If Brain had Bowels

If the brain had bowels 
— Inner workings of a Design Team


Originally published on Medium on 07 may, 2017.

Multidisciplinary. A word I still fumble up while speaking, but definitely try to practice as an individual. As a fresh start-up, we are still evolving, adapting, facing new challenges head on and overcoming them through an intricate effort of day to day high-detail problem solving.

We’re fighting the good fight.

And, here are few things that help us on that front.

Paper First

If a five year old can optimize the medium for his understanding, so can we. We all have perfected the tool, we know exactly how it works. And after interacting with hundreds of humans from various disciplines, I’ve realized that putting your idea on paper is one of the most effective ways to share our ideas and processes. Starting from tailors to managers, explaining my idea to others has always been easier through paper and pen. Sketching has been one of the best ways of materializing my thoughts. Though my heart belongs to my laptop, I think my brain definitely lies in my notebook. My notebook is where you’ll see my train of thoughts in its most material form.
At Trip In, we subscribe to the same cellulose fetish — you know, the smell of fresh paper, ink and felt tip pens. We all reach for our notepads and gush through, while discussing designs and strategies. It’s an effective way of documenting each idea, like marking trees on every new exploration, just in case we lose our trail later. Though we do work on digital copies, keeping a tab of everyone’s view of the discussion helps us paint a comprehensive picture, and always gives us a chance to come back to the orderly chaos of our mind-maps.

Share process, sometimes overshare

It’s fun to sketch out your ideas, but they’re as good as turd if you don’t share them. This is the part where we compare notes. Starting from brainstorming, to notepads, to digital calendars, we share space with each other. We’ve built a system where we have Project Owners, yet everyone is involved in their own capacities. For collaboration and teamwork to do their magic, we keep each other updated about our progress. Starting from process screenshots to 5-minute scrums helps us understand our dependencies, and thoughts. Since everyone is working on the same product, a constant check on our work helps us build a more informative and communicative system.

Take a walk

Someone wise once told me that, in Mumbai, you need to be in love with what you’re working on. And I call that man wise because he set the context so well. Everyone in Mumbai is always rushing for work. And at work we sit on our chairs for long hours, with the same view and same questions, which in turn gives us the same answers. So, at this point, if you haven’t left your seat for a couple of hours, you need to leave right now. Just step out and literally take a walk. Get caffeinated. Read a book. Do whatever, but take a break. Bye.

Welcome back after that break.

We love our work at Trip In, but we love our breaks as much. We do several things around the office, starting from playing shatranj to stalking Elon Musk, just to make sure we don’t become one with the furniture. Mostly because you get to learn so much when you’re interacting with mankind, or kitchen utensils. Anything apart from a computer. For a lot of us the aim of life is to learn more, and we need to digest the fact that holistic learning never comes from sitting at a computer and working our fingers through a search engine. I can testify to that, because as a college student I lived with my laptop, which made me realize that I’m limiting my scope. But learning also comes through indulgence, new habits and perspectives. I realized I need to experience more than what is on my screen. Similarly, at Trip In, we encourage each other to be more than what we are. Taking a break and reflecting on our actions is one of the core habits the design team keeps coming back to. We don’t just take breaks ourselves, we advise each other to have some breathing space before we get lost in a loop of our questions. Sometimes we rudely interrupt them with a flying shoe. We’re trying to move towards an environment where we don’t just talk about the projects we’re working on, but also draw parallels from everything around us.

Tailor your questions

Allow me to confuse you a bit. Have you ever been to a mirror vendor? You see yourself in the mirror, and stare forever at your reflection. And go ahead with the most perfectly imperfect version of yourself. Deep down inside you know this is not how you look. But how can you be sure? The only way you see yourself is in the form of a reflection. And that reflection is different each time, with every surface. Because of lighting, environment, and mood.

Well, the nature of a question is just that. Seek a reflection for one, and you’ll be answered in a distorted manner. Every person is different, their mind, their reflection, and so is their answer. There are enough right questions, but only the answer can define how precise the question was. I believe it’s really important to study people, and tailor our questions on the go. I’ve always hated questionnaires myself. Most literally tell you what the answers are, and how can one articulate an individual opinion. As designers we really need to take it a step ahead.

We’ve been working on research at Trip In as well, and for each study we define the intent and not the questions. We’ve been trying to focus on every datapoint and its nature, post which we build on a conversation path. This is our crossword puzzle, where we know what we want from the user but he might not know what we’re fishing for. Now you’d wonder why. Because we want to learn, draw inferences, observe, and not spoon-feed our users the answers like most other questionnaires we came across.

Get basics right

Everything mentioned above is purely based on experiences. You and I might have different thoughts on them. But you still can’t change the world, by just thinking about it. The magical word here is ‘just’, there’s so much more. You need to know what you want to do, and how to get it done. We like to say that we do multidisciplinary design at Trip In, not because we want to project a swell image. Instead we’re obsessed with relativity, and work with strategy, research, analytics apart from the craft of print and digital design. The truck booking ecosystem is our primary product, but we’re enabling our team to start solving problems through design thinking. We don’t just sit and discuss projects with other teams, we work together with them on design and experience.

And while we have user-centric strategies and product, we make sure that all products talk to each other. We build products and experiences with our counterparts in Operations and IT teams. We take ‘growing together’ quite seriously, and having endless discussions is just a small part of it. These tools have been quite helpful in making us stronger with time. At a principle level we keep our focus on intutivity, hierarchy, and harmony. They help us look at all our products from the same point of view. Yes, they sound pretentious, like words that echo in a design classroom. On the other hand, each can do wonders when taken seriously. We’ve bridged communication gaps and made workflows smoother, with the help of these pretentious words. Our whole team focuses on intutivity and hierarchy, but to solve functional and systematic problems. The design team adds another level of screening, where it brings out the significance of form, colour, and typography. We use them as building blocks for everything that we create.

In a more geometric way, we’re building fractals. We’re looking at elements that define all aspects of our identity, and keep them fluid enough to take the shape of any container.

In a poetic way, be water my friend.