An Industrial Ph.D. project involving the Danish savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse and Kolding School of Design aims to design tools that draw on the creativity in our thinking and reflections. Specifically, Ph.D. scholar Kirsten Bonde Sørensen seeks to develop a new service for current and prospective customers to help them uncover their unrecognised knowledge and emotions and make them more aware of their own needs and values. The project also aims to illustrate a new type of consumer communication that is not about persuasion but rather about making consumers aware of their own values and dreams.
By Hans Emborg Bünemann
In her Industrial Ph.d. project at the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse, Kirsten Bonde Sørensen intends to develop a new and different service that reflects the bank’s world view and values. The service will also constitute a new form of consumer communication.
“The point is not to persuade the customers to purchase certain products but rather to develop a tool, based on creativity, for making customers more aware of their own values and needs,” says Kirsten Bonde Sørensen.
|Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s Industrial Ph.D. project lies within the research field strategic design, which explores how design, particularly design thinking, can be applied in business development processes. Strategic design involves a holistic approach that incorporates business aspects as well as softer, value-oriented aspects in and around the company. Only at a relatively late stage in the process is the problem identified, and the concept and possible solutions are defined. Illustration: Kirsten Bonde Sørensen|
In her project, Kirsten Bonde Sørensen studies how workshops can be used to pave the way for non-designers to use creativity as a reflective instrument in their everyday work. She says,
“Through my creative workshops with the bank’s current and prospective customers I have discovered that many people seem to have values and perceptions of economic issues that have been handed down to them from their parents or grandparents. They might be profoundly influenced by sayings such as ‘easy come, easy go’ or ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’, and many live by – or in opposition to – these values. I have met high-income career women who hide their shoes in the closet because they feel guilty about spending money, even though they can easily afford it. And men who complain about the wife spending money on a new summer dress but see nothing wrong with buying a new hunting rifle for themselves.”
Kirsten Bonde Sørensen says that these underlying perceptions of money and economic issues can be limiting and even burdensome for people and may prevent them from living out their dreams. Therefore, it is important to understand and be aware of one’s dreams and values, also with regard to money and economic issues.
In the creative workshops Kirsten Bonde Sørensen uses so-called generative tools, methods known from user studies where they are used as conceptual tools. The purpose of the generative tools is to help people reflect on their own experiences, dreams and values through creative and visual means. One such tool might be a box with creative assignments and questions concerning economic issues, which the participants have to address using scissors, paper, glue, crayons, pictures, letters, headlines, illustrations etc. Kirsten Bonde Sørensen explains that the point of the method is that the generative tools appeal to the emotional side of our personal experiences, knowledge and values. They also appeal to our creativity and deeper layers of consciousness.
“I stage experiments for reflective as well as unreflective users,” says Kirsten Bonde Sørensen. “The participants create a variety of visual expressions, for example collages. When I interview them before and after these creative sessions, in my experience the participants have often developed a higher degree of awareness of their own values and perceptions of money and economic issues.”
Kirsten Bonde Sørensen uses the term fixation from cognitive psychology to explain where the challenge lies. Traditional user involvement rarely produces novel ideas because we are fixated or set in our views and perceptions.
“Our ability to think outside the box and imagine novel possibilities is limited by our prior knowledge. In interviews with the bank’s current and prospective customers, when I ask them how they imagine a future bank, they’ll say things like ‘open till 10 p.m.’ or ‘improved online access from home’ – that is, more of what they already know rather than actual innovations,” says Kirsten Bonde Sørensen. “The generative tools speak to a consciousness that exists on a deeper level than the language centre and thus offer a means of reaching beneath our explicit knowledge and automated responses.”
The study expands the generative tools as a means of using human creativity and visual expressions to enhance our capacity for reflection. Kirsten Bonde Sørensen is currently exploring how she might refine these tools to develop new and different bank services. The intention is not – as in traditional user studies – to use input from the creative sessions as part of an innovation process. Rather, the method in itself might become a new service for the users.
“If I’m able to design tools that actually help people – even people who claim that they’re not creative – to engage in a dialogue with themselves about important issues in their life, such as their personal values, then I have reached my goal,” she says.
|Kirsten Bonde Sørensen wants to use creativity and reflection to bring the principle of self-management to the customers of the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse.|
Foto: Lars Bech
Middelfart Sparekasse embraced the idea of working with human values as early as 1991. Since then, the bank has undergone a process revolving around value-based management, ethical accounting and self-management. The bank has hosted two previous Industrial Ph.D. projects, which made important contributions to a process that in 2007 made the international consultancy and analysis firm Great Place to Work select the bank as Europe’s best financial workplace. HR Director Herbert Sørensen is responsible for working with staff values and acts as the company supervisor for Kirsten Bonde Sørensen. He says,
“The Industrial Ph.D. scholars are brilliant minds with tremendous dedication and a lot to offer. They offer us invaluable access to the university environments, and in a very concrete sense they are key to the bank’s organisational development.”
Herbert Sørensen explains that Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s project will be used to take the organisational development with its principle of self-management all the way to the bank’s customers. The generative tools that she is currently developing and testing should enable the customers to take charge and become aware of their needs, he says.
“People are only free to act freely once they have a good understanding of their own situation and dreams. Kirsten’s project lets us act as a coach for the customer and use dialogue to help them use reflection to uncover their own values and possibilities.”
Cover photo: Workshop with generative tools. In addition to questions about the given topic, the tools available to the participants in the generative workshops may include a selection of materials for creative expression.
Illustration: Kirsten Bonde Sørensen