“I think that just taking a little bit of time to understand just a bit more will change the outcomes that we have”
Lorenzo Hodges has built a career using design methodologies and his own design aesthetic. While he may not have got to school for design, Lorenzo learned, practiced, and incorporated design into his work. Based in Trinidad and Tobago, Lorenzo is an innovation strategist and designer. Currently, Lorenzo is the Chief Executive Officer at Ferreira Optical Limited, and he is also the Founder and Managing Director of Plain White Table, Inc., the Business Development Manager at Teleios Systems Ltd., and the Founder and Managing Director of Circulate Life. Influenced by his upbringing in Trinidad and Tobago and his exposure to European and American design elements, Lorenzo’s design aesthetic is uniquely his own.
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Pluriverse Publication Chapter: Lorenzo Hodges
Written by Delaney Connor
Download a PDF Layout of the Lorenzo Hodges chapter in the Pluriverse Publication
Lorenzo Hodges is an innovation strategist and designer in Trinidad and Tobago, with a diverse array of experience and expertise. He is the Founder and Managing Director of Plain White Table Inc., a boutique innovation strategy firm. Here, he designs innovation strategies, new business models, and new products for companies. Additionally, he is the Business Development Manager at Teleios Systems Ltd., a software development company, and the Founder and Managing Director of Circulate Life, a non-profit health services organization providing solutions in the healthcare sector.
Hodges’ experience as a designer has developed throughout his life. In school, he pursued a degree in accounting. After graduating, he eventually left accounting and went into web design, where he focused mainly on experience design. He was first introduced to design thinking when he was doing his masters in 2011, and since then, he has been focused on using human centered design and design thinking to develop rich experiences for customers, including both digital and in-store experiences.
Hodges expresses that place and identity have affected his work as a designer a lot, but in an interesting way. He says that he does not fit the mold of the typical designer in Trinidad. In Trinidad, designers are thought of as people who go to school to study design—usually visual or industrial design. Hodges, on the other hand, did not study design in school. Rather, he picked up design throughout his career, studied it at different points as a practice, and incorporated into his work. Additionally, Hodges works more in the problem solving, innovative side of the design, rather than just the visual side. Hodges’ says that design is about problem solving, but what he likes about when a designer solves a problem, different from when anyone else solves a problem, is that the designer makes the solution elegant, usable, attractive, desirable, and with attention to detail. This type of design is not talked about or recognized as much in Trinidad as it is in other parts of the world. Because of this, even though he lives in Trinidad, a lot of his design influences are not from there. He has studied and been exposed to mainly European and American design elements, which he likes the aesthetics of most. Additionally, a significant part of his design consideration is influenced from what he has learned from IDEO, a global design company and one of the pioneers of design thinking. Hodges has taken a few courses from IDEO U, the online university attached to IDEO, and expresses that they have had a large impact on his design work.
While Hodges’ design influences throughout his career have been based in places outside Trinidad and Tobago, his background as an artistic person grew in his home. Trinidad celebrates Carnival every year, in which there is a Parade of the Bands with very elaborate costumes. Hodges’ father was a costume maker and band leader, so he essentially grew up inside of a masked band. Hodges’ also grew up doing theater and dance. In University, he was a part of the dance theater, and after University, he danced competitively and taught the salsa and other Latin dances. All of these experiences influenced the cultural factors that informally influenced his thinking behind design.
Hodges is an advocate of design thinking to a significant extent. He has observed that the empathetic component of design thinking is changing the way in which people do business. Hodges works full time in the space of innovation strategy, and as a part of that, he helps companies design new experiences for their customers. From his work with his customers, he has seen that many companies make assumptions about their customers, as they haven’t done the work to deeply understand their customers today and how they have evolved. One of his recent customers through which he has observed this phenomenon is an eye care company that sells glasses frames. Hodges and his team went into the store and conducted empathetic research, through both observations and interviews, to really understand what their customers experience when choosing their glasses frames. They walked the shoes of the customer, without biases and with their eyes wide open, as suggested by the principles of design thinking. After, they designed a new conceptual model, based on how they saw customers really experience their service, that would completely change the layout of their stores. When they presented the research and solutions to the company’s management team and board of directors, their minds were apparently blown. The CEO expressed that in the 20 years he had been at the company, he had never heard what was presented by the empathetic research, which he called “revolutionary.” In the way that design thinking emphasizes the importance of empathy, Hodges thinks very positively of it.
Hodges endorses design thinking for other reasons as well. From what Hodges has seen in a lot of the companies that he goes to for his work, most of his clients do not have a common language for how they go about problem solving. Many see problems as things that will always be too costly and time consuming to fix. When they do decide to develop solutions, their methods are very linear and uncollaborative, unlike the cyclical and collaborative ways of design thinking. Additionally, companies are affected by hierarchy and authority systems in the room, so people don’t freely share their ideas, and when they do, instead of ideas being received with openness and some level of consideration, in most cases bosses just say no because of the perceived costs and time. Through his work, Hodges has been able to been able to begin re-scripting the leadership and the way in which they see problem solving differently. He does this by teaching them elements of design thinking, such as the value of prototyping. He uses his education from IDEO U to teach the companies’ leadership that instead of shutting down ideas, they should encourage employees to develop a prototype that they will later evaluate. This gives encouragement and incentive, and it helps the conversation go on further because now the employee can feel a sense of empowerment to explore whether the idea can work and then bring it back. Without even teaching the company leadership what it means to prototype, he teaches them to appreciate the value of experimentation. To him, this shows how design thinking can change the conversation and make huge impacts on companies.
Hodges has heard critiques of design thinking, such as the argument from AJ&Smart, who say that design thinking is not a product development methodology. They say that design thinking will teach you the principles of cooking, but it won’t necessarily tell you how to make the meal. Hodges agrees that design thinking will not always teach all the steps to design a certain product or service, but he does not see this as a limitation. Hodges believes that design thinking is what it is. It is meant to get people into a mode where they can productively work through issues in a problem and arrive at considerations of what that solution may be like very quickly. After this, designers need a set of supporting systems to go with design thinking, depending on what they are trying to achieve.
The biggest piece of advice that Hodges would give to anyone else, in any context, is the importance of empathy. According to Hodges, if people would spend a bit more time trying to understand others, it will make a world of a difference in how people go about supporting each other on the job. Empathy will work from creating the right culture in an organization, to how leaders lead their team. He also says that empathy is critical in peer to peer relationships, as well as bigger systems in the world, such as healthcare. Hodges says, “I think across the board, empathy is a missing link in life. So, I would say people need to spend more time listening and getting to know others before they form opinions and rush to make wrong decisions about how they approach problems. I think that just taking a little bit of time to understand just a bit more will change the outcomes that we have.”
The Hello from the Pluriverse Podcast aims to open up and create a space to have conservations about the pluriversality in design.
This podcast is a project of the Design Thinking for Social Innovation Program at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University.
Executive Producer: Lesley-Ann Noel, Ph.D
Hello from the Pluriverse 2020-2021 Student Team
Hello from the Pluriverse 2019-2020 Student Team