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Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

During my time in the Summer of Design innovation accelerator program, I partnered with team members to generate a speculative go-to-market pitch for a faux eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) company launching its air taxi product into the DC market by 2030.

For 12 weeks, team members and I worked intensively to implement the design thinking tools presented to us for developing new ideas, aka “ideation“. We participated in weekly challenges that culminated in a Shark Tank style pitch night where 5 teams faced off for a panel of judges.

I wanted to take the whole process and distill it down into one document that I could use to solve similar problems in the future and, as I promise here on my site, I like to share my learnings so I’m pulling it all together for you here.

TL;DR;

Before taking you week-by-week through our design process, I’ll sum it up:

  • We conceptualized a service that a faux eVTOL company could integrate into the ticket-buying process.
  • This integration would rely on a partnership with TSA to vet flyers at ticket purchase and pre-clear them for airline security.
  • Having been pre-cleared, their eVTOL would then land on the “sterile” (secure) side of the airport where they can arrive shortly before their flight and skip the friction of airport security.
  • We called this service Skipit and I designed a brand around it for pitch night. I even made a commercial with an Elon Musk deepfake. It’s a must-see. Read to the end!

Phases in the design thinking process

Over the 12 weeks of this program, teams responded to prompts and challenges in the build-up to pitch night.

Defining Roles & Responsibilities

Like every good team getting to know each other for the first time, we discussed our strengths and weaknesses and assigned roles to each of our members. Of the members of my team, I had the strongest background in visual design so I became responsible for making sure our homework every week was delivered in a visually effective way.

I also got my team up to speed with Figma and FigJam so we could collaborate well.

Observational Research

emergent behaviors observational research

This may have been one of my most enjoyable weeks. As the weeks went on, I got more and more frightened by the increasingly difficult assignments, but this one was totally my wheelhouse.

We were to independently conduct observational research of emergent behaviors that might contribute to the adoption or rejection of eVTOL transportation by 2030.

As luck would have it, I live in Orlando and we have a suburb called Lake Nona which is “the future of cities” and the 2nd fastest-growing city in America (Forbes) and one of the nation’s first smart cities. It’s also the site of the USA’s first vertiport for eVTOLs, slated to be complete by 2025. This is a collaboration between NASA, the City of Orlando, and the german eVTOL manufacturer Lilium.

My observational research was conducted while sitting in the middle of Lake Nona, observing the people and culture springing up there.

You can find the entire research deck here.

Extreme User Interviews

“In order to convenience some people, it has to inconvenience others and that’s usually the poor.”

Extreme User

Next, we set out to interview some “extreme users”. These are potential users on either extreme end of the spectrum. On one end are technophiles and early adopters with tech-averse or unlikely users at the other.

I interviewed my own teenagers. While at first this felt like a cop-out, the whole cohort and I learned so much by hearing their opinions and points of view on the future of “flying cars”.

After conducting interviews, I captured the key learnings and observations in a document you can find here.

Journey Mapping

journey map for evtol users

A Journey Map is a visualization of the key moments that a user experiences when trying to accomplish a goal. Journey maps are useful for walking in the shoes of your user, pinpointing specific areas of improvement and growth, and designing new solutions and experiences that deliver value to both the user and the organization delivering the product or service.

Journey mapping starts by compiling a series of actions into a timeline. Next, the timeline is fleshed out with user thoughts and emotions in order to create a narrative.

Insight Statements

Work from the previous weeks converged with insight statements.

While in later weeks, we challenged our assumptions, insight statements rely on gut instinct and good judgment. It is more of a craft than it is a process.

design thinking process insight statements

Half-Sheets

idea half-sheets

Idea Half Sheets are a great way to build on the best ideas from brainstorming and assemble them into richer solutions that push the work forward.

An idea half sheet is a visual artifact that fleshes out the components of a concept and articulates how it meets a user need. It is basically the top half of a Napkin Pitch. On the spectrum of idea development, Idea Half Sheets fit between raw ideas generated in brainstorming in week 8 and Napkin Pitches developed in week 10.

The Napkin Pitch

napkin pitch evtol

Ah, the napkin pitch; a legendary document that has prefaced some of recent history’s most notable innovations. This is what we produced in week 7.

The Napkin Pitch summarizes the best concepts coming out of brainstorming in a simple, consistent format. The name derives from the notion that a good idea can (and should) be communicated simply—so simply that it would fit on the back of a napkin.

For a given concept, the napkin pitch describes the target user, an articulation of the user’s unmet
needs and the novel value the idea will provide, details about how the idea will be executed, and the business rationale for choosing this idea over other options.

Prototyping

In the prototyping phase, my team and I selected one napkin pitch that we were most excited about moving forward as a team.

Prototyping is an experimental process where design teams implement ideas into tangible forms. Teams build prototypes of varying degrees of fidelity to capture concepts to test with users.

rough sketch for evtol service
Rough sketch

A vivid pre-experience of an idea can help you manage the risk of a new idea. People aren’t great at giving reactions to new ideas. They want to be supportive so it’s common in a focus group for 50% of people to deliver a false-positive response. They may say “I’m into it” and then never actually support the product for a variety of reasons.

billboard prototype for evtol company
Billboard

Visualizing an idea in a very rough prototype allows you to gain clarity on the new idea and move the conversation from debate of abstract ideas toward action so that you can have better conversations and get closer to the truth.

Logo concept

It’s super important that a prototype be very rough. If it’s too polished, people will be more likely to overestimate their interest in and support of the idea because it looks like a lot of work has already gone into it. And if the idea gets trashed, you won’t want to have spent too much time in this phase of ideation.

My team produced some sketches of the idea and I produced an example of a logo and billboard.

Testing

Testing is where we kicked some tires to see how things work out in the real world.

Running experiments is important to understand if our idea is solving a real user need. Gathering evidence helps to reduce the risk by communicating with the rest of the world that your idea
has impact potential.

user testing and experimentation for product development

Experiments also weed out bad ideas and evaluate key vulnerabilities. When designing a test at this development stage of the idea, we leaned toward qualitative tests such as interviews and walkthroughs of our prototype.

Pitch Night

In the final 2 weeks of the Summer of Design, our team prepared our final presentation for pitch night. We refined our idea of “Skipit®”, a collaboration with our faux eVTOL company and the TSA to lighten the load of airport security and allow eVTOL passengers to land on the sterile side of the airport, after bag drop and airport security.

While we weren’t the winning team according to the judges, we won the people’s choice award from our cohort of fellow students. I highly recommend the Summer of Design program to anyone upping their ideation game and interested in earning a certificate in design thinking from the University of Virginia.

I hold up a mirror for my
customers to see their own
brand.

I guess you could say I’m like
a therapist for businesses.
No smoke.
Just mirrors.

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