Travelling Myanmar

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Golden pagoda at Bagan, Myanmar

In 2012 backpacking through Myanmar (Burma) still felt like an adventure. No ATM, no internet, often times no electricity. Yangon was filthy, rainy and muddy but this was all forgiven over how friendly and welcoming the Burmese were. They would greet sincere and warmly at every occasion.

Old, funny cab driver smoking and smiling in Yangon, Myanmar

Portrait of street seller laughing at the camera in Yangon, Myanmar

Poor worker proudly presenting his rooster to the camera, Yangon, Myanmar

Tattooed guy at the streets of Yangon, Myanmar

Young monks at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Golden roofs at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Riding a bicycle through literally thousands of pagodas at Bagan was one of my highlights. The boat trip at lake Inle has not to be missed either. People I talked to expressed much hope for their future and said they were happy over increasing freedom and political stability.

Panorama of endless pagodas at Bagan, Myanmar

Boat ride at lake Inle in Myanmar

Jungle book like scenery at Bagan, Myanmar

Kids fishing at Bagan, Myanmar

Oh, and do not forget to read George Orwell’s Burmese Days while you are on your way.

Twitter to Weibo: Connecting two Worlds

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You may have heard the news that the Chinese Twitter clone Sina Weibo raised $285 million from an IPO last week. I am quite sure there will be even more news from the Twitter rival and maybe it is time to think about how we can connect these two counterparts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get in touch with more than 140 Million active Chinese netizen? As I lived in China and managed to stay more or less active on both platforms – Twitter and Weibo – I was looking for a way to automatically keep both channels in sync in order to stream the same tweets and 信’s to all followers.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Twitter is blocked in China and even though you can get yourself a VPN connection in order to gain access from the Mainland, Weibo is still quite shielded despite offering an API. Anyway I would like to share a little workaround, which allows to establish a connection between Twitter and Weibo using a Weibo Developer App and an recipe: Read More

Design Futuring – Important Ideas of Tony Fry’s Book

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Design Futuring by Tony Fry

For my dissertation I am currently putting together a framework around the interrelations of design, design management  and sustainability. In this context, I read the book Design Futuring Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice by Tony Fry. It is a quite complex book, not easy to read, however I believe it will contribute much to my thesis. In this blog post I collect a bit work in progress and quotes of his book that I found most important. I am trying to stay close to the text and to sum up the main ideas of his book without yet having a critical angle on the text. This will be reserved for another blog post ;) Read More

Defining Design Management, Sustainability and Design Thinking

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Business Design / Design Thinking / Sustainability

As a foundation for my dissertation I read into relevant literature in the area of sustainability, design thinking and design management. Here is a bit of work in progress: I started to take notes, outlining a few characteristics, definitions and key aspects of the most relevant terms for my thesis. 

My idea is to make the overlapping as well as differences between these terms and concepts visible – using a bit of colour coding too. This list will be updated throughout my learning journey and the list of references will grow, so please feel free to add your ideas and suggestions in the comment area below! For the reason of saving some space I don’t use Harvard referencing and I cite the authors with their initials (my own thoughts: MM) followed by the page number. (Therefore a quote from Tony Fry on page 100 looks like this: TF, 100).



sustainable value (UJ, 57)

creative knowledge needed (UJ, 58)

future needs (UJ,63)


triple bottom

line                        | management

business case  | view (UJ, 63)


cradle to cradle     |

from the                    |

beginning                 | design


holistic                      |(UJ, 63)




agenda of change (UJ, 65)

problematises objectivity (UJ, 65)

radical humanist (UJ, 68)

change of society (UJ, 68)

subjective norms (UJ, 68)

limitation of environment’s ability to meet present and future needs (UJ, 69)

viewing and solving resource problems (UJ, 69)

concept of needs, particularly of the poor (UJ, 69)

stakeholder involvement (MM)



‘Front End’

Solving problems


external value (UJ, 59)

humanist discourse (UJ, 59)

‘a fad’ (UJ, 61)

design attitude (UJ, 62)

design  mindfulness (UJ, 62)

bridge to management (UJ, 62)

interpretative, radical, structuralist (UJ, 65)

radical humanist (UJ, 65)

agenda of change (UJ, 65)

problematises objectivity (UJ, 65)

human centred innovation (UJ, 69)

multi-disciplinary (UJ, 69)

complex problem solving (UJ, 69)

messy & non-linear (UJ, 69)

observation, prototyping, building, storytelling (UJ, 69)

user-oriented, team-based method of problem solving, inventing and development so that products and services serve user’s needs (UJ, 69)

deep user insights, collaborative, cross-functional teams (TL, x)

innovation process, integrative process, tool to imagine future, empathic, unarticulated needs, real-world, co-design, radical innovation, experimentation, iteration, failing early, solving wicked problems (TL, xi)

abductive thinking, open collaboration, changing norms, unpacking complexity, creative / creativity, challenging status quo, design as good business (TL, xiii)

stakeholder involvement, integrated thinking, future-states (MM)



‘Back End’

Business integration


objectivity & regulation (UJ, 65)

internal value (UJ, 59)

normative (UJ, 59)

functionalist paradigm (UJ, 65)

linear, logic approach (UJ, 66)

analytic consideration (UJ, 66)



Fry, T. (2008), Sustainability, ethics and new practice, Berg Publishers Ltd; [distributor] Macmillan Distribution (MDL), Oxford.

Johansson, U. and Woodilla, J. (2010), Bridging Design and Management for Sustainability: Epistemological Problems and Possibilities, Positive Design and Appreciative Construction: From Sustainable Development to Sustainable Value.

Lockwood, T. (Ed.) (2010), Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value, Allworth Press, New York, NY.



Design Strategy: The New Role of the Designer

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Business Design / Design Thinking / Management
design strategy

In literature this new defined role of the designer seems to establish on common grounds. It is about a real-world understanding of the user’s behaviour in context. (Chhatpar, 2008, p. 13)

‘Design strategy is informed by three essential elements: a deep understanding of the values, attitudes, and behavior of the target customer; the nature of the company’s values, essence, and character (also known as the DNA); and the time- based trends that serve as the backdrop to the product or service experience’ (Vossoughi, 2008, p. 98)

The understanding and careful, methodical analysis of values and data from user-research leads to understanding of meaning. In his book Design-Driven Innovation (2009), Roberto Verganti also suggests that the importance of design-driven innovation derives from the fact that ‘many companies acknowledge that market competition is driven by products’ meanings.’ (Verganti, 2009, p. 20) In his view, design-driven innovation is ‘the R&D process for meanings’ (Verganti, 2009, p. viii) and companies need to implement this process in their strategy development in order to generate new meanings and radical improvement for better competitive advantages.

Design itself and its role in strategy has shifted from a ‘potent strategic tool’ (Kotler and Rath, 2011, p. 87) for nicely styled and excitingly packaged products to an entire new holistic, interdisciplinary design definition in the spirit of Herbert A. Simon: It is about transferring existing conditions to preferred ones. (Simon, 1969, p.55)

The roles of designers, design managers or design-savvy business manager, now include the

‘field of innovation strategy, which seeks to systematize creative thinking in a corporate environment using methods that draw from the design world’

(Chhatpar, 2008, p. 13)

Therefore, and according to Von Stamm, the design world must renegotiate its relationship with business. Design-led coordination, facilitation and interpretation and business-led leadership seem to be an evolving inter-disciplinary model. (Stamm, 2008, p. 117) In general the subordinate form-giving role of a designer changes into a more participative and initiative designer role that generates concepts and solutions or even takes the initiative. (Kyung-Won and Yu-Jin, 2011, p. 273)

My Course Experience

During our course work for Unit 5: Design Strategy in my Master of Design (MDes) course, I experienced the strategic role and all the described factors of design during a case study. In a group project we chose to develop a five-year strategy for a MDes alumni network, which is about to be established by our client, Ravensbourne College.

As an outcome, we outlined multiple strategic options (Chhatpar, 2008, p. 19) with a view of growing an alumni network that provides a proof of value, alumni career opportunities as well as a strong identity and brand positioning.

Design Strategy Recommendations

Design Strategy Recommendations (Source: Author’s own)

These strategic recommendations were in response to three key questions that we identified in a long phase of sensitisation and immersion at the beginning of the design thinking process. We made ourselves familiar with the topic and started to envision hypothetical and non-rational recom- mendations related to our challenge. The methods we used were rapid brainstorming techniques combined with a set of challenging questions that made us think out of the box in order to foster abductive reasoning. (For example we imagined an alumni network in 50 years time, or how it would look if we had only one Pound to spend).

Right from the beginning we used user-research methods like interviews, observation of stakeholder meetings and we invited current students to be part of our brainstorming and immersion exercises.

An important step in our project was to make use of a service design tool, called touch point map / touch point timeline. We used this tool to analyse functional as well as emotional aspects and interaction points between the college and students and alumni. This exercise was absolutely crucial in order to make sense of values of our user group as well as to get a grasp of what provides meaning to them and how we even could re-invent meaning.

During the ideation phase for creating a strategy, we were able to relate back to the results of sensitisation and immersion phase. This way we could analyse the data for re-occurring themes and we made connections between seemingly unrelated sets of information and thereby generated new alternatives.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis (Source: Author’s own)

In the process of ideating a strategy we furthermore made use of many tools that are very familiar to business-related disciplines. We used a SWOT Analysis to analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. (Mckeown, 2012, pp. 170–171) Another business strategy toolkit we used was the PEST(LE) framework to critically analyse external political, economic, social and technological factors.

PEST(LE) Analysis

PEST(LE) Analysis (Source: Author’s own)

Ultimately, we used a customised opportunity mind map in order align our insights, existing assets and potential solutions. (Kumar, 2012, pp. 206–207) These tools are not exclusive to the design world, however the design thinking and design process inspired the alignment and fluent interaction between their application.

Opportunity Map (Source: Author's own)

Opportunity Map (Source: Author’s own)

For presenting initial outcomes to our client we also used storyboarding and visualisation of personas of our strategy as a method of creating a minimal viable product or visual prototype of our intended strat- egy. This was helpful to present our idea and to show how our strategy would look in practice. Ideally, and with more time, we would take the feedback from all relevant stakeholders in order to refine our concept and iterate another round to an even more refined strategy concept.

Storyboards (Source: Author's own)

Storyboards (Source: Author’s own)

On a critical note, this means that the development of a strategy is not completed at the current stage of our project. The aspect of going through further prototypes and iterations would ideally be a further on-going process. I think this is yet another example of what design could bring to strategy development: The iteration and pivoting within the boundaries of the strategy outlines, based on changes in external factors, could be reflected in short-term tactical recommendations.


My experience with this project and case study showed me that the designer’s perspective is of enormous value for strategy creation. Following the design process and making use of design thinking methodolo- gies provides a good user-understanding and analysis of external factors and thereby helps to create better strategy alternatives. This does not necessarily mean that such a strategy is more likely to succeed, but the perceived change in the role of design in strategy building illustrates a need for a more user-centred, value and meaning- based approach.

Employing a design manager to accompany strategy building and establishing a multi-disciplinary in-house innovation lab in the sense of Verganti’s vision of design-driven innovation could prevent that the management blindly navigates through unknown waters. Design strategy won’t be a fool-proofed guarantee for success but it would certainly support decision-makers to give reason and evidence to their strategic decisions.


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Dissertation Proposal – Get Involved!

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Business Design / Dissertation / Management / Sustainability

Design Management: Bridging Disciplines for Sustainability (Working Title)


Rooted in a multi-disciplinary approach, importance of user understanding and immersion in complex problems, design thinking and the design process provide a perfect methodology to create solutions for sustainability issues. However, in practice there is a gap between the inherent potential of design thinking and the designed outcomes. How could design management as a practice contribute to close or narrow this gap?

Your Help and Feedback

Are you interested in this topic? Your involvement would be much appreciated! Please keep on reading my early draft dissertation proposal and  how you can help:

If you are in London and interested becoming part of this dissertation as an interviewee: I am doing short, semi-structured interviews from 4th to the 10th of July. Please leave me a message: me (at) ; Linkedin; Twitter and I will get back to you.

If you are in Germany, I will be running interviews from 22nd of July onwards.

I plan in-depth interviews for August 2013 and will announce them on my website later on.

Interviews will take around 10 – 15 mins and I will ask a few open questions about your experience with design thinking and innovation management for solving sustainability issues. I am looking for anyone actively involved in this matter, may it be individuals, business managers, (service) designers, freelancer, consultancies or design agencies.

Feel also free to contact me for comments, your feedback, reading suggestions or introducing me to others that are interested in my field of research.

Many thanks in advance!

1. Motivation for the Research

With my Master thesis I strive to connect the dots between my multi-disciplinary backgrounds. My undergraduate degree as well as most part of my professional career lies within the disciplines of business and project management. At the same time I became very interested in the matter of sustainability and what role business plays regarding social and environmental issues. Extracurricular activities in the area of ethics and sustainability in business, my work experience as a project manager for an Environmental Department in Beijing, as well as a distance-learning course in Environmental Sciences and Sustainability Management enabled me to get a better understanding of the subjects and issues related to these topics.

Whereas the insights I got from these studies and activities are mostly based on theory- based learning, I made an entire new experience in this year with my Master of Design course in Design Management. I discovered the realms of design thinking and the design process as practice-led methodologies and frameworks that are highly relevant for solving sustainability issues. Rooted in a multi-disciplinary approach, importance of user understanding and immersion in complex problems, design thinking seems to provide a perfect fit to create value along the triple bottom line. Yet, there are many problems that derive from a lack of understanding between disciplines involved. During my course and by participating in external events such as the Service Design Jam or Sustainability Jam in London, I experienced many of these prevailing conflicts. For example, some designers would not pay attention to the financial viability of their ideas, even though this is one of the dimensions of sustainability. Furthermore, none of the (service) design tools that we used during a Sustainability Jams and in class, such as a Touch Point Matrix, Stakeholder Mapping or the Business Model Canvas, encourages or even reminds us to pay attention to the aspects of sustainability and its inter-relations.

Unsurprisingly, the outcomes would often not lead to a creation of shared value such as social, environmental or economic value, even though design thinking would be suitable to deliver such kind of solutions. Therefore the motivation of my research is rooted in this disparity of what would be possible to achieve, and my experience of what’s actually happening. The research not only reflects my personal journey between multiple disciplines. In addition, it feeds into an on-going debate among professionals and in literature, of how design can play an important role towards a sustainable future. I would like to engage in this conversation and dedicate my research to identifying the obstacles that design managers have to overcome in order to take domain of problem solving for sustainability. I am eager to bring more clarity and a value based approach that will improve the communication between disciplines and ultimately leads to better outcomes.

2. Subject, Aims and Scope of Research

My research will focus on the question, why there is a gap between the inherent potentials of design thinking regarding creating solutions for shared value and sustainability in theory, and the outcomes that we experience in practice. How could design management as a practice contribute to close or narrow this gap?

To understand the subject of this matter, I will need to identify the key barriers to designing for shared value. I will explore ways how these barriers could be overcome and explore arguments why this role of a facilitator between disciplines could be rooted in the domain of design management. At the same time I will be asking what design managers need to learn from existing approaches in business and environmental disciplines and what role design thinking methodologies, like visualisation, could play.

3. Context and Literature Review

A range authors in the field of design thinking and design management write about the discipline’s inter-relation with business, the environment and society and what problems and opportunities arise.

In a world of complexity and ill-formulated problems, partly due to economic instability and shifting corporate social and environmental responsibilities, ‘design should be the path to understanding stakeholder priorities, the tool for visualizing and prototyping concepts, and the process for translating cutting-edge ideas into effective strategies.’ (Heather, 2010, p. 35)

Even though these aspects are inherent to the concepts of design thinking, design methods and the design process, there is a broad agreement among authors that outcomes are not ideal and design is still in a process of finding its role between disciplines. Many authors mention a variety of problems that design faces when it comes to inter-disciplinary issues such as sustainability. The following quote exemplifies the notion that design yet has not captured the domain of shaping strategies for sustainability:

‘We are not yet fully utilizing the strategic power of design to shape business strategy so that it is life-centered. Instead, design is often at the end of the line, attempting to execute on the enterprise’s intention to be sustainable, without much influence on how that intention is to be defined or measured.’ (McBride, 2011, p. 9)

These issues between the business world and design are highlighted by authors such as Borja de Mozota (Borja de Mozota, 2010, p. 71), Rachel Cooper (Cooper et al., 2010, p. 58), Ulla Johansson (Johansson and Woodilla, 2010), Thomas Lockwood (Lockwood, 2010). From this literature I will be able to identify existing barriers and gaps regarding designing for shared value.

Field-research carried out with design consultancies and in-house design teams about design for environment (DfE) highlights the fact that designing for shared values in practice faces a multitude of problems such as ‘low reputation, recognition and adoption’ (Francois et al., 2013) due a variety of factors. Helen Lewis outlines and summarises the most common approaches that relate to green design and design for the environment. (Lewis and Gertsakis, 2001) Due to the focus on an audience of product designers and engineers this book is only partly relevant to my research; however it could be a good resource of existing approaches for creation of environmental value, which might well feed into what design management can learn from other areas.

Other than that, I will look at similar concepts and approaches from other initiatives such as: Designer’s Accord, Futerra and the New Economics Foundation, which not necessarily have a designerly approach or context. Due to my background in business and environmental sciences, I also became aware of tools for shared value, such as the Environmental Shareholder Value Matrix (Figge and Hahn, 2002) and Sustainability Management with the Balanced Score Card (BSC) (Schaltegger and Lüdeke-Freund, 2011) as well as an adoption of the scorecard for a value model in design management (Borja de Mozota, 2010). I will highlight those aspects that are relevant to my research question and scope. This will help proposing recommendations and ways how design management as a facilitator could possibly contribute to designing for sustainability.

Furthermore, I selected a range of articles and authors in the design management journals, which are highly relevant to my research question and that will be very valuable to both identifying the gap and obstacles to design for shared value, as well as for learning about existing solutions and approaches. (Koo and Cooper, 2011), (McBride, 2011), (Valade-Amland, 2011), (Alviani and Gabbert, 2011)

4. Methodology & Research Strategy

4.1.) Literature Review and Theory Foundation

4.1.1) Defining most important terms and concepts that are relevant to my thesis:

Design management (Lookwood, Cooper, etc.)
Design thinking (Brown, Lockwood, Martin, etc.)
Sustainability, triple bottom line (Brundtland Report, Elkington)
Design for environment (DfE) (Lewis etc.)
Role of the designer in strategy and organisation (Lockwood, Von Stamm, etc.) Shared value (Porter)

4.1.2) Identifying and discussing currently used tools and concepts of a designerly approach towards creating shared value

(Service) Design tools (Stickdorn, Schneider, Kumar, etc.) Design for Environment (Francois et al., Lewis etc.)

4.1.3) Identifying and discussing tools and concepts from non-design disciplines for creating shared value

Business Tools: Sustainability Balanced Score Card (Schaltegger, Borja de Mozota, Kaplan and Norton)
Environmental Shareholder Matrix (Figge, Schaltegger, etc.)

4.1.4) Identifying and describing the gap and obstacles related to the research question

Does design thinking currently meet its full potential? If not, how could it?
What barriers cause the gap in designing better solutions?
Why other disciplines such as business or engineering largely take the domain of creating sustainable solutions?
Why should this be different?
Could design do better than those disciplines? What value does it add to this area?

4.1.5) Identify angles, suggestions, recommendations, assumptions how things could be improved, based on 1.1 – 1.4

4.2.) Practice-led Research

In addition answering my research question and the connected objectives with secondary sources, I would like to make use of primary sources as well.

Therefore I plan to connect with and to meet agencies, individual professionals and experts, service designers, business managers, design managers, product designers in the UK and Germany and conduct semi-structured interviews.

In general I like to ask them how they design for shared value and sustainability in practice.

What are the problems they face? What works, what doesn’t work?

Which tools do they use? How do they relate to the dimensions of sustainability? What role does design and design thinking play?

In addition to gathering more insights to my research question, I would like to get feedback on what they think about my assumptions and recommendations that I drafted from the literature review.

4.3.) Analysis of the feedback, suggestions and problems mentioned by the interviewees.

Consider the feedback and contrast it with the literature review.

4.4.) Finalising the Dissertation

I will be summarising the findings and reflect these critically upon my research question. I will leave the final form of these outcomes open to the findings in my secondary and primary research. However, suggestions and recommendations that I will identify and use for the interviews will likely include visualisation and prototypes of minimal viable products. These might be further refined with the feedback in stage 3 and 4 of my dissertation.



Alviani, C. and Gabbert, N. (2011), “Getting the Balance Right: Five Guidelines for Sustainable Practice”, Design Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 44–50.

Borja de Mozota, B. (2010), “The Four Powers of Design: A Value Model in Design Management”, in Lockwood, T. (Ed.), Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value, Allworth Press, New York, NY, pp. 65–80.

Cooper, R., Junginger, S. and Lockwood, T. (2010), “Design Thinking and Design Management: A Research and Practice Perspective”, in Lockwood, T. (Ed.), Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value, Allworth Press, New York, NY, pp. 57–63.

Figge, F. and Hahn, T. (2002), “Environmental Sharholder[sic!] Value Matrix. Konzeption, Anwendung und Berechnung”, available at: blikationen/29-0downloadversion.pdf (accessed 4 February 2013).

Francois, P., Radlovic, M., Lemon, M. and Ford, P. (2013), “Design for the Environment in UK Product Design Consultancies and In-house Design Teams. An Explorative Case Study on Current Practices and Opinions”, The International Journal of Design Management and Professional Practice Volume 6 Issue 2.

Heather, F.M. (2010), “Designing Business: New Models for Success”, in Lockwood, T. (Ed.), Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value, Allworth Press, New York, NY, pp. 35–45.

Johansson, U. and Woodilla, J. (2010), Bridging Design and Management for Sustainability: Epistemological Problems and Possibilities, Positive Design and Appreciative Construction: From Sustainable Development to Sustainable Value.

Koo, Y. and Cooper, R. (2011), “Managing Corporate Social Responsibility Through Design”, Design Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 68–79.

Lewis, H. and Gertsakis, J. (2001), Design + environment: A global guide to designing greener goods, Greenleaf, Sheffield.

Lockwood, T. (2010), “Transition: Becoming a Design-Minded Organization”, in Lockwood, T. (Ed.), Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value, Allworth Press, New York, NY, pp. 81–95.

McBride, M. (2011), “Triple Bottom Line by Design: Leading as if Life Matters”, Design Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 6–14.

Schaltegger, S. and Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2011), “The Sustainability Balanced Scorecard. Concept and the Case of Hamburg Airport”, available at: blikationen/Schaltegger_Luedeke_Sustainability_Balanced_Scorecard.pdf (accessed 4 February 2013).

Valade-Amland, S. (2011), “Design for People, Profit, and Planet”, Design Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 16–23.


Brundtland Commission Report, The Club of Rome

Elkington, John

Fry, Tony

Kumar, V. (2012), 101 design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization, Wiley; [John Wiley [distributor], Hoboken, N.J, Chichester.

Porter, M.E. and Kramer, M.R. (2011), “Creating Shared Value”, available at: (accessed 24 March 2013).

Schumpeter, J. (2011), “Oh, Mr Porter. The new big idea from business’s greatest living guru seems a bit undercooked”, available at: (accessed 24 March 2013).

Stamm, B. von (2008), Managing innovation, design and creativity, 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK ;, Hoboken, NJ.



Option Cards for Testing a Business Model

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Business Design / Design Thinking / Entrepreneurship / Management

This week I’ve been to a very interesting event about testing aspects of a business model. Salim Virani introduced us to his ideas about using low-tech option cards. This it how it works:

The Business Model Canvas

Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas is the most popular tool for prototyping business models and visualising them. If you don’t know how it works, have look at this introduction:

Basic Level of Business Modelling

Let’s assume you reached a stage where you already went through the process of creating various business model prototypes for a business idea. Now you achieved the most basic level of business model generation and visualised your model by filling-out the building blocks of the canvas, using post-its.

Visualising a business model by filling out the building blocks of the business model canvas.

Visualising a business model by filling out the building blocks of the business model canvas.

Master Level of Business Modelling

However, as Yves Pigneur recently pointed out at the Business Design Summit in Berlin, the real juice of business modelling isn’t just creating visibility. It is about discovering the dynamics of the models and the inter-relation between the building blocks. The ‘master level‘ of business modelling, how Yves called it, is to highlight the story behind a business model and to realise the patterns of a model. These could be highlighted by using colour coding or arrows to visualise how different elements  inter-relate within the business model.

Reaching master level: Exploring patterns and relationships between elements of the building blocks of the business canvas

Reaching master level: Exploring patterns and relationships between elements of the building blocks of the business canvas

Now that an innovative business model emerged from prototyping, it is time to turn into a real business opportunity. Visualising your model was the first step – but how you know it could succeed? You must validate the workability of your model.

Therefore, and in contrast to the analytical business world, designers and coders use an iterative approach and mindset of testing minimal viable products (MVPs) or similar tangible prototypes in order verify their assumptions and hypothesis. This method is particularly interesting for lean startups that follow Eric Ries’ build-meassure-learn feedback loop. But how does this apply to business modelling? Osterwalder’s book Business Model Generation doesn’t really offer a structured approach to testing – it rather emphasises prototyping of business models on the canvas. So this is where Salim Virani’s option cards start to become handy.

Preparing Option Cards of Testing a Business Model

For making best use of these cards you need to be able to work on a ‘master level‘ of business modelling, since it is about testing the patterns and interrelations of the building blocks of your business model. But one step after another: The cards (get a stack of 1000 flash cards for only 6 quid here) are split in two sections, a section with a simple canvas (quickest way to draw it: H + H + T) and a section of free space below the canvas.

The quickest way to draw a business model canvas: H + H + T

The quickest way to draw a business model canvas: H + H + T

In a first step you need to think about all dynamic inter-relations of your business model that you can identify. With the option cards you can now visualise these patterns by marking those building blocks  that are affected with a big fat dot.

The space below the canvas is left blank to note down a question which relates to the pattern that you’ve marked with dots. What do you want to find out about this pattern? What is your hypothesis regarding this dynamic relation between the building blocks? What do you want to find out and test? Note it down in one simple questions.

Example 1 for using option cards to test aspects of a business model

Example 1 for using option cards to test aspects of a business model

Go ahead and do this with all patterns and inter-relations that you can identifiy in your business model. These patterns may occur across different combinations between the building blocks. They might be related to just two blocks of your model, or  affect an entire range of blocks.

Create one option card for each of these questions and patterns that you can find and create an entire stack of such cards.

More examples for using option cards to test aspects of a business model

More examples for using option cards to test aspects of a business model

Using Option Cards for Testing a Business Model

Now start working with this stack of cards. Start to answer the questions that you have noted down. Think of ways to test these assumptions and how to prototype and verify them in real life. Remind yourself of all the different questions you have about the business model. Use these cards to talk to stakeholders, entrepreneurs, friends, customers or clients. Use the dots on the canvas to remind yourself which parts of your business model are affected and develop a feeling for which of these building blocks become more and more important to your model. If tests show that your assumptions don’t work out, pivot your model and go through another round of iteration using new option cards.

The question of how to test all of your option cards is entire new topic. It really depends on the nature of your product or service and how you could test these assumptions regarding your value proposition, the channels you use, or the customer segment you are targeting. The option cards are only a tool to record all the patterns you want to test, in order to come up with a working business model or to pivot in different directions. They help to keep an iterative approach to business modelling and they lead the way to a mutation and transformation of the model to a more refined stage of market-fit and a more successful business model in real life.


Personally, I really like the low-tech approach of these cards and they are the first practical and structured approach to business model testing that I’ve came about. They remind me of my time when I used up many hours learning Chinese with flash cards, so I am really looking forward to using these cards for testing aspects of business models in an almost gamified way. I will have a go at using them and try to refine and test the business model of our start-up idea with it. I’ll report back on this process on this blog in a few weeks.



Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y. and Clark, T. (2010), Business model generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.

Websites Business Design Summit in Berlin Blog of Alexander Osterwalder Business Model Canvas Salim Virani Eric Ries’ Lean-Startup Methodology



Responsible Business Week

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Business Design / Sustainability
Uscreates workshop on sustainable business in London

Thanks to Richard, I became aware of this year’s Responsible Business Week in London and managed to get a free (how amazing) ticket to a workshop called ‘Social Impact for Business: Thoughts, tools and techniques‘ led by Uscreates.

Uscreates are a group of positive social impact experts, with a big focus on integrating sustainability and social impact measures in a business context in order to come up with win-win situations in which both, social and economic value is created.

The workshop was about introducing tools and techniques that they use with clients. Interestingly those tools are very service-designish, and therefore very similar to what I am practicing at my Master’s course. In general this means that those techniques are based on the design process and methodologies such as iteration, prototyping, creating personas and making insights from user research.

It was a fun workshop since Uscreates would not only talk about how they do it, they actually made us use their tools and quickly run through a case study. They provided templates for sketching out personas, shared their user research methods, prepared lots of materials for prototyping – and on top of that: the workshop included a yummy breakfast :)

Tools for prototyping at the Uscreates workshop. (Source: Author's own)

Tools for prototyping at the Uscreates workshop. (Source: Author’s own)

A few of the templates that they provided were quite new to me. I particularly liked the sheet where sustainability and business issues are compared next to each other in order to come up with ideas where both perspectives overlap and could create shared value. It is really a very basic template but I imagine it can be very powerful, especially if it is used at the very beginning of a project or research.

Uscreates Workshop: Sustainability and Business Win-Win Sheet. (Source: Author's own, sheet-design:

Uscreates Workshop: Sustainability and Business Win-Win Sheet. (Source: Author’s own, sheet-design:

I also liked the lateral thinking sheet. It is a very good addition to run after brainstorming and picking an idea or solution. One box even asks you to think how you would pitch the idea to Alan Sugar – a good reminder to keep the idea viable from a business perspective, Alan does not like Schmusers for sure.

Uscreates Workshop: Lateral thinking template (Source: Author's own, sheet-design:

Uscreates Workshop: Lateral thinking template (Source: Author’s own, sheet-design:

For the workshop, our team picked the case study of a large electronics manufacturer and hardware retailer. We analysed the social and environmental issues such as e-waste, worker’s rights, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and problems resulting from excessive use of these gadgets by consumers. We then decided to pick the later problem, stating that youngsters in particular, face enormous health issues from a lifestyle in which computers, tablets and mobiles are constantly used, even replacing physical activities. Our brainstorming and quick refinement of ideas led us to building a rapid prototype of a plug-in tool that could be used to power and charge existing devices through physical, sporty activities. The idea surely is not entirely new and one might want to think about how this could be made much cooler with gamification and such, but that wasn’t the aim of the exercise.

Our humble prototype: A charger powered by physical activity for mobile devices.

Our humble prototype: A charger powered by physical activity for mobile devices. (Source: Author’s own)

For me it was a good learning experience – each time I go through the design process and apply design thinking techniques helps me to refine my understanding of it. Even a short time span of one or two hours can be used for producing some visual results. Additionally the lateral thinking and the business-sustainability-win-win-sheet were great new tools to work with.



OpenIDEO (2011) The Rules of Brainstorming. [online] OpenIDEO: Field Notes. Available at tips-on-better-brainstorming (Accessed 22 April 2013)

Porter, M.E. and Kramer, M.R. (2011), “Creating Shared Value”, available at: (accessed 22 April 2013).

Websites Uscreates – Empowering society

Applied Design Thinking for a Social Project

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Business Design / Illustration / Sustainability

At our Master of Design (MDes) course, we recently had the opportunity to work with a live project to learn and practice design thinking skills. The project we worked with is called The Shift and is about bringing NEETs, which is an abbreviation for 16 to 19 year olds that are Not in Education, Employment or Training, back into education or employment.

We were introduced to this project by the project management team of Dr Lizzy Jackson and Phil Hall. The project is very unique because of the idea to develop an online learning environment featuring an artificial bot, which should become an interactive guide throughout a learning progress that would make the NEETs fit for employment and attractive to employers.

Having established this unique angle to tackle the problems of their target group, the project got funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We met after the project already took off for a few months. Saying this, the Master of Design (MDes) students were obviously not involved in any of their meetings before and had no influence over how The Shift project operates, until now.

Without intending to discuss to many details in advance, at the time we joined, The Shift project faced a few wicked problems that we were asked to develop solutions for. According to Horst Rittel, wicked problems are

‘a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated where the information is confusing where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.’

(Rittel, p. 15)

This describes exactly what we had to deal with.

Aims and Objectives

Since the groups that worked with The Shift were split into their respective pathways of our Master of Design (MDes) course (Pathways are: Design Management, Service Design, Brand Management), the task, aims and objectives slightly differed .

For the Design Management pathway the aims and objectives were to look at the project’s structure. In detail this means, it was important to research how the project is structured throughout its past, present and future. The aim of this was to identify ways to communicate the project to all parties/stakeholders involved.

Aims and Objectives for our Project

Aims and Objectives for our Project

Therefore it was necessary to analyse all the existing data and information available but also to create new insights and data that was not available before.

This huge amount of information was necessary to understand the project in its entirety and to filter it in a way that the outcome is more coherent and better structured than before.

The ultimate goal was to establish a communication strategy for the The Shift project. This communication strategy should be effective in communicating the project between external stakeholders and internals.

Development: Understanding the Project

In order to come up with a viable answer to our aims and objectives we first had to analyse the project in its entirety. Design thinking is about using many qualitative methods for research instead of analytical tools and quantitative information. Tim Brown states that

“The tools of conventional market research will never lead to those rule breaking, game-changing, paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that leave us scratching our heads and wondering why nobody ever thought of them before.“

(Brown, T. and Katz, B. 2009, p.40)

Having this in mind, we had to understand every bit of information about The Shift. This process of familiarising with the project included different approaches and methodologies. We looked at what is already there, e.g. project documentation provided by the project management team and what they had published on the internet. At the same time we also tried to make our own explorations and come up with new findings through desk research.


A good method to make our own insights and to get first contact with the target audience, the NEETs, was to participate at one of the workshops launched by The Shift.

We used individual and group interviews to learn more about them. The Shift workshop that we observed was intended to co-create the visual appearance of the artificial bot together with a small group of NEETs and a larger group of undergraduates from Ravensbourne College.

Since both groups were important to The Shift project, we were able to make a few insights that could be very valuable for our aims and objectives. Our findings were mostly based on the interviews but came also from an understanding through empathy and interaction with the target audience allowing us to get a better grasp of their perspective and needs.

With all the information that we gathered from observation, interview and feedback, we were able to create a profile of the target audience that included various social and demographic factors and attributes such as age, gender but also information about their behaviour, values, interests and motivations.

Observating The Shift project’s workshop (Source: David Ho)

Observating The Shift project’s workshop (Source: David Ho)

Desk Research

Not only did we look at what The Shift does. To understand the project’s context fully, it was also necessary to look at other projects and their similarities and differences. This could help to see how the project could be improved but also enabled us to find out why this project is unique and why there might be no universal or already existing solution that could fit our aims and objectives.

We started an online desk research and identified serveral other projects that showed similar characterstics: Focused on e-learning and open-source.

Analysis > Synthesis and Visualisation

Iteration is an essential method of design thinking. The analysis, or breaking problems apart, followed by synthesis, merging the findings into pattern is repeated througout the journey to a solution for several times.

‘These are the seeds of design thinking – a continuous movement between divergent and convergent processes, on the one hand, and between the analytic and synthetic, on the other.’

(Brown, T. and Katz, B., 2009, p.70)

At this time of our process it was time to start putting our huge amount of information together. During our group meeting we started brainstorming and writing all the information that we have gathered from observation and desk research on small sticky notes. We used different colours in order to group information together. This helped us to make sense of information, and to structure our insights and findings.

Insights on colour-coded post-it notes (Source: Author's own)

Insights on colour-coded post-it notes (Source: Author’s own)

We took pictures of our paper notes and for each group we started to play with the data. For example, we had a group of information that we called similar projects. The group contained the keywords from our desk research about other e-learning projects. We then arranged this information differently: One time we structured it by how similar the projects were compared to The Shift project. Another time we structured it regarding the project’s location: global or local. We did a few attempts to form different patterns and recorded the outcomes with our cameras.

Same information, different patterns and hierarchies (Author's own)

Same information, different patterns and hierarchies (Author’s own)

This process of synthesis and convergent thinking was even driven a bit further when we digitalized all our paper notes into a large Google Docs document. Having digitalized the information, this allowed us to easily modify the colour coding, to rearrange the patterns and to come up with new groups. This method was very useful to us, because we could also come up with new meta key criteria such as ‘skills‘.

Visualisation and categorisation of information (Source: Author's own)

Visualisation and categorisation of information (Source: Author’s own)

Within this group we could then collect all information that we have found about the topic skills, no matter if we previously collected this information when we researched the target audience, or external stakeholders or similar projects. Since the digitized paper notes were colour-coded too, the outcome of gathering information under new key criteria headings showed us a visual proportion of where the data was coming from. This allowed us to draw conclusions or make hypothesis regarding how important bits and pieces of information are to which aspect of The Shift project.

Rearranging information for different categories to show proportions (Source: Author's own)

Rearranging information for different categories to show proportions (Source: Author’s own)

Besides using post-it labels to visualise information, patterns, connections and commonalities we also started to visualise the chronological information that we had about The Shift. We used a simple project management software to create a rough timeline sample, which in first place helped us to have a better overview over the general structure of the project that we were working with.

A timeline draft for The Shift project  (Source: Author's own)

A timeline draft for The Shift project (Source: Author’s own)

Data Collection

We needed to know more about the NEETs and so we prepared a sheet of questions that we would like to ask to the them. When the questions were methodically refined enough and matched our objectives, we made a field trip to an education expo and job event called Skills 2012 London. This is where we could make direct contact with The Shift’s target group and ask them more about their background, their reasons for being out of education, their motives and goals as well as their opinion about the e-learning platform that The Shift is planning to introduce.

In case the interviewed NEETs would agree, we took a photo of them in order to visualise our survey, to make it more personal and to make it easier to make guesses who they are and what they want.

Expert Interview

We also had the opportunity to interview the project manager of The Shift, Phil Hall. In a group discussion we first collected a number of questions that were most important to us at this stage.

Summary of our Understanding Phase

In a first phase of our design thinking approach we collected qualitative data and theory-based information from primary and secondary sources. Furthermore we made use of practice-based methodologies and conducted interviews with individuals, groups and experts and observed our target group in order to familiarise with the project.

After this analysis of the project we tried to make sense of the collected data and to synthesising it into patterns. We had now reached a good understanding of each parts of the project but were yet to develop a solution regarding our aims and objectives.

Iteration, again

Now it was a good time to start another analysis > synthesis iteration cycle. Similarly to our approach to visualising our desktop research on post-its, this time we used a group exercise in class to visualise and categorise the information that we collected from our interviews with the NEETs. We collaborated with the students of other MDes pathways. In practice, mixing heterogenous teams from different disciplines is another essential aspect for design thinking projects as different perspectives on the same matter help to create a variety of insights.

Classifying the NEETs (Source: Author's own)

Classifying the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)

Again we made use of colour-coding in order to organise our insights. This way it was easier to find commonalities, connections and patterns. According to our findings, we grouped the NEETs and their attributes into five different categories.

Worldview – factors that describe or account for the way a young person thinks about wider society

Passions – things young people care about and get excited about Employment landscape – factors that describe or account for a young person’s understanding of the work opportunities available and how to access them

Motivation – factors that provoke a young person to action or inaction

Background – factors that explain where a young person is in their life today, for example education history, family background, access to technology

Rapid Brainstorming

Since we were now in the ideation phase, we started brainstorming for creating possible solutions. This brainstorming session was very similar to our re-design your wallet experience, because we were urged to work quickly and to come up with as many possibilities for a solution as we could think of. Furthermore, due to the fact that we worked in teams, this brainstorming exercise differed from a usual brainstorming experience where you draw mind maps on a sheet of paper. We had to follow strict rules which were:

• No criticism of ideas

• Encouragement of wicked ideas

• Building on ideas of others

• Stick to the topic

• Only one person is speaking at a time • Quantity is important

(OpenIDEO, 2011),, p.1)

We made competition between our groups. While we played music in the background, the group which would come up with the most ideas would win. This way we were sure that we would create a vast amount of possible solutions, which we could then build upon.

Outcomes from our rapid brainstorming session (Source: Author's own)

Outcomes from our rapid brainstorming session (Source: Author’s own)

Presentation of Initial Solutions

We finished our ideation phase when we presented our initial solutions directly to The Shift project management team. For this purpose each group picked their favourite brainstorming outcomes in order to refine those idea(s) further.

By presenting the initial solutions directly to our client, we could get a immediate feedback and The Shift team could follow our progress. For this presentation we summarised our aims and objectives as well as our initial research that we had done so far. We described our methods of data collection and research and then formulated problems that we have found. As a response to the identified problems, we suggested our initial solutions as a recommendations or suggestions to the project management.

Our main findings were, that The Shift project is enormously complex due to its stakeholder structure. We visualised The Shift’s structure by differentiating between three main project groups: The Shift project team, the external stakeholders such as businesses, governments and other organisations, and the target group of The Shift: The NEETs. In order to show the massive complexity involved, as well as the various overlappings, we visualised the different categories within those three main groups, similar to an onion layer model.

Three Layers of the NEETs. (Source: Author's own)

Three Layers of the NEETs. (Source: Author’s own)

At the same time we began working with a colour-coding. We used the existing colours of The Shift’s logo and applied them for those different groups. From now on, yellow represented the external stakeholders, blue was the colour for the project team and green the colour for the NEETs.

A bit of colour-coding for The Shift (Source: Author's own)

A bit of colour-coding for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)

We concluded that this project structure was adding a high level of complexity to this project and that this is a major problem for a consistent communication strategy.

Visualising The Shift’s complex project structure (Source: Author's own)

Visualising The Shift’s complex project structure (Source: Author’s own)

Besides this structural challenge, we also found this problem is getting worse because it is time consuming to understand the project, since the information is presented unstructured and unorganised. We summarised these weaknesses in a SWOT analysis for the project. In our view, the lack of structure was a possible threat to the project success. It would be possible that the project communication could suffer immensely and therefore the project could fail to reach a larger audience.

On the other hand, we also identified strenghts: The project was already very sophisticated in a way that it created a lot of information. In addition to that, communication tools like Facebook and Twitter were already in place.

The opportunities we could identify were high priority to us. If we could ensure the project to be communicated efficiently it would be very easy to demonstrate the project’s success and to ensure people understood the project outcomes. This way the project could possibly reach a significant amount of stakeholders.

In order to tackle this problem, we suggested three different initial solutions. We recommended to develop a communication positioning statement which clearly expresses what the shift project is and what it does. (Source: Lockwood and Walton, 2008, Building Design Strategy). We considered this important to communicate the Shift’s project structure clearly. Furthermore we suggested that this communication positioning statement should be implemented according to SMART principles: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related.

This was closely related to our next suggestion: To communicate the project in a chronological way. We identified that The Shift lacked a clear time frame and – whereas some internal time schedules were existent, they were not communicated across all of those involved in the project.

We showed our initial time line concept that we developed during our desk research as a possible solution. With the feedback of our client we then became aware that they were not too keen on working with milestones and strictly timed plans.

Initial solutions (Source: Author's own)

Initial solutions (Source: Author’s own, Swiss clock taken from, Logos are trademarks of their respective owners)

Another solution that we had in mind and that we recommended was to create a central place to access project information, which should be simple and coherent. We did not further specify this central place/space, it could be anything. However, our idea was to have a place that is accessible for all involved into the project and where all the main information of the project gets communicated in a clear and easy to understand way. This place could then act as the hub for a multi-channel communication strategy to target the needs of smaller audiences.

With our three suggestions in mind we had to focus and refine our suggestions. This is where another method of design thinking came into play: Rapid prototyping. It is important to turn the solutions into simple prototypes or minimum viable products, in order to visualise the ideas so that they can be tested. It does not matter if the protoypes are already very sophisticated. It is more about receiving feedback and being able to make assumptions if the intended solution could work in practice and if it would be possible to realise it. Through each step of building, testing and refining the prototype, a final solution emerges. (Plattner, H., et al (2009), p.123)

We picked the idea of communicating the project in a chronological order, with a view of providing more structure to The Shift. We thought it might be good to experiment with different approaches to timelines and to build corresponding prototypes of them.

Having this in mind, we sat together and discussed what we wanted to include for our timeline. As we had the feedback of the project management from The Shift, that they would not favour a strict time management solution, such as setting up milestones or a detailed project plan, we searched for a different approach. We were still looking for a clear and simple idea how we could communicate the project in a chronological way. We then looked at literature about project management, different stages of projects and another book about visualising information, which finally offered an inspiring solution.

It was the book The back of the Napkin by Dan Roam, which features an interesting case study of how to solve a business issue by visualising problems and solutions. Actually, we opened this book to find more information how we could visualise timelines in general, but then we discovered his ‘framework of showing’ (Roam, D., 2008, p. 136), we instantly thought this could be very useful to The Shift, because it was in line with our problem findings as well as our suggested solutions.

Roam suggests in his guide on ‘developing ideas’ to ask a few simple questions that are answered through visualisation. The questions are Who/What? (portrait) How much? (chart) Where? (map) When? (timeline) How? (flowchart) Why? (plot)

We thought that these questions are exactly asking for what needs to be explained and clarified about The Shift project in order to communicate efficiently between stakeholders and others involved.

Source of inspiration: Dan Roam’s book on visual thinking (Roam, D., 2008, p. 136-137)

Source of inspiration: Dan Roam’s book on visual thinking (Roam, D., 2008, p. 136-137)

It was not clear yet how this could be merged into a timeline and how these questions are could actually  be answered. However, we started off prototyping. We drew different, very general mock-ups. For our prototypes we did not go into detail, we only arranged the questions that we had identified into a way that seemed like a plausible and logical solution of how to communicate the project structure to an audience. For creating these prototypes we actually made use of another brainstorming on how a timeline can be visualised as well as looking at how existing projects communicate large amounts of data in a structured and chronological way.

Our outcome were six different prototypes of three different approaches. The first approach was almost like a management handbook diagramm. Very clean, simple and abstract. The second approach was similar but suggested a timeline that is visualised as a roadmap. The third and last idea we had was inspired by The Shift’s logo. We quite liked the idea of using their existing branding and so that we could achieve a coherent message that they would be happy to implement, as it does not differ very much to what is already existing. Furthermore this could give The Shift’s logo additional meaning that would be easy to communicate.

Iteration towards a timeline prototype (Source: Author's own)

Iteration towards a timeline prototype (Source: Author’s own)

Each of these three ideas were developed with and without a colour-coding of the different phases of the project. We thought it might be good to see if the colour-coding adds to the understanding of the project communication or if it is perceived as being confusing. We then build all of the prototypes in Google Docs.

Basic visual prototypes (Source: Author's own)

Very basic visual prototypes (Source: Author’s own)

With our digital prototypes ready, we were read to go a step further and test them. Therefore we created an online survey with (Appendix). Up front we agreed on a few simple questions to ask where participants could choose between the six prototypes available. For example, they would have to answer which of those prototypes was the easiest and quickest to understand. We also asked which one is the clearest and which of the prototypes they got the most out of. At the end of the survey we asked them for open feedback and whether there was anything missing or unclear.

We had a response rate of 18 participants. The overall feedback towards the prototypes was that they seemed to be clear and understandable. Only one person responded that he or she was missing milestones. The feedback regarding the colour-coding remained ambiguous. Some stated it was confusing them. Others demanded for even more colours.

The survey showed that the road map visualisation (Prototype 2 A & B) got the least positive responses. The absolute winner was the first approach (1A), without colour coding. Not far behind, the timeline inspired by The Shift’s logo was receiving a lot of positive feedback as well (3A & 3B). Therefore we assumed that we should focus on these two solutions to further refine them.

When we finally presented the prototyping outcomes in class, we got another feedback which was decisive to our final solution. It became clear that we were on track of working entirely in a deductive way. However, design thinking is about combining deductive, inductive and abductive reasoning. (Martin, R., 2009, p. 74). Whereas he claims ‘deduction and induction hold privileged places in the classroom and, inevitably, the boardroom as the preeminent tools for making an argument’ (Martin, R., 2009, p. 63), he goes on and states that this toolbox is incomplete and must be extended by abductive logic.

Deductive logic could be generally described as a top down reasoning approach where general findings are an explanation to the specific and detail. Inductive logic obviously is the other way round, bottom up, and argues from the specific to the general. Designers, Martin argues, live in the ‘world of abduction; they actively look for new worlds.’ (Martin, R. 2009, p. 65) It is a logic of what might be, exploring probability and possibility and depend on breaking out of patterns using plausibility and intuition as means to come to conclusions.

In this sense, we were perfectly working in an abductive logic when we came up with our initial solutions. From our feedback on the prototyping, however, it became clear that we were stuck develop- ing our idea in an deductive way. We were heading for developing our idea top down, suggesting a solution and pressing the (project’s) content within that solution.

It was clearly not going to be the best outcome for The Shift project. Therefore, we had to change our reasoning way to an inductive one. We now had to develop answers to Dan Roam’s questions for The Shift project first, in order to build our solution from bottom up. Only this way could we verify that our suggested solution would be viable.

After this enlightening feedback, it was uncertain if our idea would match. Still, we knew what to do and started to work on each of the questions that we thought, were essential for The Shift project to be answered, in order to come up with a clear and coherent communication strategy.

Luckily we were now in a position that we had everything we needed at our hands. The extensive research and understanding phase that we went through as a first step provided all the answers that we needed.

In our research, we identified three main groups, the shift project team, the externals and the target audience, the NEETs. For answering who The Shift is, we needed to explain those groups with one simple chart. At the same time it was necessary to tell, what each of these groups wants:

Who are the NEETs? What do they need?

Our research showed that the NEETs are young people aged between 16 and 19 who are Not in Education, Employment or Training.

Core NEET – young people with social and behavioural problems in- cluding those who come from families where worklessness and unemployment is an accepted norm.

Floating NEET – young people with of lack direction, motivation and tend to have spells of being NEET in between further education courses or employment with no training.

Transitional/Gap year NEET – young people who have often chosen to take time out before progressing onto further or higher education opportunities and are

(Source: The Greater London Authority)

Visualising the NEETs (Source: Author's own)

Visualising the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)

From our interviews and further desk research we could also state their wants:

Visualising the wants of the NEETs (Source: Author's own)

Visualising the wants of the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)

Who is The Shift Project Team? What are their aims?

We built on a already existing Shift project organigram. However we found that the original diagram was not showing all the information. Therefore we redesigned their existing diagram into a new one. The new diagram has a few advantages over the old one: It shows the pictures of the main persons involved in the project. It shows relationships and importance by the size of the bubbles. Furthermore it clarifies connections and overlappings between different parts of the shift project team.

New organisational diagram for The Shift (Source: Author's own, faces blurred)

New organisational diagram for The Shift (Source: Author’s own, faces blurred-out)

We also identified their aims and objectives through expert interviews, as well as through reading their documentation and summarised them as follows:

The aims and objectives for The Shift (Source: Author's own)

The aims and objectives for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)

Who are the External Stakeholders? What are their wants?

As with the NEETs, we used categorisation as a tool to display clearly who the Stakeholders are and how they differ by geographical location.

Visualising the categories of different external stakeholders (Source: Author's own)

Visualising the categories of different external stakeholders (Source: Author’s own)

We were also able to state what they exactly want. This data was coming directly from our post-it visualisation excersise that we had uploaded to Google Docs.

The most important 'wants' of the external stakeholder (Source: Author's own)

The most important ‘wants’ of the external stakeholder (Source: Author’s own)

Why The Shift?

For answering this question we wanted to emphasise why the existence of a project such as The Shift is very important. We were able to build on information that we got from The Shift project’s Power Point presentation. Instead of showing plain words and numbers, we decided to visualise the vast amount of NEETs in the UK, and thereby create a feeling for the importance:

Visualising the importance of The Shift (Source: Author's own)

Visualising the importance of The Shift (Source: Author’s own)

As it became clear in the expert interview and the talks to the project management team as well through reading the internal tender application / project brief, the academic backing and findings regarding this unique and new learning approach with an artificial bot was one of the main reasons why the project got funded and developed.

We therefore visualised their believe that the lines between humans and the virtual world has become more and more blurred. With the following image:

Gamification and the blurred lines between humans and virtual world (Source: Author's own)

Gamification and the blurred lines between humans and virtual world (Source: Author’s own)

At the same time the image stresses the fact that gamification, which The Shift team perceived as something which is much more familiar to young learners than other online learning and face to face learning experiences, is key to the project.

How The Shift changes learning?

The underlying answer to this is very complex and technical. The Shift seeks to build a motivational informal online learning environment which encourages NEETS, specifically those who are interested in Art and Design to learn entry-level digital skills through creative activities and gaming.

At each junction of these learning modules the Ravensbot (the artificial bot) suggests and facilitates where to go next. These prompts offer signposting and the choices are modelled on a decision-tree structure of multiple next steps throughout the learning journey. The potential choices are generated by a pattern-matching database, which has been organised by the team from an academic, designer, facilitator and technical perspective.

To come up with an easy to understand visualisation was – in our intention – key to communicating the project effectively. We therefore reduced the existing, very specific and very technical information and came up with an image that communicates the key ideas behind the question in three essential steps.

It communicates clearly that the learner is at the very centre of this idea and backed by human support by employers, mentors and tutors, which we displayed according to the colour-coding that we have introduced. It also shows the artificial bot, which provides virtual help.

The simple steps to explain how The Shift project works (Source: Author's own)

The simple steps to explain how The Shift project works (Source: Author’s own)

There are three simple steps to explain how the bot should work. (1) The learner asks a question at the online learning environment. (2) The bot can access a database and generate a choice accordingly to a pattern-matching mechanism. (3) This mechanism gets further and further refined throughout its use and with the help of human support.

Rather technical: The original diagram from The Shift (Source: The Shift, 2012)

Rather technical: The original diagram from The Shift (Source: The Shift, 2012)

Where is The Shift now and what is going to happen?

Ultimately we also developed a conventional timeline to answer this question. We knew that The Shift project team was not too keen on working with timelines and milestones. This is why we reduced it to a minimum. Still this graphic is essential to understand where the project is right now and where it is going. It communicates the three essential stages: Research, Prototyping and Implementation as well as a bit on details regarding the project’s workshops and further detail for the prototyping and implementation phase.

Our version of a timeline for The Shift (Source: Author's own)

Our version of a timeline for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)


After becoming aware that we would need to answer the questions from Dan Roam’s book for The Shift project structure in order to combine them with our prototypes, we managed to quickly build on existing information from our research and understanding phase. We used methods like data visualisation, categorization and a lot of simplification in order to achieve a desirable outcome.

With this outcome at our hands, we could now throw one of our prototypes into the bin. It became clear that communicating these insights in a timeline that visually looks like The Shift’s project logo, was not going to work. It would be a ridiculous act of squeezing information in a place where it could not fit. Building on the existing logo and all its attached advantages seemed to be rather wishful thinking for now.

However, we had another prototype (1A) at hand. This one, was also a winner of our survey and this prototype seemed to be very well structured and clear so that we would be able to combine the graphics and information that we developed in our refining progress with this original project communication structure. The outcome of this combination will be explained in the following chapter.

Our Solution

Our final solution was a communication strategy template for the shift. The underlying structure was generated in our prototyping exercise. We then had to refine our solution and create the actual content for this communication template. After we did this in our refinement stage, we then merged both things together.

Our final solution: A communication strategy template for The Shift (Source: Author's own)

Our final solution: A communication strategy template for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)

Reasons for our Solution

We believe that the communication strategy template communicates The Shift project at a glance in a simple, coherent and explained manner.

Its strength is that it builds on the opportunities and strengths of The Shift project that we previously identified in our SWOT analysis. Furthermore it builds on all initial solutions that we have recom- mended. First of all the template’s structure was created in a way that it communicates in a chronological manner in two directions:

From the top to bottom, the template forms a logical explanation of this project. It begins with the very first idea of who is actually involved in a project, and what do those parties want? The next question would be, why this project should exist? What is the reason for this? Only after this is clarified it is possible to ask how The Shift project intents to help the NEETs out of their misery. When these basic questions are answered it is time to explain how the project progresses and what are the schedules that are lying ahead. This timeline is also the second approach to communicating the project in a chronological manner. However, it is important to stress the fact that, this explanation would be nonsense without answering the previous ones first.

Two-way chronological structure of this template (Source: Author's own)

Two-way chronological structure of this template (Source: Author’s own)

This template does not only communicate in a coherent and chronological way. It also forms a simple message and combines everything one needs to know about the project in one central place. With this insight, it is possible to say that actually all of our initial ideas were included into our final solution.

It is necessary to say that this template is not only a piece of paper. It is really not  about these graphics and the possibility of printing flyers from it. This template is actually transferable to almost every medium that can be used for communication. Our intention was to come up with a framework that could be used for the communication strategy, and not a single handout, flyer or a website.

Instead, the template could be applied to all of those communication channels. One could use it for making a Powerpoint presentation to external stakeholders. Furthermore this could be used to build a website or even an internal document for employees. It is clear that the content might need modification to fit certain target audiences. However, the structure should remain the same.

Our solution really is the framework and the idea behind it and it was verified through prototyping, testing and iteration that this solution could fit the project – in theory. Now the concept would have to proof in practice. Whether The Shift project team will incorporate our suggestions and whether they will proof successful or not, for me the project was a good learning experience.

It was tough to cope with a complex project and learning about design thinking at the same time. Working on a live project and experiencing all the difficulties while going through various cycles of analysis and synthesis was really helpful and will benefit similar work with future clients.




Brown, T. and Katz, B. (2009) Change by design. How design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. Harper Collins. New York, USA.

De Bono, E. (1970) Lateral Thinking. Creativity Step by Step. Harper & Row. New York, USA.

Lockwood, T. and Walton, T. (2008) Building Design Strategy. Using Design to Achieve Key Business Objectives. Allworth Press. New York, USA.

Martin, R. (2009) The Design of Business. Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Press. Boston, USA.

OpenIDEO (2011) The Rules of Brainstorming. [online] OpenIDEO: Field Notes. Available at tips-on-better-brainstorming (Accessed 21.012.2013)

Plattner, H., Meinel, C., Weinberg, U., (2009) Design Thinking. Innovation lernen – Ideenwelten öffnen. FinanzBuch Verl., München, Germany.

Rittel, H., Webber, Melvin M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of
Planning. [online] Amsterdam. Policy Sciences. Available at mwebber/Rittel+Webber+Dilemmas+General_Theory_of_Planning.p
(Accessed 21.01.2013)

Roam, D. (2008) The back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Penguin Group. New York, USA.

The Shift. (2012) Project’s Powerpoint Presentation.

Analysing the Characteristics of a Business Model

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Business Design / Entrepreneurship

For Unit 6 at my Master’s in Design Management at Ravensbourne College I chose the enterprise option with the aim of learning more about startups and business modelling. I am working with two student mates on a live startup idea that will act as a case study for me to experiment with different business models and to test them with focus groups. At the same time I will learn what it means to start up lean and from scratch.

Business model is defined in existing literature in a variety of ways; as a statement, a description, a representation, an architecture, a conceptual tool or model, a structural template, or a method.

(Amit, R., Zott, C. & Massa, L., 2010)

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The Impact of Designed Products on Sustainability

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Business Design / Management / Sustainability / Video

The question of how to tackle environmental sustainability issues of designed products is a tough one. Hardly any manufactured product meets a strict definition of being environmental friendly. Most products will fail such standards simply due to the fact that in the process of manufacturing and production natural capital is turned into man-made capital. For the most part this is a linear process, which means that only a small amount of extracted resources will be reused, and as a result natural resources diminish. ‘All products take up resources, use energy and produce waste that has to be processed, leaving a “footprint”.’ (Stamm, 2008, p. 278) Hence, the footprint of products well extends beyond resource depletion and can be as serious as contributing to global warming, loss of ozone, increased energy use, solid waste and toxic emissions as well as air and water pollution with all consequences for humans beings as well as for flora and fauna. (Lewis and Gertsakis, 2001, p. 101)

Based on these insights, Bettina von Stamm states that companies should focus on creating ecologically compatible products that minimise such impacts on the environment by considering all inputs and outputs during the product’s life cycle. (Stamm, 2008, p. 278)

A key tool for designing minimum-impact products is the life-cycle assessment (LCA). The goal of such an assessment is an analysis of the environmental impact of a product for each stage of the product’s life as shown in figure 1. (Lewis and Gertsakis, 2001, p.42)

Fig. 1: Product system from a life-cycle perspective (Lewis and Gertsa- kis, 2001, p.42)

Fig. 1: Product system from a life-cycle perspective (Lewis and Gertsakis, 2001, p.42)

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Design Thinking Is Dead

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Business Design / Management

As I completed my first semester at a Design School, it is time to sort things out .. and declare design thinking dead.


God is dead. Well, Design Thinking just as well. (Photo of Nietzsche obtained from

God is dead! Design Thinking just as well. (Photo of Nietzsche obtained from

When I started my master degree in Design Management I knew that I would like to explore how creativity and design could mix up with business. It was an intuitive feeling that the analytical business world lacks something which design could provide. I felt so because I noticed I unconsciously applied design principles when working in project management environments. Moreover I felt designerly methods helped when business at times lacked inspiration, creativity and just .. common sense.

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Business Design / Video

The Chromebook Pixel

I just watched the introduction video to the newest Google ‘innovation’ on the market: The Chromebook Pixel

I find it rather surprising to see how Google can release such a product. The Chromebook Pixel somehow proves that resources like the world’s smartest engineers, big budgets and a multinational corporation infrastructure and its marketing channels as a backing, will not guarantee success when it comes to innovation.

The first comments on the Pixel criticise the high pricing, considering its 32 GB SSD and the fact that the operating system is Chrome OS only, which basically prevents any professional usage of this laptop aside from browsing the web.

It seems obvious that this product is doomed to fail (commercially). Whereas Google won’t care about the financial losses, they should start asking on which stage they lost their imagination. The 90s-like 3:2 screen ratio is maybe the most creative aspect about this product.

knockoff design

knockoff marketing

knockoff video

1300 dollars for a web browser

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Abductive Reasoning

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Business Design / Management

>> What Is Design Thinking Anyway? <<


This is the name of a chapter in Roger Martin’s book The Design of Business. Martin explores and explains different methods for reasoning, namely deduction, induction and abduction. Whereas he claims ‘deduction and induction hold privileged places in the classroom and, inevitably, the boardroom as the preeminent tools for making an argument’ (Martin, R., 2009, p.63), he goes on and states that this toolbox is incomplete and must be extended by abductive logic. Read More

Perspectives on Social and Sustainable Business

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Entrepreneurship / Management / Sustainability

At uni we recently had a lecture  on social and sustainable business given by Paul Sternberg. The angle of the course was really interesting. In the past I looked at the social business phenomenom from a rather legal as well as economic perspective and in how far this concept differs from existing organisations such as charities or traditional business.

Social Business Structure

Social Business in the Light of Income Generation (Source: Author’s own)

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Can China Innovate?

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Business Design / China / Entrepreneurship / Sustainability

Do you think China is innovative? Recognition for ancient China’s inventions such as the compass and paper is very common. Contemporary China however, is popular for producing things designed in the West. And for copying these products in a poor and cheap manner.

Whereas this leeds us to think China is an offender to innovation, my personal experience tells me that China is back on track on the innovation pathway. In my opinion, this is mainly driven by the very practical and technocrat approach Chinese people are dealing with problems and finding solutions. Many innovations in China will simply happen because of an immense need for change and due to China’s unique culture, economy and society.

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Design Thinking Exercise

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Business Design / Entrepreneurship

Design Thinking Exercise (Source: David Ho)

Design Thinking Exercise (Source: David Ho)

The Master of Design at Ravensbourne includes a unit on design thinking in its curriculum. It is very practical oriented as I noticed right at our first lecture. After a short introduction to the term design thinking and what it means in theory, we straight jumped into practice. Therefore we ran through Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Re-design the Gift Giving Experience exercise. It is freely available here so have a detailed look all the steps or even run through it with a partner. Read More

Management Between Decision and Design Attitude

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Business Design / Entrepreneurship / Management

Traditional management theory is primarily about decision making. Business is defined as a socio-technical system that operates within its environment and according to the laws of supply and demand. Business management relies on a narrow path of analytical thinking. Data from the past gets extrapolated in order to make assumptions about the future. Managers find themselves in a role of making decisions between alternatives of such projections. This is true for the largest part of management practice and management education and having obtained a business degree, I can tell a thing or two about it. Read More

Sustainability Jam London

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Entrepreneurship / Management / Sustainability

From 02-04 November 2012 the Sustainability Jam took off globally. I was lucky to be invited to the jam in London to shoot some photos of the action. The jam was located at the Westminster Hub. I really enjoyed this location, where usually changemakers and social entrepreneurs meet up and collaborate, invent and create.

The structure of the jam was very similar to one of our MDes units at Ravensbourne course units. The overall goal was to come up with a sustainable product or service under the motto heartbeats. At college we did a similar thing, only that we had a few weeks of time whereas the jam would only run for this particular weekend. The participants from different backgrounds such as design, business, geography needed to go through different stages such as brainstorming, ideation, prototyping and refining. Each stage was completed by a presentation to the audience in order to receive feedback. Have a look at the jam’s website and flickr group for more info!

Sustainability Jam London Heartbeats

The Motto of the Sustainability Jam Was “Heartbeats”. (Source: Author’s Own)

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