Until this day, people have been obsessed with the question of how to make a good product. They judge the products by their efficiency, flexibility, user experience, stability, reliability, etc. These quintessential aspects have been examined for too many times during the early stages of product development that they have completely eclipsed a major component of the project–the people who design and program it. So the real question we should ask is, who can create the very best product? The most likely answer would be a “design thinker.”
Before we start discussing what a design thinker is, I need to clarify the difference between a designer and a programmer. A designer makes plans for the product. His or her job is to create a blueprint of the entire project. Doing so requires the designer to have a comprehensive understanding of the product. A programmer, as the name implies, programs the software. He or she is responsible for making the product run as intended in an efficient yet reliable manner. In a sense, the designers are the “planners” while the programmers are the “executors.”
Design thinkers find themselves in between the designers and programmers. They not only have a global view of the project but also understand the basics of programming. They are crucial to creating a successful product as they serve as liaisons between the designers and programmers. Because of this, they often emerge as leaders of a project.
A design-driven product goes through the following processes in a product development cycle:
Real-life Design Thinking
In fact, Westtown Resort, a calendar management solution that intelligently imports static student schedule into Google Calendar, is built upon the principles of design thinking.
We started by asking ourselves the question: What is the real problem? Through the definition of a problem, we set the main objective for the project. Then, we interpret the problem to gain more insights to the project. In this case, we became aware that the ways people had been using their schedule were incredibly inefficient and unreliable after surveying nearly a sixth of the student body. The next step is ideation, which includes brainstorming multiple solutions. We came up with the following solutions for the Westtown Resort 1.0:
- Use OCR (optical character recognition) to scan the paper schedule
- Prompt the user to copy and paste the MyBackpack schedule in text format and parse it.
- Ask the user to type his or her schedule into a pre-formatted Google Sheets document and then parse it using scripts.
As we are prototyping, we figured that the most reliable solution would be the “copy-and-paste” method. We decomposed the project into multiple part, including parsing, website design, iCal file generator, and Google Calendar support. Eventually, we were able to create a product that is, though not perfect, the very best solution available to Westtown students.
The evolution of Westtown Resort is so important that I feel the need to dedicate an entire passage to it. Since the first day we rollout the Westtown Resort, we began collecting feedbacks from our users as well as debugging our original code. By continuously perfecting our product, we were able to launch an update in late 2016 which brought Semester 2 schedule support, bug fixes, a more reliable parser, and Resort Support℠.
Indeed, the evolution does not stop here. We frequently challenge ourselves through innovating and refining. Over the summer, I have been collaborating with other team members to create a new generation of Westtown Resort that is meticulously reimagined and redesigned. However, I cannot disclose more than the fact that we have no plans to release the new Westtown Resort within the first two weeks of this school year.
Cunicelli, Ed. Westtown School Campus. Jpg file, 29 Sept. 2014.
Riverdale Country School, and IDEO. Design Thinking for Educators. 2013.
Sarrazin, Hugo, and Jennifer Kilian. Interview. By Barr Seitz. Mar. 2016.