See Think Solve: A Simple Way to Tackle Tough Problems

Brainstorming and design thinking are great. But you, your team or your students need a more targeted way to solve complex problems. Social science holds the key.

We just released a new book.

Written by our friends and long-time collaborators Jeff Leitner and Andrew Benedict-Nelson, and designed by me and the Foossa team, See Think Solve is a simple guide to difficult problems.

Originally developed for a social work PhD program at the University of Southern California, it is written in an easy-to-read, jargon-free style for anyone interested in better understanding human behavior and how to design products, services, and programs that shift collective norms and culture. The ideas in the book have really shaped our consulting and teaching practice.

From the Introduction to See Think Solve:

The main reason problems are hard to solve is that they involve people. People are funny. They don’t always believe the things they say they believe or do the things they say they are going to do. They can act one way in one situation and act completely differently in another situation. No one has ever completely figured this out. We call this the ‘mystery of human behavior.’
The mystery of human behavior shapes almost every problem worth solving.
That’s the bad news. But there’s good news too. The mystery of human behavior also helps us see problems in new ways. By paying attention to people, we can discover new aspects of problems that help us solve them more effectively.
The nine steps in See Think Solve are designed to do just that. They will help you make sense of the mystery of human behavior that surrounds all tough problems.
– The first six steps are about seeing — each of them shows you a new thing to look for in human behavior.
– The next two steps are about thinking — each one is a tool you can use to better understand the human behaviors you have observed.
– The last step is about solving — it describes what you can accomplish with your newfound knowledge.”
See Think Solve Color Palette
See Think Solve Color Palette

About the Design

When planning the design for the book, we wanted to communicate both “simplicity” and “humanity.” The book is meant to be a simple guide to difficult social problems. To reflect this intention, we created an iconography that references both the periodic table of elements and the New York City Subway signage system by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda. The icons serve as a kind of way-finding for readers of the book and help them remember each of the steps in the See Think Solve process. To add a rich, humanistic feel to the visuals, we chose a color palette derived from traditional Japanese art and design. The book cover also features subtle curves on a dark grey background, which are meant to evoke a topographical map or electromagnetic waves.

Learn Design Thinking, Facilitation, and Futurecasting Online, On Your Own Time

I recently returned from the CreativeLive studios in Seattle, where we produced three online classes on Design Thinking for innovation, facilitationfor Design Thinking, and Futurecasting.

The three classes are rebroadcasting for FREE on CreativeLive this week, and are also currently available for purchase to view on-demand or download. Check out the course descriptions below or on my CreativeLive profile.

1. Design Thinking for Business Innovation

 How To Use Design Thinking To Transform Your Business

You know that one of the top trends in business innovation these days is design thinking. Only problem is, you’re not quite sure what it is. You’ve heard it described in a bunch of different ways, and you’re starting to wonder if no one else understands it either.

But the truth is, design thinking is one of the most effective new methods and mindsets for framing and solving problems. Top businesses, organizations, consultancies, schools and governments are adopting it as a way to innovate their processes and service offerings, using human empathy, design principles, action-oriented solutions, imagination, intuition and systematic reasoning.

Learn more about Design Thinking for Business Innovation>>

2. Become a Design Thinking Facilitator

 Take Design Thinking To The Next Level By Leading Your Team

So you’ve done your homework and you now understand what design thinking is and the power it has to revolutionize the way you do business. But the only way it can really have an impact is if key players throughout your organization embrace design thinking principles and are willing to put them into practice.

Basically, you need to become a design thinking evangelist, coach and trainer. This course will instruct you on how to explain the method and mindset for creative problem framing and solving and show others how to implement this innovative process.

Learn more about Become a Design Thinking Facilitator>>

3. Futurecasting for Product Innovation

Ensure Your Organization’s Relevance And Sustainability

We live in a rapidly changing world, and that includes the world of business. To be successful, companies have to develop products and services that not only address the needs of today, but anticipate the needs of tomorrow. That’s why futurecasting is so important.

While no one can see the future, we can model and rehearse potential futures, which is what futurecasting is all about. This essential tool for design innovation and business strategy helps us imagine what the future might be so we can create a long-term vision and make it a reality.

Using techniques adapted from the military, global corporations and top design schools, this course will help you map out the best- and worst-case scenarios of the future and prepare for them.

Learn more about Futurecasting for Product Innovation>>

Asking Out Loud @ Cannes Lions

Last week I was with colleagues from The New School Open Campus at Cannes Lions in France. We recorded a live podcast there called “Asking Out Loud.” I appeared in episode 3 to talk about design thinking and the creative process.

In Cannes Lions’ newest podcast series, academics, industry experts and visionary creative spirits unpack questions that make creative minds tick.

Collaboration brings visions to life and teaches us how to work with others to reach a common goal. This powerful process pollinates the world with more creativity while teaching skills of focus, cooperation, innovation, and compromise.

A dynamic podcast panel explore and discuss common challenges to productive teamwork and cover best practices for helping you and your teams to accomplish what may otherwise seem impossible.

This podcast is hosted by The New School’s Open Campus, and produced in partnership with Somethin’ Else.

Check out all five episodes of “Asking Out Loud” below:

I also shared some of my personal highlights from Cannes Lions on Medium.

Innovation Dynamics: Quick-Start Guide + Online Course

Foossa’s recent design collaboration with GreenHouse is now available on Amazon. Shout out to SVA Design for Social Innovation grads Martha Berry and Anna Luiza Braga for the additional design support.

How does NASA get its mojo back? What do big cities do with selfish billionaires? What’s wrong with art education? How are inner city youth the answer to urban renewal? What does the military have to do with the arts?

Innovation Dynamics is the first systematic approach to real social innovation and solving people-problems. Purchase includes a beautifully-designed, printed quick-start guide and 90-days of online access to The Short Course on Innovation Dynamics at The Academy for Social Change. The online course includes brief, animated instructional videos and an interactive workbook that can be printed for collaboration in teams. Buyers receive one unique access code to the online course with each printed guide.

The quick-start guide and multimedia introduction were developed by founders of GreenHouse, Insight Labs and UX for Good and innovators in residence at the University of Southern California. It emerged from years of work in the U.S., Europe and Africa with organizations like the U.S. State Department, NASA, Harvard Medical School, Starbucks, the Dalai Lama Center and the TED Conferences.

Users will learn how to:

  • Break problems down into their most essential parts
  • Reconcile various stories behind problems
  • Uncover hidden relationships among problems
  • See invisible rules that guide relationships and social systems
  • Leverage expectations to solve problems
  • Engineer deviance to disrupt the invisible rules

Innovation Dynamics was developed in consultation with social scientists and is a core element of the first-ever doctorate in social innovation.

Designing Public Services for a Higher Purpose

What if we could design public services that uplift and inspire the people who use them every day?

Today is International Service Design Day, the second annual celebration of the craft and profession of service design. To commemorate this day, as designers, we need to issue ourselves a challenge: to take on impossible tasks and transform them with our trade.

Like many New Yorkers, I often find pass through the city’s two main train terminals: Grand Central and Penn Station. While both buildings service the same function, they couldn’t be more different.

Historian David Cannadine has called Grand Central “one of the 20th Century’s most elaborate and majestic buildings,” and remarked that “it never fails to lift my spirits when I’m lucky enough to set foot there.”

Main hall Grand Central Terminal, New York by Aliaksei via Colourbox
Whenever I pass through, I look up at the celestial constellations painted on the ceiling, a reminder that beyond the towering buildings and human achievements of the Big Apple, there is a bigger, more awesome universe out there full of infinite possibilities.

In contrast, to say that the current Penn Station does not inspire would be an understatement. It is a drab grey subterranean purgatory that one endures en route to one’s final destination. It serves its purpose.

Penn Station by Lee-Sean Huang
Penn Station by Lee-Sean Huang

What if more public services could be more like Grand Central and less like Penn Station?

As designers, “public services” include infrastructure, both physical and intangible, for the common good of residents and visitors. The term also encompasses public-private partnerships such as LinkNYC, which provide benefit to the public but funded with corporate advertising and sponsorship money.

A service doesn’t have to be old or expensive like Grand Central in order to inspire and uplift. Take for example the “I Voted” stickers that we get on Election Day. These small symbols offer a little bit of decorative delight to complement our outfits that day, but also signal our pride in exercising our rights as citizens of a democratic society.

What if there were a way to signal that same kind of pride when we fulfill our civic obligations after jury duty or on tax day?

Or imagine if the process of getting your driver’s license at the DMV could fill you with the same exhilarating feeling of freedom as driving down an open highway on a summer’s day?

As a service designer, it is my job to work with governments, companies, and communities to ask questions like these and to design customer and citizen experiences that live up to those questions. While we must take into account financial, environmental, and bureaucratic constraints when designing public services, we also need to ask bigger and bolder questions.

Instead of simply asking, “how do we make this work?” We could ask, “how do we make this transformative or transcendent?” In addition to asking, “how do we make this service better?” We could also ask, “how can this make US better?”

In order to ask these bigger questions, funders and buyers of design projects also need to broaden the scope of their vision, instead of simply looking at the narrow requirements and specific needs a project serves.

In my own work with New York City’s Design for Financial Empowerment project, we have taken an approach that starts with a question: how might we increase client retention (and in turn, outcomes) for the City’s free financial counseling services? This service helps New Yorkers deal with everything from creating a budget and paying down debt to getting a back account or mortgage. In the end, we arrived at a design approach that would inspire community and engagement, including live events, interactive video, and a “loyalty punch card” to help clients track their progress. If we had started with the question, “how might we use a mobile app to improve financial counseling,” we would have defined our scope too narrowly.

For example, a designer looking to transform the airport experience wouldn’t just think about speed and efficiency. They might ask, how do we bring back the humanity and romance of air travel? How do we design airports to better remind us that travel is ultimately about fostering better human connections, whether with people across the country, or across the world?

If we are to make American infrastructure and public services transcendental, than we all, whether we be designers, public administrators, politicians, or concerned citizens, need to think bigger. We need to design for a higher purpose: civic interdependence and a more perfect Union.

Lee-Sean Huang is a designer, educator, and futurist based in New York City. He is a co-founder of Foossa, a service design and storytelling consultancy and a participant of the Allies Reaching for Community Health Equity (ARCHE) Public Voices Fellowship with The OpEd Project. He also teaches design and futures thinking at the Parsons School of Design, where he is also an affiliate of the DESIS Lab and the Design for Financial Empowerment project.

Originally published at on June 1, 2017.