Here at Black Hound Design Company, we specialize in custom furniture and fabrication. That means that rarely do we build two things that are the same. We are constantly re-inventing the wheel, and completely starting from scratch with each new design and subsequent build.
We've learned the hard way over the years that RARELY is an initial design or concept what actually comes to fruition. In other words, we start with a design- or a designer partners with us on a design- but the end result is usually significantly different.
We have to employ Design Thinking to take a concept from initial idea to a useable product.
What is Design Thinking? The folks over at MIT made this handy dandy infographic that sums it up.
We'll add some context to this by illustrating a recent and on-going project of ours in which we're working with a major Colorado-based bank to completely re-design their work stations, and guest experience.
Step 1: Understand the Problem
MIT explains that the first step is to fully understand the problem. They note, "The first step in design thinking is to understand the problem you are trying to solve before searching for solutions. Sometimes, the problem you need to address is not the one you originally set out to tackle."
So, in our case, we were asked by the Bank to help in modernizing their locations, and they had a specific design challenge in mind. Bank tellers are typically behind large kiosks and are very isolated from their clients, which creates an unfriendly and too-formal vibe.
We better understood this problem by meeting with their designers and architects. We went on location and interviewed several Bank tellers, and asked them lots of questions about their experience, current situation and ideal work environment. We even took pictures of their necessary equipment for banking.
MIT notes that it is super important to interview and understand other stakeholders. You have to gain a full perspective of the problem BEFORE you dig into solutions.
Step 2: Develop Possible Solutions
According to MIT, the second phase of design thinking is developing solutions to the problem (which you now fully understand). This begins with good ol' fashioned brainstorming.
Here at Black Hound, we brainstorm collaboratively.
We pull in our Project Manager, Operations Manager, Draftsmen, Foremen and a Lead Craftsmen. We pose the problem to them, and collectively let the ideas loose. We often sketch in real-time, and fully explore each option.
Now, going back to the Bank. We- working with the clients- decided that the solution laid within a piece of furniture that would bridge the divide between the Tellers and the clients, and really open up the space- but still maintain the necessary functionality of banking transactions. We envisioned something casual and intimate...the exact opposite of bank's typical reception desk-style set-up.
We had several different concepts cooking, even after narrowing it down a ton. Our main question centered on: what if we could make a one-piece desk that could raise from various heights? A coffee-table height (for a friendly, casual space) to then a work-station height for when the Tellers needed to do paperwork? We collaborated with the clients- the designers, the architects the bank representatives- to hone in on this look and functionality. It was a hit!
But....the single drawer (as envisioned above) wouldn't fully meet their needs. Back to the drawing board.
We then began to really focus on the equipment, and fully analyze how it should store (for tidiness) and how it should be pulled out for work. We had numerous back-and-forths with the stakeholders to fully understand these needs.
In our next round, we got a lot closer to the final product (but spoiler alert- it still wasn't the end design).
For this design, we again went back to the stakeholders and solicited feedback. The drawers and pull-outs just didn't quite hit the mark. It was soooo close, but just not there.
According to MIT Sloan professor Steve Eppinger, “We explore potential solutions through modeling and prototyping. We design, we build, we test, and repeat — this design iteration process is absolutely critical to effective design thinking.”
For Black Hound Design Company, design iteration was paramount to this project's success. We had to go through multiple cycles of design- build-test-repeat before we narrowed it down to a viable product.
Step 3: Prototype. Test. And repeat.
The design that we then took to full-blown prototyping integrated the drawers and a pull-out writing surface into the unit itself. It was more seamless and stylistically pure than the previous iterations.
In addition to the ergonomics and various use cases, we had to put on our mechanical engineering hats to research and test various lifting mechanisms. We eventually landed on an innovative product by Linak, that uses electric actuator technology to produce seamless lifters. So, with the push of a button, our table seamlessly and quietly rises or lowers.
We were actually using a similar product from Linak to power our Jamper (an off-road travel trailer we designed and built) with a retractable roof.
Check out the video of our prototype below.
We completed this prototype on July 12th, and invited the stakeholder to our workshop for feedback. Even then, we still weren't done. We received solid feedback from the clients, and made another full-on mock-up.
Finally, after the last prototype, we landed on the final design.
Step 4: Implement
MIT says that “the goal of all the steps that come before this is to have the best possible solution before you move into implementing the design. Your team will spend most of its time, it's money, and it's energy on this stage.” Ain’t that the truth?
We then had to ramp up into full production mode, as we had only two months to build three of these rising tables (on top of all our other projects).
“Implementation involves detailed design, training, tooling, and ramping up. It is a huge amount of effort, so get it right before you expend that effort,” said Eppinger.
Check and check.
The build went fairly smoothly, with the usual hiccups. Drawer sliders on back order. Procuring enough walnut wood. Final assembly and testing the day before delivery. Yikes.
We just delivered the first batch of these tables to Canvas Credit Union at Colorado State University, with many, many more on the way to other locations.
See our rising table in action in the video below.
We couldn’t be more proud of this innovative piece of custom furniture, and all the Design Thinking that went into bringing this to fruition.
If you can dream it up, Black Hound Design Company can design and build it.