Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 1 – The Love/Breakup Letter

Welcome to our series on Design Thinking methods and activities. You’ll find a full list of posts in this series at the end of the page.

The Love/Breakup Letter

Primary Goal To identify positive and negative attributes/elements/features in your brand, product, company, or event.
When To Use During a kick-off session with a group that is familiar with a pre-existing concept, brand, event and/or application.
Time Required 30-45 minutes
Number of Participants 2-6 (ideally)
Who Should Participate? Stakeholders, Users, or Product Teams
Supplies Pens or pencils, lined sheets of paper (bonus supply: heart or smiley/sad face stickers for dramatic effect)

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Design Thinking Toolkit, Part 2: The Supply List

This is the second post in a series on Design Thinking methods and tools. You’ll find a full list of posts in this series at the end of the page.

Before we dive too deeply into design thinking exercises, I want to help you set the stage with the proper tools and materials. At Atomic, we’ve been holding workshops and project kickoffs for 15 years, so we’ve done all the user testing for you! Here, you’ll find a collection of our most loved and used tools for group activities. Read more on Design Thinking Toolkit, Part 2: The Supply List…

A Better Approach to Collaborative Problem Solving

It can be difficult to build team consensus on the best way to solve a technical problem. I believe the difficulty often stems from how each of us strives to present our own solutions without really listening to others in a spirit of true team support.

To improve the way we collaborate and overcome team dysfunction, I’m proposing a new working agenda. Read more on A Better Approach to Collaborative Problem Solving…

Don’t Skimp on Research, Design, and Planning

Our clients come to us with really cool ideas for web, mobile, and embedded apps. Usually, they know their domain inside and out, and they’ve come up with a great way to improve the world with some custom new software.

But we’ve learned over the years is that a little bit of planning before jumping into the code goes a long way. Read more on Don’t Skimp on Research, Design, and Planning…

Social Weight, Needy Devices, & the Need for Continuity – Key Takeaways from O’Reilly Solid


Source: O’Reilly Conferences

I recently returned from the inaugural O’Reily Solid, a conference focused on the intersection of software and hardware. It was a fascinating event — I can think of few other places where you could find dancing robots, modular circuit boards, smart power tools, and airborne wind turbines under the same roof as such diverse and revolutionary talks as designing interactions between connected devices, collaborative UX for the internet of things, and the future of fabrication.

Needless to say, I had a great time and learned a lot. With this post, I would like to share, in no particular order, some of my main observations and takeaways from this conference. Read more on Social Weight, Needy Devices, & the Need for Continuity – Key Takeaways from O’Reilly Solid…

Florence Knoll: Defining Modern

Florence Knoll. Image credit Iroco.
I recently had the pleasure to attend a presentation as part of West Michigan Design Week titled Florence Knoll : Defining Modern. I hadn’t known of Ms. Knoll prior to attending the talk, and I’d like to share two things I learned.

Quick background information: Ms. Knoll is known for her work in architecture, furniture design, and interior design; she was most active in the 1940s and 1950s. She helped found Knoll, a company which remains active in the furniture and office design market. The presentation was given by Lynne McCarthy, who is currently with the Knoll organization.

Throughout the presentation, Ms. McCarthy told several stories about Ms. Knoll’s work. One of my favorites was about her experience redesigning Nelson Rockefeller’s office in Rockefeller Center during the 1940s. Read more on Florence Knoll: Defining Modern…

Review: ‘Design & Thinking’ Movie and Discussion

I had the pleasure of seeing the movie Design + Thinking at a recent Design West Michigan event. It is a particularly timely opportunity for me to see it, as I’m just now celebrating my second year anniversary of digging into the world of design thinking.

The event was broken into two parts: the 75 minute movie screening followed by a 20 minute panel conversation. In summary, I’d give the movie an 8/10, and the panel a 17/10. (Ok, 17/10 is ridiculous. How about 11/10?)

The Movie

I found the movie to be a wonderful introduction to design thinking if you’ve never encountered it before, and an excellent review of basic principles if you are already familiar with the topic. (Which reminds me a lot of the introduction to Extreme Programming you’d hear from Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson: something for everyone!)

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Inspiration & Insights from 2013

I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on two events that left me creatively inspired this year. When I attended the 99u and Balanced Team conferences, amongst other makers and lean/agile enthusiasts, it was clear I was surrounded by the right people. There were many takeaways from these inspiring groups, and below are four that I’d like to share.

“A master must know how to become a student again.”

– Joshua Davis, @codeandtheory, #99conf

“Always be a student.” This short-form phrase has passed through my mind several times this year. Learning is something we should always be doing professionally and introspectively, and fleeting desires of success might get in the way of that. As Davis said, “success is self-defined and can really f#@$ up creativity.” 

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What Are the Categories of Design?

We often hear that “design is an overloaded word.” This must be one of the biggest understatements of all time! Often when I’m communicating with others and the word design is dropped, we need to ask ourselves: are we talking about visual design? User experience? Markup? Tangible design? Tactical design? Strategic design? Or simply aesthetics?

Given all of the confusion, as I was skimming the Table of Contents of Bettina von Stamm’s Managing Innovation, Design, and Creativity, the appendix titled Categories of Design immediately jumped out to me. I thought, “ah, perhaps this will help build my understanding of the word design.”

Walker’s design family tree1 courtesy Plymouth University

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Recap: The Difference Between Art and Design

The evening of September 6th, Design West Michigan event was a panel discussion on “What is the difference between art and design?”

The panel was moderated by Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis, and consisted of Andrew Blauvelt, Design Director and Curator of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and Joseph Rosa, Director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor.

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