Design Blitz Workshop at University of Kansas Teaches Undergrads How to “Think Wrong”

Down in Kansas, undergraduate designers are learning how to “think wrong” in order to land on solutions that use design thinking to advance the greater good. Graphic and industrial design students from the University of Kansas and the Kansas City Art Institute recently joined together to test out this methodology, participating in a two day “think wrong” blitz session aimed at addressing America’s shoe overconsumption.

The blitz was intentionally organized as a chaotic and energizing workshop that spurred rapid prototyping, researching, exploring and designing to produce out-of-the-box solutions. It was led by John Bielenberg, Founder of Future Partners and the “think wrong” strategy. VSA Partner and KU alum Jamie Koval and Read Worth of the Oregon Design Lab also helped to lead and facilitate the weekend. In addition to guiding the blitz, all three design experts gave formal presentations to the students to help provide context and an outsider perspective.

The blitz began by explaining that the average American owns 19 pairs of shoes. The student teams—which, in the spirit of thinking wrong, went by names like “Komodo Dragon” and “Rabid Squirrel”—were then asked to design a recommended course of action to help cut down this consumption. The only criteria: “Make it legendary.”

With the clock ticking, the teams dove head-first into a research and exploration frenzy, intensively designing and testing ideas in order to break the mold of traditional research and ideation. Together, they brainstormed concept ideas via exercises, such as word mappings, that were specifically designed to make them abandon all preconceived “right” solutions. They also collected real-world insights from their teammates and went out into the community to learn more about awareness and perceptions surrounding excessive shoe ownership. Then, they got to work rapidly prototyping, testing out ideas by taking calculated risks—known as “small bets” in the think wrong system—in order to produce breakthrough solutions. For some teams, this meant encouraging reduced purchasing, creating a more sustainable shoe, or simply raising awareness in the most innovative way possible.

At the end of the weekend, each team presented its concept in an energetic, fun review session. Many ideas stood out, especially one titled “Sh*t,” an attention-grabbing shoe brand with products made solely from post consumer waste. Strong creative applications and taglines such as “Let’s talk sh*t” and “Try stepping in sh*t” melded sustainable action with humor to activate the idea.

All of the solutions that came out of the weekend received wacky prizes to commemorate their ingenuity and the blitz’s offbeat ethos; gifts included canned ham and industrial strength bug spray. But on a serious note, the ideas represented concepts that wouldn’t necessarily have emerged in a more controlled, process-oriented environment. All it took was 30 hours, letting go and “thinking wrong” to help the next design generation further push the threshold of their creativity.