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Civic Design + Innovation Ops + System Design with Ryann Hoffman — DT101 E62

Ryann Hoffman is a system designer and design leader specializing in design and complex systems and working with organizations to develop capacity in design thinking and innovation operations.

Show Summary

portrait of Ryann Hoffman Ryann’s path into design came from an early love of music, playing classical piano, and music composition. She did freelance design projects for teachers while in high school. By the time she went to college, she had strong design and communication skills, and had learned the power of storytelling. Ryann started out with plans for a degree in English, but switched to Sociology and fell in love with it from her very first introductory course.

After undergrad, she spent several years working in various fields, including nonprofits and a music tech startup, where she brought her digital communications and design skills to bear on projects like promotional videos, visual design for reports and collaterals, and systems design for music distribution.

While in grad school for Public Administration, she took a class called “Coping with Wicked Problems,” where she was introduced to design thinking. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. became a member of Design Thinking DC, and started what would become her career in systems design, leading to her civic design work today with cities across America and international organizations like The World Bank and the Government of Madagascar.

Listen to learn:

  • Design Thinking D.C.
  • System design at the municipal and federal level
  • Advice for launching a new design team
  • The surprising way “tedium” can trip up a design project
  • Innovation Transformation
  • Helping design teams that are working with emotional, difficult topics
  • Power and identity in design
  • Post-traumatic growth and helping people find a path to it in positive ways
  • The importance of designers learning facilitation

Our Guest

Ryann Hoffman is a systems designer most in flow working in complex problem spaces.
She’s built and led design work across industries and at organizations including The World Bank and The Government of Madagascar, Capital One, Johns Hopkins Sibley Memorial Hospital, and ConsenSys. Through leading and practicing design, Ryann found purpose in developing teams. She watched the most well-intentioned, competent teams struggle to create impact because they lacked the support and curriculum to imbue design beyond densely packed workshops or sprints, and into their daily workflows, collaborations, and mindsets. As a Design Coach and Instructor, Ryann has worked with Harvard University and the Bloomberg Foundation, AmeriCorps, ConsenSys, Sunrun, and other leading institutions leveraging design to make their respective dents in the world’s challenges.
Her circuitous route to this calling includes her Masters in Public Administration, a stint in the music industry, and an early foundation in digital media production and visual design. When she’s not working, Ryann loves learning about the brain and aspires to be more mindful.

Show Highlights

[02:05] How Ryann’s love of music led her to develop digital design and communications skills.
[03:57] Making the switch from English literature to Sociology.
[05:14] Ryann’s post-undergrad work.
[08:05] The graduate course on dealing with wicked problems that introduced Ryann to design thinking.
[11:38] Moving to Washington, D.C. after graduation.
[13:22] Ryann and Dawan talk about Design Thinking D.C.
[17:44] Ryann talks about her work as a civic designer and facilitator.
[19:48] What Ryann loves about working at the city level of design.
[23:17] How working with cities helps designers build a varied and robust skillset.
[25:30] How Ryann helps design teams learn and apply design thinking tools and methods in their work.
[28:18] Ryann offers advice for getting a new design team off to a good start.
[29:40] The area that is often overlooked by new design teams and organizations looking to innovate.
[32:24] Innovation transformation and the 3 things critical for a design team to learn if they want to succeed.
[34:23] On the need for organizations to not be afraid to try different methods and processes to see what works best.
[36:06] One of the most difficult challenges for leaders when they start working with design thinking.
[37:24] How power and identity can create challenges in design thinking work.
[38:57] Ryann talks about early struggles with perfectionism.
[39:36] Divergent and convergent thinking, and the importance of working with and supporting team members.
[42:13] Why trust is so important for teams and the importance of creative conflict.
[43:29] Ryann’s recent focus on stress on systems and the psychological field of post-traumatic growth.
[46:16] Reframing how we think about the things that cause us harm and stress.
[49:23] Why facilitation is an important skill for designers and anyone working in design thinking.
[56:18] Lessons Ryann learned about remote work.
[57:07] Remote work can make it easier to integrate design into an organization’s workflows.
[58:14] Finding and learning the tools to help create an engaging online experience.
[1:00:06] The difference between remote and in-person interactions.
[1:03:47] Seeing areas of weakness as opportunities.
[1:05:43] Where to find out more about Ryann and her work.


Ryann on LinkedIn
Ryann on TwitterStaircase Strategy
Book: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Book: Stronger By Stress: Adapt to Beneficial Stressors to Improve Your Health and Strengthen the Body, by Siim Land
Book: The Psychology of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman
Book: Designing your Life, by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
Book: 99% Invisible City, by Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt
Psychology Today, “Why Virtual Communication Can Leave You Worn Out”
Brené Brown, The power of Vulnerability

Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Design Thinking for the Public Sector + Building and Training Design Thinking Teams with Stephanie Wade — DT101 E14

Teaching Yourself Design Thinking + Innovating in Government with Amy J. Wilson — DT101 E19

Adding System Awareness to System Design to Your Innovation Stack with Julie Guinn — DT101 E43

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