Twisted studio is innovative in their work approach: they use design thinking and human-centered design for social innovation, the latter being mainly used in the business domain. The two-women company provides social innovation solutions to organisations and governments to solve a particular issue or launch a project. Often, their innovative solutions build upon existing solutions which are then revised, adapted and brought further with the different actors and depending on the tackled subject.
They differentiate themselves from other design services through their coaching and training approach. Most of the companies apply design thinking to find solutions among experts, then, test the solutions on the target group. Whereas, Twisted Studio involves the target group from the beginning until implementation of the solutions. Moreover, in contrary to the usual single testing, Twisted Studio run iterative prototyping and testing before selecting the perfect design for implementation.
Their approach is innovative as the target group has the opportunity to take responsibility for the co-creation. It is not just a participatory way of working, it is innovative due to the use of design thinking with rapid prototyping and a trial-and-error mind-set.
University of Groningen
Steps they take:
STEP 1. Get involved
Human-centered design starts from the experience and needs of the target group. Elizabeth and Marlies immerse themselves in the context of the users through various research methods such as interviews, observations, diaries or shadowing, to meticulously investigate the needs and wishes of users and service providers.
STEP 2. Define the challenges
To further their observations or the research, they look for issues that prevent users from using the service or for points on which a new or improved service can be used. These then come in a list of challenges formulated as how can we questions; the design questions showing the possible growth and changes.
STEP 3. Think of ideas
They use creative methods, such as co-creation and code sign workshops, to devise possible solutions to the challenges, in a participatory way. The target group and other important parties involved receive creative assignments to foster a shared vision, motivation and synergy. With their own expertise; these latter will inspire them to build on ideas which will be presented on a visual report.
STEP 4. Make prototypes
Through further creative assignments, participants are expected to make the ideas tangible and concrete with photographs, drawings or models in small test setups called 'prototypes'. These are test-ready examples of ideas, which can be transferred to the users or can be tested on a small scale. This allows them to receive valuable feedback at an early stage of development.
STEP 5. Test and improve
They perform iterative tests to improve ideas and prototypes. From these tests, they distinguish the feasible ones and, further, develop even more realistic models or test versions, in a participatory way, with the target group and important stakeholders so that all relevant expertise join forces and make choices together. This occurs until these are ready for implementation. Based on this, they draw in detail a blueprint or plan that indicates where and how the solution has an impact.
STEP 6. Implement
They implement the solution with their partner and make the final choices together. After a certain period, they check the impact as some things only become clear when implementing the design. Thus, they will see where and if adjustments are needed. Finally, they adjust the blueprint or the plan.
Elizabeth applied, for the first time, design-thinking and human-centred design in her previous job and saw the demand for these support services. At that time, these designs were only used in corporates, not in social innovation.
Having worked as a policy advisor and a project manager in NGOs, Elizabeth saw how inefficient and non-inclusive organisations were when trying to find solutions to a problem or a project. According to her, so much time, capacity and money were wasted in slow discussions. Moreover, the less dominant participants around the table were not heard and some stakeholders such as minorities were not even represented.
Therefore, she wanted to start her business to support organisations to be more participatory through design-thinking and human-centred design so that all stakeholders are represented and taken into consideration. As Elizabeth and Marlies were evolving in parallel with the same ideas and same courses, they decided to partner up to offer multidisciplinary skills, necessary in design.
As required by Goal 16, they managed to inspire organisations and governments to work more efficiently, more inclusively and more effectively through creative and inclusive participatory methods of finding social innovative solutions to the issues or projects. These methods and their bottom-up approach can be linked to Goal 10 as these latter ensure reducing inequality in representation and inclusiveness in the solutions implemented. Their customers are spreading the word for these practices as a reference for good governance. They have already seen a change in the mindset of people which can be beneficial in the long-term.
Moreover, through the projects or issues that they are hired to tackle, such as the ones related to the integration of refugees, the improvement of transport and mobility, they indirectly contribute to the Goal 11.
It is relatively easy to be profitable as they don’t need to make material investments for a particular product. Their investments are on themselves in regards to time and effort. The main challenge is to calculate and predict the time investment and the return they will get in regards to finance, to networks, to knowledge and more. One should target at least 60-70% of billable time as the rest of that time can be invested in other activities which are profitable in other ways than financially. It is important to note that although their processes are replicable, their customers still need them as neutral agents to guide the process. Moreover, their model, skills and reputation make them profitable in the long-term even if they are not scalable with only two people in the company.
In society, their major impact is in their customers’ work ethics by becoming more inclusive, time- and cost-efficient and effective in the long-term. Indeed, the customers can replicate the design thinking through participatory involvement in their future projects; leading to solutions which are inclusive and socially innovative. Moreover, their design trajectories exemplify best practices in decision-making in governance. The bottom-up approach offers the responsibility to all stakeholders which will then result in much more effective and inclusive solutions.
Regarding environment, they can have an indirect impact by helping organisations involved in the circular economy or other projects linked to climate change such as mobility.
Elizabeth Verhetsel, Co-founder
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Business Website: http://twistedstudio.be/
Year Founded: 2016
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Twisted studio is a service design company, founded by Elizabeth Verhetsel and Marlies Deforche in 2016. It is a social enterprise helping the non-profit and public sectors with service design or designing services, policies and projects. To design or help design, their methods are focused on participatory involvement of different actors such as the target group, the organisations (their customers) and experts. Their bottom-up approach and human-centred design provide efficient and effective solutions. They foster co-creation of social innovation solutions between the different actors involved.