Design Thinking Challenge teams plan to fail on the way to success

March 29, 2018
Photo by Adam Coppola Photography (CC PD 1.0)

It’s a challenge that confounds municipal governments throughout Canada: Why do so many people drive in gridlocked traffic rather than walk, cycle or use transit?

Eight university student teams from across Canada are pondering that during the first annual Royal Roads Design Thinking Challenge. But they aren’t planning to nail the solution, at least not on the first try.

“In a world that is uncertain and needs innovative solutions, people don’t come up with the best answer by being really smart and spending a few hours in a room figuring it out,” says challenge organizer Assist. Prof. Amy Zidulka of the School of Business. “You put something out there and learn from what happens when your idea interacts with the world.

“What’s valued isn’t that they are so brilliant in the first iteration. It’s what they do with feedback.”

The challenge, sponsored by the Eric C. Douglass Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies, asks teams of students to use design thinking and behavioural insights to solve the problem of too many cars on the road.

Design thinking solves problems by understanding the people who use the products or services being explored. Behavioural insights, or nudging, draws on ideas from behavioural science to encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.

At each stage of the challenge, the teams refine their ideas and glean insight from the people using the transportation system, experts and each other.

The teams began work in February, when Victoria mayor Lisa Helps challenged them to talk to people in their own cities and come up with ideas on how to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips.

“In design thinking it’s important to start where you are, to understand the local circumstances, and to engage people in helping you design the change that they want to see and you want to make,” Helps says.

The students continue the challenge when the teams arrive at Royal Roads Apr. 4 to begin the four-day event. It will involve feedback sessions, guest speakers and an amazing race throughout greater Victoria. The race is an urban scavenger hunt where teams will explore the regional transportation system, gathering user experience information for the design challenge and competing for bragging rights for being the fastest team.

Vietanh (Vincent) Tran, a student in the Bachelor of Business Administration in Business and Sustainability program, says his Royal Roads team worked on the first part of the challenge by biking, walking, bussing and driving downtown from Royal Roads’ campus, talking to people along the way.

“With this design thinking process, we can come up with ideas very fast, and then we can learn from the prototypes,” says Tran. “Fail more and fail faster. When you fail more the cost of failing is less, and you can move faster onto the next prototype.”

The team with the best final idea wins, but team coach Assist. Prof. Todd Thexton, director of the School of Business, says his students win regardless of the final result.

“The value of this is 100% the process,” Thexton says, “Here’s an opportunity for exceptional students who want to do exceptional things, like these students, to dive into design thinking.”

You can join the teams to hear more about design thinking and nudging from experts in the field on Friday, Apr. 6 at 9 a.m. in person or via livestream. Follow the teams on their amazing race and throughout the challenge by searching #DesignChallengeRRU on Twitter and Instagram Apr. 4 to 7.