How Might We…?

How Might We…?

Yona Belfort of Vital Innovations collaborated with Treehouse to create and facilitate this event. Photo: Aaron Flacke

On May 7, 40 people gathered at SPACE Gallery in Portland, Maine, for Treehouse Institute’s first official event – Design Thinking Is For Everyone. In two hours, participants got an overview of the design thinking process from Yona Belfort, and were tasked with using it to address this challenge question:

How might we improve city parking for drivers so it’s as awesome as the rest of the Portland, Maine, experience?

The parking journey broken into functional (gear icon) and emotional (heart) components. All Rights Reserved.

Yona shared our user-centered research on the issue of parking, including interviews with downtown parkers and shop owners. Most revealing was when he took us through the emotional journey of parking which went something like,

I’m anxious about where I’m going to park. Shoot, I don’t have any quarters. Am I parked right? How much time do I need? Shoot, did my meter run out? Dang it! I got a ticket for parking more than 18 inches away from the curb! I didn’t even know that was a thing!

The rare bright spot of joy in the parking journey is when a spot is found with time still in the meter. Why should joy be left to moments of serendipity only? Can’t more room be made for it in the parking journey?

Other considerations were discussed including the need for the city to make money, the fact there used to be a leniency policy, and the impact the parking experience has on downtown businesses.

With the challenge and context set, participants brainstormed in response to prompts like:How might we make parking spots look for cars (rather than the other way around)? How might we eliminate the need to interact with meters?

How might we turn parking attendants into allies instead of adversaries?

A team tackling “How might we eliminate interaction with parking meters?” identifies a theme amongst their brainstorm that they’d like to keep working on. Photo: Darren Setlow

After fast-paced idea generation fueled by Tandem Coffee Roasters and Aurora Provision, teams voted for their favorite idea. Finally, they began the prototyping process through storyboarding. This allowed everyone to “fail fast” as they put their ideas into context. The event closed with teams presenting their ideas and then enjoying food from Kamasouptra and Hard Cider from Urban Farm Fermentory.

In his opening remarks, founder Adam Burk said, “Treehouse Institute was created through researching models where people were getting together to make things more awesome and suck less.” Parking in Portland was a great challenge because the experience of it being painful is fairly ubiquitous. Everyone has a story about it.

It is also something that is taken for granted. Something that is outside of people’s ability to come up with a better solution. Design Thinking Is For Everyone was intended to share the process of design thinking and to awaken a sense of agency in participants. While in two hours we didn’t consider everything about a city’s parking infrastructure that would need to be; it was clear that a group of intelligent people given support and opportunity can come up with much better ideas than what currently exists. Furthermore, it can be done in an inspiring environment and in alignment with community values.

Possible solutions included an EZ-Pass inspired system, a downtown business sponsored party bus that leaves from an underutilized parking lot just off peninsula, and leveraging Portland’s reputation for friendliness and great local knowledge by creating a city-wide parking concierge service.

After running the workshop a series of articles on other citizens and cities tackling the parking problem in various productive and perhaps unproductive ways were brought to our attention:

Washington DC

Keene, NH

Boston, MA

Thanks to everyone who came out, SPACE Gallery for hosting, Mo Nunez for keeping it live, The VIA Agency, Blaze LLC, Tsunami Tattoo, and Kerem Durdag for sponsoring the event.

Since Design Thinking Is For Everyone, we are thinking about how to use the work that was started there, whether through sharing it with Portland, taking them further in future workshops, or pitching a project to the city. Let us know what you think we should do.


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