Starting out this year, I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I came to university because ‘it felt like the right time for me to start my masters’. In away I wasn’t even sure what I was getting into. What I did know is that I wanted to learn, and I wanted to learn something that I thought I could do better. Throughout the design thinking module, I realised a lot of the behaviours I have were already entrepreneurial and I was already thinking about business in a problem-solving manner, I just hadn’t realised it yet.
I came into university with experience as a media production person. I was already a jack of all trades by the time I came into the masters course but I was in no way a master of any of the trades I was doing. I hoped that the course would help me find something I wanted to become a master in, and it somewhat did, especially through design thinking.
One thing I have learned about myself is that I really enjoy working in a team, and especially in a team where each voice is equal. In the team for FITME! We had no issues with talking to each other as equals, even though I was selected as a Managing Director, that didn’t mean that I was in control all the time. I enjoyed listening to my team’s ideas and turning them into a reality, understood that without a mutual point to link us, the team become dysfunctional. In our case, our team was somewhat ‘too kind’ to fail, we were all supporting each other, and making sure to cover any bases the others couldn’t.
Starting at the beginning, we were asked the question ‘What is good design?’ when we went to the Design Museum to see the Designer Maker User installation. What I found is that a lot of what was kept here were designs which thought about the user, and by thinking about the user changed the way in which people do something in their day to day life. One big example would be the introduction of smartphones, although PDA’s had existed for many years prior, before the iPhone they were only used by business people and tech-savvy enthusiasts.
Nowadays every person has a smartphone, and this was a change bought forward by a well-designed product, made for the users. This is essentially what design thinking means. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO says that “Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of the technology and the requirements for business success”. What this means is that products and services designed by using this way of thinking are not made with the product in mind first, but with the audience.
In our case we found many problems we wanted to address, some more interesting than others, some with a very large group and some more niche. We decided to focus on the fitness and health avenue which has many different problems to solve. The one we focused on was motivation, as a team we found a mutual interest in working out to stay healthy, rather than body build. One problem we faced is that as a team and through asking our friends and a wider group of gym goers, is that people get bored of routine and want to try something new occasionally. Many beginners give up because of bland exercise routines or being unconfident in their exercises so this was another problem we wanted to focus on.
Initially we thought very logically about the problem. “How can we show beginners how to exercise and give people some choice”. Our first few ideas stemmed in the form of products and apps with purchases, and we thought we would start with developing an instructional yoga mat and app. What we found was that this already exists on the market and it wasn’t an idea which could bring fun to a workout.
At this point we went back to the drawing board, and tried to define who our customer was. One of the main concepts we forgot about was that we wanted to make exercise fun, how can you make exercise fun with an exercise mat or an instruction video? So we started thinking about how we could make exercising fun, and came with the solution of creating a game.
Through this process we reviewed further the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. We built a basic product, tested it out among ourselves and then with various potential users, then used any feedback we received to improve, or pivot based on what was said. In my newer ventures I think that this idea of constantly seeking feedback to improve is something I will take away positively. I was always very sceptical of bad feedback, usually I would become defensive if someone didn’t like a design I had made or something I said however throughout the weeks I learnt that although not all feedback is good feedback, it is often useful feedback.
One of the main hurdles we had to face was the design of the card game rules. We had never really designed a card game before, so this was a new experience for us. Kijsuchon and I had some experiences with trading card games and table top board games, meaning we could think in a way to create the card game, however at this stage we hadn’t even tested our assumptions. First, we checked to see if there were any other card games available online or elsewhere.
We found that a company was developing many different types of card games for exercise but the solution was very complex and was aimed at already-fit people rather than our target market of people who exercise but would like to exercise more. As a team we tried playing this game and we found that it was too complicated to be followed by a beginner, and too difficult to understand the rules quickly.
So, this was our biggest competitor, and we had already figured out that the product was not as good as it could have been for the target group of beginners. Once we designed the rules of the game and the design, we then had to search for a manufacturer. One of the biggest challenges we faced was finding a manufacturer who would be able to print the card game for us in a small batch. We were not willing to spend a large sum of money for a product which we had only made assumptions for, our budget was £100 each as any more than this would become too much.
We went through many trials between starting the course and developing the product. The first practice dragons’ den we received good feedback on both the idea and the design aspects of our team’s work. But much of the feedback pointed towards a digital version. As someone who works in the digital domain very often, I knew that this was an impossible ask for the time limit we had. An app can take months or even years to develop, and we had just 6 months to research and create a product or service.
At the next stage, we went to test our product in a trade fair, within the university. Our team won best trade stand, and for good reason as my teammate Kantida who is an interior designer created the design and look for the stand. Although it wasn’t a big prize, it was great to be given feedback that showed we were going in the right direction. Our branding was consistent, our team message was clear. Some of the feedback at this stage was to use bigger banners and really draw the crowd in by being more fun an active. As a team focused around fitness and health, I feel like our team sometimes let this drop off due to the stress of publicly speaking however once I got in the flow of things, I discovered I was quite good at speaking to people about our vision and product.
At the final dragon’s den, we were very worried. We didn’t know if we had what it took to go further. We’d a prize already, we also had entered the Bright ideas competition and although we didn’t win reaching the top 10 finalists at bright ideas boosted our confidence in our product. We could see that our product was not just some novelty item, but something that could become a game changer.
Our main feedback at this point, where we pitched the final product, was that we should define our target audience better. I found it very difficult to pinpoint this. At first, we thought we were targeting absolute beginners, but really our target could be so many more people. The most significant feedback we received is that the game would work best as an app. We liked the novelty of a card game and knew that app development wouldn’t be possible in our time frame.
However, through all of this, we did come out on top, being picked by judges as one of the two teams to represent the university at the YE finals. This is where my conclusion of events really happens. At first, excitement from winning, and then a realisation that the work was not over yet, there was more to be done to make this product the best it can be.
At this stage we went back to the drawing board once again, we thought even harder about who our target audience was, we looked much deeper into the idea of an app which the judges and investors would be more interested in, and finally we started looking much further into the emerging technologies and statistics of who actually pays for applications. What we found was that there are many new emerging technologies around AI and Machine learning which could help us differentiate from other fitness applications out there. This would be a very big pivot for us as we started off with a card game. It would be like if BMW stopped making cars and started selling food instead.
At this stage we are yet to go and present at the final competition, but we are so almost there. The experience after the dragon’s den has been the most enlightening for me. I found that I need to be more disciplined with when I completed tasks to ensure I don’t let the team down. The project really showed that I was not prepared to start a business which was the main reason I wanted to study a business related course. There were so many things I did not know when I started out, and by the end of these 6 months I have a much better understanding of what I need to do.
In the past few days I have since registered my first business, Shadarts Limited. This is my first venture setting out on my own after experiencing what it is like to run a business within the safe environment we had at university. Although it’s a scary first step that nobody can truly be prepared for, I feel much more prepared than I was 8 months ago when I started the course. I am more confident in my ability to read legal jargon and numbers to understand how money is being spent in a business, something I had no idea how to read when I started out. I have more of an idea of how to engage with my customers and how to use design thinking methods to solve problems in a different way to what might first come to mind logically.
My biggest takeaway is that I love generating ideas, and ideas are something that you get for free. After going through this course I feel like I have the tools needed to turn those ideas into a reality and this is something I knew I needed all along.