The Relaxation Declaration

The Launchpad


How might we make an effective and uncluttered table layout?

This is the question that got me and my group in Innovation Diploma started on our design challenge about where students are allowed to be in a school and when they are allowed to be there. My original group was made up of the six people in Mr. Adam‘s advisory and we sat at a table with this question staring back at up.

We brainstormed for a bit about what the words “effective” and “uncluttered” mean, and what we saw in the picture. Why those words? Why does the cafeteria seem effective and uncluttered? Why is so much of the room blue? Why do we have the big windows? What sort of feeling does this room give off? Warm and inviting? Cold and sterile? Comfortable? Convenient? We went into the room itself – just a quick trip down the hall – to see what other observations and questions we could generate.

The next day, my group interviewed Robert Jones, a custodian at our school and the one who set up the cafeteria like this. After that interview, I wrote a blog post called “To Help Another” that reflects on some of the things I learned:

Just from our thirty minute interview, I learned that Robert is one of those rare people who cares about each and every person they see in a day, regardless of how much the two people interact. He talked about how he changed the set up to make it easier for people to get their lunch, how he would save a chair for the new kid who always seemed to end up late to lunch and without a seat, and that he goes around the lunchroom picking up peoples’ plates so they don’t have to stop their conversations. He does what he can to make everyone’s life easier and happier, believing that you should always love and enjoy life.

Getting to Work

From there, we thought of tons of different ideas and ended up in groups based on which idea we liked the best. At first, I was in a group that was going to redesign the vending machines so we could have one in each classroom, but then I switched to a group that was going to create a café somewhere in the school. Fast-forwarding a bit, those two groups were combined into a group of six and the work truly began.

The Lightbox

The idea we originally came up with was to have a café on the bottom floor of the school in the concession stand that’s only used at athletic events and theatric productions. We were going to set up the Lightbox (see picture) with tables and chairs that people can work at and more comfortable seating where they can talk with their friends. We wanted to both cater to the people who need a louder environment to work in and allow people to have a time and space to relax in. This morphed into moving the school’s vending machines out of a dark corner of a hallway and into a more open and light-filled area of the school as a short term idea, and the café was moved to the “in the future” box (what we call “Over the Mountains”).

The Hallway

Vending Machine

Over the Mountains

One of the very interesting things about this design challenge was group dynamics. There are two cohorts this year in Innovation Diploma. There is the Disney Cohort, who all started last year, and the Jobs Cohort, who all started this year. The names were picked by the cohort and are innovators that we admire. I was the only Disney Cohort member in my group and the other five were Jobs Cohort members.

In “My Ah-ha Moment” I reflected a bit on what it was like to be the only person with past Design Thinking experience. I found myself the leader of the group without there ever seeming to be a conscious decision on the matter.

As the only Disney cohort member in my group, I think my biggest ah-ha moment is seeing myself lead a team. With less facilitator input than I’m used to having in design challenges, I’ve noticed myself making more of the decisions about where to go next with everything. From past experiences, I have a better idea of things we could do and paths we could go down, which makes for an interesting dynamic in the team.

But it was also hard. Sometimes I would ask my team to do something and then remember that they’ve never done it before and might need to be guided through it more. I don’t like being seen as bossy and that was reflected in how I led the team.

On the other hand, being the only Disney cohort member means that I don’t have someone else in my group I feel like I can easily turn to and ask for their input based on their personal experiences. I’m also not a huge fan of being the leader of a team because of past experiences. Am I doing the right thing? Are my team members mad at me for telling them what to do? Am I expecting too much? Am I doing enough?

As we went through the weeks, there were definitely some times when morale was low and I just wanted to get to the end of it all. The group – myself included – struggled to see the importance of our work and to connect with the problem we decided on. It’s hard to keep a group on task when they don’t care about what they’re doing, and sometimes I would feel like hours had gone by without any real progress being made.


I think the first pitch was a wake-up call, to both me and everyone else in the group. We shared our idea with the entirety of Innovation Diploma and received feedback on what they liked about our idea, what they wondered about how we were going to do it, and what they wished we would include. From that feedback, observations of how people used the Lightbox (the video), and interviews that we conducted (seen above), the group and the project pivoted away from creating a space around food to creating a space around relaxing. We focused more on what furniture we wanted to put in the Lightbox for students to relax and share ideas in. This all culminated in a new How Might We:

How Might We create an open spaces where students can engage in both solitary and collaborative work while being themselves?

We developed a policy that students have to meet all of the requirements of in order to spend time in the relaxing space:

The Policy





We also created some prototypes of what the space could look like.

The Lightbox SketchUpVending Machines







Next Steps

We’ve reached a crossroad and everyone in Innovation Diploma has been asked to make a decision about what they want to do next. My two options were to either continue this Design Challenge or work on the Design Brief we received, an opportunity to work with our local community and help a company with a problem they are facing. I chose the Design Brief because I think I need some time to mull over where to go next and I think this Design Brief will help me think of new ideas.

There was a lot of learning involved in this Design Challenge, and in particular I learned a lot about myself. I grew a lot as a leader and became more comfortable being in that position. When I posted “My Ah-ha Moment” I was becoming more comfortable with handing over tasks.

It’s becoming a bit more natural to ask things of people and not feel like I need to be doing everything myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the work I do and that means I get a sense of unease whenever I ask people to do things, no matter how capable they are. I’m slowly learning that I don’t need to do everything, and I’m quickly realizing that handing tasks over means I feel less pressure and can enjoy things more.

Since then, I felt like I could put even more trust in my team and it created a more relaxed and fun environment for us to work in. I’ll be interested to see if we get back to this with more experience under our belts, and I hope we will.

I think this work is incredibly important. We live with over 7 billion people on this planet now, and we should want to make people’s lives easier. As I said in “To Help Another

I don’t think we should do things just because they help us. I think we should do things because at the end of the day, it’s a miracle that we even exist. At the end of the day, we are just a bunch of organic organisms on a giant blue and green ball spinning in a galaxy in a universe we’ve never seen the edges of. We don’t know our purpose, and we don’t know the purpose of the person standing next to us, and we don’t know if there are any other organisms out there, organic or not, but we owe it to the miracle that created us to do our best to not mess it all up. To make someone’s life easier, even if it’s just for a second of a very long day, week, month, year, lifetime.



One thought on “The Relaxation Declaration

  1. Emmy,

    You provide an interesting mix in this post. One major ingredient group is the material about WHAT your design team did along the way during your design challenge. The second major ingredient group is the reflection you share about your leadership development. I loved reading most about your moments of wonder concerning your leadership moments and decisions along the way. These parts of your post include the highest level of vulnerability in what is shared here, and I believe this is the “nugget” or core of the story that is so worth exploring further.

    How we become leaders is a fascinating and intriguing thing. While there are similarities and universal connections in various people’s leadership stories, each of us possesses a great deal of uniqueness in how each of us truly walks the path and chooses the turns of being and becoming a leader. I would encourage you to consider returning to this as a “theme” in your writing and sharing and digging even deeper into the inner developments of how you perceive your particular leadership journey. There are superb insights here, and I found myself wanting to know more about those, even at the risk of understanding less about the actual design challenge.

    You did a nice job of pulling quotes from your own past writing. To commit to such a discipline will pay huge dividends in your level of self-awareness and deeper understanding of self, beliefs, etc. Brava to you for giving the effort and attention to such looping and contemplation.

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