Design Thinking Workshop@Social Innovation Department

Laura McDermott, Design Lead, Social Innovation@IE

A few weeks ago I lead a Design Thinking workshop for our team in the Social Innovation department. For those of you who are acquainted with Design Thinking, you’ll know that it’s a process that could take anywhere from a day (at a push) to a year (if you’re that lucky). Our team endeavored to conduct an express sprint in less than 2 hours…

The Challenge

 Considering the nature of our work in social innovation, we decided to frame the challenge around sustainability. After delivering a Pecha Kucha presentation about the context of Design Thinking and the importance of empathy, I set the team off with the question, “How can we create an IE community that effectively recycles 100% of their waste?”



 The Activity

 The team set off on ‘safari’ to observe how students behave in coffee shops and workspaces. They also managed to engage MBA students from various backgrounds, asking them about their habits and attitudes towards recycling. When they got back, it was down to work. In 30 minutes, we managed to generate several outputs, from high-level personas and customer journeys, to clusters and insights.  Afterwards, we generated dozens of ideas through our all-time favourite activity “Crazy 8s”. Some of our novel ideas included AI-enhanced bins and bee-like rubbish drones.  We reckon the combination of caffeine, time limits and “ganas” for the bank holiday added to our effectiveness (and creativity).


Interesting Findings

 When we went through the student journey map, our eyes were opened as to just how complicated it can be for students to recycle. On a surface level, many of us might think that people are simply apathetic towards recycling. However, once we dug deeper, we uncovered a series of factors at play. Some of the team’s main findings were:

  •  On average there are 7 different materials used when a student orders a coffee: paper cup, cardboard sleeve, plastic lid, wooden stick, plastic-packaged sugar, paper napkin, paper receipt. This alone is enough to make anyone confused when they arrive at the bin. In order to recycle effectively, students must first understand what is recyclable and then go through the effort of separating everything.
  •  One of the most compelling things about IE is the international mix of students. Understandably, when these students come to Madrid they are not acquainted with the Spanish recycling system and often get confused as to where to put things and what standards are in place. Many students either try and fail to recycle in the correct bins, or get too frustrated and dump everything into one container.
  •  Something that mightn’t be obvious, but which heavily impacts students’ ability to recycle, is time. The buildings on Maria de Molina are in a prime location, and there are plenty of nearby food options. But just imagine this: you’re in a lecture on the 7th floor of Maria de Molina 31 and are given a 15-minute coffee break. In order to grab something to eat (before your intense blast of classes, group meetings, and extra curricular commitments) you must wait for the elevator, go to your food place, queue for food, pay for your food, wait for your food, race back to your building, wait for the elevator, go up to the 7th floor, eat, and then enter class again. I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Time is one of the biggest issues that the team identified; once students munch down their food and head back to class, they don’t have time to separate the materials and think about what goes where.

 As you can imagine, these findings gave us great food for thought when it came to ideating!


 Thoughts From The Team

 Our team at the Social Innovation Centre has a broad range of skills, which is probably why we work so well together. A few people on the team have had lots of experience with Design Thinking, while others were trying it for the first time.

 According to Gus, our Engagement Director, what was great about the Design Thinking sprint was how effectively and creatively we collaborated together. He also appreciated the valuable tools that we generated, like personas and customer journey maps. 

Poliana, our Project Manager, enjoyed the experience and was surprised at how much can be uncovered when we look at problems from a human perspective and dig below the proverbial iceberg. She says that if we applied the same logic and process to our personal lives, everything would probably be much simpler!


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