How do you make toast? {The design world and visual problem solving…*}

One of my courses this semester is called Visual Thinking, and we are studying how visual representations facilitate communication and thought. I am excited to share more with you as the course progresses, but when I found this TED talk last week, I thought it the perfect segue between design thinking (something we love here at rethinkED…*) and the power of visual explanations

Tom Wujec is a designer who specializes in visualization. In his new TED talk – Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast – he discusses the “design thinking way” of confronting a challenge: making your ideas visible, tangible, and consequential. 

How do you make toast…* ??

He explains his theory by starting off with a simple problem-solving exercise. How do you make toast? He has asked thousands of people and teams to draw their toast-making methods for him.

[All images from www.drawtoast.com/gallery ]

Systems Models Thinking…*

While the drawings demonstrate differences in the processes and focus of the act, one thing they all have in common is their structure; almost all of the drawings have nodes, representing tangible objects, and links, forming the connections between them. These combinations create the systems models that make our mental models of “how something works” visible. You can measure the complexity of a mental model by the number of nodes, and Wujec has found that most have between 5 and 13 nodes to be visually effective.

Semantic_Network_7_Nodes_6_Links

What these systems models illustrate is that we intuitively all know how to break down complex things into simple things.

The power of sticky notes and groups…*

Interestingly, Wujec has found that variants of the draw toast exercise can create better outcomes. For instance providing movable cards or sticky notes leads to better systems. People tend to develop nodes and then rearrange them like lego blocks. The malleability of the nodes facilitates rapid iteration of expressing and reflecting. In essence, it’s the design process.

Additionally, in a group, it gets REALLY messy for a while, but ultimately people build on each other ideas and the final model integrates a diversity of viewpoints, with branches and parallel patterns to represent different paths to the solution.

The Visual Revolution…*

Wujec states that he has been seeing a visual revolution in business – people are beginning to pick up on this trend and collaboratively draw out their challenges and problems. Through this process of iterative refinement of nodes and links, organizations find clarity. While the final models are important, the conversations around the models are important too.

Wujec’s ideas have much in common with the design thinking process of Design Thinking for Educators (more about this in a blog post here), which places an emphasis on iteration, collaboration, and the power of the sticky note.

However, the idea of creating a systems model for your problems is a new and useful one. It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with a daunting challenge. Breaking it up into small manageable pieces, and using the “sticky note” method to keep these fluid and iterate on one’s ideas can result in surmountable steps to solutions. Wujec invites us to try this method with his website drawtoast.com and concludes, so the seemingly trivial design exercise of drawing toast helps us get clear, engaged and aligned. 

Watch the video below:

 

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