Building on unfeasible ground – An Amendment

This post was originally published on the 30th August. Since then I’ve been contacted by x.ai who dispute the claims made by the Bloomberg article and the summary I gave. Having reviewed the article and rebuttal by x.ai I’ve decided to amend this article.

The section below on x.ai has now been updated. More to follow on this fascinating and evolving area.

As a designer it’s important to be aware of the current state of cutting edge technology and experience in your discipline area.

As an interaction designer this increasingly difficult as the line blurs between the technology that underpins the things we experience each day. Looking at the average digital product or service, it’s now all but impossible to distinguish between a public beta, a stable service, one half of an A/B test and an untested prototype.

This makes if difficult to know where the cutting edge really is. Staying up to date with things requires that we’re all aware of what’s technologically feasible. In the pr-software world of design it was easier to assume that real meant feasible. However, it’s not longer safe to assume that seeing and interacting with something in the real world means it’s a safe example of technology that you could suggest in your own work.

Real doesn’t mean feasible any more

Feasibility is the measure of how possible it is to build a design with today’s technology. In the design world it’s a term tied to our industrial heritage: a time when success was all about engineering a solution and mass producing it. Feasibility in the age of software is much murkier, much less easy to define.

As designers we still need to strive for feasibility on behalf of our clients. Although we might not be the ones engineering the impossible, it might be us who’s specifying the impossible. It’s really important to see how some of the most cutting edge experiences we’re inspired by might be entirely unfeasible. Below are a few examples.

1. Kickstarter’s fail rate

A case in point is the very existence of Kickstarter – a service built in the notion of a yet-to-exist product being available for preorder. Listers are encouraged to make it as real as possible to encourage people to invest.

The success rate of fulfilled products is an impressive 91%, however it means that 9% of successfully funded items will never actually see the light of day. This of course doesn’t include the others that simply don’t make their funding goal, the much higher number of 56%.

Kickstarter Fail Rate

Amazon would be quite a different service if half of the products we’re listed as ‘unavailable’ and one in ten products order didn’t actually arrive.

2. Lyft Carpool

San Francisco born ride hailing service Lyft recently announced it was rolling back it’s pooled ride feature ‘Lyft Carpool’ – where car riders were encouraged to pickup someone on the same route.

Lyft Carpool

It’s yet to be seen if the Waze equivalent Waze Carpool will also survive. But either way it’s interesting to see features rolled out and rolled back again.

Waze Carpool

Uber itself is an interesting example as leaked information earlier this month showed it had lost $1.2bn in the arly part this year.

3. x.ai accused of using humans

Automated assistant service x.ai garnered some less than positive press earlier this year when Bloomberg asserted that there were perhaps more humans in the loop that the layman might assume when thinking of and AI system. Bloomberg, it seems, have mis-interpreted the role of the ‘trainer’ of the machine (a common practice in AI systems)

x.ai

Whether you believe the Bloomberg article or x.ai’s counterpoint, the reality is that it’s difficult to know which side to take when the simplified, understandable version may actually be very misleading. When most people assume that the state of AI is defined by services like x.ai, it’s important to realise that all is not what it might seem…

What it means for design

So as designers what can we do? It’s not realistic for us to see inside each the companies we’re looking to for inspiration. Even if we could, few of us could really interrogate their tech or business models (although these are both areas that designers should be making themselves more literate in).

There are a few things we can try to do though…

Firstly we can recognise that the examples above are themes that will be repeated. We can keep reminding ourselves and our clients that real doesn’t mean feasible. We can make ourselves aware that if it looks too good to be true, it might well be.

Secondly we can try to be more diligent. We can try to investigate the latest tech announcements, to see if they are too good to be true. Don’t just quote the tweet about the next big thing, read the article, track down the source, cross reference the claims being made.

Thirdly we can also be inspired by the impossible. Design is not solely about operating within the constraints of technology, it’s about pushing the boundaries in search of what’s best for the people were designing. So don’t take this article as a suggestion to be less ambitious, take it as a recommendation to be more professional.

Big Design Teams are Hard Work

A (vaguely) mathematic exploration of why small teams can move more quickly

Working with teams of designers at Hyper Island earlier this year illustrated a typical problem that growing teams face when trying to get alignment. Of the six teams in the class all were in groups of five designers apart from one that had six. The team of six had trouble finding consensus and developing a healthy team culture. On the surface one extra team member shouldn’t make a difference. In fact, shouldn’t it have been an advantage?

Soft signals

There are a few ‘rules of thumb’ I’ve heard about managing a team size. Google has a Two Pizza rule (if you can’t feed your team on two pizzas your team is too big).

At IDEO teams are rarely above 4. We have extended teams with supporting roles, but the core team is invariably three, four or five.

Meanwhile, back on Hyper Island

At the end of project review the team was feeling a little down about the situation as their team communication challenges felt like personal failure. To be clear, the amazing teaching team at Hyper Island spend a lot of time supporting healthy team culture and this was the only team with six members and a problem. I drew them a little chart I’d seen IDEO design director Steve O’Connor draw to explain what was going on.

The challenge becomes clear when you start to map out the lines of communications for a five- and six-person team. While we’re at it, let’s look at a four-person team too:

Team Diagrams

As you can see as you add team members the amount of communication gets very complex quickly. A five person team has 10 potential lines of communication. A six person team jumps to 15. In fact the difference between a four- and six-person team is 150% jump in communication management.

Of course there are many other factors at play in the success of a team. But paying attention to the number of people is very important.

Design Research Advice for Startups

Last week Senior Design Researcher Kate Wakely and I visited the Barclays Techstars accelerator in East London, we met with the startups in the current cohort and shared a little advice on Design Research.

Techstars

Our goal was to convince the teams in the value of user research and give practical advice on how to get more out of each interview with a customer. Here are three good reasons to get out of the office and meet the people you’re designing for:

1. Desire-lines: Right vs Wrong

The image below shows both the planned footpath and the path that real people have chosen to take instead. In the world of urban planning these manmade paths are known as desire-lines and they represent human behaviour diverging from the designed vision for the space. If you were to observe this behaviour without going out to the meet the humans behind it you’d risk misinterpreting what’s going on.

Desire Line

The picture above is analogous to analytics: it tells the story of what is happening, but not why it’s happening. Without understanding the why you’ll design the wrong solution.

If you wanted to adapt to this behaviour you could put up a fence and force people onto the path. Or you could tarmac the desire-line. Which is right?

Whatever stage your company is at, going out to spend time with your customers is vital to making the right product decisions. Your current products and services may have desire-lines that you’ve noticed today, before you ‘fix’ things make sure you’ve spoken to your users and got the full picture.

The truth

The image above was taken in a park in North London, after speaking to users and after the official path was laid Arsenal football club moved grounds, so on match day the crowds heading to the stadium no longer moved from left to right but straight across forming the new desire-line. So in fact neither the urban planner or the users are using the space in the ‘wrong’ way: it was a more complex change to the environment which is incredibly easy to spot if you go out and talk to people, but very difficult to from historic data alone.

What will you learn from your customers when you go and meet them in their contexts? What challenges and opportunities will you find in the things adjacent you your product or service?

2. Build Empathy

We feel that one of the leading indicators of startup failure is loosing love for your customers. If you’re going to dedicate huge amounts of your time to building products for people, it’s vital that you have empathy for them.

R-I-G-H-T

When you go out and meet people in person you’ll understand them better and re-energise your team with tales from the real world (more on this below).

If you find yourself disliking your customers ask yourself why and then make some time to go and meet with them. Building empathy will make you a better designer and more likely to build something that truly matters to people.

3. The Power of Stories

The final big advantage of getting out and talking to your customers is that you’ll discover stories. Stories have great power to motivate members of your team to do their best work and communicate very complex things quickly.

IDEO London’s Startup in Residence – umotif – discovered story of a patient who had benefitted from their product when they went out into the field to interview people. They didn’t go with the intention of finding this story – in fact it was pure chance that Sam was the person that responded to the request to talk.

Her story is the perfect embodiment of what umotif wants to do to the healthcare system: empower patients. The story is not only an amazing marketing message (ironically exactly because it’s not a marketing message) but also a hugely motivating piece of evidence for the team. Hearing the story of someone who has truly benefitted from their tools has driven the team to keep building and improving.

When you get out to meet people, listen out for stories. We always find that it’s the stories that travel further and live longest in organisations. As Dr. Brené Brown said “maybe stories are just data with a soul”. (A bit cheesy I know, but I sort of like it.)

Epilogue

Any startups out there interested in IDEO’s work in the startup space please get in touch via the Twitters – I’m @matt_speaks.

Hyper Island 2016 – Week 2

Hyper Island

Hyper Island does bring out the best in students. Despite a 5am start to be in Manchester each Monday there’s always insightful and interesting conversation with a group of professionals keen to not just learn, but understand.

The focus for week two is preparing for the user interviews. We took the teams though the process of planning a session, joined by Senior Design Researcher Kate Wakley, our recommendation was to treat this interaction like any other experience to be designed. We shared the tips and tricks that we’ve developed over time.

So, what jumped out?

Design Research Ethics

Kate shared IDEO’s latest publication The Little Book of Design Research Ethics. It’s the culmination of work done by design researchers around IDEO and collects up our advice on how to handle the complex situations that can arise during design research interviews.

The three core principles are:

Responsibility – act to protect people’s current and future interests.
Respect – honour participant’s limits and value their comfort
Honesty – be truthful and timely with communication

We strive to keep these things front of mind overtime we go out into the field.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 21.31.09

This new work on Ethics is still being defined, in fact there isn’t even a site or pdf that I can point to towards. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Advice not rules

The most important thing to about any ethical advice is that it is only ever a starting point to form your own best practice. The ethics that surround design should be front of mind as much as possible as it’s very easy to skip over things when you’re moving fast.

It’s also very important to shape your ethical position as a team or group. As you’ll be working together consensus is vital. You’ll find this consensus through discussion, never assume that you opinions are shared by others. Even if they are, it’s better to know for sure that than risking conflict, or worse, silent resentment in the team.

Human: Professional

A Design Research interview isn’t like a conversation. Nor is it really like a interview in the traditional sense (such as a job interview); it’s a structured conversation that needs to be treated professionally – just as every other activity you’ll do as a designer.

During a Design Research interview you should assume a professional persona both to make the participant clear on the roles you each have but also to make sure you get the most out of the session.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 20.19.31

But before you launch into a professional demeanour, arrive as a human. You can transition into a more formal tone once you introduce the topic of conversation and start asking more detailed questions. Usually participants are new to the experience of this kind of interview so make sure you spend enough time at the beginning to make them feel comfortable, answering any questions they have.

When the interview is complete you should also make time to transition back from professional to human. Coming out of your professional mode can also be an opportunity for the person you’re interviewing to relax and reflect on the conversation.

Pass the Question

We also shared a little cheat sheet with some techniques that might help you out of a tricky spot in your next interview. So if you find an interview going slowly, or a participant not being entirely co-operative give the following technique a whirl:

It’s called: “Pass The Question”. During the interview, while you will be asking the majority of questions, you may have a participant ask you something back to you. Rather than answering try to pass the question back to them. Here’s and example:

You: How would you like to access this new service?
Participant: Will it be on a website?
You: Would you use it if it was on a website?

There’s an art to doing it without looking contrived, but most people don’t notice it and it’ll feel more obvious to you than them.

Resources

I also mentioned a few resources that the group might find useful while preparing their research

Design Kit

http://designresearchtechniques.com/
A very comprehensive collection of Design Research methods, activities and techniques.

http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/index.html
A bit clunky, but links to useful templates along with activities to try in an interview.

http://www.designkit.org/
An IDEO collection of content to make you a better Human Centred Designer.

http://mappingsocialdesign.org/2013/11/19/mapping-social-design-practice-beyond-the-toolkit/
A list of toolkits for design research. Almost too much to take in. Thanks @dalmakad for sharing.

IDEO Futures Podcast 30

Last week I was lucky enough to be a guest on the excellent IDEO Futures Podcast. If you’ve never listened go and listen right now:

I was interviewed alongside Bruce Hellman, the CEO and Founder of umotif – IDEO London’s first Startup In Residence. We talked about the process and benefits that umotif got from the residency and the many things that the IDEO design team learnt from the process.

umotif's toolkit

I’m also a big Futures fan, so to have been the guest on episode 30 is a huge privilege – especially when I think about the auspicious company who have guested on the show.

Anyway, I hope you get a chance to check it out. Make sure you subscribe and then check out these other great episodes:

 

Hyper Island 2016 – Week 1

I was delighted to return to Hyper Island in Manchester again this year to teach the User Research module for the Digital Experience Design course. As with last year, I thought it might be good to capture the points that generated most discussion. If you find this usefulor want to talk more given a shout on the Twitters.

Design Thinking in 50 diagrams

Having shared the design thinking process with may different audiences recently (clients, startups, students) I’ve noticed quite how many ways there are to visually describe the process. A google image search for Design Thinking yields at least three main types:

DesignThinkingProcess

UCD-process

PersonalizedLearningPilots1

Perhaps most surprising is that we at IDEO, who lay some claim to the process, don’t actually have a definitive version on our website. How could it be that there isn’t a generally agreed picture of a process which is so widely shared an apparently understood?

The theory that I shared with the students is that while the process is generally understood, it’s also a flexible approach that requires each designer and team using it to define in their own terms and precise usage. Much like language, it is defined by usage. I wonder if this is why it has been so successful in the last 10 years, and continues to be adopted by new and old organisations: it requires it’s participants to be creative just in the act of use.

DesignThinking

It does raise a new question for those of us employing this way of working: do we all agree on the method and goals? Is there a danger that the loose definition leads to ambiguity? I’m now much more aware of the way I describe it to those who’ve never done it before. How will you make sure there is consensus and confidence in your team’s use of the approach?

Ethics and Principles

This year, our client has forced our students to have an active discussion about their ethics and principles as designers. While most courses raise the question of ethics, very few actually have the students really address the situation. It’s very easy in the idealised world of academia to denounce projects for arms dealers, petro-chemical companies or big pharma, but we’ve given the students a far more complex situation to resolve.

I won’t go into specific details – other than to say that the client isn’t in one of the industries above – however the group has already dealt with more mature and important discussions than most professionals have in a year. I have immense respect for their willingness to deal with things head on, and hope that they see the value in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 21.31.09

Probably the most important thing that’s emerged is the need for the students to both form a personal stance but also to respect the views of those around them. Very often the most vocal members of a group will set the tone for everyone and it’s important as a vocal participant to see the effect of their actions. It’s equally important for people to stand up for their beliefs and be vocal when they believe it is the right thing to do. Thus defining a grey area between passion and tolerance.

And you thought this was just about design?

How many interviews do you need to do?

Finally, and to bring a little levity back to this post, I shared a recommendation on the ideal number of participants for a Design Research programme. We would suggest 5-8 participants will give you all the inspiration you need to move your design forward.

“You expect us to base our future on the views of just six people”

In a word yes.

In a few more words, yes but they need to be very carefully selected. Furthermore, we don’t take these 6 opinions and build an idea, we looks for underlying patterns in this carefully selected group. The common themes between them will absolutely be enough to inspire a design team to build the right thing. And at this stage, we aren’t looking for market sizing or business cases – that detail can be added once we’ve built something concrete – for now we just want to make sure we’re building something people actually want.

20000319-user-testing-diminshing-returns-curve

The process of interview 6 people doesn’t replace the 1000 person beta prototype, or the business model design process. The 6 interviews replace the hunches that lead you to start the project in the first place. Very often teams have set off on a path to build something new based on their instincts and combinations of past research. The goal is therefore to make sure that these things are right.

We’ll repeat the process of testing multiple times as we iterate towards a solution, each time we’ll select 5-8 carefully chosen participants – in fact you can think of them as members of the design team as we want their opinions on very specific things.

Don Norman has an excellent chart that illustrates the point. Here he shows that the first 6 participants will identify 90% of the total UX problems in a prototype. We feel this graph is equally true at every stage of the design process.

Always remember, your goal is to inspire the design process and build the right thing.

Next week

We’ll be getting into the details of running a design research interview, and the ethical issues the teams might encounter while out in the real world.

IDEO London’s First Startup In Residence

Over the summer of 2015 IDEO London hosted it’s first Startup In Residence. We invited a young company to join our team and hopefully benefit from our expertise, process and network. In return we got inspired by their way of working and saw first hand what it takes to build something from the ground up.

It was an intense three month experiment bringing together different cultures, practices and skills. We’re all incredibly proud of what we achieved, but what did we learn?

What is SIR?

Before I launch into the things we learned, perhaps a little context about ‘Startup In Residence’ (or SIR for short). At IDEO, we’re constantly experimenting with new ways to have a positive impact on the world; as life a design consultancy is changing (although not everyone agrees with the much rumoured death of the design firm) we’re looking for new ways to apply our skills to problems beyond the traditional consultancy model.

SIR is a little bit like a startup accelerator in the sprit of Techstars or Y-Combinator, the big difference being that we pick just one company to work with. We invite them to be part of our team, they then join us to work in our office for the duration of the residency. We contribute to their success but we also want them to contribute to our process and culture.

cards

We invited umotif – a healthcare startup (more below) – to work with us for three months over the summer of 2015. Members from our (Betsy Fields and Lorenz Korder Fort) team worked with them to design a programme of activities focussed on improving the areas of their business that would most benefit from an injection of design.

PIllpack

The SIR scheme has run about a dozen times around IDEO in different offices. Notable successes include PillPack and Food Genius. The programme is part of the IDEO Futures portfolio. Go and check them out if haven’t already. Also, subscribe to the IDEO Futures Pod(cast).

We were very keen to work with umotif as the challenge they are addressing in healthcare is something we’re passionate about. And what better way to learn more about the space than by rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in?

Who are umotif?

Well, firstly, their website will do a better job describing than I can here. But as a quick overview…

offer

Umotif are a UK digital health startup building tools to activate patients and their care teams in the treatment of Cardiology and Oncology conditions. I’m most excited by the ‘activating patients’ part of the that proposition. They’ve developed a fantastic platform that allows patients to track the symptoms that are meaningful to them and relevant to the their condition. The tracked data is useful to the patient but also to the care team supporting them.

It represents a shift in the paradigm between patient and doctor. In the future both sides will be responsible for parts of the recovery process.

With a mix of medical and design knowledge at the heart of the company they were a great match for IDEO’s human centred approach to solving problems with diverse design teams.

umotif

What did we learn?

SIR is very much a two way street, with us sharing expertise and advice with umotif, and us learning from them. There were numerous things that emerged during the process, but three of the most important points in the success of our project were:

  1. Identifying focus, and then sticking to it
  2. The fog that comes with the Design Thinking process
  3. Never forgot the people using your product

Relentless focus

When we met umotif they were supporting clinicians and patients in 14 different conditions; the ability to move quickly to meet demand was part of the their early success. However, with that diversity meant that certain activities were being multiplied by 14. When you consider that the fragmented nature of healthcare system in the UK makes it tough to support two or three conditions, 14 starts to look like a mammoth challenge.

map

Focussing on fewer conditions to ensure excellence in each

Focus might sound like ‘doing less’, but this misses the point. Focus is simply a way to help you make decisions about where you put your time and resources. The total list of jobs doesn’t get shorter; it get prioritised. This notion of focus is relevant way beyond the world of startups of course, but you feel it sharply when every penny and second needs to work very hard.

It’s also very important to note that focus may be defined at one part of your business the benefits will be felt in different parts. For example as your Sales Team focuses to reduce the diversity of potential clients, the biggest benefits might be felt by the coders and developers who need to maintain fewer code bases. For this reason the focus area must be decided and agreed by everyone.

This is obviously easier to do when your company only has 4 people. Startups should find it easier to agree as there are fewer voices to be heard. The need for consensus is true for all companies and so bigger organisations will naturally find this harder.

Design thinking and fog

One of the most overlooked parts of the Design Thinking methodology is the ambiguity that comes at the moments when you’re ‘diverging’. And as the process is one of continual divergence and convergence you’ll experience ambiguity throughout the project.

‘The Fog’ is something that I’ve written about before on this blog, it was something the students I worked with at Hyper Island needed to overcome. It’s been revealing to me how comfortable IDEO designers are with the fog – to the point where we sometimes celebrate it too much .The reality for anyone new to the process is the feeling of anxiety, confusion and concern. These are clearly not things to celebrate.

To quote myself…

[The fog is] the murky place you might find yourself in as you complete your research phase. You bring together your notes and start to wonder if any of it makes any sense.

The question this raises is: how should we tackle the fog? Or perhaps: how do we get rid of it? Or is the fog something to embrace?

As more time goes by I think the answer is, first and foremost, to articulate it clearly (and without the smug air of an expert talking down to their students). Knowing the Design Thinking process well means that we should also be able to identify quite precisely when the fog will appear for people. One of the most important things we did when working with umotif was to tackle the team’s concerns head on and try to normalise the anxiety. Once the team began to recognise the fog as part of the process it became easier to move forward.

3beff0a

http://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=1158

But I think we could go further than simply saying ‘here comes the foggy bit!’, we should be treating it like any design challenge and responding to the problem with better solutions. To make the experience better for those I work with, I’m trying to do these things more often:

  • Regular ‘pulse’ checks throughout the project to give people a chance to shout out if they’re feeling nervous (hint: everyone does sooner or later)
  • Stop celebrating the fog in front of those who’ve never experienced it
  • Spend time writing posts like this to keep it front of mind
  • Get better at explaining the stages while leading people through them (taking an extra few minutes to reflect while we go)

The sooner we (I) get away from the mentality that only experts can get through the fog, the sooner we’ll get more people joining our process and amplifying our impact.

Spending time with real people

Human centred design calls for designers, researchers, clients and developers to all get away from their desks and out into the real world to spend time with the people they’re building for. This is something that both IDEO and successful startups share.

One of the most memorable parts of our whole process was when we met with Sam – a patient who’s benefitted first-hand from the tools that umotif had built. We met with her to get inspired about how to improve the next version of the software, but we got a much more important thing – we got her story:

And there’s no better way to explain exactly why we all believe that umotif will continue to make a difference in the world than hearing first hand what they do to people’s lives.

We certainly wouldn’t have got this by sitting at our desks.

Interested in Startup In Residence?

If you’re working at a Startup (or know someone who is) and would like to know more about SIR, drop me line on the Twitter @matt_speaks. I’d love to come and talk to you about how IDEO and Startups might continue to learn form each other.

Speaking at ‘Design Manchester’

On the 20th October I gave a talk to a group of students at Design Manchester: a festival for design and its role in the present and future of Manchester and the North West of the UK.

My talk was entitled ‘How To Make Yourself Indispensable’ and aimed to give students advice on making a success of their early career. It was inspired by my other half @amycooperwright.

Click to read a write up of the talk on Medium.

indispensable

After the talk the fantastically engaged audience asked lots of smart questions generally giving me plenty of faith in the future of the design industry in Manchester and beyond.

My three favourite questions:

What is the most important skill you’ve learnt in your professional life?

One of the most formative projects in my design career was designing bus maps. The skill I used the most on that project was not a creative one, it was writing emails. Lots of emails. In fact, more time was spent justifying our design decisions than doing the original design work.

If you think that doesn’t sound like a designer’s job, but you’d be completely wrong. Having a great idea is key design skill, but an equally important skill is being able to communicate your thinking.

No piece of design speaks for itself so developing the ability to critically analyse and justify design will actually be something you do more often than actually designing. Being able to communicate is the more important skill.

I’m a graphic designer working on an architectural environment project, I seem to be doing work that moves away from graphics, is that the right thing?

In short yes!

If your research and design work is taking you to the overlaps with adjacent creative discipline don’t be afraid to go and spend time with the people in those fields.

Learn their language and tap into their expertise: there’s a chance that their deep knowledge will unlock opportunities back in your world. Learning enough about architecture, coding or data science to be able to have a smart conversation with other professionals is a core skill for any designer so the sooner you get into this way of working the better.

The only caveat is this: don’t spend too long away from your own expertise area as you risk becoming a generalist. The downside of being a generalist is that you won’t be able to offer anything back to the architect (or coder or data scientist) you’re hoping to collaborate with.

  Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 22.35.21

What skills are you looking for in new graduates?

Whatever your starting design profession is today the chances are you’ll be doing very different things in a few years.

If you’re a graphic designer today it’s safe to say that, even if it’s still called graphic design in 5 years, it won’t be the same set of skills, tools and activities as you do today. Get comfortable with that coming change: it’s an opportunity not a threat.

The skills that I’m personally interested in are informed by the fact that I’m an interaction designer and do I’m thinking about that and the adjacent disciplines. I’m always in the look out for designers who have strong coding skills.

It’s incredibly difficult to maintain deep skills in both design and coding, but those that do are in high demand. For the digital designers out there code is one of your raw materials and so at the very least you should have proficiency in some of the front end languages. If you can find a way to push both the creative and the programming forward together I’d like to talk to you. I’m also interested to see if designers start to pick up the ability to manipulate data – as another raw material to design with.

Have a look at this Medium collection that I’ve written for, if you’d like to learn more.

Design x Data

Teaching at Hyper Island – Week 4

thumb_IMG_8862_1024The final week at Hyper Island and the team’s visited the BBC at Media City in Salford. We’re very grateful for the BBC’s involvement in this project – providing a real brief and venue for the final presentations.

Each team did an amazing job and, despite each being set the same brief and taught the same methodology, came out with unique perspectives on the BBC’s challenge.

Presenting without screens

thumb_IMG_8861_1024One stipulation I made for the final presentations was the banning of screens. The teams had to be creative and hands on in order to present and think more about their individual roles.

At IDEO our equivalent mid point presentations often have the same physical design with posters and props taking the place of projectors and laptops. At this point in the process presentations should feel like ‘work in progress’ and open to questions and improvement. Screens signal completeness, worse still you’ll spend/waste time finessing the way it looks rather than what it says.

There are challenges of course: you should plan very carefully the layout of the room, and how it can support your storytelling, but generally tangible presentations better engage your audience.

Cat Buckets

The students in this year’s Digital Experience Design crew were very lucky to have Colin Burns as thier client. After the presentations he made time to review each group and gave fantastic constructive feedback.

thumb_IMG_8907_1024

One area we discussed was the naming of Opportunity Areas. At IDEO we use the term Opportunity Area to encompass an area rich with potential for ongoing design. We often share them at the halfway point of a project and work with our clients to pick the ones we want to dig deeper into in the second half of the project. The teams from Hyper Island were tasked with presenting their areas, but most lacked a memorable name.

Colin recommended something evocative and arresting. For example “Cat Buckets”. When you hear the phase cat buckets you’ll immediately picture something, and the chances are you’ll remember it. It’s a great example of a simple phrase that contains a lot of information. Something you should strive for when naming your own Opportunity Areas in the future.

thumb_IMG_8856_1024

Congratulations

The final thought from me is to say congratulations to all of the students for completing the Understanding People module, and good luck with the rest of the course.

The whole group was highly engaged throughout and picked up new ideas and methodologies with great skill and thoughtfulness.

I’m sure they’ll all go onto great things, and I hope to cross paths with them in the future.

Teaching at Hyper Island – Week 3

By the third week of teaching the Understanding People module at Hyper Island in Manchester things got serious; we went through the process of synthesis and sense making. We did it in just one day.

IMG_8819

Moving from the foggy start of the day surrounded by post-it notes to a coherent end point was tough but very satisfying. I was joined by two fellow IDEO Design Researchers – Jenny Winfield and Kate Wakely. They brought great experience and knowledge to the day and helped each team to shape their research into a clear set of insights, themes and opportunity areas.

This was probably the hardest and most enlightening day for the group. The feedback at the end of the day was very positive and it’s testament to the abilities of each and every member of the Digital User Experience cohort as it was a new process for them all.

Synthesis

Synthesis is a simple concept but a difficult process; you learn it by doing it. I learnt what I know from working alongside more experienced colleagues and observing the way they approached the challenge. The IDEO designers worked alongside each group throughout the day. This certainly wasn’t about giving some tips and letting them try it alone.

As with previous posts from my work with the group, I’ve picked out a few points that generated discussion

Synth setup basics

IMG_8824

Five rules for a successful synthesis session – preparation is everything.

1. Close laptops, phones on silent. Get rid of anything that will distract you. You need to get lost a little, and your email beeping will break this up. Print out your photos, and your notes should be handwritten (as you wont have used a laptop to make note in the first place).

2. Everything in one space. Before you begin make sure you have enough post-it notes, wall space, pens, paper and anything else you’ll use to capture a structure your ideas. You should also have all of your downloaded research activities in the room with you. If you haven’t downloaded everything, do that first.

3. Snacks and sugar. It can help to have a few snacks in the space with you. It’s a draining process and so you might find you need the sugar/coffee/tea close to hand to get through it. Going to get a drink will be the first thing that breaks up your flow; once it’s broken it’ll take at least 15 minutes to get back up to speed. If anyone needs to go to the toilet, go now. And wash your hands.

4. One conversation at a time. This is one of IDEOs Rules of Brainstorming, it’s vital for several reasons: making sure only person talks at a time means that everyone hears what is said. It means that the group’s focus in magnified in one place and not dissipated around the room in multiple conversations. It’s also polite to listen to everyone, it signals that everyone in the room is of equal importance – and if they are in the room, they are.

Rules of Brainstorming

5. Explain every Post-it note – tell stories. When you take it in turns to share an observation or quote make sure to explain it fully. If you don’t understand a post-it note ask the owner to clarify it. Everything that comes out of the session is owned by everyone involved. It’s your responsibility to understand everything.

Spatial memory

During this week’s synthesis session I reflected on the physical nature of post-it noting in a room surrounded by other post-its. It struck me that the process is no accident. As a group, when we structure our shared intelligence as many small fragments stored spatially we essentially create an external map of our collective brain.

When you move, or introduce a new post, it’s vital to explain it; everyone needs to understand and agree with it. Don’t just read it out, tell the story that inspired it.

Once it’s placed you aren’t allow to move it without everyone seeing where it moved to and from.

In doing this you build the shared brain of the group. Sticking the post-its onto walls means that you make use of people’s spacial memory skills. Humans are wired to remember things spatially, think about how easy it is remember the route between your home and work. It’s an amazingly complex sequence of stages, but you make it without thinking. Laying out the thinking from a group synthesis session spatially means we can literally free space in our brains and store ideas in a way that’s easy to find later.

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else.

The fog

One of the most disconcerting things that the group experienced is sometimes known as ‘The Fog’. It’s the murky place you might find yourself in as you complete your research phase. You bring together your notes and start to wonder if any of it makes any sense.

DoubleDiamond

It’s marks the point of maximum divergence. The notion of divergence is sometimes expressed as a Double Diamond or a graph line. They both point to the process of exploring and looking outward, at first it’s fun – but after a while it gets a little uncomfortable.

This is the fog.

You can’t avoid the fog, and nor should you. It’s a natural part of the creative process, the best thing is to recognise it. You might even come to love and embrace the fog. But only if you have a clear path forward.

The next step will be to synthesise your ideas, it begins with downloading – you can read more about that here:

Design Research–From Interview to Insight: Part One, Summarising the Interview

Next week, final presentations.

Teaching At Hyper Island – Week 2

Week 2 was full of interesting discussion on the Digital Experience Design module i’m teaching on at Hyper Island. If you didn’t read the previous post you can catch up here. As with last week I’ve pulled out a few of the points that generated the most discussion.

This week we focussed on getting setup for interviews and other research activities. At IDEO, one-to-one ethnographic interviews are at the heart of our research process and to get the most out of the interviews we often design exercises to help prompt discussion; one exercise that caught everyone’s attention was the Relationship Map.

Relationship Map

Relationship Map

Originally developed by a team in our San Francisco office, the Relationship Map is a simple tool that encourages people to think about their connections with a set of brands, or products, or services. Essentially any set of comparable ‘things’. In the example below the team asked the participants to think about their relationships with high street retailers.

Map in use

As the participants express their relationships with brand as if they were relationships with people (“true love” or “flirtatious”) it encourages a level of self-reflection that most people don’t often do.

The map is important as answering the question “describe your relationship with Etsy” is difficult to answer. People don’t think in terms of relationships, but when you help them to think that way you can unlock new insights.

Exercises like the relationship map can take many different forms, but they should help you investigate an area by giving the people you’re interviewing something to interact with. We often use card sorts, or share sacrificial concepts. These are great ways to get people thinking differently.

I’ve attached a pdf of the Relationship Map below if you’d like to give it a try. It’s a fun way to get people thinking about the way they engage with various services.

Download the Relationship Map

Tips for the end of an interview

At the end of a one-to-one interview there are a few simple things to make sure you do – say thank you, tell the participant what happens next in terms of your project, remember to get a photo. The most important thing, though, is to keep listening.

There’s a strange phenomena that we often talk about at IDEO—and was confirmed by Jenny Holland from Esro*—where participants will share some of the most revealing information just after you’ve finished the interview.

When you wrap up, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open. At this point participants will often relax and speak more candidly. Or i’ve often heard people say

“I thought you were going to ask about my…”

and suddenly reveal some amazing fact about themselves.

Within reason, it’s fine to capture these notes; even if it means remembering it and then scribbling it in a notebook later.

Some of the most revealing facts have come out while leaving someone’s house; it’s in these moments people talk more freely. Don’t miss these opportunities!

How to use post-it notes

You might wonder if you really need advice on how to use a post-it note. While these aren’t ground breaking rules, they are good practice and will make your life easier when you come to synthesise your notes later.

I’m not a stickler, but…

The first rule of post-it notes is to write clear and concisely. Remember that you and your colleagues will need to be able to decipher the content in an hour/day/week’s time. By then you’ll probably have forgotten the context of the original idea. It’s very easy, in a moment of feverish clarity, to write something so brief that it’s essentially meaningless just 5 minutes later.

Secondly, label each the post-it with the name of the interviewee that the observation came from. Or, if your note came from a piece of secondary research label it accordingly. When you come to synthesise your notes it will be easier to track back points to their original source.

The third golden rule is another organisational one; try to keep the same type of notes on the same colour of post-it. For example: quotes on blue, facts on green and ideas on orange. It is much easier to glance at a wall covered in notes and get an idea of the mix of observations.

How to use a post-it note

Finally, and possibly most importantly, use a fat pen. Something thick enough that you can read from a few metres away. Writing in very thin pen might be easier but it means you’ll spend your whole time walking back and forth from the wall to read everything. 

Clients love to use thin pens. Most people only ever use thin pens. Don’t let them**.

A fat pen will limit how much you can write on one note. The simple limitation of a big pen and a small piece of paper forces you to be concise and efficient.

Who knew post-it notes could be so complex?

Next week

The groups will be back from their research with hundreds of (well written) post-it notes and we’ll be synthesising all day.

If you’re interested in the Digital Experience Design course you can read more here in the Hyper Island Site.

I’d also recommend course leader Lauren Currie‘s blog Red Jotter, check it out.

* Many thanks to Jenny Holland from Esro for doing the day and giving the team masses of great advice for interviewing participants.

** Seriously.

Teaching At Hyper Island – Week 1

I’m lucky enough to be participating in the first ever cohort taking the new Digital User Experience course at Hyper Island in Manchester. My official role is ‘Industry Leader’ but i’m learning a lot myself, anyone who uses the phase ‘those who can’t do, teach’ has obviously never taught.

Digital Experience Design – find out more in the Hyper Island website.

IMG_8733

We’ve just started the second week and it feels like a good point to reflect on the things that generated the most discussion in the first week. The course aims to get designers better set to work in the rapidly evolving digital/design/creative workplace, where traditional universities are struggling to keep up with the ongoing change in industry Hyper Island is looking to close the gap. This is a good thing. It’s also vital that Industry is actively invested in the designers of the future. Which is why i’m getting up at 5:30am every Monday and taking the train to Manchester.

Week One – Designing Your Research

At the heart of every great IDEO project is a great research programme that has inspired a design team to do great work. Research isn’t just about discovering opportunities, it’s also about building empathy for your users and getting a design team excited by the prospect of fixing a real problem for real people.

In depth user interview

The heart of our research process is getting out of the studio and going to meet people in their homes and offices. Great design starts in the context of the people you’re designing for. Not at your desk. We meet a small group of carefully selected users to meet in person for 1-2 hours. We want to meet them in their own context to observe the way they behave, to make them comfortable and ultimately to see the things that they take for granted.

Conversations are highly structured – we use ‘discussion guides’ to keep us focussed – and we prefer one-on-one as it lets us build up a rapport. At most we take three interviewers to meet one person. A ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 interviewers to interviewees is best to make people feel comfortable.

In home interviews are a great opportunity to have you preconceptions and assumptions tested. When you walk into an interview you must respect the participant and keep in mind that they are the expert. You are just the designer.

Analogous Experiences

Analogous Experiences

When investigating a new area you can often find inspiration in adjacent or equivalent industries. Analogous experiences will often reveal solutions to the same problems you are encountering in your project, for example the medical industry can learn a lot from the hospitality industry. The world of health and fitness can often be inspiration to the finance industry.

Most importantly it’s good to remember that the best examples of user experience may well be defined outside of your industry. How often have you heard the phase “we want to the be the Uber of x”? It’s a great example of the best UX coming not from your client’s competitors, but from an exciting startup.

Get out away from your desk and try things out, if you can take your whole design team along you’ll find even more as each of you spots different things. The picture above is from a design team who went scuba diving as inspiration for a healthcare project investigating anaesthetic gas.

Guerrilla Research

Guerrilla Research

As a more open ended suggestion I also shared some thoughts on Guerrilla Research as an area that needs more investigation and is ultimately defined by the designers testing it out. I wrote more on this on Medium is you’d like to get into the detail a bit more.

In short, this process (or more accurately, collection of processes) looks to tap into existing platforms and systems to carry out inexpensive quick research. Inspired* by Tim Ferris’s approach to selecting the ideal cover design for the 4 Hour Work Week, he simply printed the various options and put them in a real book store to see which one people gravitated to.

Take this mentality and seek out other way to quickly test. We have used Google Adwords, and the Google Adwords: Keyword Planner to understand which proposition people are more interested in. Setting up real adverts and seeing which generates the most clicks is a good approximation of future engagement. I’ve also seen people have success using Reddit, Craigslist and Task Rabbit to recruit people for example. Get scrappy and see what you can do quickly and effectively.

Next Week

The teams will be preparing for interviews

* The designer in me winces at the thought of using this process to select a ‘good design’, the researcher in me admires the reality check that it gives me