Authentic Design Founder on Swarm Design (Part 3)

We’ve seen that creativity can come from anywhere, but how do we harness all this creative capital? One of the keys is to provide design thinking scaffolding. By developing a game board where people can map their creativity, the swarm design process becomes more concrete.

Along the way, I discovered my game board didn’t fit every scenario. Some problems require a lot of iteration upfront, others much later. Some situations remain complex all the time. So I came up with a lego type kit that could be adapted to each problem. Different phases of the process could then be moved and modified to fit any situation.

This makes the process more agile and, if time was short, only the most vital components could be used. It’s incredibly rapid, and the entire design thinking process takes less than a week.

Square One, Move Ahead

The first step is gaining empathy. When you’re human-centric, you must start here. Timed activities follow with specific entries and exits.

Leaders in this process aren’t passive; they’re full skin into the game as leaders and co-designers. The activities often revolve around mindsets – such as Learn, Do and Share. The process has a highly visual aspect. I’ve found it works wonderfully across cultures and languages.

We’ve also rolled out an app called the Design Swarms Playbook that helps coach people in the process of design thinking. It’s all divided up into short learning segments that last only a few minutes each.

Tackling Tough Problems

There’s a place in Ohio where there is one opioid death every 11 minutes. They wanted to figure out how to prevent addiction. ER physicians, families, and first-hand knowledge from people who experienced addiction all participated.

They divided up into teams, and they began to share empathy. Next, they defined a persona (or “day in the life”) and went through a user journey. From there they extracted key challenges and opportunities and uncovered important needs. Finally, this was all flipped into human-centered goals. This represents full-blown design thinking performed by people with no design experience.

The end result was Prime Rx. It means Amazon only delivers a small number of pills at a time as the excess supply was a key factor causing addiction.

Process Examples

Swarm design begins with coming up with disruptive ideas. Look at examples like generating electricity in Africa from soccer balls. Also, implement specific mindsets like:

  • Quantity
  • Fast pace
  • Defer judgment
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others


Next, consider biomimicry to solve problems, such as a maple seed pod inspiring helicopter blade development. Then look for ways to use biomimicry for design thinking applied to your problem.

Finally, choose the most clever, inspiring, surprising and intriguing ideas. From there, develop a visual storyboard. Ideas are then harvested and evaluated.


Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

About the speaker
Surya Vanka Authentic Design, Founder Member

Surya Vanka is the Founder of Authentic Design - a firm that utilizes the “design swarms” theory to create unique product solutions for customers. Prior to starting Authentic Design, Surya worked for more than 15 years at Microsoft in many UX leadership roles - introducing the design thinking process to the company and pioneering the company’s first-ever Hackathon event. Prior to joining Microsoft, Surya was a design professor at the University of Illinois. Surya holds a degree from The Ohio State University and currently lives in Seattle.