How can design thinking make Charlotte more awesome?

On Friday, June 3, more than 250 Charlotteans gathered at Warehouse 242 to kick off their day with coffee, creativity, conversation, and a featured talk by Monty Montague of Charlotte-based BOLTgroup on the theme of “Broken.” You can see his talk in the video window below.

As always, the engaged Q&A was hard to contain within the 20-minute format, so we’re proud to allow Monty to answer some additional questions from the audience on his desire to apply “Design-Thinking” (and duct tape) to all aspects of life and community.

Thanks for your call-to-action re: bringing design-thinking to community “brokenness.” How have you seen this work in other communities? What can we learn from their experiences? – Lisa V. Gray

I have two examples from Charlotte.

Through design-thinking, we are helping to reinvent brick and mortar libraries in the digital world. Like many old school libraries around the country, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library – Main Branch downtown is threatened with extinction (and demolition). We re-imagined what a library can be and created the IdeaBox Maker Space within the library – with 3D printers, laser cutters and sewing machines. Now, people can come to the library to collect information, imagine something new and come back to “make it” a reality.

Success in a project like the library requires a motivated champion for the cause, a budget and a deadline. For the library, we had committed teams from BOLTgroup and library, a budget (thanks to the Knight Foundation) and a deadline driven by the library’s planning committee.

Another Charlotte example is the work Queen City Forward has done around providing access to healthy food for all Charlotteans. QCF uses design-thinking as a catalyst for entrepreneurial start-ups that wish to build businesses to tackle problems like “food deserts.”

What kinds of non-commissioned projects/designs do you like to take on? Please give us some examples. – Kathy Mercer

Most of our work is for clients, but we are a creative bunch brimming with ideas. We like to develop things we’re passionate about. One thing we’ve done on our own is Gigs2Go, the flash drive pack made from recycled paper. The Museum of Modern Art gift store picked it up because of its cool design and sustainable use of materials.

We’ve also created an innovative grill light called Gril-Lit (we’re passionate about cooking!) and we conceptualized a user-friendly glucose meter for diabetics that we call Sugar.

Can you give a specific example of how you applied “design-sized problem solving” to create one of your products? What are a few challenges you’d like to take on in Charlotte? – Steve Whitby

What is now called “Design-Thinking” is the process we’ve used at BOLTgroup for thirty years. We start with gaining empathy for the people who’ll use the product (usually through some form of research and observation). Then, we generate lots of creative ideas which lead to mock-ups and prototypes tested with the users. We revise, refine, fail, re-do, try again and again until we get it right.

We apply that process to every product we design, from footwear for Yaktrax or furniture for Herman Miller. In recent years, designers have recognized that Design-Thinking can be applied to bigger problems beyond just “products” — business problems, services and social problems.

So, I’ve been asking the question … just what is a “design-sized problem”? What is the purview of the designer? Is it every wicked problem of the world? Or, are there limits to what design thinking can remedy? I don’t know the answer, yet. But, we’ve seen how design thinking can help solve some large scale problems (like the libraries and food deserts mentioned above).

Beyond those, the challenges in Charlotte that I’m passionate about include:

  • Protecting our Bohemian Business Strips: We have precious few left in Charlotte, and with the pace of apartment construction, they are endangered species.
  • Equalizing our Schools: Our public schools draw from their neighborhoods, there is great disparity from one to the next.
Is there an existing platform where ordinary citizens can call out bad urban design and soul-crushing apartment architecture? – Tamela Rich

That’s a great idea, and I’ve thought about it before. I’ve thought maybe I (or someone else) could write a monthly column in one of the local publications critiquing the local development and architecture. Let’s do it!

How did you come up with the name of your company, BOLTgroup? – Sandy Cote

We landed on BOLT because it has many definitions that resonate with our business – bolting ahead of the pack, a lighting bolt of inspiration, locking with our clients in partnership.


Have your own Creative Morning!

The “After Party” is groovy … but you really need to experience the “Party Party,” too! Make plans to attend the next CreativeMornings/Charlotte gathering Friday, July 8, featuring a talk on the theme of “Love” by Herrison Chicas. Registration will open at 9 a.m. Monday, July 4.

CreativeMornings/Charlotte meets the first Friday of each month (barring holidays, when the date may shift). Tickets are always free and are available first-come, first-served starting at 9 a.m. the Monday prior to the meeting. Sign up for the newsletter at to receive alerts.

Video: Charlotte Star Room; Photos: Heather Liebler