Cooking Up New Ideas using Design Thinking

by Sara, Htu Raw, Malaka, Thawng Thawng and Dennes

When we think of innovation or “design thinking”, it’s often in the context of technology. We may think of places such as Silicon Valley as being capitals of innovation, where thinking outside of the box is the key to success. In reality, however, innovation is more prevalent, extending far beyond the tech world, and we now see the process of design thinking being applied in new ways to create positive social impact in developing areas. Some examples include design thinking for natural disaster risk reduction and response, enhancing access to reproductive health and hygiene for women in rural areas, and re-packaging health products to increase its appeal to low-income communities. Design thinking is also being recognized as a way to support more inclusive development, where the intended beneficiaries of development interventions are fully engaged in the process of formulating that intervention.

Through our coursework for our “Innovation for Inclusive Development” class this semester, we had an opportunity to put design thinking into practice through a hands-on group internship. We worked with the Thai Family Foundation (TFF), a Bangkok-based non-profit organization that runs several programs across the country to support family values and well-being. The director of TFF, Dr. Somjai Raksasee, engaged our team to help develop an activity that would be an opportunity for families to spend time together. Using the design thinking process, we came up with a fun-filled Family Kitchen Challenge that helped families build their communication skills and create special memories through cooking together.

Read on for more details about how we applied design thinking and what we learned from using this approach.

Step One: Empathize
The first part of the design thinking process is to “empathize” with the target group, in order to better understand their problem, their needs, and why they do the things that they do. This is a critical component of the process, in order to design a solution appropriate to how the target group defines their problem, not based on how we, as an external group, may define it.

To empathize, we met with the Thai Family Foundation on one occasion and with three families in their network on another occasion. During these meetings, we sought to understand their objectives, their interests, their challenges and needs from the perspectives of Dr. Somjai, mothers, fathers and their children. It was important for us to gather insights from both TFF as well as with the families in their network, in order to understand how we can best support them both - hopefully in a way that TFF can continue building upon even after our collaborative internship.


Step 2: Interpretation
After gathering insights directly from TFF and families in order to empathize and better understand their needs and interests, our team set out to interpret these findings to help inform our brainstorming about possible activities. We shared learnings from our respective interviews with families and grouped them together under broad themes. Our key insights were that families enjoyed spending time together through activities, eating together and playing games. Additionally, the core values and objectives they wanted to pursue through their time together included sharing knowledge and creating memories, building trust and improving communication between family members. The families also identified busy schedules and limited time availability as challenges they face in meeting these objectives currently. It was especially useful to go through this interpretation process as a group, where different group members helped to validate, question or expand on each other’s interpretations. We went through a lot of Post-It Notes, as you can see in the photos.

The ideation process: Many ideas were identified on Post It notes and the white board

The ideation process: Many ideas were identified on Post It notes and the white board

Based on these insights, we defined our innovation challenge based on the following question: How might we create and implement a special family activity or occasion to overcome the obstacles/challenges identified to further family values and hopes expressed by families and the Thai Family Foundation?

Step 3: Ideation
After we have defined and understood our challenge, we started the next step of design thinking which is “ideating”. Ideating is a critical component of design thinking. It is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. It is a challenge for our team to brainstorm as many ideas and opportunities as we could. No ideas were prematurely rejected or judged. This session was about creativity and fun where the team explored and generated many ideas. Whatever ideas that came to mind, possible or impossible, we just wrote them down.

Initially it was difficult to think about how to generate great ideas. We decided to first brainstorm individually, drawing on our own sources of inspiration (our own families, TV game and cooking shows, past TFF activities, etc.) and then share with the group.  Once we started sharing our own ideas, the creative juices really began flowing. This helped us think about new ideas, being inspired by each other and building off of others’ ideas. Following this, we started to refine and filter the ideas by also considering some of the limitations we faced, including time, language barriers and resources. In the end, we found a way to combine some of our top ideas into one prototype – the first ever TFF Family Kitchen Challenge.

Step 4: Prototype
The next step for us was to develop our prototype, based on these insights, and test it. In developing our Family Kitchen Challenge, we set out to create activities for all family members to work together as a team in a friendly competition. The idea was to use the insights from our previous interactions with them to help reinforce the family values which they acknowledged were important to them. These internal family values include a) build their communication and time management skills, b) create new memories and share knowledge, and c) have fun. These values would be reviewed in three mini-challenges and culminate into a family cooking session in which the families would have to utilize their values while cooking a tasty meal.

Family members work together with one member blindfolded to gather their ingredients.

Family members work together with one member blindfolded to gather their ingredients.

We tested our prototype ‘TFF’s Family Kitchen Challenge Day’ on March 19, 2016 at TFF’s Center with three families from TFF’s existing family network. After some ice-breaker activities, we had three mini-challenges for the families - Kitchen Choir; Heads Up Chef; and Voices in the Dark. Kitchen Choir was a challenge in which the families would have to learn a foreign language song and then, as they were cooking later on, they would have to sing the song. Heads Up Chef tested their communication skills in which one family member would hold up and guess a food item on their foreheads and his/her other family members would give clues to what that food item was. Voices in the Dark further tested their communication and time management skills by having one family member “forage” for ingredients while blindfolded, guided through a mini-maze toward the items only by the sound of the voices of their family members. When the mini-challenges were completed, the families tried their hand at cooking new recipes. By cooking together, they had the opportunity to create new memories and share their knowledge and interests in cooking in a fun and exciting way. Afterwards, everyone had a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labour over a delicious dinner altogether.

Step 5: Evaluation
After the dinner, we asked family participants to provide feedback and rate our mini-challenges, cooking session and overall perception of the TFF Family Kitchen Challenge. This is the final but often repeated step in design thinking, which enables us to determine what worked as well as areas for improvement to further refine the prototype. The best mini-challenge was determined to be Voices in the Dark - it was seen as challenging, exciting and fun. Some participants expressed confusion on how the Kitchen Choir added any value as well as how the Heads Up Chef could have been more challenging. These will be taken into account for additional improvements.

Most participants felt that the events were opportunities to reinforce family values, although many felt they did not learn anything new. Overall, however, the families did indicate they enjoyed the event and would participate in something in the future. The director of TFF, Dr. Somjai, also commented on the success of the event.

Revisiting the innovation challenge questions posed above, we believe we were able to provide an opportunity for families to create new memories and reinforce their family values around a family dinner. Based on the feedback received from the participating families, we could make the mini challenges more difficult and perhaps be focused on more trust-building activities.

To conclude, by using the design thinking process, we were able to develop and test a successful initial prototype to address our design challenge. While not perfect, the Family Kitchen Challenge was a promising first step which TFF can develop on further, drawing on the feedback from the families about the activity. It was also an opportunity for our team to use the process first-hand and see how the design thinking approach may be useful in other areas of our future work.

Below are some of our main takeaways from using the design thinking process:

I think the most valuable takeaway I had from using the design thinking process is that to innovate successfully, you need to fully understand the problem at hand from the perspective of those experiencing it. Otherwise, as creative as an innovation might be, it will not achieve impact.
It was wonderful to get out of the classroom and implement inclusive development ourselves. The process of Design Thinking is something we all can use as a tool in innovating our projects in the future. It is quite exciting to see ideas from all stakeholders come into fruition as well as maintaining the importance of inclusive progress.
In design thinking I was able to feel the spirit of the team work and the benefits of working in team. Better answers happen when more than one person work together. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective brings more creativity for better results. Also, using design thinking, there are steps to follow - this helped us stay organized in following the steps from beginning to end, knowing the benefits of every step that, in turn, are inputs for the following step.

Last but certainly not least, we would like to express our appreciation for the Thai Family Foundation without whom this project would have not been possible. They provided us with their time, family network, and facilities and we are very grateful for their commitment and engagement. We hope that they have seen the benefits of design thinking through the development and implementation of the TFF Family Kitchen Challenge as much as we have enjoyed working and learning from them!

Prizes were shared at the end of the Kitchen Challenge

Prizes were shared at the end of the Kitchen Challenge