Archive for the ‘ Design Economy ’ Category

Framework for Design and Personal Immersion Exercise

Yesterday, Brian Graziano and Kelly Costello presented the IA Collaborative design framework. Below are notes on the framework and a personal immersion exercise.

IA Collaborative Design Framework

– Personal Immersion: try to become the user
– Observation: watch the user
– Contextual Interviews: talk to the user doing the contextual activity
– Expert Interviews: ask experts about the product
– Retail Audits: look at how similar products are sold

– Design Workshops
– Design Development
– Behavioral Prototyping
– Strategic Road Map

– Design Engineering
– Design Refinement
– Evaluative Research

Tips for Design
– Fully engage: get as close to the process as possible
– Be open-minded: people will shut down if they sense you are being judgmental
– Get visual: draw as much as possible
– Be patient: design insights take time

What to Look For in Primary Research
– Workarounds: learn from users that create their own solutions
– Interactions: observe the exchanges going on in a space
– People: look for key players in the interactions, dependencies
– Processes: consider all of the decision and activity points, document actions and results

Combining Research With Team Members
– Observations: what you saw, what impressed or bothered you
– Insights: patterns of observations from several team members
– Guiding principles: statements based on insights to inspire concept development

Personal Immersion Exercise


We broke out into groups and went to fast food restaurants to observe and document. Jenna, Zhe and I went to Intelligensia. The Chicago-based coffee chain does not have a strong street presence. Upon entry, it took a moment to tell who was standing in line versus waiting for an order placed. We looked around for a menu but didn’t see one until we were next to the cashier. The regular coffee menu was next to the regular tea menu. A third menu for the daily specials was on the other side of the shelf. As we were deciding on our orders, people waiting behind us seemed upset. We let a gentleman pass us. The credit card machine malfunctioned for him and as we waited, we noticed a cold beverage counter below waist level, under the pastry counter.

We waited five minutes before our names were called. We sat and observed. People come and go in droves. Crowds form and the place empties. The four retail spaces seem awkward. Coffee beans are the most prominent near the entry. Coffee makers and accessories are located between two central and crowded tables. Tea gets a few wall-mounted shelves in the back. A single cup coffee making system is featured in a wall inset near the bathroom.

– Retail items are disorganized
– Space is a premium
– Menu system is inefficient
– Managing different customer speeds is difficult
– Queue experience lacks clarity
– Gourmet experience is one of exclusivity

Guiding Principles
– Exclusive experience should not compromise function
– Separate experiences by customer speed
– Integrate retail space into consumption experience


The Power of Storytelling

In an HBR article on using stories to overcome fear, Peter Guber describes how leaders can effectively use stories to build consensus. He relates his experience trying to convince Loews to build its first multiplex in Manhattan.

In telling my story, I first engaged them with a question. I asked: What if a group of hungry people went into a large food emporium? If one particular food was missing or sold out, there was so much else there they could choose from. “We should make movies that people consume emotionally with the same availability as a food court,” I told them. “If the movie that brought you to the theater is sold out, there were 15 or 16 other movies to consume and enjoy.” My management team bought into it and executed on the story. The result was the Sony 67th multiplex, which was an enormous success.

A story is a vehicle that puts facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a list or data dump. Instead, it’s built to create suspense and engage your listener in its call to action. Facts and figures are memorable to computers, not to people. Research on memory conclusively shows that all the critical details, data, and analytics, are more effectively emotionalized and metabolized by the listener when they’re embedded in a story — and they become significantly more actionable.

21st Century Business Models: Dominate or Evoke?

In a reflective piece on Sam Zell’s takeover of Tribune Co., Umair Haque argues that strength in the 21st century isn’t about dominance. It’s about the capacity to evoke. It’s about the willingness to serve a bigger purpose than yourself, the capacity to subordinate yourself to a larger goal than your own gain, the ability to spark the enduring bonds of shared values, intrinsic motivation, and mutually committed perseverance.

Strength as subordination says: I only value for what you can produce for me, buy from me, or sell to me. I am in control, see my power. But strength as the power to evoke says: I value you for who you are, and what you can become. You are in control — see your power?

It is this commitment to extrinsic value that will differentiate companies in the 21st century. As Michael Porter puts it, companies must be committed to creating shared value by reconsidering the intersection between society and corporate performance in order for capitalism to succeed. The question isn’t if the need exists, but rather, who will step up to challenge?

Extending Personal Barter in Post-Disaster Scenarios

Online bartering grew an estimated 100% between 2008 and 2009 (more recent statistics unavailable). Barter networks have advantages in a sagging economy. Businesses can trade excess capacity to reduce overhead expenses. A dentist that wants to work 40 hours per week who only has 35 hours booked might trade five hours of service for office supplies. Consumers can exchange unwanted goods for unearthed treasure. That unused washer/dryer sitting in someone’s garage could become a nice guitar for a child’s birthday.

Barter has its obstacles. Without a common currency or ability to comparison shop, it’s hard to know if the trade you’re getting is fair. Not all goods are easily commodifiable. Is a used winter coat worth the same as a three course meal that a stranger prepares? There are also administrative and logistical hurdles. Shipping costs for large items or transportation costs to access services can limit barter to local communities. Tax laws can be punitive. While no cash is born of the transaction, taxes might still be owed, requiring barterers to have alternative sources of income. Finally, barter often requires a double coincidence. Finding a counterparty that wants what you have and has what you want can take more time than your plans can afford. As a result, barter is more common for wants than needs.

Online business-to-business barter exchanges value goods and services based on actual currency at “rack rates” to overcome some of these obstacles. A typical exchange charges a set up fee in the $500-1000 range, monthly maintenance fees in the $10-25 range, a 6% transaction fee for the fair market value of barters, and interest on borrowing services before earning “barterbucks” (to cover default risk). As part of a broader economy that has an official currency (and therefore pricing signals), monetizing the value of goods and services can provide the basis for (financially) equitable exchanges.

The internet also levels the playing field. Auction sites such as eBay provide pricing information on a wide variety of goods. Feedback on prior transactions weed out dishonest traders. For services, sites provide user-based quality ratings and written comments that help explain differences in price.

For all of the advantages and technological improvements that have fueled growth, personal barter still has not overcome the limitations of the one-to-one model. Perhaps this is because, in the most developed nations that have wide internet access, most people have sufficient resources for needs and consider barter primarily for wants. Further, the lack of a one-to-many system for individuals would make barter for necessities unreliable without the personal relationships that could transcend a market system.

Consider a post-disaster scenario in a less-developed area. Governments and NGOs provide food and temporary shelter. Temporary gives way to permanent as funds quickly run out. People are stuck in crowded shacks and demoralized by the failure of government to live up to promises. People realize that they must rebuild with their own limited resources. But how will they organize? Funds are limited and used for necessities. There might be surplus goods and services, supplies, skills, and trainable labor in the community but no individual can shoulder the burden of rebuilding a neighborhood. No one wants to be the first to rebuild without the reliable promise that others are also committed to rebuilding. Communities fail to reemerge from the dearth of reciprocal economic signals and inability to organize a collective response.

With a one-to-one system of barter, it could take months to set up the complex series of exchanges it would take to rebuild a house, much less a neighborhood. If I help you salvage wood to rebuild your house, who will cook for me? Who will take care of your children while we are away? Where will we find an architect? Plumber? Electrician? Technological limitations such as minimal internet adoption magnify the collective action problem in less developed areas.

Now imagine a one-to-many barter system where information is gathered from neighborhood hubs. Each neighborhood only needs one computer connected to other computers in nearby neighborhoods to assess needs and available resources in the region. Matches connect local demand with local supply and people are informed through nearly ubiquitous cell phone messaging. Government and NGOs step in only where a broader region is lacking in a specific skill or resource. Communities rebuild primarily with their own resources and secondarily with government and NGO funds. This minimizes redundancy and offers greater hope that the same limited funds might fulfill initial promise.

There are obstacles to this system. Not everyone is equally skilled and not all skills carry the same economic value. In an everyone’s time is equally valued model, time can be exchanged at par value. In a skilled labor is more valuable model, normalizing factors can restore parity. Not everyone will perform their task well. Community feedback can adjust exchange rates and provide a performance incentive. Microfinance and micropayments can help align self-interest with collective benefit. Not everyone has something to offer. Vocational training and a clear division of tasks can bring many up to speed. Skills and resources might be concentrated in certain geographies. Logistics and transportation would be considered in the pool of collective needs/resources.

These organized collaborations extend the altruism that survivors initially
feel. By working together, people get to know their neighbors. They participate directly in reconstruction rather than waiting for some entitlement. People feel better about their communities. Finally, emotional resilience increases as people realize they can rely on each other in future disasters.

Inaugural UX|XU Experience Recap (Global Lives Project)

UX for Good is the brainchild of Jeff Leitner and Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital. It is a conference that brings interaction and visual designers from all over the country to solve social problems for the non-profit sector from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. I was privileged with the opportunity to be the volunteer team coordinator for the Global Lives challenge.

Our team consisted of 8 interaction designers and 1 visual designer. In addition, experts came in and out of our room to listen and offer their perspective throughout the session. These included a poet, journalist, designer, defense contractor, the client, and others. We were joined by various media representatives that photographed and filmed our process. A live blogger stayed with us for most of day and tweeted some of the more memorable quotes that came out of our discussion.

Jeff and Jason led the kickoff. UX designers are uniquely qualified to solve social problems because they have one eye on technology and one eye on user needs. That empathy for the client and end user is portable. “I’m tired of optimizing a shopping cart. Maybe there’s a bigger picture. And I want to give back, right?”

Our Process

After a round of introductions, the team dove into the case: Help Global Lives create empathy in a shrinking world. The Global Lives web site says that their mission is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.” We watched some of the raw video footage and project founder David Evan Harris’ Ted Talk.

The discussion that ensued created more questions than answers. How do you define empathy? What are the access points to empathy? Who has the patience to watch 24 hours of footage? Is this an art project that seeks empathy as a byproduct or an objective that uses film as a tool? Who is the target audience?

At the end of Friday, our key insights were: 1. The empathy that a producer might develop by following a day in the life of another isn’t transmitted to the audience in the current format. 2. The process of making is more likely to create empathy than the process of watching. 3. There are too many messages, objectives and stakeholders in the case and on the website. 4. Those that are already empathetic are the most likely to consume this type of media; the current format probably isn’t reaching the audience that needs it the most.

Saturday morning, we made a schedule and to-do list. Our client, David, arrived early and after introductions, we took him to another room so that two could interview him while the rest of us took notes on the skype feed. We put up post-its of what we learned from the interview, grouped these by category, then created insight post-its that summarized what we heard.

Exhibitions are the organization’s core competency. They reach few and at a high cost but David feels it is the most effective use of the media. A documentary film is in the works that would have broader reach if shown on PBS. Global Lives has secured a small amount of funding to develop their web presence which could have broad reach but potentially limited impact. While some school teachers use Global Lives media, there hasn’t been a significant push in that direction. Constituents have different views of how to extend project reach.

We tried to define a problem statement and got close, but needed to move on. We tried to think of frameworks to define a strategy. Several ideas were on the table, but none were fully thought out. Time was quickly running out and we needed to go into production mode. We divided up deck pages and fed content to our visual designer for compilation. With five minutes to spare, our presentation introduced the challenge, walked through our insights, and made suggestions in the areas of improving digital presence, increasing interaction, broadening the audience, and forming corporate partnerships.

Personal Reflection

I enjoyed working with this group of talented designers. It took a lot longer to understand the scope of the problem than I expected. I wanted to keep the team on track without imposing too much structure on creativity, a strategy which resulted in a last minute scramble and an unfair burden on our visual designer.

I felt that quite often, 7 or 8 of the 9 agreed on a direction and wanted to move on, but that we were held back by one or two holdouts. To get the best ideas out, there must be room for dissent. To work against a deadline, sometimes, we have to move on. How do we move in the direction of the majority without making anyone feel alienated? I tried to summarize what seemed to be group consensus items and asked for collective confirmation. As time dwindled, consensus became easier to achieve.

In such a large group of talented people, pockets of deep expertise can limit individual perspectives. Framing the problem took longer than making actionable suggestions because of the diversity of perspectives. On the other hand, we could not have comprehensively understood the real problem without that diversity. Harnessing and directing talent is difficult but rewarding.

The New Calculus of Competition

In his latest HBR blog entry, Umair Haque criticizes the volume of “Lowest Common Denominator” (LCD) design that confuses cost-efficiency for innovation. With approximately 20,000 new products on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show one has to wonder who would want all of these gadgets. When “new and improved” means finding a country that has a lower cost of labor or worse, a lower cost ingredient (e.g. high fructose corn syrup), companies fail to create lasting competitive advantage because this LCD design is easily copied.

Instead of lowering the denominator, companies should work to increase the numerator by making products that are more meaningful, significant and enduring. Haque suggests this line of inquiry to create lasting value:

  1. Does your latest, greatest snoozer of a product (service, business, experience) actually make people happier? (Really? Can you prove it?)
  2. Does it make people lastingly happier? (Really? For how long? Or is it just a supersize meal in disguise — happy today, with a hidden downside looming tomorrow?)
  3. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way? (As in, does it ignite happiness without literally costing the world? To go a step further, does it even benefit nature and the future?)
  4. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way, while being of enduring benefit to society? (Read: all the above, plus a healthy dose of what economists term “social usefulness”, or residual value, that accrues and multiplies, over time, to towns, cities, communities, countries, polities.)

Toyota sees into its own future, scoffs and runs ironic campaign anyways

2007: Toyota launches a Prius ad campaign featuring with the beginning of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names’ song, “Rent a Wreck” playing in the background. I wonder if this was a joke by a disgruntled employee.

2010: Toyota announces a massive recall of vehicles due to brake failures after several deaths due to “unwanted acceleration.”