Have you ever worked on a project where the team felt unclear about the problem they were trying to solve, or worse, felt they were solving the wrong problem for the wrong user ? I certainly have.

One of the best tools that I have used for orienting a project team around a problem statement is Charetting. Whilst in principle Design Thinking requires us to get out of the building and talk to our users in order to achieve a meaningful results, there is often a lot of pent-up knowledge about problem space within the team, based on prior research or team members’ personal experience.

Charetting is a very effective tool for unlocking this information, and provideing some structure around it, allowing the team to achieve a collective understanding of who the solution is targeted at, and what is the problem they are tackling. The word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot“. The arts students in the 19th century in Paris would be required to bring their work to the art schools for review. However, being the procrastinating types that they were, it was typical from them to be still applying the final touches while in the cart, or en charrette, on the way to Paris, where they would work in view of the public. Design Thinking adopted this term, as it denotes working in public, or at least in presence of the full team.

How to do it ?

The process of Charetting is simple. It involves the following steps :

1 .On a whiteboard, write your current design challenge or problem statement

2. Brainstorm a set of relevant users or contexts

3. Pick the most important user or context

4. Brainstorm potential issues or insights that are relevant to that user

5. Pick the most important/interesting insight

6. Brainstorm potential solutions for the chosen issue or insight

7. Repeat 4-6 for another 1-3 users

8. Ask yourself : what have we discovered ? Which aspects are most interesting

9. Rephrase the design challenge or problem statement, based on these discoveries.

Illustration

 Here’s an example . My children go to a school where the school day ends long after lunchtime, and as there is no canteen facility, we have to provide them with lunch. As parents, the experience of making these lunches isn’t great, and I imagine eating cold food out of a tuperware container whilst in class isn’t much fun for the kids easier, so we started out with a design challenge of re-engineering the lunch experience for school kids. We then identified three categories of users involved in this experience : parents, kids and teachers.

DesignThinking_NICE

As a next step, we picked parents, and brainstormed possible issues that parents face, like wanting to provide healthy food at low cost, not having time to prepare, and worrying about packaging. We then brainstormed some solutions for the first two issues, which could, for example, be a social group where parents get together to on a weekly basis to prepare food in bulk for their kids, or an app that helps you plan healthy and simple meals. DesignThinking_2

As a next step, we picked a 2nd type of user, schoolkids, and brainstormed their issues. We decided that kids want to eat quickly, so they can play, want food to be tasty even if it’s been sitting in a container all day, and want to be able to share with friends. A possible solution to the 2nd issue could be a lunch box where the children construct the meal themselves, for example adding dressing to a salad or sauce to pasta. DesignThinking_3

A 3rd pass, this time for teachers, uncovered issues such as avoiding mess, dealing with kids who forgot their lunch, and limiting sugar intake. A solution to the 1st problem might be specially designed lunch boxes that fold out into trays. DesignThinking_4

Having reflected on the outcome of the Charetting exercise, we then rephrased the design challenge to focus on the packaging experience, with specific emphasis on nutrition and sustainability. DesignThinking_5

Conclusion

In summary, I encourage you to try Charetting. It is typically applied at the beginning of the project, but in my experience, it can add clarity at any stage. I am usually pleasantly surprised at how effective a technique it really is.

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