Slow Design: XPLANE Amsterdam Takes on Visual Thinking School

In a results driven world where efficiency seems to be the highest priority, we work hard with a clear target in mind. After all, time is money, and the cl
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Visual Thinking School: Slowing It Down in a Fast-Paced World

We’re living in an ultra-connected and increasingly fast-paced world that is demanding more and more speed in everything we do, everyday, in a consta
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VTS: Captain's Lunch, Engage!

Captain’s Blog, star date -307557.1   On Thursday, June 11, Spaces Herengracht asked XPLANE to kick-off and host their first “Captain&rs
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Gamestorming User Experience—Because You Can

User Experience at XPLANE is based upon two fundamental beliefs: First, we believe in expanding the definition of users. Often, in our client work, this means expanding users to include the most critical asset in your organization, your employees. Second, we believe that making real change to benefit users is infinitely possible with the right story.


We took ourselves to task on both fronts with this quarter’s VTS (Visual Thinking School) event. Portlanders from near and far came out to play with us, literally! We developed a game for the event and dialed it 11 so that we were at a level of ridiculous and silly that everyone enjoyed.
Users were not only employees, but expanded to include your grandmother Florence; Antonio, the single dad; Stacy, a TSA representative; and Sergei, an Uber driver, among others.

Participants were split into teams and thus commenced an evening of Useroply, a game designed to build foundational empathy and advocacy skills at lightening speed.

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Voices From VTS

I’ve known about XPLANE for several years, and long been interested in the models they work with in their consulting practice. Attending VTS was a great way to learn more about them, and to gain some exposure to new techniques for creative idea generation. What impressed me most about the workshop was the hands-on approach XPLANE uses, and the way their models can lead to productive collaboration and surprising outcomes – even working with partners I’d just met.

I have a PhD in marketing and use several techniques similar to those introduced at VTS, primarily when conducting workshops and seminars. The process of sensemaking among consumers and organizations is a topic I’ve researched extensively over the past decade, and I was curious to see how XPLANE applies the sensemaking construct in their client work.

The most valuable component of the VTS workshop for me was the discussion led by Matt Morasky at the session’s conclusion. We began by examining the projects each small team had created over the previous 30 minutes, discussing how each project’s material affected the viewer’s sensemaking experience, then moved on to higher-level constructs that helped clarify the creative outcome. Connecting abstract meaning to strategy creation is one of the most difficult tasks in any collaborative creative process, and this discussion made the connection vivid and clear.
Melea Press, PhD is a Visiting Research Scholar/Professor of Marketing at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. She lives in Portland, OR where she consults on market research, strategy, and academic-practitioner collaboration.

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VTS Creating Custom Visual Canvases

Getting a group of people through a complex or multifaceted discussion is challenging. Different mental models can wrap the discussion around the proverbial axel, and the group doesn’t reach clarity or alignment. But a visual canvas can change that by creating a common mental model, keeping the conversation focused, and organizing information.
In our first Visual Thinking School (VTS) of 2015, we shared tools and techniques the we use to create custom visual canvases.
Getting Started
We started by orienting participants with a collection of visual canvases. Some were examples from our work, and some were from other visual thinkers.

With an overview complete, we shifted into trying a visual canvas so people could experience one before making their own. The canvas we used was a Big Head (or empathy map), where teams of four or five people filled out the template to get inside the head of someone specific.

Here are a few results (from left to right: Oprah, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton).

Creating A Custom Visual Canvas
Then it was time for participants to create their own canvas. To introduce the process, we made a quick and simple canvas together using the topic, “a family planning their vacation”.
In order to create a visual canvas you need two key things:

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VTS Get Naked! Let your message stand up without PowerPoint.

You may have 10 bullet points to talk about but only 3 are absolutely essential to telling your story. In the days of death by PowerPoint, it’s well worth the effort to strip down, to remove the layers, and distill your message/ pitch/ ask, etc. until it’s stark naked, all on its own.
During this quarter’s VTS on November 6, we’ll tackle how to transform PowerPoint decks into simplified, clear stories that can be presented in 2 minutes – without the PPT. We’ll introduce several alternative non-PPT formats. Working in teams, you will practice undressing a PowerPoint until you’ve arrived at its core message. Teams will then select a fitting non-PPT format and present as if talking to the CEO – in under 2 minutes.

In today’s business environment where everyone in drowning in email and addicted to busy, you may be surprised at how effective it is to present and deliver naked. We hope you will leave the workshop inspired to simplify and strip down your communications, to bare it all for the sake of clarity.

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Visual Thinking School Amsterdam: Behavioural Climate Change

Last Thursday we held Visual Thinking School (VTS) in our Amsterdam office. VTS is a sandbox event hosted by XPLANE, where we experiment together with
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Envisioning Future Greatness

Articulating personal or organizational aspirations can run the gamut from exhilarating to overwhelming. But there are ways to quickly give it structure, incorporate new perspectives, and walk away with an actionable plan, while also keeping it creative and energetic.

XPLANE’s latest Visual Thinking School (VTS) session focused on ways to envision the future, or what we like to call “futurecasting.” 34 participants worked in small groups at XPLANE’s headquarters to imagine the future of commuting in Portland in the year 2025. Three exercises guided the conversation:

  1. “Ideation Post-up”
    Participants rapidly developed ideas on their own and as a group, filtering to the top three ideas.
  2. “What if we were…”
    They then stepped out of what they knew and adopted perspectives of different companies, experimenting with new lenses and ideas.
  3. “Cover Story”
    Highlights from both exercises were drawn as magazine cover mock-ups to illustrate what success would look like. From the covers of
    Imbibe to The New York Times, groups reported their stories of future states that included bike limos, ziplines, driverless cars, and ferries. Lastly, public presentations allowed them to identify common themes across these covers.

Across these exercises, groups created visual artifacts that captured main ideas and set them up for the next steps of determining how to get there. Participants left VTS with the ability to take these exercises and apply them to their personal goals and their jobs. We look forward to hearing back about more successful examples!

Interested in getting a spot at our next VTS? Check out more information here.

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Changing Behaviors, One VTS at a Time



In May, XPLANE’s public Visual Thinking School (VTS) focused on the topic of “Designing for Behavior Change” - in other words, “how do you get people to behave in a certain way?” Over 40 people gathered at our Portland headquarters to explore the challenges and possible solutions behind what drives behaviors and how we might design to create certain behaviors inside organizations. Attendees rotated between three of possible six exercise stations for 15 minutes at a time where they considered behavior patterns and influences among different analogous models: kids and dogs, abstract (or blue sky), personal work experience, ethnographic observation, best learning experience and hospitality industry. The result was a collection of recommendations and visual sketches depicting a variety of models that span push, pull, and self-motivation, whereby organizations might create environments and circumstances that yield intended behaviors.

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