Fighting Poverty with Passion
This month, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a fast-paced, weekend-long design thinking workshop at the Tulane Taylor Center. As an aspiring Urban Planner, an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a design process that relies on empathy to inform the designer’s decisions was one I could not pass up. I was interested to see how the process could apply to the work I do at Global Green as well.
We spent the first night going through a boot camp of sorts. We very hastily went through the various design thinking steps to understand what the process entailed. In a confined room, working with similarly minded people as myself, this was easy. We interviewed, dug deeper, designed, and prototyped and tested our ideas based on prompts given to us by leaders. This came along with socializing and meeting new people. Before the night was up, we met our groups for the following day and prepared for our design task. We were given information about a partner organization and an issue they were facing that they believed could be solved using the design thinking formula. I left that evening prepared to do my homework and come back the next day ready to jump in.
I arrived at the site early Saturday morning to a relatively chilly November day for New Orleans. We split up into our groups and then broke up again to set off on our first activity. We were to go around the Central City neighborhood and talk to stake holders. We were essentially conducting and ethnography – putting ourselves into the shoes and lives of those who we were talking to. This is where I first started to struggle with Design Thinking. I understand the importance of empathy in design and understanding who exactly you are designing for, but I have a hard time placing myself into a life that I have no experienced. And to do so in such a short period of time was an even bigger jump. Either way, I carried on. We went through a few more exercises before returning to Tulane to one again brainstorm and prototype our ideas. During this part of the process, I realized how many holes my information had. As we continued the following day with testing and presenting, I felt as though the ideas that my group put forward were not the best that they could be.
At the end of the workshop, I reflected and really did enjoy everything I learned. I believe that the steps of the design thinking process are incredibly important in approaching design challenges and they should play a role. Where I see a problem, however, is that it is almost impossible to fully understand the needs of a community that you have never lived in. As a New Orleans transplant, I know that this affects my ability to accomplish the goals of my VISTA position and I take it into account with all of the decisions that I make.