Final Reflective Essay

During one of our first design thinking classes I made the following notes: “Design thinking is a holistic and sustainable approach to problems. Design thinking aims to gain inspiration from people by looking at and listening to them. It uses prototyping to quickly make things real and story telling to evoke empathy”. I further wrote down that in Design Thinking success is not measured in money and numbers but in usage and reaction from the people.

“PERFECT!” was my initial thought, “That is easy, it makes absolute sense to me and is exactly what I want to do”. It seemed so obvious to me what this definition meant and what to do with it. As outlined in one of my blog posts, however, my experience with this Design Thinking project differed vastly from my expectations in the beginning. There was definitively a huge gap in my experience between the theory and the practice.

In the following I am going to discuss in more details my experiences during the Designing a Business module and critically reflect how these experiences had an impact on me and my future career goals.

I am a yoga teacher with a background in management, and a great interest in personal development, holistic health and mindfulness. From past work experiences I know that people who work in the fields of holistic health, mindfulness, personal development etc. are usually great in what they’re doing in terms of working with people but lacking business skills to make a sustainable practice out of their profession/passion/calling. In the future I see myself on the interface between management and small to medium size businesses that work in the field of mindfulness, personal development etc. I hope to support those businesses to become self-sustainable by using Desing Thinking methods and tools.

Coming from that standpoint, I was highly enthusiastic about the holistic and sustainable aspect of Design Thinking. I hoped that our group would work on a sustainable and useful product that would follow a suggestion by Dr Rodrigo Lozano from the University of Leeds: “New ways of learning are needed, which actively and consciously engage in the use and protection of natural resources, and the safeguarding and improvement of societal well-being, for this generation and future ones” (Lozano, 2011, pp. 205-206). When we first started discussing our ideas for a product, half of the group members said that they wanted the product to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. And then we came up with the SpeaCup sticker, a disposable sticker that you stick on a disposable cup that has been printed on with an ink that is not biodegradable. So what happened to holism and sustainability along the way?

Looking back I can easily identify three major reasons for why they got lost on the way: first of all the time pressure and limited resources. It is often argued that exactly these two components are fueling creativity (see e.g. Catmull or Kelley & Kelley), however, as Teresa Amabile points out “[m]oreover, creativity often takes time. It can be slow going to explore new concepts, put together new solutions, and wander through the maze” (1998). The second reason for our product not being the glorious eco-friendly and sustainable product that I had imagined is that even though one half of our group expressed the wish to do something sustainable, the other half simply didn’t care about such issues. And with three against three and all the other things we had to deal with, the topic somehow slipped away. The third reason lies – in my opinion – in the very set-up of the Design Thinking class.

I have to admit that I am disappointed at myself for not being more persistent in the first place on the matter. I feel I wasn’t fully myself when we made the decisions in the way Rob Grundel describes in one of his blog posts: I was functioning as the student but neglected other parts of my personality. Even though I do see the fun aspects of our product and understand that the business model we came up with is feasible and makes sense from a business point of view, I realize now how difficult the whole process was for me due to the fact that our product simply contradicts one of my dearest core values. In a way I cared less about the SpeaCup stickers because I knew it wasn’t something I would do in real life. But here was the dilemma: the assignment was to do something real. Not to pretend to run a business but actually run it. Not to try things but do them.

In the end two of the biggest lessons learnt for me emerged from that dilemma. The first lesson for me was to realize that in the future I have to stick to my core values more from begin with. As soon as a project that involves the collaboration with other people is on track and under way, it is difficult to change the destination.

The second lesson I learnt from this is how important it is to commit to something even though it might not be the project of my dreams to a hundred percent. After realizing that our product wasn’t at all what I had hoped for I went through a phase of dismalness. Because I didn’t completely believe in the product, I didn’t see the point of investing my time and energy in it. However, it became obvious that this attitude made things worse and even more exhausting. After I read an article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter on cultivating confidence, I decided to change my outlook on the project. Kanter argues that “[n]othing succeeds for long without considerable effort and constant vigilance” and further that “a key factor in high achievement is bouncing back from the low points” (Kanter, 2011). As soon as I decided to look at the bright side of things and realized how much I could learn from this experience, things got going again and became much easier and indeed more successful. And in the end I can say I am proud of the work we achieved and am glad about the gained experience.

After mentioning my biggest disappointments about my personal Design Thinking experience and the lessons I learnt from it, I will now move on to other things I learnt or that stood out for me along the way.

As mentioned in the beginning, Design Thinking gains inspiration from looking at people and listening to what they have to say in order to come up with a solution that serves the people. It is easy to assume that most people would give an answer that is similar to our own answer and that answers reflect the actual behavior of people. Through the interviews we conducted and the interaction with our customers at the trade fairs I realized how wrong that assumption is.

Most people we asked if they would buy SpeaCup stickers before we had the actual product ready said they liked the idea but were hesitant to say they would buy/use it. That changed drastically as soon as we had the first prototypes. At the first trade fair we were sold out before the fair was over. We simply showed people how SpeaCup stickers work and people who seemed hesitant at first ended up buying stickers after they saw our demonstration. By listening to the feedback we got after that trade fair we were able to produce new stickers with new slogans that were suggested by the customers.

Not only talking and listening to customers is essential but also talking about your idea to other people can be really helpful. Before taking the Design Thinking class I always thought it is a better to develop an idea first and make it public only when it is completed. Through the class I learnt that the opposite is the case. It is much easier to get feedback on an idea right from the beginning. The longer you hold on to your idea without sharing it, the more attached you will get to it and the more it will hurt to change the idea or realize that it doesn’t work.

Through working on the SpeaCup stickers I realized that it is much more productive to share ideas with other people and get feedback as soon as possible and I have already integrated that habit into my own work.

In the beginning of the class I liked the statement that success in Design Thinking is measured in usage and reaction of the people rather than in monetary terms. I still like that idea but after getting real with SpeaCup I can say that this idea is rather idealistic and probably meant more in a symbolical way. Of course it is more important how people use a product than how much the product costs respectively how much the company earns selling the product. But it is equally important that designers/entrepreneurs can live of their businesses. Therefore money does play an important role in Design Thinking. Also simply due to the fact that products or services are sold on markets which are part of a wider economy, and as Thorsby points out ““value in the economic paradigm is ultimately expressible in financial terms“ (Thorsby, 2008, p. 30).

At the beginning of the course I was convinced that I am good at social media use. And I was probably right about that in regards to my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts. But I had little to no knowledge of how to use social media properly for a business. I had never used Twitter, let alone an URL shortener or other tools to track social media activities. However, through the assignments of the Designing a Business Module I quickly became comfortable with using Twitter and YouTube, tracking my posts, and most importantly blogging. Even though I sometimes struggled to blog about the Design Thinking experience (due to the fact that I wasn’t always a hundred percent convinced of the work I was doing) in an engaging and enthusiastic manner, I highly appreciated doing it as it showed me how important it is as a business to have a professional and consistent Internet presence. Based on my blogging experience gained in the class I am currently working on my own business blog Yoga, Bliss & Mindfulness.

A memorable class that stood out for me was the story-telling workshop with Rob Grundel. Telling an exciting, authentic and convincing story to your clients is such an essential part of running a business, especially when you try to win new clients. Rob’s own story and the way he told it was inspiring and his tools and advice certainly helped our group to tell the SpeaCup story. In relation to what we learnt about social media, I realized how important story telling is also in the digital world.   “[D]igital storytelling (is) the practice of telling a story through the use of digital media” (Daskolia et al.). As a team we implemented that insight by creating the SpeaCup video using storytelling to explain our product.

Last but not least I want to mention how over time not only my skills developed and I gained more insights on Design Thinking but also my definition/idea of Design Thinking itself developed further. I read and discussed many different aspects and definitions of Design Thinking and came to the conclusion that the following definition by Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, describes Design Thinking best for me. He says that Design Thinking is “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity”.

This definition perfectly sums up some of the conclusions I made through out the past six month. When I use Design Thinking methods in the future I will use my sensibility to find out what my clients need. Technological feasibility is important in order to generate profit for myself while serving my client the best possible solution that has value to him/her and fits the market – and thereby will be profitable for him or her too.


Amabile, Teresa M. (1998) ‘How to kill creativity’, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Okt 1998, pp.77-87.

Brown, Tim (2008) ‘Design Thinking’ Harvard Business Review. June 2008. Available at: (Accessed 22.4.15).

Catmull, Ed (2014) Creativity, INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. London: Transworld Publishers.

Daskolia, M., Makri, K. & Kynigos, C. ‘Fostering Collaborative Creativity in Learning about Urban Sustainability through Digital Storytelling’. Environmental Education Lab & Educational Technology Lab, NKUA.

Grundel, Rob (2015) The Work Out. Available at: (Accessed 22.4.15).

Kanter, Rosabeth (2011) ‘Cultivate a Culture of Confidence’ Harvard Business Review. April 2011. Available at: (Accessed 22.4.15)

Kelley, T. and Kelley, D (2013) Creative Confidence. Unleashing the creative potential within us all. London: William Collins.

Lozano, Rodrigo (2011) ‘Creativity and Organizational Learning as Means to Foster Sustainability’, Sustainable Development, 22, pp. 205-216.

SPEACUP Movie (2015). Available at: (Accessed 22.4.15)

Thorsby, David (2008) ‘Globalization and the cultural economy: a crisis of value?’, in: Anheiner, Helmut & Isar, Yudhishthir R. (Editors) The Cultural Economy (The cultures and globalization series 2), London: Sage Publications.


Once upon a time…

Once upon a time there was a young woman called Thea. She left her hometown Berlin to move to a city far far away on the other side of the Channel. Thea dearly loved her hometown but she knew that London, the city on the other side of the Channel, had much more to offer and was full of great opportunities and new friends and adventures.

Thea was an enthusiastic and curious person and had ambitious career plans for the future. In order to achieve her goals in the country where she didn’t have many friends yet, she decided to attend a Master’s course in Creative Economies at Kingston University.

On a warm and sunny day in September Thea met all her new classmates with whom she would spend the next 12 months with. Everyone in the class was equally enthusiastic and ambitious and Thea was really happy to be among like-minded people. All her new friends came from different countries from around the globe and Thea’s initial fear to be the only international student in the programme vanished immediately.

Thea and her new friends could have gone on and on for days chatting, laughing and exchanging stories from their lives, but there wasn’t much time for such things as they were under great time pressure to get started on their course work and complete the first assignments. However, most tasks could be worked on in small groups of 3-6 so everyone found some allies and set out to work with great enthusiasm.

Thea’s group consisted of her and 5 other students, 2 more young women and 3 young men. All six of them came from different countries and totally different backgrounds. There was the Creative Entrepreneur from Italy, the interior designer from Russia, the Afghan with a background in supply chain management, the Belgian with experience in finance, the Brazilian Capoeira teacher and business owner and Thea herself, a yoga teacher with experience in management.

Thea was excited to be part of such a diverse team and was eager to learn from and with her teammates. The task for each team was to design and market a product within the next 6 months using Design Thinking. The product should ideally serve real people’s needs or solve a problem, be creative and reflect the skills and interests of the team members.

The first weeks went by and the team generated some ideas and made prototypes for different ideas to get an idea of how realistic and feasible these ideas were. They finally agreed on a product, which they called SpeaCup stickers. These stickers could be applied to a cup or mug and whenever you’d pour a hot drink into the cup the sticker would reveal a surprising, funny or loving message to the holder of the cup.

While the first meetings of team SpeaCup were filled with laughter and the excitement of starting something new, the mood quickly changed when the business got real and important decisions had to be made. Even though it was never on a personal level, the members started to disagree with each other and Thea sometimes got really annoyed with her teammates and vice versa. The different cultural and work related backgrounds of each team member were helpful on one hand but could also be tiring and nerv-wrecking when it came to making decisions, sticking to deadlines or just simply listening to each other.

Soon Thea became resentful towards the SpeaCup meetings and it took her lots of energy. She felt that she was doing much more work than other team members and thought that these teammates didn’t appreciate her work and always contradicted her suggestions. What Thea didn’t realize at the time was that as a reaction she would be become bossy from time to time and didn’t even listen to other people’s thoughts and ideas and therefore added to the uncomfortable atmosphere in the group.

Not only did the team spirit sink lower and lower but at the same time the outside pressure of deadlines and assignments increased. Thea started to regret her decision to move to London and to study with so many different people. She thought she would never make it through the course and would never be able to work happily in such a divers team. She wanted to go back to Berlin where everything was familiar to her. But before giving up she decided to pause a moment to reflect and have a honest look at herself.

By doing so Thea realized that it wasn’t all too bad. Even though she had a hard time with her group and resented some of the content that was taught in her course, she realized that this was a great opportunity for her to learn from her mistakes and to grow into a better person – on a personal as well as on a professional level.

She started to approach the SpeaCup meetings with a more relaxed attitude and trusted that the outcome of the joined decisions would be the best. She also started to work on her own business goals outside of Uni which fulfilled her tremendously and made her realize how valuable all the things she had learnt in her course were. And last but not least she started to engage more with the things she resented the most from the course syllabus and, again, realized that some things were simply essential to do when you run a business – even though you don’t like doing them in the first place.

Thea and the SpeaCup team managed to give an excellent final presentation on their product at the end of the year and Thea moved on to pursuit her own career path and lived happily ever after.

Facing the dragons again

The final dragon’s den was a bit more serious than the first one. Whereas in December we were presenting our pitch in front of the dragons AND all the other teams, we had at least the support and positive vibes from our classmates which felt quite reassuring. This time we were facing the dragons alone. We expected critical and harsh question and tried to think of every possible critique and a good answer beforehand. We also mentioned our shortcomings in the presentation so it wouldn’t look like we were hiding something. And that strategy paid off! The judges did ask us questions but they were less intimidating than we had expected. And one judge even said: “We are supposed to give you a hard time here but I am really impressed with your presentation and don’t really know what to ask anymore”.

WHAAAAT? We were super relieved after the presentation and knew we had done a good job.


But then the night got even better. From all the teams 6 were picked to present again (this time in front of all teams and all judges) and compete for the entry of the National Young Enterprise competition. We didn’t expect at all to be chosen to pitch again but then we were. Our second pitch had to be significantly shorter then the first one but we managed to squeeze all the important information into a two minute pitch. In the end we didn’t win but were happy to have had the chance to practice our presentation and pitching skills in front of a great audience.

And congratulations to team fli who’s flying to Manchester for the National competition. Good luck!

The trade fair dance

The task for our final trade fair was to have a our ultimate packaging and display design ready and to sell as much as possible. Easier said than done. We had sold all our SpeaCup Stickers and the new production wasn’t ready in time for the trade fair. Therefore we could only present our product with our prototypes and our new fabulous video:

We also encouraged potential customers to make suggestions about what they would like to read on their SpeaCup on our mood board.


All together it was a successful day and we gained many new potential customers.

And right… there was this moment when everyone danced around a bag of marshmallows because it was freeeeezing cold and the Palestine Society played oriental music and dancing just seemed the only reasonable thing to do to stay warm.


Who’s the boss?

In both, Conducting Collaborative Creativity and Re-Imagining Leadership, we’ve recently tackled the questions: “Who’s an ideal leader?” and “What is good leadership?”. Even though the answers within the class are diverse, there seems to be a consent that in contrast to “boss” or “manager”, the term “leader” has less hierarchy and more sense of community to it, as shown in the picture below.


The vertical hierarchy of the boss is obvious. He or she is above his/her team. Even though the leader is on one level with their team (at least in this picture), there still is some hierarchy. She or he is the one who determines the direction in which they are all moving.

Last week we had a leadership workshop with a guy (sorry, I can’t remember his name) who’s been an actor and director for the Royal Sheakspeare Company for more than twenty years. He made some interesting connections between directing a play and leading a company or any other kind of group. From his experience as both an actor and later director, he pointed out the importance of being able to let go of hierarchies. Yes, it is important to have a leader who knows the overall goal or the direction the company is headed. But it is equally important that the leader and the team can let go of that hierarchy to allow creativity to flourish. Sounds easier than it is as we all have preconceptions of how we think things should work or work best. The Sheakspeare guy told us an example when he worked on a play with a well-established and famous actor and a 10-year old boy who had never been part of a big production. As the director the Sheakspeare guy faced the challenge to bring these two people to work together in an innovative and creative way, meaning that the boy wouldn’t be afraid to make mistake and bring in his own suggestions and that the older actor would be open to collaboration with an unexperienced newbie.

Throughout the workshop we did loads of partner and group exercises that helped us to build mutual trust and let go of old patterns and most importantly gave us plenty of room to make mistakes without being judged.

A big thanks to the Shakespeare guy and to Miguel for making this workshop happen!

Say it in 60 seconds.

Last Friday each Designing a Business Team presented the advertising videos for their products. The challenge was to present the product in less than a minute. Our team decided to do a short and straightforward presentation of our SpeaCup stickers.

The idea seemed to work as we got great feedback from our class mates and Corrine. A suggestion was to make a sequence of other short videos that show how to use the stickers such as:

He makes her a cup of tea in the morning, the cup reveals: I love you.

Colleague cheers up a co-worker in the office after a rough meeting with a cup that reveals: You are awesome.

At a party people play TRUTH and DARE with SpeaCups Stickers.

We are currently working on developing further ideas for more videos. Results will be posted asap.

Wrap it up.

Among packaging designers it is common knowledge that a banana peel is the best packaging there is. A banana peel is environmental friendly and easy to use, it doesn’t waste any space and explains the product, it indicates the quality of the product, protects the interior and is child proof. For our product it is especially important that the packaging shows clearly what the product is and explains how to use it since no one knows SpeaCup stickers yet.

From the looks I liked these three ideas: a booklet, a little box or a cardboard envelope.

For our product, however, all these ideas are too big or too costly since we only sell units of 4 or 5 stickers. In order not to increase the price of our product too much we decided to use a not expensive but still aesthetic packaging. It will look something like that:

A see-through plastic bag that shows the product with a piece of card board stapled to it that explains the product. The explanation will look somewhat like this plus we’ll add our contact info of course: