M1ND Strategic Design Academy: A Conversation with Iconstorm
With M1ND we at Iconstorm have founded the first academy for strategic design. In just under a year, we have developed a concept for training programs that focus on practice and trying things instead of teaching dry theory. Our goal is to make creative methods and processes available to people in a wide variety of fields, so that they can apply them directly in their work.
Now that the first companies are taking advantage of M1ND trainings, I sat down with our CEO Felix and my colleague Yara, who is now in charge of the project, to talk about its background. I myself have also been involved in the development of competence models and training concepts over a longer period of time. I believe the concept is interesting for everyone who is dealing with innovation today, so I hope you enjoy reading this and getting to know the protagonists.
A Conversation with Iconstorm
M1ND Strategic Design Academy
Felix, how did the idea for a Strategic Design academy come about?
Felix: Working creatively in a group is a slightly different idea of design. Normally, the focus is on the designer as a single person who makes a name for himself with his or her design. But today, you don’t need just one idea and one solution, you need constant creativity. A stream of ideas is necessary because the world has become more complex. So in this never-ending system of challenges, a new way of thinking is needed that only works with the networking of many different people. And design offers some really good methods for solving problems together.
The trick, however, is to understand how design works in groups – and for that you need a clear process. There is a framework out there, and in many companies there is a need to create conditions that enable me to develop solutions at any time. At a Strategic Design academy, the idea is to learn, to practice, how to do just that. This is an idea that has been on my mind for a long time, and I’m glad that we’ve finally been able to make it a reality.
So M1ND is aimed primarily at companies?
Yara: Well, it is intended for everyone who sees value in it. Of course, that includes organizations, too. But you can also come to us as a team or as an individual. If you are interested, we will talk about where you see a need, where you are slowed down in your work, or where you could start to make teams work better together. We’ll figure out together what you need and what’s important to you, and develop a customized program for each new training.
As for companies: it’s about empowering them to be able to use design. We provide a framework and guidance for that, based on where the company is at the moment. In terms of what we call design maturity, organizations are at different levels . We can and must address all levels, because if you want to use design at a strategic level, you have to get there first. To help you get there, we can also guide you over a longer period of time, which makes the whole thing a little nicer. Eventually we’ll see when the time comes to let go and send you on your own journey.
Felix: What’s special about M1ND is that we design our courses with our customers and don’t set a program in advance. We are open to the demand of the companies and help as much as we can to get people involved. M1ND is intended to be a framework that enables people to develop something together. This also comes very strongly from our own work: At Iconstorm, we always work with processes that are as transparent as possible, so that our clients can understand what we are doing. The projects always as strong as the team is since the products are connected to the people. Therefore it is important to understand them, their strengths, weaknesses, their whole personality.
The whole idea, also for the structure and especially the flow of the trainings, is rooted quite strongly in our practice as an agency.
Felix: Exactly. So far, I’ve always been free to try things out, discard them, and deal with many things seeing their whole context. Now I would like to give this opportunity to others as well. The idea for the academy is a combination of the needs of our clients and our idea for transformative projects. Iconstorm accompanies its clients very closely, the entire design process is extremely transparent and participative. Therefore, our clients design with us – and in the end both are very successful. The idea of the transformative project is to add learning and reflection elements to the collaboration. This means that our clients learn design methodology and principles in the project and are aware of them. So they are actively practicing the things that are now content of our academy.
Yara: As Felix already said it: trial and error and the freedom to let things go wrong once in a while are what’s needed today. We’re at a point in our world where we’ve created overly professionalized structures for ourselves over decades. In these structures, it is very difficult for us to have new ideas and, above all, to act on them. For that, you need openness and a protected space. Felix at Iconstorm offers us this space, for example; you can be brave, take risks, dare to do something. There are many ways in which one can come together in a meaningful manner and develop new ideas. Strategic design, to me, has a sensitive quality aimed to get every person involved in something like this. So why not show that to others?
Could you go into more detail about the training sessions? How does something like that work? I don’t suppose you sit in a seminar room looking at a lecturer who explains something at you for a whole day or two.
Yara: First of all, of course there is also theory. You can’t do without it after all. But the trainings are very interactive and we always have a story to tell to bring theory and practice together. There are intense parts of project work, there are discussions. We also take great care that the group has enough time to get to know each other so that they can work well together. At the beginning, many people still lack a little confidence when it comes to the topics, so we need clear structures first, whereas at the end we need more open spaces. Towards the end, the whole thing evolves into a lab atmosphere. We are generally hands-on and want to design properly in the trainings. I myself am someone who jumps into things and tries them out. That’s why I’m not interested in simply presenting knowledge and hoping that it will be absorbed. I want people to try things out directly and understand the context: How do we deal with a problem in a group, how do I do it as an individual? The only way to do that is by actively working with things.
Felix: By the way, this also comes from our practice: We know that creative abilities can be awakened in everyone. This requires conditions in which people can discover, try out, hone and improve their talents. This is what the academy offers – it is a laboratory for people with the desire to create. We provide a situation in which good design can take place and thus solve a variety of problems. This is how you build up your design competence, because it includes not only knowledge of methods, but also their application and the mindset that goes with it. We no longer see design as a discipline, but as a platform.
Speaking of platforms, let’s not forget that we also invite other people to help shape our programs as coaches or facilitators, correct?
Yara: Yes, that’s right. We want to create a platform where companies and facilitators meet. At the moment, we are in the process of expanding our network while the whole thing gets off the ground. The versatile formats and courses, in fact, lend themselves to others getting involved very nicely. Looking at content, our current Citizen Design training, for example, is heavily focused on UX, but we could also gear it towards a focus on business design or other areas. So, if you, dear reader, would like to contribute to such a design training, please get in touch.
Felix, the idea of Citizen Design that you are currently working on actually fits in well with the M1ND concept. I’ve also seen that you’ve even developed a training course for it. Could you briefly explain what this is all about?
Felix: I also think that fits very well. Citizen Designers are analogous to the idea of Citizen Developers. The idea with the latter is that people can develop applications with no-code tools without any programming knowledge. Conversely, a Citizen Designer does not have design training in the classic sense, but she has the tools to enter the design process anyway. She recognizes problems, knows methods with which they can be worked on, and creates frameworks to solve them. It used to take an agency to do something like this, but in the future, hopefully, people in companies will be able to tackle challenges themselves. If more people develop an understanding of how to do this, then it will be much more effective to work with partners like us, too.
And you can do that in the training sessions, of course. So, to call it a day, how can someone get in touch if they want to participate in a training? And are there any “off the shelf” offers for orientation on what to expect?
Yara: On the website you can definitely find sample programs that we can offer exactly as shown there. But, essentially, we can modify all trainings and offer a range of formats, from Expat Talks that last between one and three hours to Deep Dives that can take place over several months. As I said, it’s all very customizable; what expertise to impart, what problems we deal with in the training. The point is to be able to connect to all clients, fields and contexts. That’s why I would say that you should either have a look around the website or you can contact me directly. And of course you can visit M1ND on LinkedIn and Instagram soon, too.
Awesome! Thank you both for the conversation.
So much for our conversation on the kickoff of M1ND, the first(?) Strategic Design academy in Germany. In case you are interested in those “off-the-shelf” trainings we mentioned, I’ve listed them here: