Dramatized Presentations: Post-Mortem Review (or better said, ‘lessons learned’)

You have observed restaurants, supermarkets and surgeries – just to mention a few. You have identified a specific issue related to the products or services that are offered in such public spaces: queues at check-in or check-out, out-of-stock products, plastic bags, and so on and so far. And finally, you have delivered in-class, dramatized presentations in which you have showcased the results of your observations and provided recommendations for mitigating the issues that you have identified.

This blog post is meant to offer what in business terms is often called a “post-mortem review”: A reflection on what went well, and what could be improved. Instead of commenting on each group, I will offer a general summary. I will leave it with you to make the connection with your own work and to decide how this feedback can be used for the purposes of improving your future observations and problem solving.

Empathetic observations of activity systems. It became clear that the best recommendations were based on empathetic observations of actors, and their connections with other elements that constitute the activity system in which they are embedded. The key words here are 1) empathy and 2) system: When conducting observations, it is important to empathetically put yourself into the shoes of the actors that you are observing: for example, what do they hear, see, and feel? If you observe without empathy, your recommendations will turn out to be just ineffective, because they will not address the needs of actors. It is equally important not to isolate actors from the broader system of which they are part: In activity theory (Engeström et al. 1999) terms, there are no single actors: Rather, there are actors, objects (or objectives), instruments, communities, rules and divisions of labour. If you miss out one of these, your recommendations will turn out to be simply ineffective, because they will neglect key aspects of the issues that you are trying to address.

Keep it simple and don’t try changing the world. The best presentations kept it simple by focusing on a specific and hence manageable issue. Here, “simple” does not mean simplistic – rather, it means “small”. The key is narrowing down to a specific yet relevant issue. Design professionals take into consideration the budget and time constraints that they have when planning their design projects – be it creative work, problem solving, or product development. This is the fundamental challenge of design management: being creative and at the same time managing creativity. The one cannot do without the other, and vice versa. It is quite straightforward that in one week time and with no budget, you cannot – and should not try to – change the world or the activity system, to say it in Engeström et al.’s (1999) words. Addressing a small issue is not trivial, and will make a big difference to the people that you are observing.

Don’t tell, show. Great presenters didn’t tell how good their recommendations were. They showed. This involved showcasing the observations, dramatizing the issue, and then proposing recommendations that are grounded in theory and research. Once the work of showing is done, recommendations can be made more appealing to the audience by intertwining emotional and rational messages. Pictures can be combined with figures to show how recommendations can make a big difference, by addressing a small issue. Arguments can be substantiated by data (e.g., statistics) that show how relevant the issue is, albeit (apparently) small.

Hope it helps!

MACE16 week in tweets

You’ve been hired!

“You’re been hired!” is something great to hear right? However, when you start working in a new place expectations are very high on all sides and the struggle is part of the game.
Unlimited Lab is preparing a hands-on experience for #MACE16 to test your prototyping skills and see how you can think with your hands.


Save the dates:

Day 1 – Concept development
1st November 2016
2PM – 6PM
Kingston Hill Campus KHFL1026

Day 2  – Rapid-prototyping
4th November 2016
10AM – 6PM
FAB LAB London
1 Frederick’s Pl, London EC2R 8AE

Day 2 will be a further exploration of what you have achieved at the end of Day 1 so the attendance to both days is crucial to make the most of this experience and be able to apply your learnings to your businesses.

You wouldn’t show up your first day (I hope not even for an interview…) without knowing anything about the company values, goals etc. right? So, remember to read carefully the documentation provided and do your research. You will find important keywords and the market assumptions we want to put to the test in the brief ↓

Unlimited Lab | MVP Workshop Brief

And, if you feel inspired here some of our favourites books:

The Lean Startup – Eric Reis (…you know this one)

Understanding Industrial Design – King & Chang

The Design of Everyday Things – Dan Norman

Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing – Lipson, Hod, Kurman, Melba

Cradle to Cradle – Braungart & McDonough.

You will be given a list of free software and apps for design and prototyping during the weekend, if you want to start exploring the makers world on your own.

We hope to see you all on the Prototyping Week, we will have a lot of fun.

Student questions answered: what’s a MACE blog for?


Hello Janja,

Hope you are having a good and restful weekend  🙂

I have one doubt regarding the blog posts: is it mandatory to write blog posts about the Frieze Fair and the shoe assignment (i.e.) or can we create the posts as we want to, as long they relate to the content of our classes?

I’m confused if you will be making suggestions so people who are not sure what to write get inspired or if you expect to read this from every student. I’m asking you that because in the first class you told us that the theme to our blog posts are free as long as they relate to our classes and content discussed.

Many thanks for clarifying this.

Best wishes,



Dear Celina,

You are right in thinking I am suggesting topics to students – but these are incredibly broad topics.

You are also right in thinking that the content is free – for as long as it somehow connects back to the theory and practice we work on in class.

Let’s take the shoe day as an example. The shoe day has an important theoretical background and we would be surprised to see no aspect of that session discussed.

If you break the session down for the purposes of reflection:

  • we started with the theory (and what about the difficulties in class to understand it?)
  • we discussed how this theory applies to our approach to tasks
  • we reflected on how we have been taught/trained to approach investigation (you surveyed me and my two odd shoes, remember?)
  • we discussed extreme users and their value (how did that one shoe in the middle of the road get there? why is she wearing two different shoes?)
  • you went out to talk with people about their shoes (and what happened there?)
  • you came back with stories you had to reframe into assumptions
  • you had to work as a team to agree on a working “we believe” assumption
  • you had to build a prototype as a team
  • you had to present as a team

Then, as a further example: the process of prototyping is an important one for reflection. You deliberately got very little time to build your prototypes on the shoe day. What happened on the shoe day as a result?
Did it help to work with your hands in the development of your ideas?
Did this change your idea?
Did your prototype make it easier for you to communicate your ideas and thinking?
Did it help the team – to discuss, to make a decision, etc.

In contrast to the shoe day, you had more time to prototype for the task last Friday – how did that change the process and the end result? Is time a useful resource in prototyping? It might give you more time to think (and delay making a decision…), but was it useful for creativity?

We are not really concerned with what shoe you developed on the shoe day – we want to see how you connect the theory with the practice and develop your thinking and own practice as a result.

It could be shoes (session 2), trips to toilets (session 1), home (startup weekend session), or the latest (session 3) challenge. By the way, and as an example – Rana, Nora, Lulu, and Luka did this ‘connecting’ very well in class on Friday by showing AND discussing their mapping of the activity theory triangle.

You can do this with any topic from class. We can’t prescribe you what to think, and so a topic like “the shoe day” is incredibly broad because each student will be thinking differently, and discussing a different aspect of theory/process/teamwork, etc… (or so we hope).

Since all of your blogs are deliberately grouped together, you can use your classmates’ blogs to learn from them and to develop your own thinking. Perhaps you agree with a discussion on another blog and will build on that thinking. Perhaps you completely disagree with a point of view and want to discuss your own thinking. Perhaps someone’s thinking prompted you to think about a parallel topic. Etc.

For MACE students specifically, we are also using the blogs for other modules or: you are also using the blogs for other modules to connect your thinking from other modules together. I don’t want to ‘advertise’ this as a separate task because it is not a separate task, and it is not a task – your thinking from different modules will merge as you develop.

Frieze Art Fair is one of the topics that we typically expect to see on all MACE blogs as your ‘thinking work in progress’ leading up to your mini-essays, and then debates and essays. If an essay is good/interesting – I encourage students to then post it on their blogs. The same will apply to debates.

Why? – because it adds value to show your capability to think critically and to write an interesting discussion. However, this is why I also try to push you to find topics relevant to you specifically/important for your future self – and which is why you can come up with your own topics for most of our MACE modules.

In short, you will not be penalised for not covering specific topics – because that is not the point of the blog. But if I look at your blog and can’t really see that you reflected on your learning – this will affect the quality of your final blog post/essay.

Hope this long explanation helps!

Best wishes,

Shoe day

MACE shoe day



What are personas? How do we use personas in design thinking? And how can personas help design thinkers improve their business concepts? These are relevant questions that we will try to address in this and the next weeks. While their use may sometimes be challenging, personas are central to design thinking and its quest to empathetically understand the needs of users. A persona is a short profile of an archetypical user: Personas are not specific users but rather ideal types that are built upon observation of multiple users. Their purpose is to create realistic representations of users. As explained by Goltz (1994): “A persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world and enables the designer to focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters”.

The development of personas is rooted in research, particularly in observation of users. While there are no recipes for developing personas, engaging in the following activities may prove useful to make the shift from research to personas:

  • Look for patterns that are unique or common to observed users, and use such patterns to group observed users.
  • Based on the above patterns, develop ‘rough personas’ (or ‘archetypical models’) that represent your user groups.
  • Refine the ‘rough personas’ through conversation with other members of the design team as well as with users.
  • Put the personas into use by creating scenarios – i.e., narratives that describe how the personas behave.
  • Iterate.

In order to be effective for businesses (and start-ups in particular), personas are never used in isolation but rather are part of a wider process that sets out to address both the users’ and the business needs (aka ‘goal-directed design’). Also, it is important to note that personas are not a ‘panacea’ to create business solutions. Rather, they are tools – their effectiveness depends on use.

Experiment with the development of personas and consult the following useful resources:

A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are And How They Work (Part 1)

Personas, Journey Mapping & thoughts on implementing Design Thinking

The persona core poster – a service design tool