Framing, framing, framing

One of Cube design labs’ slogans is ‘Co-create for change!’. We believe in co-creation with multiple stakeholders to explore and create alternative future possibilities. This requires constantly framing and re-framing challenges and solutions. In our previous blog post we mentioned that thinking and acting beyond current frames is not an easy task. In today’s post we are going to dive a little deeper into one of the methods we use at Cube to reframe challenges.

Framing is not complicated. We do it all the time. Whenever we make a decision, ask a question, or make or write something, we start from a certain frame. A frame is like a lens. It defines the perspective we take to assess a certain situation or issue. It also defines what we see and what we don’t see. However, we often do this subconsciously. Many times we do not think about it and thus are not aware of our underlying frame.

By making framing a conscious act within design thinking, we open up the way to explore much more alternatives very early in the process. At Cube we work together with designer and design thinking expert Guido Stompff, who has researched how innovation works in teams. He has developed a tool for framing that we use regularly in our design projects: the frameboard (more information in his book, in Dutch: Stompff, G. (2018). Design Thinking: Radicaal veranderen in kleine stappen. Amsterdam: Boom Uitgevers.)

Design thinking according to Stompff is ‘learning by creating’. We learn by doing experiments and reflecting on the results; designers create and test options to solve a problem. After all, as Henry Ford already understood a long time ago: how can we know what we want, until we see what might be possible?

To create options we start with framing the challenge or situation. A frame is a temporary(!) perspective or working hypothesis. What if we interpret the world around us in this…way? What if we look at the challenge from this angle? Frames are based on both knowledge and assumptions. A frame defines what we observe and how we interpret it.

Frameboards (by analogy with storyboards) provide a tool to communicate, visualize and thus reflect on different frames that include both a way of looking at the problem and a translation into solutions. So if we look at the problem from this angle, then we might find solutions in this direction. The frameboard is a template that can be used to make a poster that gives clients and users a general idea to reflect on.

Whenever we start a new project with (design) students, we ask them to explore at least 6 (better 10!) different frames in the early stages of the project. The posters that the students make and share have proven to be a very useful way to communicate and co-create with our museum visitors. It is an easy and understandable tool to guide both the framing itself and the way how to visualize and communicate for others. It also helps to structure the very messy design process, which is highly iterative and goes back and forth between problem and solution.

For SISCODE we used this framing method throughout the first three phases, from analysing the context, to reframing the problem and envision alternatives. Participants included students, designers, researchers, museum visitors, local policy makers and policy trainees. The resulting frameboards helped us to determine key issues and perspectives from different stakeholders, which all contributed to the concept of ‘Future Citizen Lab’. This idea provides the starting point for prototyping and experimenting in the coming months.


– written by Anja Köppchen – 

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