Design Thinking at Live Well Collaborative

Team members working together during a brainstorming sprint

My journey of getting into design research was quite a zig-zag path, but I was fortunate to have found a place where I got to validate my career aspiration. I mentioned that the two semesters I spent at Live Well Collaborative, a design and innovation consultancy confirmed my interest in design research. Now, I’ll give you a glimpse into how we work and how that helps us come up with empathetic design solutions. I’ll also highlight my unique contribution and key takeaways at the end of this article.

The Setting

Live Well Collaborative (Live Well) creates a safe environment for us to experiment, learn, and collaborate. Depending on the project scope, a team may consist of 3 to 15 people. Every team has a project lead and an advisory faculty lead, but most of the key decisions are driven by the team itself.

During COVID-19, we were working remotely, depending heavily on the use of Google Meet and Miro, an online whiteboarding tool. As the situation got better, we returned to the studio, following closely all the safety measures and frequently wiping out surfaces. Our open studio setting allows us to move around freely and talk to other members if need be.

Moveable tables and chairs in the studio help facilitate discussion and collaboration

Our teams are often multidisciplinary — We have students from design, business, engineering, arts, sciences, and even music schools. We’re encouraged to ask “why?” all the time. Having individuals from diverse backgrounds encourages us to not only share our own expertise and skills but also embrace different perspectives and co-create something bigger (and usually better).

The Approach

Live Well uses a validated 15–week design thinking process to translate user-centered research into products and services that meet end users’ needs.

The Live Well Collaborative’s 15–week design thinking process

Whether a project is about developing a consumer tech product or designing education materials for patients at a hospital, we use the same process and timeframe.

Phase 1: Research

We often kick-start our projects with a lead-in meeting with the client. Once we get an overview of the brief, we take a deep dive through secondary research, which usually includes reading and extracting information from industry and consumer reports, online articles, and news.

We take a relatively broad approach at this first stage and list out as many research questions as possible in order to understand the industry as a whole and frame the problem better.

Mapping what digital products are used in a house to identify gaps and opportunities

After we get a holistic view of the industry, we develop personas and archetypes to ensure our design process is user-centered. We then send out surveys through social media and recruit participants for in-depth user interviews to identify customers’ unique pain points and needs.

By identifying what drives, motivates, and supports the people we design for, we’re able to create more effective and empathic design solutions.

The team is discussing how to best visualize survey data for a client’s report

Phase 2: Ideate

After receiving feedback from our clients at the research presentation, the team spends some time benchmarking products and running brainstorming sprints. Together as a team, we share out our unfiltered ideas and categorize them.

The team is sharing their unfiltered ideas after a brainstorming sprint

Once we figure out multiple ideas that stand out to us, we do multiple rounds of brainstorming sprints around those ideas and consolidate them by creating concept cards. To test our concepts, we then conduct co-creation sessions with users to receive feedback and keep improving our concepts.

At times, a project would be so huge that team members would be divided up to take care of specific concepts. We make sure everyone is synced and understands how different concepts are intertwined by doing fun activities like role-playing.

For large teams with 10–15 members, we also mix teams up and re-group at each phase to ensure we don’t get fixated on our concepts and perspectives.

Phase 3: Refine

After our clients share their thoughts on our concepts in the ideation presentation, we usually prioritize concepts that received the most buy-ins from clients and work on improving them.

Prioritizing our concepts and connecting them together for better system mapping

We also map the detailed user journeys at this point to ensure our concepts provide a seamless user experience and that they answer all the potential questions users may have.

Depending on project needs, we then move to the last stage of preparing deliverables through wireframing, prototyping, 3D rendering, system mapping, or even coming up with brand strategies and adoption plans.

In the refinement presentation, we make use of user stories to show our clients how our refined concepts best solve their problems and suggest the next steps for product development.

My Role and Contribution

I started out at Live Well as a technical writer documenting the team process. I attended most team meetings and observed the team for hours every week as they interacted in the studio. I took notes of almost everything, from work routine and new research methods used to individual comments or team dynamics that caught my attention. I also compared my observations to innovation frameworks that I learned from the innovation management class.

Project Lead starting a group conversation about concept prioritization and team distribution.

Towards the end of both semesters, I analyzed my notes, drew insights from them, compiled a presentation, and made suggestions to the executives on team composition and on how we might create the best environment for teams to learn and thrive.

Not only did my findings help Live Well leadership reflect on how they recruit, onboard, and manage teams, my documentation also enabled them to better explain our design process and impacts as they reach out to different partners and sponsors. New research methods were also captured to be included in our design toolkit for future reference.

Key Takeaways

1. No stupid questions

We grew up in an education system that limits us to chase after the correct answers. But the truth is—there are often no right and wrong answers. Excellent designs stand out when they can serve users’ needs and reduce their pain points. The key is about whether we’re asking good questions and understanding the core problem. As the saying goes, “A problem not fully understood is unsolvable; A problem that is fully understood is half-solved.”

A diverse, multidisciplinary team coming together to discuss the next steps for a project

2. Learning by doing

We may not have years of work experience, but the packed timeline often forces us to keep rolling even when we face something that is out of our comfort zone. We learn to embrace ambiguity, adapt quickly, be resourceful, ask for help when needed, and build new skills as we go.

3. The power of observation

As a technical writer observing the team and documenting the team process, I had the privilege to be in and out of the team at the same time. While I had a clear picture of what the team was working on, I could often take a step back from the project craziness and analyze the team dynamic.

And when I changed my hat to be a team participant for the project, I became more mindful of how I interacted with the team to ensure all voices were heard and avoided the mistakes I took notes of.

My time spent with Live Well has been an extremely humbling experience. I am often in awe of the teams’ creativity, commitment, and drive. Our clients’ projects sometimes are so challenging that they scare me a little (in a good way), and the teams are unafraid to keep dreaming big. I remember walking out of our studio, reminding myself to keep chasing organizations that grant me these feelings and growth.

If you have any questions or thoughts on our design process, I’d love to hear from you. How does your team approach and solve problems? Let me know in the comments.

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Design Researcher + Storyteller who stands for the arts and environmental sustainability. Check out janetchuhl.com/

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Janet Chu

Janet Chu

Design Researcher + Storyteller who stands for the arts and environmental sustainability. Check out janetchuhl.com/