design challenges in our increasingly connected and “always on” world continue to become exponentially complex and things are likely to not get simpler any time soon. Testing new methods and frameworks for how we can creatively solve problems is required. That’s what we believe here in Chicago. Plus, this stuff is just fun to do!

A GROUP OF CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK PARTICIPANTS DURING THE PROTOTYPING STAGE AT DRAFTFCB'S 2012 LAB.