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  • Lorianna Kastrop

I like/I wish/What if: Working with Clients to Apply Design Thinking

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

“Design Thinking” is all the rage in Silicon Valley. People are applying it to all sorts of companies and products, and we can apply it to architecture as well. Today I want to talk about design thinking in client interactions. Often a client will come to us to create plans for a pre-conceived result. For example, a client will say “I want to add a second story to my building.” They already have a list of improvements prepared and often they have a pretty good idea of how they want to accomplish them. This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t yield the most creative results.

Another way to go about a conversation with a client is to play the “I like, I wish, What if” game. This game is a normal part of the process of design thinking.

The process goes something like this: Start with a statement that is specific (and reflects your emotional engagement). “I have a growing business.” Next, you make a critical observation that is specific and actionable preceded by the words “I wish”. In this example you might say “I wish our office building could accommodate more employees.”

The next step would be to take those actionable statements and give them to your architect. The architect might show you a second story addition (your initial concept) or the architect might show you an open floor plan design that removes some walls and requires less square footage per employee. That is how you get “outside the box” thinking. From there you might say, “I like open floor plans. I wish that they also accommodated more privacy.” Going back and forth with this feedback loop, your architect will refine the design until you get a scheme that you love.

Another example that we often encounter is that the client has taken off-the-shelf home design software to draw a floor plan of what they want their project to look like. We then start probing to find out what they are trying to accomplish. For example, we might ask, “Would you like to increase storage space in your home?” “Would you like to increase natural light?” “Would you like to improve the flow from room to room?” With the answers to these “I like” questions we often find that they have not considered all of the opportunities for improvements to their home with their preconceived design. They are then more open to a fresh design approach.

Before contacting your architect, try a “What if” scenario that begins with “What if cost was not a consideration?” You might come up with some wild ideas that are totally impractical, but they might contain the seed of a concept that you can then play around with when talking to your architect. For example, an urban homeowner in a confined space might say “If money were no object, I would have beautiful views from every room”. OK, maybe your architect could maximize window space that looks out on small container gardens or figures out ways to incorporate art photography to give the illusion of great views.

The “I like, I wish, What if” game can free your thinking and allow you to consider new ideas. Try it and use it with your design team.

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