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Implementing design thinking to make 2020 more meaningful

What’s going on with 2020? I have enough of 2020, can we skip to 2021?

George Floyd protest on 5th Av Brooklyn
George Floyd protest on 5th Av Brooklyn

As days pass by, sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Starting with the pandemic earlier this year, lockdown, economic crisis, and now protests against racial injustice. No matter how optimistic I can be, it’s pretty hard to stand tall if the thunders are coming one after another. But, I don’t want to be in grief; I want to leave cloudy memories behind.

Everyone sure has different approaches to cope with specific situations. For me, as a designer, I’m used to thinking that all of this is a process and there’s always something that we can get the most out of it. At work, I follow the design thinking process to dissect problems in order to arrive at solutions after rounds of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this approach is actually helpful for me to shift the way I think about what’s happening and how I can enjoy the rest of this year.

It might be true that 2020 has a bad reputation. So, how can we redesign it to make it more meaningful?


Empathize with your surroundings.

As an Indonesian who came to New York City 3 years ago, I have a hard time digesting what’s currently happening in the city. With all the fear, anger, frustration that has piled up in the past 4 months — no, decades of years it has turned New York City into a dystopia.

I don’t have enough knowledge to speak about racial injustice in America. But, what I know is it’s not fundamentally right to discriminate against people based on their skin colors. My experience as a minority in the US is far from how black people have experienced it. I can’t really understand from their perspectives, but I want to develop empathy towards others, especially the black community.

I remember when I first came to the United States 10 years ago as an exchange student, the high school where I went to in Fishertown, Pennsylvania, was 99% white with only 1 Asian student and 3 Asian exchange students. The homogenous circle made me feel alienated because none of the students were used to see a brown-skin student. If I didn’t play dumb and didn’t mind being a class clown, I don’t think I could survive since everyone looked at me differently. In addition, I was grateful that I lived with a white family and a host-sister who went to the same school as I did. This support system made me stronger and I learned how to develop empathy towards each other.

It’s not enough to imagine how others feel based on our experiences and biases. To be really empathetic towards them, we need to be more open-minded, be a better listener, and have more interaction with them. Try to understand more from their perspectives. To everyone. Our friends, relatives, colleagues, strangers, everyone.

There’s a video to learn how to be empathetic towards others: Jane Elliott’s Anti-racism Experiment — A Class Divided (PBS Frontline).


Define the problems. Understand what’s going on.

I got caught off guard when the situation changed. I didn’t know the reason why millions of Americans overflowed the streets and raised their voices in the middle of the pandemic when they should stay at home. It was because of the decades-long failure of the justice system in the United States. I realized how we’ve been living in our own bubbles. The unvarying social circles make us forget to acknowledge our biases to move beyond our own worldviews.

We live in the Google era where we can learn the whole world by clicking. We can educate ourselves easily if we want to. It’s a shame that I didn’t know what happened in the US was also happening in Papua, Indonesia, my home country. I should be more considerate and willing to learn what’s beyond my peripherals.

The first thing to define a problem is to acknowledge that we don’t know and are willing to learn. Ask questions.

The tradition of not knowing could lead to disdaining the truth to understand our society.

I started to read the news and watch YouTube every morning to educate myself on what’s happening out there. There are plenty of ways to educate ourselves. From watching documentaries, such as 13th on Netflix, When They See Us on Netflix, and I Am Not Your Negro. Read books, such as How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies and the Art of Survival by Jabari Asim. Listen to a podcast, maybe start from here The Anti-Racist Podcast List from Elle. Or just by asking people around us.

Since I’m Indonesian and I never had proper education about Papuans history in Indonesia, I feel the need to understand my history better. This period of time gives me great momentum to break the comfortableness and see the world differently. I started from We Need to Talk About Papua website and continue learning from there. There’s also a video about Justice for Murdered Children that opened my eyes to how broken the justice system is in Papua, Indonesia.

The willingness to understand and analyze the core problems is the first step to be part of the solutions. Even maybe at this stage, we don’t know yet how to translate it into solutions, it is a big step to break our comfort zone to make a change. In this stage, we will start to look for ideas for solutions by asking, “How might we play our part to create a bigger impact?”


Ideate our own solutions.

We’ve learned and gained our understanding of our surroundings, and we’ve analyzed and synthesized our newly acquired knowledge in the previous stages. With these insights, we can start to think about solutions that can be applied to our environment. It doesn’t have to be something grand. A simple ‘hi’ can make someone’s day more meaningful.

It is important not to limit ourselves when we think about making a difference. But also, we might want to think about our capabilities. What really matters to us and how we can help based on our strengths. Each idea is part of ourselves. Be authentic of who we are. Our approaches might be different from others. But it is fine.

For me, this stage is also an opportunity to reflect and appreciate who I really am and what really matters to me. At a time like this, I realized that I can’t make a big impact overnight. But, I can start by making a conversation, spreading awareness to the people around me.

Everyone has different approaches. It is fine to bring solutions in our own ways.


Take action.

Whatever ideas we have, it’s time to put them into action. Be part of the solutions.

We can always start with small things. Reach out to people around us and ask how they are doing, smile to the front-liners and say thank you, share the awareness on social media, express our thoughts into something that matters to us: poem, drawing, music, photograph, etc. Every single act matters to make a difference. If we’re not sure what to do, we can always start by listening and offering help.

“Some are posting on social media. Some are protesting in the streets. Some are donating silently. Some are educating themselves. Some are having though conversations with friends and family. A revolution has many lanes…” — from Marianne Williamson’s Instagram post

Do what we think is right. Even if it’s different from anybody else’s. If for some people it’s not comfortable with being too vocal, then use another route that we’re comfortable with. I’m actually not comfortable having heavy conversations and joining the protests in the middle of a pandemic. I’d rather help the community where I live, such as ordering delivery or take out from black-owned restaurants. Besides helping out their business, I can also interact with them to learn and be more empathetic.

Nurish — a black-owned restaurant in Brooklyn during the pandemic.
Nurish — a black-owned restaurant in Brooklyn during the pandemic.

We need to act smart. If risking ourselves means stopping us from making a bigger impact, then we shouldn’t be too impulsive. Think about the long-term solutions that could bring a bigger impact. But, don’t overthink it.

Apply what we believe in everyday life, such as changing some words we used in our communication to be more respectful. Be kind to people. Small consistent efforts over time can lead to a massive impact.


Evaluate and be proud of what we’ve done.

We become better, stronger, and wiser from going through difficult times. For everything we’ve done, we’re constantly adding values to our lives. This probably doesn’t make us go through less pain. But, the pain is worth it to make us better.

In this stage, we should reflect on what works and what doesn’t for us. Since this is an iterative process, the results from our actions can be used to redefine our next moves. We can continue what we’ve done, or shift to things that we’re more comfortable with. No matter how small we’ve done, we’re contributing to the solutions.

To me, this stage is an opportunity to reflect on what we can do better to improve our life. When we think about making an impact, we’re not just thinking about others, but also about ourselves. We value ourselves more when we do the things we care about.


The beauty of design thinking is that it’s not a linear process. The iterative process helps us learn more about ourselves every day. It helps us to break down what we’re facing into smaller stages and think more about the solutions rather than putting our minds in grief.

This year is crazy. But, there are some things from this year that are worth preserving. 2020 can be the best year to breathe, reflect, and focus on what really matters in our lives. The people around us, the community we live in, and most importantly our own selves.

2020 hasn’t ended yet. It’s our opportunity to redesign it to make it more memorable. In a good way.


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