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We are all designers” has become a rallying cry for some in the design industry. But is this true? Is this the right message to be sending out into the world? Before I answer those questions, I’d like to tell you a quick story. The story begins in a sleepy Spanish town near the city of Zaragoza.

The town of Borja lies an hour to the west of Zaragoza. Like most Spanish towns Borja has a number of Catholic churches, including the impressive Sanctuary of Mercy Church shown below.


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As a parent of 2 young children, I get asked a lot of questions. My household will all too often resemble a rather mundane and meandering Q&A session. ‘What’s for dinner?’ is a favourite, as is ‘What are we doing today?’, along with ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ and of course the combative ‘Why not?’ (because I said so).

Children are naturally inquisitive, and being naturally inquisitive they will ask a lot of questions, including a lot of awkward questions. Awkward questions like:

  • What happens when you die?
  • Where do babies come from?
  • Why are you crying?
  • If there are millions of children in the world, how does Santa deliver presents in just one night? (Christmas magic of course).


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Dance at Molenbeek by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Charles Mackay, a 19th century journalist called itthe Madness of Crowds’. In the 14th century dancing mania broke out across Europe (shown above). Groups of men, women, and children would dance uncontrollably for hours or even days at a time for no apparent reason, only finishing when they succumbed to exhaustion. In the 17th century Holland tulip mania broke out. Driven by manic investors the price of tulip bulbs spiralled upwards and then crashed. At one crazy point, a particularly valuable tulip bulb cost the same amount as an elegant house in Amsterdam. In the 20th century, we have seen many episodes of collective madness, from the anti-vaccine movement to the terrifyingly bonkers (and baseless) QAnon conspiracy theory. …


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Imagine taking a symphony orchestra like the one below and splitting it up into a number of separate mini orchestras. Each mini orchestra would have a distinct name, a distinct identify and way of working. Each would have their own conductor, vocalist, violinist, trumpeter, flutist, cello player and so on. Now put them in different concert halls, perhaps even different countries and ask them to collectively play a piece of classic music together. What do you think will happen? Will they miraculously play beautifully together, or will it sound more like a junior school’s first band practice? …


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Many things at one point or another have been erroneously labelled as a ‘Game-changer’. Remember 3D TV? That was once going to be a ‘Game-changer’. Last time I checked the game of watching TV hasn’t changed much at all. It turns out that making viewers wear the sort of glasses that Elton John might have favoured in the 1970s takes a lot of the fun out of watching TV in 3D.

One thing that certainly can be described as a ‘Game-changer’ is Agile software development. Agile hasn’t just changed the game of software development, it’s ripped up the rule book, put it in the recycling bin and then written a whole new one. …


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The grand opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway

On the 15th of September 1830 a grand ceremony launched the newly built Liverpool and Manchester railway. The new line was part of the first ever railway boom in history. Fuelled by new steam engine technology and a desire to make a fat profit, privately funded railways sprang up all across the country. Thousands of miles of new track were laid at an extraordinary rate, allowing freight and people to be transported like never before. Soon however it was apparent that there was a problem, a very big problem.

Each railway company had used its own gauge (the distance between two railway tracks — see image below) meaning that a train running on one line invariably couldn’t run on another. Because each company had worked in isolation, and without agreed standards the railway network wasn’t a network at all — it was a collection of unconnected tracks. There followed a period now known as the ‘ Gauge War’. Different companies went into battle, desperately hoping that their gauge would come out the winner. Finally in 1846 regulations were set-up to establish a standard gauge (4 feet and 8.5 inches). However, even with agreed standards in place it took many years, and thousands of miles of track being re-laid at great expense to finally connect the country together. …


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In the early 19th century Britain was in the process of being transformed by the industrial revolution. Industries such as manufacturing and textiles were being transformed by innovative technology like the steam engine and the power loom. Previously home-based workers had to migrate from the countryside to newly built factories in towns and cities. Thousands found the skills they had taken years to master were no longer needed, replaced overnight by huge, hulking steam-powered machines. One set of workers decided to fight back. Known as the Luddites, they took sledgehammers to the machines and destroyed them as a form of protest. The response was swift. The Luddites were brutally suppressed and their leaders either hung or sent overseas to penal colonies. The British Government introduced the death penalty for anyone found ‘machine breaking’ and with the help of the army, the Luddite uprising was put down. …


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Within the sport of road cycling, Mark Cavendish is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest sprinter of all time. 30 Tour de France stage wins like the one above don’t happen by accident after all.

Like all great sprinters, Cavendish is a master of judging his efforts. He’s a master of hiding like a ghost in the peloton until the sprint at the end of a stage; of conserving his energy on mountainous days and of doing the bare minimum when it’s apparent that a race isn’t going to finish in a sprint. …


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Design sprints (a.k.a. research sprints) are great. A week or 2 of super focused collaborative work to answer critical business questions by rapidly designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Jake Knapp has made design sprints all the rage with his book Sprint — how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days and like many organisations, Redgate has embraced them.

Design sprints are certainly productive if you can get everyone in the same room, but what if you can’t do that? What if you’re forced to run a design sprint remotely? …


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Design sprints (a.k.a. research sprints) are great. A week or 2 of super focused collaborative work to answer critical business questions by rapidly designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Jake Knapp has made design sprints all the rage with his book Sprint — how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days and many organisations, including my own ( Redgate software) have rightly embraced them.

Design sprints are certainly productive if you can get everyone in the same room, but what if you can’t do that? What if you’re forced to run a design sprint remotely? …

About

Neil Turner

Former techy turned UX Jedi. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.

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