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2. No Solitary Geniuses

The myth of a solitary genius solving a huge problem no one else could solve is largely just that — a myth. Although CEOs, sports team leaders, and award-winners tend to get public credit, none of those people achieve their goals without the consistent, robust support and help of a variety of other people.

The same holds true in design. Although design clusters around a few big names, like Frank Gehry, an architect, Jonathon Ive, an industrial designer at Apple, Inc, and Miuccia Prada, a fashion designer, all of these people have teams with which they work, and none of them designs in a vacuum. Working in teams allows organizations to utilize the unique backgrounds, training, and natural talents of a variety of people. In the same way that design teams go out and talk to participants during Discovery, they also work as teams that espouse multiple disciplines. This allows design teams to hear multiple points during the making phase, in the same way they heard multiple points of view during the Discovery phase.

Case In Point

NASA’s Mars Rover
When the NASA undertook to land research robots called rovers on planet Mars, no one person accomplished the task. Not even one leader can take credit. Instead, to land and operate a rover successfully on Mars, NASA assembled multiple teams of flight and mechanical engineers, physicists, rocket scientists, designers, project managers, finance specialists, and others to take on the task.

During the development process, those teams engaged with the geologists, weather scientists, chemists, and others who needed their instruments sent to Mars to perform the ground-breaking research. When the first rover landed and started collecting that information, everyone knew they had contributed to making that happen. This culture of interdisciplinary collaboration at NASA has characterized their workflow since they were established in 1958. This is not to say that collaboration is always easy or seamless, but that the value that those interdisciplinary teams bring to the larger mission is understood and highly valued. This same logic holds throughout agencies and missions in the public space; working in teams allows us to be more effective and have longer-term, positive impact on our core missions than working in single-discipline silos.

3. In Their Shoes

If you've heard the old saying "it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round," then you know what this principle is about. Designing for those unlike yourselves depends on the practices of empathy. Practicing empathy means creating designs that will work for the participants.

The word “empathy” is often used in the design circles to describe an ideal emotional state between designers and participants in which the designers have so deeply learned about the participants' experience with a product, service, system, or lack thereof, that they can, as nearly as possible, stand the shoes of the participants themselves. Practicing this emotional intelligence during the Design phase allows designers to create solutions for people whose experiences they may never have, but with whom they can empathize successfully codesign new or evolved products, services, and systems that improve participants' future experiences.

The team has practiced empathy throughout the Discovery phase during Interviews (Discovery Phase Concept Guide, pages 16 - 21). As you move deeper into design, remember that deep empathy or sympathy you developed. Lean on that while iterating in order to design for your participants, even if they are widely different from yourselves.

Case In Point

VEO and Transitioning Veterans

The VA Welcome Kit is one example of using empathy to design better experiences. Through hundreds of interviews with veterans, administrators, and service providers, the Veterans Experience Office has been able to organize these varied offerings, opportunities, and earned benefits into a single, well-designed informational package. Through intensive research with veterans and a value and practice of co-design during the Design phase, the Welcome Kit improves veterans' understanding of available services and benefits in the large VA system. Using plain language, the Kit strives to bring together the myriad phone numbers, registrations, and options a veteran has upon entering VA into a consistent, readable, and modern layout. To design it, VEO spent a year speaking and co-designing with veterans to understand and empathize with their confusion regarding benefits and services during transition. Building this empathy meant VEO sent employees and designers to all parts of the United States to talk to veterans about that experience. What this research found was that veterans bring a range of readinessfor civilian life to their period of transition from the military, but that VA could do a lot better to smooth that path with consistent, consumable direction regarding the VA organization.

Using this information, the team designed the VA Welcome Kit, now in use across VA. The Welcome Kit research and design teams used emapthy to engage with veterans about their experiences. The teams came to understand at a minute level veterans' feelings of confusion and frustration with VA. The teams synthesize those learnings into the VA Welcome Kit and tested the product extensively with veterans across the country to ensure its utility. In this way, VEO stepped into the shoes of their product participants in order to improve their earliest experiences of VA. VA's Welcome Kit teams engaged empathetically with, not designed authoritatively for, veterans across the VA system.