Training & Travel

Designing Toronto

I love mashups for the sake of a unique perspective, so you’ll find that this post is both brief course review and also travel blog for creatives gone sight-seeing in Toronto.

ExperiencePoint Design Thinking Course

In July 2019, I had the privilege of traveling with 3 lovely colleagues from NewWave in order to train to become certified trainers of the ExperiencePoint Design Thinking Training in Toronto, in partnership with IDEO. (See above – I’m the one looking ridiculously pleased to stand in front of their logo sign on graduation day.) The purpose of our trip was to become ambassadors for this human-centered approach to innovation back at our home office; to be available resources in the charge toward design maturity in our organization. We’ve since begun to build up a regular rotation of classes taught on-site for our staff, and I’m selfishly enjoying getting to revisit the material so often! 

Broken into 3 curriculum parts, depending on the length of the class we want to teach, plus a train-the-trainer certification process, the ExperienceInnovation curriculum was an enjoyable, highly interactive series that provided us with hands-on activities and modules, mixed with storytelling and expert leadership on the part of Tom Merrill, Master Facilitator for EP.

[End unintentional commercial for EP that I’m not being endorsed for in any way.] Contrary to what you’re likely thinking at this point, NO, I did not begin this post in order to appear to be sponsored by any company – it only sounds that way because I am now a fan-girl of their curriculum because it makes it easy for me to be able to pass on nuggets of wisdom to colleagues looking to learn how to channel the mindsets of designers as they think creatively to solve their customers’ problems – better, faster and with a more desirable end-game.


desirability, viability, feasibility
Speaking of desirability...
ExperiencePoint Wall Art

Desirability is actually one of the keys to the design thinking methodology. In traditional business thinking or product engineering, designers and/or execs tend to push the project straight from the early inception of an idea then running the details briefly through the ‘is it feasible’ and ‘is it viable’ filters before going straight into production with it. But design thinkers know that to think differently, and make sure that the humans on the other end of your work will more likely applaud you with purchases/likes/follows/brand loyalty, etc. you’re better off taking the time to put on your empathy hats and first determining if your idea would even desirable to your audience.  In order to determine if you’ve even framed the right question to solve in the first place, you’ll have to get in their heads – through intentional observation and non-judgmental insight gathering, asking open, story-provoking questions to pull out more inspiration to study and use as a springboard to get you thinking through a unique design, for the sake of surprise and delight, which ultimately also translates into business wins.

I will say that the ability to recognize the difference between a human-centered approach to designing things, processes, systems, apps, products, marketing and branding, etc. vs. traditional thinking is an advantage in the business world. And I’ll also say that one of my absolute favorite parts of facilitating Design Thinking classes for my colleagues is the stories! I’ve been told I’m a natural story-teller anyway, so this gives me an excuse to add to my collection of stories to tell! As it turns out, a great narrative is a super effective way to engrain content into memory in any medium and for any purpose, so – happy storytelling! 

Next time we meet, feel free to use any of these items as totally random conversation-prompts; I’ll be sure to whip out a quick story for you.

  • Bears & Helicopters
  • Pirate ships & MRIs
  • Meat slicer &  the Pill Bottle
  • Grandma’s Kitchen
  • Cut Curb Insights
How Agile + Design Thinking Play Together

Curious about the difference between agile project management vs. design thinking as a methodology? I’ll let EP spell it out for you here in one of their many blog posts on that topic – and while you’re there you can also take a look at the 6 parts that they teach through to train your brain to be able to find opportunities for innovation and then be able to create solutions through brainstorming, prototyping and experimentation/testing techniques. 

"When software developers learn to use design thinking when they talk to customers, they do a better job of gathering feedback and responding to the right information. In turn, design thinkers can benefit from adopting agile strategies and terminology like daily stand-ups and sprints, to drive better collaboration and communication on their teams."

For the Design Thinking skeptics...I get it!

One more thing for the skeptics among us… Are you not so sure you understand why we need a new fad to design great things for our users? You’re not wrong in questioning whether we really need a new term for what you have already been doing under different names if you’re doing your job well, my friend. Read this post on Medium that pulls back the curtain and gives the skeptic a useful perspective as our business world latches onto the fad term we all have come to know. I particularly identify with this quote, but you’ll find several gems in the article, I’m sure…

"Once someone who isn’t a designer — someone who is a layperson — is introduced into the mix, I’ve found I need to convince them that design isn’t only about making the thing pretty. That’s it’s about solving problems. That’s it’s about end-to-end solutions."

Toronto Sights, in 3 Nights

You’re still here? Still scrolling? Well, great! You must love travel as much as I do! I’d love to highlight just a couple of cool sights we saw while exploring Toronto. 

While technically we were there for 3 nights, we arrived late on Monday so only had time for dinner and bedtime before getting up and moving pretty early the next day. I’d say it was uneventful and for the most part it was, but after our delicious Italian dinner, we were definitely greeted on our way out of the restaurant by a homeless person who blatantly put his hands in his pants and then touched the doorknobs we’d just touched. So. Welcome to Toronto! Ugh.

With that entry out of the way, though, the rest of the trip was amazing. Navigating the city was very similar to cities in America, except for the half English, half French signage. And in general, the streets were the cleanest I’ve ever seen, the people were all extremely friendly and there were well-maintained, overflowing flower boxes throughout many areas, which made me think that the city maintained them rather than leaving it to local businesses. Lovely, bright and colorful!

Toronto Travel Highlights
  • 3D Toronto Light Sign
    • Luckily, our hotel was right across the street from this tourist gem, so after our interesting interaction outside of the Italian restaurant, we were able to go enjoy the light show and take some fun pics to prove we’d arrived.
  • Center Island Ferry
    • Gorgeous view of the city, especially once it got dark; lovely walk with manicured and natural gardens, waterfront pier walk; seemed to be the city-families’ beach day trip, judging by the number of strollers and families debarking the ferry to return home at dusk
  • Kensington Market
    • Boutique restaurants, street vendors, amazing graffiti art; definitely a pothead haven judging by the aroma, the number of dessert shops, the ‘park’ full of 1 or 2 people per ‘picnic blanket’ all sitting oddly still or laying down – very few children in sight, etc. This neighborhood was recommended by at least 2 Toronto natives; the dining wasn’t high-end, but was definitely a unique and fun place to explore. Fantastic, authentic Belgian waffle shop with tiny but beautiful back patio was a nice end to the evening.
  • SOMA Chocolatier – YUM. Try the dark chocolate with a pine extract. So different and delish!
  • Aaaand, yes, you saw that correctly in the gallery – Pizza ATMs are a thing in Toronto!
Since you’ve hung in this long, I’ll reward your patience with a glimpse into our last hours in Canada. We had an extremely long series of delays in the airport due to a horrible storm coming through Baltimore; we were delirious and tired, and had run out of words at this point when one of our team members came up with the brilliant idea to find an empty area of the airport and have some fun on the moving sidewalk…this is embarrassing, but do enjoy!

Happy travels, folks – it’s a big, beautiful world we live in and people make it incredibly interesting, that’s for sure. I’d love to hear of any other gems you’ve discovered in your recent trips if you care to share in the comments section!

Thanks! BreLee

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