Appetite for Reconstruction

 A method for building a better design challenge...and bagels

Why you should think of your next challenge like a bagel sandwich, and how to do it...

A fundamental benefit of reframing is that it can turn constraints into opportunities.
Like MacGyver, we tend to get creative and invent clever workarounds when we have limited resources at our disposal. 

One way to play with constraints is to try out designer Ayse Birsel’s ‘Deconstruct:Reconstruct' process. 

She outlines four key steps:

1) Deconstruct your idea into individual elements, breaking it down into all of its constituent parts.

2) Form a point of view on your idea. What’s your opinion? What do others say? What’s the conventional thinking in this space?

3) Reconstruct the idea by creating substitutes and stand-ins, trying out some ‘what-if’ possibilities.

4) Create your ‘expression’ or your ‘redesign’ of the original idea.

I get that this is maybe a little obtuse, so let’s talk about bagels. 

Deconstructing a dish is a common way for chefs to innovate, and a few years ago, I came across a design thinking chef who walked through his own process of deconstructing and reconstructing the classic bagel sandwich. 

First, he simply listed all the basic ingredients of a bagel sandwich, from the bagel itself, then the cream cheese, capers, onions, salmon, tomato, and even lemon juice. All the raw materials he had to work with.

Then, he set about understanding how the bagel sandwich came to be, given the many different ethnic influences it comprised. He concluded that the bagel sandwich was a quintessentially New York invention, a sort of edible manifestation of the city’s melting pot nature. So in order to redesign it, he also felt compelled to maintain its integrity.

Next, he created a spreadsheet that captured the key ingredients, but also listed the various possibilities he could explore for each one. For example, a cherry tomato could become tomato powder, the lemon juice a lemon granita, or the smoked salmon a smoked and cured carrot (that’s my own idea sneaking in there). Experimenting with different iterations, he tested numerous prototypes of his “bagel sandwich’ concept, using the spreadsheet to tracks hits and misses.

Finally, he landed on his ultimate design expression, which included bits of the original idea in their “pure” form, like smoked salmon, and others (i.e. tomato powder) as a unique twist. Still, with his spreadsheet and his notes, he can continuously find new ways to iterate and riff on this idea almost infinitely. 

(If you’re into cheffy stuff, Wylie Dufresne, Ferran Adria, and Thomas Keller are masters of deconstruction whose inventive and occasionally madcap ideas have been endlessly inspiring to me.)

How can you use the Deconstruct:Reconstruct process to reframe one of your design challenges? 

I’m curious to hear how you made it work for you.
Add a comment, or head over to the brand new Facebook group so we can chat about it!

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