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Baking Cakes and Design Thinking September 28, 2009

Posted by Katie Swinerton in Design Thinking.

When I was 16 my best friend Laura and I faced the cruel reality that there would be no lavish budgets for our sweet sixteens (which fell 2 weeks apart). Being the enterprising duo that we were (and still are), we decided to throw a fabulous Hawaiian themed party in her basement on a shoe string budget. Our piece de resistance would be a homemade cake featuring likenesses of us surfing babes on a wave, all crafted out of frosting. We quickly settle on the titles “ingeniera” for me and “artista” for Laura – yes, we were learning Spanish occupational titles in class that week. My role was to figure out how to bake cake layers and then to fashion them in a tower in a structurally sound way. Laura mixed a palette of frosting colors and led the intricate frosting job. The result was indeed fabulous.

11 years on, and I’ve learned what we were doing, thanks to the Beckman and Barry article on learning styles and the innovation process. I now know that we were applying our learning styles to the innovation cycle! Laura, with her creativity and natural conceptualization and artistic strengths served as our “writer” and “leader”, while I, with my previous observations of how to make cakes work and experimenting nature, served as our “artist” and “speaker”. I guess we got the titles somewhat wrong. I think what has made a lot of our innovations over the years successful is that we have the right balance of learning styles that have naturally meshed to make observations, frameworks, imperatives and solutions.

Reading the Beckman and Barry and Brown’s respective articles, I was not only reminded of my past work but also inspired to apply some of the lessons to the startup I am working on today.

First of all, our team of cofounders often tosses around ideas about roles but we’ve always thought of these only as functions – VPs of strategy, marketing, operations, etc. We are so early in the product development process that I think it makes sense to instead identify who amongst us is the leader, artist, writer and speaker and to rotate leadership based on where in the design cycle we are.

Second, I found the Design Thinking article full of inspirational ideas for us. My team is now actively pursuing rapid prototyping and observation projects. It is exciting to be building a toolkit in class that I can quickly experiment with outside of class. I’ll let you know how it goes.



1. Sara Beckman - November 28, 2009

I love that you started with a personal story that brought alive the more abstract concepts in the papers for you. And, that you are experimenting real time with some of the concepts we are covering. I am often asked in Executive Education sessions about whether or not you have to become an “IDEO” to be a good design organization. And, my answer is always that I believe that you can practice some of the smaller elements of the design process regularly and still see benefit. We’ll all look forward to hearing about how it works in your start-up!

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