Life of a Problem

 Life of a Problem

Extract of my talk this Monday at Elephant about Design thinking and its role in problem solving. Based on 3 stories from authors unknown, stitched together to highlight critical nuances in innovative problem solving.

By ASHISH DESHPANDE, Director, Elephant.

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Ask a room full of Designers; if they thought themselves as problem solvers, almost all will raise their hands. However, quiz how many are problem creators? Some hands may go down. Then if one were to ask, how many are problem spotters, what would be the answer?

One day, a fox trundling along a jungle path came across a rabbit typing away on his laptop. Intrigued, the fox asked the rabbit, "What's up?"

"I am writing a thesis on how a rabbit eat foxes", said the rabbit.

"Obviously, you must be joking." said the fox with disbelief.

"Not at all" said the Rabbit and invited the Fox to his burrow to prove the point.

A while later, the Rabbit emerged from his burrow licking a piece of Fox bone.

The scene repeats itself with a wolf and then with a Bear.

The Bear rolled on the jungle floor laughing at the very thought behind Rabbits thesis. Rabbit again nonchalantly invites the Bear into his burrow to prove the point and introduces him to the Lion. *

(*The above story is a summary effort based on  Author unknown)

The genesis of any problem solving lies in problem spotting and for designers’ problem identification is the key to problem resolution. Many a times, like our fox, wolf and the bear, we fail to see the problem. We fail to generate empathy with the situation to spot the problem.

And what happens once you spot a problem, where does the solution lie? My math teacher would have said," Answer lies in the question itself!” However, sometimes the answer requires a catalyst from out side, to help bring the solution to surface, as became apparent to the herd of 17 camels awaiting their fate.

These 17 camels belonged to a successful tribesman from the sands of Arabia. Nearing completion of his life journey the tribesman wrote a will dividing his wealth of 17 camels amongst his 3 sons.

After their father’s demise, the 3 sons read the will. Their father had willed 1/2 of the 17 camels to the first born, 1/3 to the second son and 1/9 to the youngest. The sons wondered on how to meet this strange request by their father and not sure how the division would take place. Soon their bewilderment turned into arguments and quickly into quarrels. The village elders fearing more trouble referred the siblings to a local Saint.

The wise man thought for a while, then called the 3 brothers and told them that he would like to give them one additional camel. Now the 3 brothers had 18 camels. The eldest could take home his share of 9 camels, the middle one got 6 and the youngest was content with his 2 camels. Since 9+6+2=17, there was still one camel left which was promptly given back to the Saint.

Many a times, the solution to a problem lies outside. We need to add to be able to divide. In design, realigning existing set of elements may not solve all problems. Sometimes value needs to be added to bring about a workable solution.

The obvious solution is not always the best solution. Some one famously said , " Most problems are created by a solution". If Ratan Tata (past Chairman, Tata Motors) had focused on a better scooter his solution would have been different. Instead he chose to create a safer, comfortable transport solution and NANO was born. Most of the times, our restricted understanding forces a solution. If we change our perspective, our context changes and so does our solution.

Once a talented carpenter walked into a rich landowners farm. The landowner was in a dispute with his younger brother over share of their ancestral land. Seizing the opportunity of a good carpenter having walked his way, he was quickly hired to erect a strong fence between him and his brother’s land along the river that flowed between their properties.

"I never want to see my brother’s face. Build a fence that will isolate him from me." Saying this the landowner traveled away to a distant place on work. The carpenter was sharp to pick out the problem between the two brothers and set out making a fence. On his return, the elder brother was amazed to find an exquisitely carved fence waiting his sights. However, our carpenter had created small bridges inside  the fence stretching across the river.

The younger brother thought that his elder brother had created special bridges for connecting with him and eagerly walked across to embrace him and ask for forgiveness. The elder one though flustered, was moved by the event of his younger brother coming over. In short, the dispute dissolved as emotional bridges were enabled by a solution that was not the obvious. *

(*The above story is a summary effort based on wonderful stories shared on Author, Unknown)

Design is all about feeling, thinking as well as doing. In a manner of process, design begins by sensing a problem or spotting an opportunity to inflict change.

Some solutions are apparent and common sense, but when dealing with issues like disruption, differentiation, wicked problems, part of solution may not lie inside the box. There is no end to the change a solution can bring about. There will be possibilities and spin offs. The way one changes the perspective of looking at a problem will always result in a different end to a problem solution.

Design effort is always towards being receptive to an emergent problem, adding positive value to the process leading to a solution and changing the context to look in a new light helps see new solution enabling a novel lifecycle of problem resolution.

Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 27+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organizations & businesses using Design led Innovation.

ASHISH DESHPANDE is an Industrial Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he is a keen Design Thinker, a member of India Design Council & Jury for India Design Mark. He has worked on several design programs, notably, Titan Eye+, Ceat Tyres, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Symphony, Paperboat and works on medical & healthcare devices amongst others. Recently, Ashish spoke on Design with Context : Design for Real Needs, at the International Design Congress, 2015.

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Innovation for the road

Innovation for the road: how design works with new business & technology

Roadside auto repair is a huge unorganized business in India. How do innovative business modeling, technology and design create radical impact?

By Partho Guha, Director, Elephant

Roadside auto repair shops are mostly run by small entrepreneur mechanics, located in every nook and corner of Indian roads. They tend to serve neighbourhood car & two wheeler owners for simple and quick repair jobs. With the advance of auto industry these small-scale entrepreneurs are constantly redefining themselves and finding their unique proposition. Overall there are a huge number of road size auto repair businesses facing tremendous challenge in staying relevant in today’s market.

Repair Mechanic business is neighbourhood oriented. They are small scale operations where the owner usually is the chief mechanic playing multiple roles like procurement of parts from market, accounts, trainer, liaison and such.&nbsp;

Repair Mechanic business is neighbourhood oriented. They are small scale operations where the owner usually is the chief mechanic playing multiple roles like procurement of parts from market, accounts, trainer, liaison and such. 

Autoji, is a young start up with a vision to create a differentiated business by making these auto repair shops to reinvent and be relevant. Taking up the role of being their support in re education, in-time doorstep supply and marketing their services. It is a technology based, scalable model to upgrade this demanding business.

Elephant worked on a Design led process to create “Autoji” along with R Sriram of Next Practice Retail & the AMG team. The team lent a language to the value proposition, brand, communication framework and design of retail space & expressions.

The process began with a deeper understanding of the auto repair shop and eco system. The team spoke with several repair shop owners, workers, fleet repair  workshop owners, existing retail to look at gaps in the needs, gaps & aspirations.

The final solution was a combination of tongue in cheek, street smart identity that lent respect to the service and was bold enough to be looked upon as a reliable service & supply partner, enlarged toll free connect, an application, a delivery van and an efficient supply space.

Trust was build through a series of icon-based communication. Many repairmen have low education or are used to local language & scripts. Using strong sense of visual icons and local script helped connect with the main customer base.

It is important that the language that is used and facilities for service connect with the key user segment.

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The retail proposition was kept simple and functional with a emphasis on organized appeal, appropriateness and lower cost proposition. Autoji is a good example for how design can be an enabler for the business and is not a cost heavy investment.

“Design is not always about fancy store fit-outs, flashy neon lights & marbled floors. Design is about creating a user aligned business proposition, its is about new, relevant and differentiated service offering that uses technology as a enabling platform. Core focus remains the user.”

Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 27+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organizations & businesses using Design led Innovation.

PARTHO GUHA is a Visual Communication Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he regularly conducts workshops on design thinking & strategy. Partho is a passionate painter and divides his time between design process application, design led business strategy & roadmap and innovation.

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I'm a preacher for planning. I love to work on well-planned projects. It helps me maintain the enthusiasm, fun & love for work.

I was blessed with really good, encouraging seniors. And I try to bring those qualities of encouragement, guidance, humbleness & fun on the table as we work.

Suraja Kotnis - Graphic Design Team

I am working on photo-shop tablet sketching and through peers I have learnt the process from scratch in Elephant and will continue to try and learn new methods like this independently.

Aarish Netarwala - Product Design Team

I strongly believe that my greatest value is my love for illustration. And if there is any illustration work required by any team, I am happy to help!

Nivedita Kekre - Graphic Design Team

Beyond the defined solution I also make few innovative routes, which are a few steps above the requirement. This way the client can know our expertise and understanding of the problems in his market. Also the client can come back to us when he/she has more evolved requirements as well.

Rimpy Batra - Graphic Design Team

I am encouraging all designers to create one pro-active design work a month. This not only creates a healthy competition but also pushes ones creativity. One also ends up doing something different beyond the regular projects.

Nikhil Phadke- - Graphic Design Team

Constraints as well as possibilities with the vendors/supplier organizations are important. This helps us to know the latest trends and technologies in the respective sector. I am creating a cutting edge vendor list, and will try to arrange visit for the team.

Yogesh Maralkar – Product Design Team

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I always have options ready.   Being in Administration and HR we have to take extreme care about planning. Still we should think about the worst problem may occur in between and always be ready with the options so that all functions happens smoothly.

For example, arrangement for any event / workshops check all small thing like food type, drink flavour, mosquito repellant in working condition, etc.

Jayashree Babar – HR & Admin Team

Whenever I encounter a design brief or a design problem I try to look at divergent ways to come up with concepts ( e.g Method cards, Visual Thesaurus etc)  and to bring the same to a logical execution. Being empathetic to the users/clients needs is something that I have learnt over time here.

Meenakshi Borgohain - Graphic Design Team

A design that is practical and easy to execute as per the production methods. I try to educate the younger designers the importance of smart design.


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I try to involve in other teams project also and give my inputs wherever necessary new technique, method and new design trends.

Abhay Patil - Graphic Design Team

I have also been organizing out of office activities with my colleagues that include home visits, outings, treks as well as get-together for Elephants. Meeting outside the office helps the team synergies and know each other better, building friendships and camaraderie.

Harshad Choudhari - Program Management Team

I maintain a list of work, which I have to do. And try to done it as per priorities.  It is very helpful to me to keep track on my daily, weekly, monthly work.

One thought can change our mood. I try to write one good thought on our white board everyday.

Rohini Natu – Finance Team

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Smallest of things I learn at vendors & printers, I feel the need to convey it to our designers as well as artwork people quickly.

Pravin Mutkekar – Artwork team

By educating everyone around us with the projects that we have worked on and letting them know of the mistakes committed, so that such errors and mistakes can be omitted in future, adds to a lot of value to the Team.

Sharing and using new technologies, new trends and new insights from the industry/cross-industry

I have learned a lot from this place, and wish to give back with pleasure.

Vidyavati Gore – Program Management Team

I try to go the extra mile and do something additional for my colleagues who are stressed out. This in turn gives me an exposure to a task that I may not have worked before.

Gouri Kamat – Graphic Design Team

Quality is always maintained in urgent work, many a times in hurry, there is a big chance that slip up might happen for some things.

Power Saving - I take care of mine as well as my floors machines when is not in use, at that time I switch OFF the machines / ACs / Lights / Fans etc.

Harshad Deo - Artwork team

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