Written by Brittney Posternock
What? There’s a connection between design thinking, user experience design, and packing your bags for a trip? It may seem like a stretch, but bear with me—it’s an example of how you can use some of the concepts of design thinking for just about anything.
In our work at DesignThinkers Group, we believe that you can apply a design mindset in a broad way and to many types of problems such as service delivery, interior design, and user experience. In the context of this article, think of design as the process of creating an intentional plan to achieve a desired outcome.
When we teach design thinking to non-designers, we often say that “everyone is a designer.” For example, planning a dinner party involves thinking through the experience you want to create for your guests. And we often refer to planning a vacation as a form of design—i.e., creating a plan for a desired future.
Let’s dive into how you can use design thinking concepts when you pack for that next trip.
STEP 1: EVERY PROJECT BEGINS WITH DISCOVERY
Start by researching and understanding the destination, from climate and available transportation to leisure activities, people, and culture. Then picture yourself experiencing each day, and what items you’ll need to have with you. What will you do each morning, afternoon, and evening? How long will you stay? What will the temperature be like? Does it rain often? What are your basic day-to-day necessities?
As you imagine your day-to-day vacation experience, you’re starting to think about your future-state journey using a powerful design thinking tool called customer journey mapping. Since we have a simple focus in this exercise, we don’t need to do a full-blown journey map, but can follow the basic principles.
Let’s start by generating a list of the things you would like to accomplish during your trip. Grab a pen and a few pads of small sticky notes. Now, as you think through your experience, write down what you’ll be doing, one activity per sticky note. Following is an example from a recent work trip to Savannah.
Next, paint a mental picture of what you will be doing before, during, and after your journey. What do you need to do before you leave home? How do you feel when you are completing these tasks? What support is needed? Map out the scope of your travel using the sticky notes. This will allow you to visualize more clearly what challenges you might face and how to support these challenges. If you’re going to Tulum, Mexico, will you need a winter jacket? Probably not, but when you return home you might travel through cities with different weather. What’s the climate in those locations? How will you leave the airport?
Place your activities along a timeline to help you imagine your trip, and you’ve got a basic journey map:
Now that you better understand the scope of your trip, we can consider what items you may need. Write each item on one sticky note. Focus on listing items you may need or may like to have on hand—go for quantity over quality. Brainstorm—the more items, the better!
TIP: Beware of assumptions throughout the discovery phase
Ingrained in our DNA is a tendency to rely heavily on assumptions based upon past experience. Sometimes this can work for us, but often not.
For example, last year I went on a trip to California’s Bay Area. I visited San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, a small nearby beach town. A veteran of many beach vacations—Florida, the Bahamas, Thailand, New Jersey, Mexico, and Jamaica—I was excited to feel the sunshine on my skin, and I packed a bathing suit and sundresses.
When I arrived, though, I quickly realized that my cognitive bias, a systematic error in thinking that affects decisions and judgments, deceived me—the weather at Half Moon Bay is cold and rainy most of the year. It wasn’t a huge surprise once I thought more deeply about the surrounding climate, but it hadn’t dawned on me previously. I found myself in a situation with NO rain gear and single sweatshirt for my five-day trip. My past experiences had failed me.
STEP 2: NARROW THE RESULTS OF YOUR DISCOVERY PHASE
Check out all those items written on sticky notes. Worried that you can’t fit everything in your luggage, or would you like to simply carry less and make sure you’re packing as efficiently as possible?
Consider your constraints
Recently I was traveling home from a 10-week project in Saudi Arabia during which I’d acquired one too many souvenirs. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything in my luggage because of space and airline weight limitations. I had neglected the most basic constraint to my travel—my luggage! When we build solutions, it’s our job as design thinkers to uncover constraints early while finding the sweet spot between what users need, what is technically possible, and what provides business value.
Employ a 2×2 matrix to refine your choices
Now examine all those individual sticky notes you made when brainstorming what items you may need during your trip. Which ones have a higher priority? Which things take up a lot of space? Underwear is probably a must for most folks, headache medicine might be a need for some, and an extra pair of running shorts might be nice if there’s room in your bag. All of those are relatively small items. However, that feather boa and tiara are low priority (well, unless it’s Mardi Gras)… plus they take up more than a little space.
Below is a 2×2 matrix analysis from the trip to Savannah that I mentioned in Step 1. I was there for one night and two full days, and wanted to pack lightly (I despise unpacking… are you with me?). Having learned a lesson from my Half Moon Bay mistake, I researched the weather and found out that the forecast called for a cold and rainy week.
Voila! See how those moveable sticky notes come in handy?
STEP 3: PACK YOUR BAG FOR EASE OF USE
Now that we’ve set our priorities, we can pack that bag! Let’s use a principle from UX design to group the items.
When building digital products, it’s an information architect’s priority to make sure website users can find what they seek and receive what they expect. A useful, low-tech tool for gaining the user’s perspective is card sorting. In this approach, key concepts are identified and written on index cards or sticky notes. Then the user arranges the card into categories, according to structure and relationships.
How does this translate to packing? Your sticky notes become the cards!
TIP: Packing cubes provide a helpful structure
Packing cubes are handy travel accessories that help you stay organized and save time. I appreciate knowing exactly where to find things when I travel. I group similar items together to make it easy to remember where things are located, and can see through the mesh to confirm the contents before opening. I don’t travel without them.
STEP 4: RELAX AND TRAVEL WITH EASE
Is this life changing stuff? Perhaps not, but it’s a great example of the many ways we can use design thinking in our daily lives. Live your best life, one iteration at a time.