Design Thinking: A Wicked Problem

During trimester 2 of my studies at Macleay College (renamed to The Institute of Creative Arts and Technology Pty Ltd (ICAT)). I participated in a 4 week design thinking project. Our group was asked to complete a full design thinking cycle to identify and solve a real-life wicked problem. Recent news and social media coverage led us towards the issue of used clothing waste and excess fashion textile landfill in third world countries.

Through secondary research we defined a problem statement:

The current supply and demand for fashion textiles is far greater than the planet can sustain, over 70%* of end of use clothing is ending up in landfill

(*Global Fashion Agenda and
The Boston Consulting Group 2017).

Through our research (both primary and secondary) we uncovered the following insights:

1. Globally, 80 billion new pieces of clothing are purchased each year. Over 70% of this is disposed of in landfill, the rest ends up in the second-hand clothing trade impacting low and middle-income countries.

Textiles unable to be sold in these markets become solid waste, clogging rivers, greenways, and parks and posing additional environmental health risks.

(Niinimäki et al. 2020)

2. A fast fashion paradox exists where consumers consider the environmental and social impacts of their non-fashion purchasing decisions, but do not apply the same principles to their fashion consumption.

(Joy et al. 2012, p. 280 cited in Park & Kim 2016).

3. Gen Z and younger Millennials are the most keen to become more conscious consumers. However, this group are also one of the highest consumers of fast fashion.

(Leonard et al., 2019).

We used primary research and empathy mapping to uncover our target audience and discuss their pain points:

Empathy Map: Gen Z consumers on the environmental and social impact of the fast fashion industry.

Which led to us creating a user persona, Sophie Scott:

Which helped us to formulate a Point of View Statement:

Gen Z and Younger Millennial consumers (Sophie Scott) need a way to overcome the fast fashion paradox because textile waste management is a global crisis with real ecological and social consequences. Developing countries are bearing the burden.
Sophie is keen to become a more conscious consumer. She cares about how her decisions have an environmental and ethical impact, and wants to be part of the change.

and a How Might We Question (HMW?):

How might we address the fast fashion paradox so that Gen Z and Millennials can become the conscious consumers they aspire to be?

We knew our solutions had to be connected to the needs of our target consumer – Sophie 

But we also realised we were designing against the 

  • Fast fashion industry, 
  • Over consumerism 
  • Peer, celebrity and social media influence 
  • and, our own consumers’ apathy. 

So, how could we influence Sophie to change her fast fashion consumption habits? AND help the environment? 

We used several divergent thinking techniques to ideate solutions. Here are a sample of annotated sketches our team came up with:

Jess Zevaka 2021
Jess Zevaka 2021
Jess Zevaka 2021

With 7 options to choose from and time ticking down, we needed to converge and find a hero solution to move forward into the prototype phase of our project. To do this we created a decision matrix and rated our ideas based on a criterion:

The Hero Idea – The Conscious Closet (formerly Cher’s Closet)

Jess Zevaka 2021

We used a few rough prototyping techniques to develop our concept. 

Prototype 1: User Experience Storyboarding

Prototype name: Sophie borrows an item.

What is it?: A storyboarded scenario of a target audience member “Sophie” using the “borrow an item function” of the Conscious Closet App.

Top three learning questions this prototype is testing:

  • Does it connect with our target audience?
  • Would it be possible to replace a typical online shopping scenario with our app?
  • Does it alleviate a pain point of our target consumer?

Key metrics for success: The storyboard will be shared with team members for feedback. Success is achieved if it tells the user story well and minimal change is required.

Assumption (What would need to be true for it to work?): Users would be happy to participate in sharing their clothes with online friends.

Jess Zevaka 2021

Recommendations: Future storyboards with different users and scenarios should be made as this method does help us understand the user experience of proposed functions of the app.

Prototype 2: Persona Based Walkthrough

Prototype name: Add an item to your “closet”.

What is it?: A video from a team member explaining their idea behind the “add item to your closet” function of the app Conscious Closet.

Top three learning questions this prototype is testing:

  • Is the concept realistic?
  • Is the process straight forward?
  • How long is the process?
  • Key metrics for success: The video will be shared with team members for feedback. Success is achieved if there is minimal friction in the user process when acted out. Does it seem realistic and achievable?
  • Assumption (What would need to be true for it to work?): Users have the time, want and capability to document the contents of their wardrobe

After Prototyping

We learned: In order to make the concept quick and easy to use, the app would need to come with an intuitive categorising tool. If they skip this step it will add extra steps when they need to use the “add to marketplace” feature, inhibit the potential of our metrics and affect the filtering/sorting function.

Iterations: Categorising tool is required.

Recommendations: As this is the core function of the app. Multiple prototypes and user tests should be run to perfect the experience.

Prototype 3: Low Fidelity Paper Model

What is it?: A 3D mock up a test user could play with and give feedback on four specific user scenarios.

Prototype name: Paper wireframe / 3D model

Top three learning questions this prototype is testing:

  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency
  • Satisfaction

Key metrics for success:

  • Is the app easy to use?
  • Do users understand how to proceed through the process?
  • Is the app interesting enough to use?

Assumption (What would need to be true for it to work?):

  • That Gen Z and young Millennials are tech savvy enough to navigate a new app concept with intuition and ease.
  • The app concept is feasible in real life.

Testing method: Usability Testing, Think Aloud Protocol, SUS Survey.

After conducting usability testing with our paper wireframes we were able to collect insight from which we could make recommendations for further iteration and testing.

A sample of these are as follows:

Insight: The participant highly valued the graph and statistic component on the home screen as this helped him to visualise the impact of his choices on the environment.

Recommendation: It is recommended that this page is carefully considered to give the best and most relevant information to our users so we can affect behavioural change.

Action: Further research is required to find out which metrics are most important to potential users. Qualitative research is suggested.

Insight: The “ask to borrow an item” feature was not clear enough in execution. The user needed assistance to navigate this feature.

Recommendation: To have an additional screen with information about each garment and within that a clear “request to borrow” button which prompts an automatically populated form. This form should include the item’s image and a general (but editable) message stating that the user would like to borrow something.

Action: Create new wireframe screens and retest.

Insight: Adding to the market place was not as expected, the participant felt it was a duplication of effort to add every listing from scratch (i.e: taking new photos and filling in the item’s details) when the item already exists in the closet on the app.

Recommendation: To minimise friction – and therefore apathy towards selling second-hand items, a “quick list” option within the My Closet screen and an “add existing item” option within the market place menu should be added to streamline the process.

Action: Create new wireframe screens and retest.


  • Our team completed a full cycle of the design thinking process.
  • Applying a range of tools and techniques we formulated creative solutions to our wicked problem.
  • The empathy and define stages of our project provided us with the insight that Gen Z and younger Millennials were the group most interested in becoming conscious consumers; and we believed by helping them transform their purchasing habits, we could also help with the global textile crisis.
  • Whilst the initial prototype phase of this project was mostly successful. We recognise it is important this app helps to reduce consumption of new clothing items.
  • Through the testing process we proved the basic functionality of the app’s proposed features could be technically possible – as they are largely inspired by current existing applications.
  • However, upon critical analysis we realise what the Conscious Closet really needs to be effective in helping towards the wicked problem is more behavioural influence.
  • We believe more research into the social networking and behavioural functionality of the app is needed to take the concept further. Otherwise we’re afraid it would just be another closet app on the market and will not impact the landfill problem.
  • By committing to the process we could see how powerful a tool design thinking is.
  • If we were to continue forward, we can see opportunity to iterate and develop the Conscious Closet further. However, it may also be in our team’s interest to dump it and run through the prototype and test phase of one of our other solutions to best innovate and meet the aims of our project.

Design Thinking

Team Members:
Han Tran
Caitlin Terrett
Jessica Zevaka

My Role:
UX Research (Primary research)

20 minute presentation
Documentation – process journal and working document

Reference List

Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group (2017), Pulse of the fashion industry 2017, viewed 27 August 2021.

Leonard. L, Hanine K., Khen R. (2019), ‘Fast fashion – Environmental costs’, Wonder, viewed 7 September 2021.

Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., & Gwilt, A. (2020), ‘The environmental price of fast fashion, Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, vol.1, no.4, pp.189-200.

Park, H., & Kim, Y. K. (2016),’An empirical test of the triple bottom line of customer-centric sustainability: The case of fast fashion’, Fashion and Textiles, vol.3, no.25, pp.1-18.