Is there a more inclusive approach to design-thinking that addresses diverse problems? Yes, says a university lecturer.

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I was asked some months back to deliver the keynote address to one of London’s most dynamic liveries, the Guild of Entrepreneurs. These are successful entrepreneurs managing globally competitive businesses.

The Guild under the stewardship of its Master Lee Robertson and Education outreach champion Nicola Manning worked with us to bring storytellers, tech entrepreneurs and inter-disciplined teams together. Since then we’ve built on the core ideas.

It’s led me to ask the question:

In design thinking, how does the lack of diversity on teams impact outcomes? Is “disruption” the right approach today ? And is there a new system that innovates on design thinking and how you train a new generation?

Yes, the iPhone and its connectivity is welcome. Connecting people to mine their data, turned sour — a sad consequence of a mission’s motives to make even more money, whilst ignoring social inequalities. And perhaps “disruption” was perhaps required to do away with traditional aged orders.

But you can’t go on disrupting, smashing things up, because soon there will nothing more to smash.

It’s pivotal to a a new approach we’re undertaking at the University of Cardiff’s Emerging Journalism, in Wales — fast becoming one of the UK’s most creative tech hubs.

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Design thinking generally calls on rational thought in finding solutions, putting users at the centre of an idea. Several professions e.g. designers, engineers and businesses use design thinking.

Largely, our ideas are socially conditioned against an environment of societal assumptions that shape our values and beliefs. This means if you are design thinking mainly in Western societies, within what’s usually observed as homogenous cultured teams, whilst your innovation may not be limited, social progression can indeed be constrained.

Disruption, lean, mission-driven — these are terms that seek to exploit a brand of users’ interaction perversely for high profits.

It’s worth pondering that some of the greatest empathetic ideas from innovators hide a deliberate notion of artistic thinking: a level of creativity which pulls on cultural and seemingly irrational thought.

A study of exemplary artists, as detailed in Leonard Shlain’s incredible book Art and Physics: Space, Time and Light shows how exemplary artists think up ideas that are ahead of their time in group think.

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Can you teach artistic cultural thinking? Yes, but it takes practice in rule-breaking. Artistic thinking is culturally-centred. So to improve on design thinking we’ve incorporated three main areas into innovation:

  • Use of deliberate diverse teams
  • Deepening collaboration
  • Encouraging artistic thinking drawn across cultures
  • Use of storytelling with an emphasis on art, cinema and language.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the last course I devised with a team I led. I’m then going to show how that design thinking and a model I devised called SACKED helped drive students to create epic socially-minded projects.

At the end of this piece I’ll share my own passion project, the List, based on the famous “A Day in Harlem” photo, which comes from this approach.

This year’s amazing collaborative partners are Tramshed Tech, who’ve worked with us to source our mentors. We’re also working with remote mentors from the amazing Guild of Entrepreneurs.

So, this is how it works

This is what the Guild of Entrepreneurs said:

BOLD IDEAS IN STORY TELLING — One of the students

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We challenge students to come up with epic ideas and then using the SACKED model, variation on sprint, we set about trying to create them.

Nasma’s idea, The Journey, was a mobile phone game targeted at younger audiences so they could understand what it was like to be in Syria, trying to escape.

For the run of the term, we managed to work with her and a creative agency, to make her the creative director of her project.

Firstly, Nasma was coached through producing a creative treatment. These are like pitches to agencies that are rich in images and demonstrate an understanding of her project.

After her creative pitch, as her supervisor and course leader I teamed her up with a mentor, Stephen. She produced a gantt chart detailing her plan for realising her idea.

Working with an agency that required project management and assurances e.g. letters of agreements and contracts. The paper work that followed was important because it insulated Nasma from any future conflicts and provided her legally with the IP for the animation, and graphic work.

Coaching from her mentor and supervision guidance provided her with added confidence to manage her team. She had animators, story boarders and the actual creative director of the company at her disposal. She needed to create the stories, translated from actual refugees and then using gaming modelling and characterisation, from actual interviews, create her characters.

The mobile phone game was completed on time. It was costed. That figure was part of the confidential agreement. Below is the promo.

Nasma then had to present her ideas at a filmed studio event, we called the Angel’s Table. This is where all the mentors gathered to provide support and feedback for an 8-minute pitch. Nasma received a distinction. Importantly, too she had gone through a production cycle.

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As a thank you gesture to the mentors each student, through our consultation devised a media gift. Bowen, who now works for HSBC; she was picked as one of the successful students for the global grad scheme created a set of portraits for her mentor, Lee. A big thank you to the Guild for their selfless help.

And this is me, below. I’ve had an extensive career in innovation, storytelling, journalism ( I’ve worked at Newsnight, Channel 4 News and various dotcoms, and was an artist in residence at the Southbank Centre.

From Jon Snow Channel 4 News

So now we begin our new journey at Tramshed Tech. As a way of demonstrating how “we practice what we preach”, I’d like to firstly provide how the teaching style is modelled on serious games or gamification….

…and a then a link to this epic diversity project which is going into phase two. How to create an impact project with the UK’s talent from diverse backgrounds. Click here

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If you’d like to know more about the program, you can email me at

I’ve been running innovation labs for about 15-years and mentor-led entrepreneurial hacks for the last five. This year we launched an emerging journalism lab at Cardiff University where I’m working with creative technologist James Taylor.

If you want to know more about the mentoring please email Jess at Tramshed Tech.

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Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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