“The main thing is that everything become simple, easy enough for a child to understand.” – Albert Camus
If you are a human, and you have a brain, you are capable of being a better designer and a better problem solver. One way to find improvement is through use of a process to help guide your own development while giving you experience that lets you refine your approach and techniques over time.
With that, below is a simple framework I use to solve problems quickly and creatively. Below that is a supporting example of the process in use.
3 Tips for More Efficient Problem Solving and Design Solutions
1. Understand the problem. Engage stakeholders early and often. Too many engineers and designers rush into ideating before understanding the problem fully. Resist the urge!
2. Look for prior solutions and guiding lights. Once the problem is understood, spend a little time Googling. There is truth in the belief that most new ideas are just a version or collision of old ideas. Someone may have spent considerable time solving a similar problem so resist the urge to re-invent. This simple practice will make ideation much more efficient.
3. Align it all to your design principles. This step takes a bit of practice and experience to become efficient at, but if you understand your problem and the constraints/requirements of the project – there will generally be a clear path to bringing the idea into reality without compromising your core design principles.
A Case Study: Experiential Coaching via Technology
A month ago, a team mate of mine at Red Bull dropped by and casually asked if I could come up with some tech kit that could “motivate an endurance athlete to give 110% during a cycle sprint around a Velodrome track”… and could it be done in 2 weeks.
These days there are more than enough opportunities to “toss some sensors on it” and call it coaching. When implemented properly, with thoughtful design, technology can play an incredible role in the athletics coaching process. I was excited for the challenge to explore this.
To preface, when it comes to using technology to enhance athletic performance, there is a set of core design principles I have and stick to. A) Technology is a tool and it should only be used if it adds value. B) Experiences that deliver quick and honest feedback in a meaningful and engaging manner are more powerful. ** Notice that these are experience and human driven – find your core principles then layer on things like how something looks, feels, etc**
With that in mind – the first step in design is to understand the problem. This required a visit to the Velodrome in Carson, interviews with coaches and athletes, and some initial idea exploration based on initial stakeholder feedback. After letting that simmer in the subconscious – the second step involved looking at examples of “motivation in racing”, a vague enough query that led to an interesting recollection – the Ghost Driver from the Mario Kart Nintendo games.
This concept of the ghost driver resonated well with the criteria of motivation. It was almost perfect. It let you race yourself. It gave you instant feedback. You became the time to beat. But how could this be quickly implemented on a budget? How could a simple, yet powerful experience be curated for the participants? How could you bring Mario Kart to real life?
The last step to was to bring it all together in a solution that fit the requirements (feasibility) and the core design principles. Many ideas where put through the filter, and a winning combination was derived via two series of long LED light strips that would send a programmable light pulse down the length of the Velodrome, conveying visual information to the athlete about their pace, while gamifying the experience such that they strive to beat or catch the light each lap. This was the Mario Kart Ghost Driver… in real life!
With a feasible and novel solution in place (yes, I know, I glossed over the details of fine tuning the idea, but that’s for another blog post), add-ons and additional function can be created if value added. The timing of the light could be loaded with performance times, making the performance of the light a version of their own performance. This enabled us to tell the athletes that the light was traveling at a time they had previously set, while in reality we made the light 2% faster – meaning they were now competing against a slightly faster version of themselves. Without knowing, they pushed themselves harder to keep up with something they “knew” they had accomplished in the past and should be able to beat or at least tie. Technology, in this case, has now enabled a motivation piece that all involved could experience, from the athletes, to the coaches, to the bystanders watching the light and cheering them on – amplifying the power of the whole experience.
Above is a full set of array assignable LED strips. They are driven by PixelPusher hardware from Heroic Robotics. The team over there is stellar! The controlling program was written in Processing. Below is the system in action.
And the best way to know if you hit the mark – is if the users intuitively arrive at the value proposition that the design was striving to provide. In this case the athletes noted that they could not just put in 100% at that one point one the track where their coach was pushing them hard, but now they had to give it 100% all around the track b/c the light was relentless and everywhere.
In the end, following a pretty simple set of guidelines enabled the quick creation of an exciting training tool and highlighted the power of technology when implemented in a thoughtful way, again, through a simple and repeatable design process.
Check out the incredible work by the Red Bull High Performance team for Project Endurance. Youtube video below. Full editorial story found here.
“Good design is partially creativity and innovation, but primarily knowledge and awareness.” — Chuck Green
Best wishes for a creative and productive day,