Down the Rabbit Hole of Design Thinking

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

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The Rabbit Hole. 

It’s the weird alternate reality in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland in which Alice encounters “talking caterpillars, narcoleptic dormice and disappearing cats”. In a more general sense, the rabbit hole is someplace that, like Alice, we find, surrender to curiosity and take the plunge. 

When people first encounter design thinking it can be a little like Alice in the rabbit hole. Once you are introduced to it and use it, you can’t un-know it, you find out more about it and it seeps into your thinking.

I recently had the honor of being a visiting critic for a groundbreaking project taking place in The Bahamas. The country will have a pavilion at Expo2020 in Dubai, a mega event that, according to the Expo2020 website, is expected to attract more than 25 million people and consist of 200 participants including nations, multilateral organizations, corporates and educational institutions. This is destination branding in concentrate.

These pavilions are typically designed by super star architecture firms. Having attended the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, I have firsthand knowledge that these high-concept designs are often spaces of wonder, transporting visitors to the country via a multisensory experience. 

The Bahamas’ pavilion at Expo2020 will be designed by students at the newly established University of The Bahamas, not a star architecture firm.

It’s the essence of design thinking - using multidisciplinary thinking to find innovative solutions to challenges. The project brings together three disciplines at the university - architecture, visual arts and culinary arts - a first in the country’s history. Moreover, the project, which is championed by the U.A.E., also brings together the leadership of the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of The Bahamas and multidisciplinary thinkers outside of academia. The young students involved in the process may not fully comprehend the significance of this collaboration. To them it is just a class in which they will need to communicate with artists and chefs to realize their vision. It’s going to be hard and there will probably be clashes but the students will emerge with a more expansive perspective of The Bahamas as a destination. 

The real rabbit hole-ness of it all is the effect on the team.
Government officials, University of The Bahamas executives and lecturers, project organizers, students and design judges after the first showing. (photo credit: Azaleta Ishmael-Newry)

This project represents a necessary and uncomfortable paradigm shift that needs to permeate the University of The Bahamas. Spreading the gospel of design thinking and cross-departmental collaboration will likely feel like a Sisyphean task in the early stages. Up will feel like down, down will feel like up. There may even be a disappearing cat or two. Hopefully, all of the participants will use this foray into design thinking and collaboration to change how we think about The Bahamas as a destination brand.

Find this article and more on Royann Dean Consulting's LinkedIn profile.

I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Find out more about me at, follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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