SORAMIST C.

The Sync

Master Thesis - Design & Social Innovation

Many people dream of making a change to our society. But most of the time, they are struggling to turn their dream into reality. Passion alone won't bring change. There are many difficulties that people have to face when it comes to creating innovation, particularly, social innovation.

This project I collaborate with ChangeFusion, a non-profit organisation based in Bangkok, and our goal is to create a community for social innovation in Thailand. My personal focus is on integrating design (as a process) into the core culture of this community. I want people to understand better the importance of design, not just as a tool to make thing more beautiful, but a way to approach problems. And I believe it will give them a better chance to succeed in whatever they do.

Approach

Initially, I planned to work in a typical workflow of a design project. Starting from research, ideate, conceptualise, design and evaluate and then start implementing. But once I discussed with my collaborator I found that this is actually an on-going project and they planned to launch this in the middle of May (even before the the final examination). So most of the things such as core concept, identity, website, space, and some materials have to be done by then. So I had to change my approach a quite a lot from the beginning.

My workflow has to be quite flexible, so I split the project into multiple iterations regarding to the their timeline. Each has a cycle of research, ideation, design and implement and focuses on the deliverable. This is quite different from the typical (UID) design process, but more like lean startup, which focusses on validating ideas, and gaining user feedback through minimum viable products

Insights

In this project I divided my research into two parts: 'Looking Out' and 'Looking In'. “Looking Out” focuses on exploring what’s out there, scrutinising the world of design and social innovation to understand more about them and see how they can be overlapped. While “Looking In” focuses more on understanding the context of Thailand, studying how is creative and entrepreneurial scene in the country. Are there any movements happening, and what is the trend? As well as looking at the culture and the perception of Thai people about design and social innovation.

design culture

One of the most crucial components in design is design process. It is a sequence of activities that we perform to achieve our design tasks. Different people has different process and it’s also depended on the task itself and it’s normally not so linear as you have to reiterate many times before getting to the final result.

There is one common pattern that explain most of the design processes. It has three steps: open, explore and close. ‘Open’ is about setting a goal. You start by asking a question, to scope what you are trying to achieve, then you ‘explore’ all the possibilities in the focussed area. On the way you can experiment new ideas and examine to validate them. ‘Close’ is to make sense of what you have found and to consolidate them to the final conclusion.

context

During the project, I went back to Thailand to do my research. My aim of this was to understand the perception of Thai people about design and social innovation. I would like to know how does design mean to them, how do they approach it and if they use it to create social innovation.

While I was there I interviewed a number of people from various backgrounds such as designer, entrepreneur, developer and educator. This is because the sync will be a place that support everyone in the society, doesn’t matter who they are and what they do, so I think it will be valuable to hear a broad range of perspective. I’ve found that many people in Thailand are not aware about social innovation yet. When I ask them about social innovation, they would think of something related to non-profit organisation, volunteering, or even charity work.

I've also found that most of people don’t really see the value of design, particularly in the business setting. They tend to think that design is all about making things more beautiful. People see design as the sugar coating rather than the core of product development. In Thailand, design is not appreciated as the way it’s supposed to be.

the journey

To summarise the research findings, I made a user journey diagram of the typical social enterprise startup. It might not represent the actual process, because most of the time they go through different journey and usually much more chaotic. But here I'm trying to describe a simple pattern that people normally go through, step by step from the beginning until they become sustainable.

With this diagram, I’m trying to explain what people normally do in each step. Identifying the problems they came across, then asking questions about how might we improve the experience, which the questions will be use in the ideation process. See details

Concept

The concept has four parts including Core value, Service Blueprint, Communication, and Growth Strategy. Core value is about our mission, who we are, and what we believe in. Service blueprint is the framework of the products and services we will provide to our users. Communication is more about the way we represent ourselves, the tone of voice we use to communicate to our users, as well as the visual design language. Last but not least, growth strategy is the action plan of how we will implement the concept and design.

core value

The sync is a social enterprise with a mission to build a creative community that fosters social innovation in Thailand. There are three essential tasks that we want to do for the society including creating culture, building community, and Repositioning social innovation.

service blueprint

While I was developing the concept, I struggled to build a service blueprint as I have found that creating social innovation is neither a linear nor logical process. Firstly, I tried to put all the service features into a conventional user journey framework (linear) but it didn’t seem to fit because the possibility of journeys is more than one. There are also several types of users which could enter the service through different channels and they will go through their own unique journey with a unique experience.

I tried look at this project at a systemic level, then I found that what I was trying to create is actually an ecosystem that contains several services with multiple touch points, and all of them are interconnected in some ways. Users do not necessarily need to go through every service features but instead they can just pick whatever they need in the system. I tried to created a framework that could explain this system and I’ve came up with this one.

This framework consists of two axises. The horizontal represents service strategy (encourage, equip and empower) and the vertical is for the main touchpoints (online platform, events & activities, and physical space). All the service features can be placed somewhere in this diagram.

This framework has helped me a lot when it comes to describing user journeys as it provides an overview of the whole service. It also allows me to freely create connections between different service features as well as to see the relationship between different users.

Visual & Branding

Strangely, I have done all the visual design works during the first two weeks of the project. This is because we had to launch the project to public at the beginning of March, so we needed the corporate identity to create the promotional materials as well as a beta version website.

I did a research on style and the visual perception of Thai people. It seem that we do not use abstract representation that much, neither metaphoric images. My initial idea behind the logo was quite simple as I see the sync as a melting pot of people and I was also inspired by the witch pot. Here are some directions I presented to the team.

growth strategy

As this project is actually a startup business which will be continually growing up even after my degree project end. So my plan is to help them set up implementing the initial phase of the development plan.

Here is my personal vision of how The Sync could be growing in the next couple of years.

user story

To explain the experience of how a user go through the service, I made a documentary video to tell story of a user journey.

Implementation

Together with ChangeFusion, we've created The Sync, a social enterprise that aims to build a community that foster a culture of collaborative innovation, as well as to raise awareness about social innovation in Thailand. We help connecting people who share the same dream through three main service touchpoints: an online platform, events, and a physical co-working space.

online platform

The online platform is a main gateway for people in get into the service. It provides a channel for people to share and discuss their ideas, to find inspiration, as well as to connect with each other.

events & activities

Events at The sync will take user engagement to the next level. We catalyse innovation by facilitating face-to-face events as well as trying to put design thinking to work.

During my research I’ve found that there're a few online communities that try to foster collaboration among people. There has been a lot of great ideas emerged, though most of them have never been executed. So we will encourage people to get those ideas across the border and make them happen for real with these hands-on activities.

coworking space

The co-working space focuses on supporting social enterprises in many aspects. The sync will be providing not only an affordable space, but we will also try to create a perfect condition for new-born social ventures to hatch and grow their innovation.