Naz Mirzaie lead an interactive session on Design Thinking in Social Impact with hosts Boston+Acumen, a not-for-profit whose mission is to create a world beyond poverty by investing in social enterprises, emerging leaders, and breakthrough ideas.

Design thinking is not just for designers. It is a problem-solving process leading to valuable insights and meaningful solutions. It can be applied to any field- from healthcare to finance, to education, community development and beyond. In this skillshare, participants learned about the power of the design thinking approach and how to apply it to the social impact field. The participants were introduced to creative processes and associated strategies and methodologies, including user journey mapping, visual thinking, and experience prototyping.

Leveraging these systems thinking and data visualization techniques, participants engaged in group activities that taught them key set of tools and techniques to use and share with their teams. The outcome of the workshop, supported them to:

  • Apply human-centered design principles to tackle complex challenges
  • Gain a systematic understanding of a project’s eco-system
  • Build empathy and consensus with all involved stakeholders
  • Tell a compelling story to engage your audience

4 Key Design Thinking Skills You Can Practice with LEGOs

4 Key Design Thinking Skills You Can Practice with LEGOs

"... I was participating in a Meetup focused on the LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) methodology, a process designed to enhance innovation and business performance using a historically favorite childhood toy, LEGO bricks. Far more than fun and games, LSP is an effective practice, 'based on research which shows that hands-on, minds-on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities'..."

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Self-driving Cars, Virtual Reality, Wearables, and Digital Health; Highlights from CES 2016

CES has a reputation for being one of the largest conventions in the world, with 3,800 exhibitors and 170,000 industry professionals finding their way to the City of Lights this year’s 2016 edition was no exception.  

Swarms of drones with their designated flying arenas were seen scattered throughout the show. Drone wars seemed to have reached a point of epic visual parity, with the obvious exception of the unfortunately named EHANG 184 AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle), the world’s first human-carrying drone. Indeed, a possible glimpse into our future.  Aside from some serious safety concerns one wonders why this didn’t happen sooner.

EHANG 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle

EHANG 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle

Wearable tech dominated the scene with every sporting good and fashionable tech brand developing the optimum fitness tracker or a suite of connected trackers to collect activity data. The Hexoskin smart shirt, Owlet baby sock, Finis Swim Cap and Ombra the worlds first smart bra were outstanding exceptions that broke away from the more traditional wrist worn wearables.  The wearable industry was emphatically not phased by the introduction of the Apple watch and continues to search for cheaper integrated solutions for collecting biometric data. In-ear headphones (earables) were also an area of excelled wearable development with wireless biometric sensing headphones abound, most notable the Bragi Dash. Perhaps spurred on by the rumored headphone jackless iPhone 7. There was oddly enough even a trend of ‘dumber,’ less expensive wearables designed to do the same job as the more expensive devices but with smaller forms and simple feedback mechanisms, such as the e-ink Withings Go.

Hexoskin Smart Shirts, Withings Go

Hexoskin Smart Shirts, Withings Go

The sleek and aerodynamic Kopin Solos designed in partnership with Essential premiered to outstanding reviews and enthusiasm. The heads up display allows elite cyclists, trainers and coaches to maximize real time data without compromising the human mechanics of riding.

Kopin Solos

Kopin Solos

Huawei the worlds 3rd largest mobile phone company was able to steal attention with their well executed but not particularly innovative smart watches and their Flagship Mate 8 smart phone, riding on their coveted Nexus 6P.  Top fashion photography and supermodel Karlie Koss added a touch of sophistication to their exhibition.

Huawei Smart Watch

Huawei Smart Watch

In the Digital Health Space there was an overarching theme of at-home patient care that aimed to allow patients to monitor their health more professionally outside the doctor’s office and conversely for doctors to collect more detailed and longitudinal diagnostic data. Among others, Philips showcased a hand held ultrasound device that directly hooks up to a tablet and a mouth-health breathalyzer connected to your smart device.

Philips Smart Devices

Philips Smart Devices

Bewell Connect had a suite of home medical diagnostic devices including MyThermo, MyTensio, My Gluco, MyOxy, MyECG and MyCoach. Allowing users to do many diagnostic tasks in the comfort of their home. UnitedHealthcare’s Motion, a proprietary wearable aimed at gathering activity levels to offer incentives on insurance plans based on results. Lastly, there was a surge of disposable smart patches designed to gather data or even administer medication. One example, the BioStampRC, is crafted to collect surface electromyography (sEMG) as well as electrocardiography (ECG) and deliver it wirelessly to your smart device.

Bewell Connect home diagnostic devices, BeoStampRC patch

Bewell Connect home diagnostic devices, BeoStampRC patch

The connected home/IoT space had a plethora of products with almost every company in the business offering complete home solution ecosystems for lighting, monitoring, entertainment, security and controlling appliances wirelessly. Notable new connected home developments included the Netatmo face recognition camera, Amazon’s Alexa integration into different devices and Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator.

Sony had one of the most aesthetic exhibitions at the show, with a custom circular exhibition space showcasing their tech and future connected home devices in a very lifestyle friendly way.  Their “Products For Life” space exhibition included adding speakers into light bulbs and novel ways of integrating projectors into the home.  Using light sockets to integrate sensors, monitors and cameras throughout the home was a trend.

Sony Pavilion

Sony Pavilion

This year more than ever, the auto industry took over much of the main halls with concept cars and demos to claim stakes in the future of self-driving and electric automobiles, clearly not wanting the rumored big tech players to take over their space. With Google, Tesla and maybe even Apple coming into the game in the near future.

BMW Electric Charger, Bosch Haptic Touch concept car

BMW Electric Charger, Bosch Haptic Touch concept car

Overall, CES 2016 was composed of many iterative technology innovations that we have been excited about for years. However, tech is getting smarter, smaller, more ubiquitous and integrated in more meaningfully ways into the objects around us. Batteries are longer lasting, charging faster, more compact and viable wireless charging might be just around the corner.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Autonomous Vehicles, Wearables and the Internet of Things are no longer limited to sci-fi novels but are now viable tech; ready to fit into our lives in more desirable ways, making laptops, TVs, tablets and cell phones feel old-school and lackluster.

As has historically been the case, there was a notable absence from the big players in tech as Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft were nowhere to be seen on the floor, opting for private product launch events instead.

CES remains the world’s premier event for professionals to tap the pulse of where the consumer tech industry is today and the direction of the future. Even if many products presented at CES are quickly forgotten, there will unquestionably be a few that find their way into our everyday lives and hearts. See you next year CES!








Learnings from the Service Design Global Conference

Image Credit: The Service Design Network

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the 8th Service Design Global Conference in New York City. Thought leaders and practitioners from a broad spectrum of industries around the world gathered at the Parson School of Design to share their passion and knowledge on the value of service design in the private and public sector. Service design is the holistic approach to orchestrating customer experiences across all the touchpoints as well as creating value for the service provider. System change, business impact, and quality of life were among the key topics in the conference.

Here is my list of top-level learnings from the conference:

1. The hot industries for service design today include the following; healthcare, finance, and the public sector.

2. New trends in financial services such as frictionless payment and live budgeting, demand designing new services to engage customers and providing real-time feedback for them.  

3. Service designers need to be nimble, learn from and integrate strategy and technology, stay human-centered, and steal ideas from management.

4. Designing services is grounded on research, where context has a central role in creating meaningful experiences.  

5. Service Design is about communicating inspiration and opportunity areas in organizations; service designers catalyze learnings through hands on workshops and co-creative platforms.

6. Designers must prove the value of design by:

  • Keeping thinking and doing interrelated
  • Investing in storytelling (short videos)
  • Looking at analytics to provide rigorous qualitative data
  • Transforming to human-subject design (ethical design)
  • Co-creating during evaluation stages to give participants a chance to approve what has been built for them

7. Consider human emotions, recognize and respond to the fact that people feel certain ways.  

8. Strategies for working with the government:

  •  Think and work politically
  •  Build internal capacity  
  •  Frame up your value training
  •  Set expectations
  • Bring in client's leadership team in as soon as you can

9. Principles of co-creation:

  • Place design in the leadership level
  • Practice co-creation like an engineering's best practices, be rigorous and meticulous
  • Form relationships that make things happen
  • Learn the company language and existing organization
  • Have realistic plans
  • Think of client team issues are design challenges (organizational behavior design)
  • Translate the client language and communicate findings to bring people to a common solution (gaining consensus)

10. Established companies underestimate their ability to create or acquire new ideas and overestimate their ability to implement new ideas.

11. Designers should move toward consulting not designing! Our job is not only to design the solution, it is also to help facilitate the conversations among client team members to work towards the solution- thinking of us as partners.  

12. “Every service design is transitioning people to different types of lifestyles, different types of value considerations, different types of relationships.” Cameron Tonkinwise


At Essential, we leverage our interdisciplinary, creative, and rigorous approach combined with tools, such as journey maps, blueprints, and storyboards, to co-create valuable services for our clients and their customers. Service design is a new powerful discipline enabling people to make sense of and visualize the complex systems and deliver innovative, meaningful solutions for all involved stakeholders.

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Internet of Things for Social Impact with Chris Parlato

The 2015 Design Exchange Boston, a conference hosted by AIGA, featured a talk and workshop led by one of Essential’s design researchers, Chris Parlato. Chris’s talk, titled “Internet of Things for Social Impact,” discussed the tendency of connected devices to be superfluous and the challenges of designing connected objects to produce meaningful change in modern society.

In the workshop, participants were asked to consider macro-level societal issues ranging from environmental to human rights, and identify specific problems within those categories. The audience was split into smaller groups in which they identified the actors impacted by their defined problem to better understand the actors' contributing problem behaviors. From there, each group generated and evaluated design ideas, working to develop a connected solution that sought to resolve a targeted aspect of the problem. The solutions included independent connected devices, as well as connected ecosystems, with storyboards to represent the system experience.

Through careful consideration of all direct and indirect influencers of a social issue, the participants were posed with a challenge that many designers face daily—how can I leverage advances in technology to drive sustainable systemic change?