How To Build A Paper Airplane Written Instructions

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“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobscore to business success isn’t news anymore, the way it was when Steve Jobs said the above, back in 2003. When we want better experiences, we use Experience Design. Later, it became a key part of my UX bootcamp at General Assembly. This is a major mistake within teams and in our everyday lives. Who did YOU initially imagine you were designing these directions for?

People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good! Then, it became a tool I brought to any group ( not just UX) trying to rethink how they collaborate and communicate. Get a group of people together and pair everyone up (threes are fine, too)2. Swap instructions with another team and try them out. Each person has a unique experience and perspective that could greatly improve a project or design. I bet you pictured someone like yourself receiving the instructions.

And ask each teammate to be aware of how they might be affecting the conversation. Are you the person who speaks first and doesn’t give time to others’ ideas? Or are you the person pushing and challenging the group to make the best airplane there is? A commonly made assumption is that directions can only look like steps written down on a piece of paper.

I would say that 80% of the people who do this exercise never fly the plane before diagramming it. This is not what the exercise says.50% of teams that participate in the exercise will create one-dimensional directions (only words.) This can be hard to follow if you’re new to origami or the particular paper airplane. (Imagine assembling an IKEA table without those pictures!

I’ve worked with teams and organizations on how to work together, in a more mindful and intentional way, all over the world, using the tools of Design Thinking… I quickly saw why he was such an ace teacher: Clear language. He wouldn’t say “fold your paper in half”…He would say, “Fold the paper in half, long side to long side, making a tall rectangle. And sussing all those questions out all at once gets very confusing.

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Run your finger over the folded edge to make a sharp, crisp crease.” The extra words weren’t extra. With Design expanded to effect change in so many contexts, we need a better, shared language of what it means to design, since, in this definition, everyone designs.Just because a team uses the same acronyms doesn’t mean they get each other! Design just means making things better, on purpose. The whole exercise with discussions can take less than an hour, depending on the size of your group. The secret goal of the exercise is to get participants to examine the way they communicate and collaborate with their teammates and the way they communicate with people outside their teams. You have to decide who you are designing for because this information goes into every piece of the process.If you have an hour, get some paper and gather your team and do the origami experiment below. You can download the activity guide here and just skip the rest of the article! So when we want a better organization, we do Org Design. (I’ve done this with teams of 5 to groups of 150)It’s evolved over 4 years of prototyping, first, just teaching UX teams origami diagramming as a reflection tool to talk about wireframing and visual communication. At the end of the ten minutes, almost every team will come up with a very different set of instructions for their paper airplane. As I facilitate this exercise I try to get teams to see a six key ideas about when someone speaks up first and says something like, “I know a good paper airplane,” and so the rest of the group goes along without questioning the first speaker. We don’t take time to ask this totally critical question…and so spend our time designing the wrong thing, or, not the best thing. You would design two completely different sets of directions for a simple plane for kids and an advanced, top-speed paper airplane.Steps eight and nine created two "flaps" which expose the tip of the point (which was created in steps three and four) through the notches created in step six.Fold the exposed tip of the point up so that it covers the edges of the two flaps.Self-reflection, evaluation, and breaking the “rules” lead to the most beautifully designed parts of life.I’m still surprised at how many teams create directions for a paper airplane without testing if the plane even flies, or how well. Why spend ten minutes creating detailed instructions for a paper airplane that doesn’t fly? Unfortunately, this mindset is adopted in more than just paper airplane origami. At the very least, they should stand the test of a simple question: Why?They made his communication style foolproof and flawless. If we talk without clarity, we’re understood without clarity. Let me explain…actually, grab a piece of paper and a few people and I’ll show you. This is an exercise I facilitate with teams who want to work in the same direction at the same time, instead of pulling in different directions. And secondly, how “directions” are supposed to look.Errors and misunderstandings pile up and frustration rises. I even design conversations with…you guessed it: Conversation Design. If your team wants more positive collaboration, try this out. One of the most interesting things that happens in these ten minutes are the assumptions made about the exercise. The most important piece of information to decide in the beginning of any project is the audience.When I ask them why they didn’t try out their design first, they complain about the time. This method is still used in some cases but problematic when words are so often misconstrued (Like UX requirements docs! )Some teams use symbols and diagrams to go along with the written directions, making the communication two-dimensional and removing potential ambiguity with the words.And yet…there will always be one or two groups who somehow managed to *each* fold a plane they know, try them both out, and then make diagrams for the best one. Occasionally teams will take another approach by creating a series of three-dimensional planes. The assumption that directions must be one dimensional and that thinking outside the box would be breaking the rules is devastating to the world of design.


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