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.


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.



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.


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 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


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.


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.


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

Your Biggest Competition as an App Designer

You’re a designer. You’re designing an app, so who’s your biggest competitor? Who should you be inspired by in your design?

How about the Domino’s Pizza app?

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 23.09.44

Of course it’s tempting to look to the cutting edge of visual and UI design, you could spend your time sifting through dribble for slices of beautiful visuals. But your audience are thinking about other slices. Deep pan double pepperoni slices.

If you haven’t spoken to your customers how will you know which other apps they’re spending most time with? Über is an amazing service with a great app, but are your users using it? Maybe they are, or maybe they use their phone in a different way.

I single Domino’s out not because I want free pizza – in fact, to be clear I don’t remotely endorse their product. But that’s the whole point, it doesn’t matter what I like – I’m just the designer.

Empathy, not really

It’s also worth saying that this isn’t so much about empathy – although putting yourself in the shoes of your customers is vital – this is more about understanding your customers expectations.

The best examples of interface design aren’t found in your industry.

If you’re designing for a bank, a shop or a car company you should be looking at Domino’s to understand what users expectations will be. It doesn’t matter if you are the best banking app in the world, you sit on users phones alongside Domino’s. And domino’s have a great app.

Apps like CityMapper, Candy Crush and Snapchat are setting the bar. The good news: they can all give you great inspiration for your work.

The next time you meet with your users ask them which apps are making them smile. Then get using them yourself. Learn what’s setting your users expectations, more importantly understand where they’re spending their time because ultimately this is what you’re competing for – their time.

Tracking My Links

I hate when you see a link that reveals how my behaviour is being tracked.

I clicked a link from Twillio and saw this:


I hate that. I feel like all my activities is laid bare.

The link could have been this short:


Now you see how much has been tagged on. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? People notice this stuff. Even if they don’t know what it’s doing, they notice it.

It creeps me out.

Every feature is a hurdle

At IDEO we’re putting high resolution prototypes out in the real world to test ideas and design with real people in real situations.

In other words, we’re shipping product. Invoking the methodologies of a startup we can put our designs out in the wild and see how they respond under every day use.

This is great because it means we can move far more quickly than our clients could. We launch is days not months.

But when you ship product – even if it’s secretly a high resolution prototype – you start encountering other issues.

Features = barriers to use

Every single feature you put into an app becomes a barrier to use.

This should feel humbling/frustrating/counterintuitive to every interaction designer that reads this post. But every time you add functionality to a service you complicate it and force your users to make decisions. These decisions are, in part, evaluations of the service as a whole.

Do I really want to store my photos on this website? Do I really trust these guys to deliver on time? Do I really want to play this free game?

Questions your users are asking right now

The only reason Google is where it is today is because they stripped everything away from the experience and basically launched an MVP. There was zero friction from their interface, they got out of the way and before you realised you’d arrived on their site you’d already interacted and got value from them. And they still do the same today.

include only the features that people need to accomplish their goals

Google’s advice to developers

This problem is best highlighted by an innocuous feature we added to the app we’re building at the moment. We thought it would be useful to have the app capture a photo of each user. We could add it to their profile and it would help us track people and the data we’re building with.

But adding a photo is a hurdle. And a big one at that. People didn’t want to add one. And bear in mind that we’re paying our participants to be in our trial – so we have some licence to ask them to do certain things. But it forced people to stop and evaluate.

Worse for us, an incomplete sign up profile meant no data being captured and no design iteration happening.

Remove friction

When building new experiences, especially the crucial interactions around sign up and on boarding, make sure you have as little standing between you user and the core experience you want them to get to.

Every feature you add will cost you users and reduce your growth rate. Even if you think the feature is cool/nice/important think twice about it’s relevance and if it blocks your users from getting to the heart of your product.

Every feature you add is a hurdle for your next new user.

Cars of the Future

A simple post, some light research. Getting inspired about designing the information landscape inside a car by comparing various Sci-Fi views of the future.

I copied this idea from some smart person, if you know please let me know because i’d like to reference them.

Total Recall

Johnny Cab


The Fifth Element

Fifth Element Car



Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 16.09.53


Blade Runner

Blade Runner Car



Moon Interface


2001: A Space Odyssey2001 Interface




Alien Interface


Matrix Reloaded

Matrix Car


Captain America: Winter Soldier

Captain America



Need For Speed

Need For Speed

Cab Insights

When you spend you life doing design research two things become common: firstly you get used to chatting to people and finding interesting stuff out from them; secondly you spend a lot of time in taxis.

These two things obviously collide quite often, and in London the legendary taxi drivers are often a chatty bunch. So if you ever get into a black cab in London you’ll almost certainly hear their views on the world as they see it.

(Of course their particular set of views and opinions tend to be some what questionable, but if you can get them away from politics and foreign policy you might just find some thing interesting).

Here’s what I found out on a recent trip:

1. Chip and Pin card readers

Chip n Pin
Chip and Pin reader

Paying by anything other than cash in taxis in London is usually very difficult. The few that do have card readers are often out of order or broken. Or are they? Well, probably not.

It seems that the financial charges and administration that comes with these systems is more than most cabbies care to get involved with. It’s not uncommon for one driver to borrow another’s cab, and in this situation paying by cash is much easier for them to deal with.

The simple world of ‘cash-in-hand’ suits the transactional realities of cab life. There’s an opportunity here.

2. Green Badges and Yellow Badges

London Taxi Licence
London Taxi Licence

There are two types of black cab driver: those who’ve done ‘The Knowledge’ and those who are learning it. If you’ve passed you have a green badge, if not you’ll have a yellow one. Yellow badge drivers have a local area that they can pick up passengers in, green badge drivers are allowed to pick up people anywhere in London.

If you’re in an outlying areas of London and spot a yellow badge, beware that if you ask for a destination across London they might not know the route. It’s probably worth checking. Or in my case, he was relying on a Sat Nav.

Also, yellow badge drivers will get dirty looks from green badge drivers in central London. “What are you doing on my patch?”

3. Advertising

How much money do you think a cab driver gets to have his taxi wrapped in an advert for 1 year?

Wrong (maybe).

Apparently, £1000. Which seems pretty low. In San Francisco drivers more like that amount each month. I’m not sure if this an amazing insight, but at the very least if we all group together we could ‘buy’ a taxi for the year and have our faces on it.

4. The Knowledge in tough. Really tough.

Learning the Knoweldge
Learning the Knoweldge

Anyone who’s spent time in London will probably be aware of the The Knowledge. I’ll leave it to others to explain the details, but essentially its a test of geographic knowledge of the whole of London. You should be able to get into any black cab in London and ask for any destination of the thousands and thousands of streets and the cab driver should be able to get you their by the quickest route.

When you think about the reality of knowing the name of every single street in London it’s quite a mind bending feat. When you think about the mental capacity needed to link them all together it becomes astonishing. Then think about not just the route between two places, but the most efficient route. It sounds basically impossible. But it gets tougher.

Testers are know to ask for the route to very obscure places, a recently opened restaurant for example. By name only (no street address). And the example my chatty cabbie gave doesn’t even have a sign on the street front. It’s a well hidden little place. Now think about how many of them must be across the metropolis of London.

Now plan a route between two of them.

That’s what The Knowledge is.

Remember that next time you get into a black cab.