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.

The Big Data Society


ICYMI: Here is the video of my conversation at the Center for Global Policy Solutions Future of Wealth conference last week in DC. I had a conversation with Mary Madden from Data & Society Research Institute and Taylor Moore from the Center for Democracy & Technology about the opportunities and challenges of Big Data and algorithms. This is meant for a general audience, so no technical knowledge required. Our session starts at the 1 hour 53 minute mark.

StoryForward NYC: Storytelling for Social Good

Video of Foossa co-founder David Colby Reed and myself at the StoryForward NYC Storytelling for Social Good panel in November with Ram Devineni, Andrea Phillips, and Dan Bigman.

VIDEO: Design Challenges at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial

How do we design transformative museum experiences that bridge the gap between empathy and action?

I explore this question in my Rising Minds talk at Soho House NY and share about Foossa’s design collaboration with UX for Good and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Rising Minds presents Lee-Sean Huang, Co-founder and Creative Director of Foossa from risingminds on Vimeo.

See also:

6 Essential Skills for Design & Social Innovation

Students and job seekers frequently ask me about the skills that they need to succeed at Foossa, the community-centered design and strategy consultancy that I cofounded, or in a related career path. I came up with this list as a starting point for anyone interested in using design as a tool for social innovation.

1. Write Well

Being a strong writer goes a long way. Clear writing signals that you can think clearly and communicate effectively.

Craft compelling stories. Appeal to the heart and to the head. Be persuasive. Be concise. Be memorable. 

2. Prototype 

Prototyping could mean making something out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners to coding the minimum viable version of an app. You don’t necessary need high tech prototyping skills, but you do have a bias toward action.

You learn by doing. You learn by making. You prototype to learn. You can think visually and sketch out maps, diagrams, and charts to help inform your thinking. Your sketches could be doodles on Post-Its rather than museum-worthy masterpieces, although strong drawing skills are certainly a plus.

3. Code Switch

You speak the language of business. You speak the language of your clients and of your customers. You speak the language of social innovation. You understand how to define a theory of change.

You know how to reinterpret a creative brief to get down to the essence of what the needs really are.

You can get by in the language of designers and technologists enough to be able to collaborate with them effectively and to manage multi-disciplinary teams. You understand the basics of visual language, from hierarchy to typography. Bonus points if you can code in a programming language.

4. Make Stuff Happen

You know how to manage projects from inspiration to implementation. You break down difficult and complex tasks into manageable steps. You find the courage to put stuff out in the world to see what happens. You iterate until you get it right. Then you iterate some more.

You make community happen. Bring people together and get them involved in collaboration and co-creation. This could mean hosting an event, facilitating  a meeting/workshop, or community-managing an online discussion forum. 

5. Give and Receive Feedback

You know how to conduct a design critique. Help your teammates improve by giving critical insights and new perspectives into their work. You can give and get feedback without making it personal.

You make it about the creative brief and shared goals rather than just your personal opinions and preferences.

You learn how to filter the feedback that you get into “advice to implement” and “advice to take with a grain of salt.”

6. Document, Document, Document

My professors really drove this point home in my masters program. Make sure you document your work, whether it is through blogging, journaling, photos, videos, or a combination of the above. You will need it one day in the future, whether it is for a portfolio or for another project. Pictures, or it didn’t really happen.

This list is a work in progress. What skills would you add? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you are considering grad school to help you acquire some of theses skills, check out the MFA Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I teach there.