I'm a product designer with a passion for user centered design. I am also an advocate of creative thinking approaches and design thinking.
I specialize in experience design for software. I've worked on lots of websites, web applications, mobile and social media products, applying principles and techniques from psychology and social sciences, human factors, human-computer interaction, visual design, accessibility and usability. My Ph.D focused on natural language generation and human communication with machines, a combination of AI and HCI.
I have a strong drive for innovation and have designed, envisioned and created new products for different market places and industries from scratch, as well as the strategy for bringing them to market and gaining user adoption. I bring the power and energy of design thinking to both startups and big companies. I like to focus my efforts on large-scale industry disruption.
I love to draw, take photos and skateboard. I'm a student and teacher of Yoga. I'm always exploring new things.
"Designers have the ability and the training to harness the tacit knowledge of the unconscious mind rather than being limited to working with explicit knowledge. This makes them good at synthesizing complex problems with large numbers of constraints. It also makes them bad at explaining or defining what they are doing or thinking. They will describe process and results because they are not consciously aware of their own rationale.
Collaborative design workshops allow you to get decisions made in an inclusive, rapid and multidisciplinary way. They ensure that there is a shared understanding and ownership on a new project, and that it is set up for success right from the start. If you have never facilitated before, do not be fooled, it is much harder than it looks. Make sure you prepare yourself well, and before undertaking any critical workshops, give yourself a chance to get plenty of experience beforehand. Being a great designer does not qualify you to automatically be a great facilitator. There's a whole bunch of skills to develop and to fine tune before you can manage even the hardest of groups.
In a collaborative design workshop, you:
Define the MVP of the project so that everyone know what the requirements are and what the scope of the project is
Map the customer journey so that everyone is aware of the user flow
Sketch out the various screens that will be needed against the user flow
Take notes of any changes to existing screens and how those will be done
Make lots of decisions together
Align as a team before you start building
Collaborative design is a ensures that design, dev and the business are working together and iterating quickly, so that we have a better result due to better alignment and shared information and knowledge. We also fail quickly and as a result we all learn a lot more. Collaborative design allows us to rapidly prototype things. Prototyping is is better than talking: it is thinking with your hands. It forces us to try things and learn from them rather than talking about them and trying to make to decisions based on assumptions. We move past long-discussions in meetings into action fueled, effective workshops.
The wall is the new desk:
Get your group working together at the wall, whether it's displaying and discussing design, or creating a user journey, or brainstorming. Get them to make all work visible. Also working together at the wall means that they will be physically active, which keeps the energy up in the room.
Running these workshops is fun for the group, and also a lot of hard work. As a facilitator, there are a bunch of things that you need to do to ensure the session runs well, and that you get the most out of your time together.
Your role as a facilitator:
Think of yourself as a group nurturer and a process guide.
Support everyone to do their best thinking
Encourage full participation
Promote mutual understanding
Reach inclusive decisions
Cultivate shared responsibility
Reach the goals you set out to achieve
How to run your session:
You need to prepare. It's really important to have a clear understanding of the goals you have for the workshop, and that you plan activities that will enable you to get to the outcomes that you need.
List your top 3 goals for the session (More than 3 in 2 hrs is usually difficult)
Work out what you need to accomplish to get there
Decide on activities that will allow your group to achieve these things
Carve up your time into activities, time boxing each one meticulously (schedule breaks, introductions, ice breaker and a little spare time)
You will have a well prepared collaborative design workshop all ready to go. Making sure that you have time for each activities is really important. If you don't timebox well, your session will be rushed, out of focus, and ultimately won't allow you to succeed. If what you want to do won't fit into the time you have, then you need to be realistic and cut down on the number of things you;re trying to do in the session. It's always better for morale to have 2 shorter session than a whole afternoon in a workshop.
A kitchen timer (nothing works better than a big red tomato...don't use your phone, people will ignore the ring)
Lots of sharpies of different colours
Sticky spots or stars
Large roll of paper or butchers paper
Water and snacks
2 - Workshop time
There are a few things that help when running these workshops, and starting with ensuring everyone understands the point of the session and knows how to behave during the workshop is really important. Never assume people will be ok to follow you blindly, you'll need to make them feel comfortable before they trust you to get them where they need to be.
Spend 5mins introducing the session and its rules:
The parking lot (keep the team focused by writing all out of scope ideas on cards that are placed in the parking lot wall).
The timeboxes (Show then your timer, and explain why you are timeboxing and how its helpful to them).
Workshop conduct (No talking over others, no shouting, no closing down other people's ideas, no chatting during brainstorms...).
Write the activities you're going to run on the whiteboard, along with the goals of the session, and how much time is allocated to each one.
Run an icebreaker
This is especially useful if you have a large group who don't know each other well. For groups who do, it's a great warm up. An ideal activity is giving them a sheet of paper with circles on them, and asking them to fill in each one to represent a different thing in 5mins. It gets them drawing and doesn't give them time to worry about it. Get everyone to share how many they managed to complete and show what they drew. It usually leads to some giggles and sets you off in a good atmosphere.
Run your activities
This is where you all get to work hard. As a facilitator, it is your job to keep everyone within the allocated timebox, to keep the group energy up, to ensure everyone is heard, and that all of the ideas are on the table for consideration. You'll also need to deviate from the plan sometimes, yet still get the right outcome in the allocated time. Interrupt people when they are off topic and ask them to use the parking lot, which you will sort at the end of the session. Encourage the group to work together, support individuals who are struggling for whatever reason (shyness, intimidation, bad behaviour, etc...) and keep control of the session. If you allow the group or any individual to not play by the rules, your session will flounder very quickly.
Don't tell them what you think, help them get there themselves by asking a lot of the right questions. It will have a lot more impact and you won't have to explain everything. The best facilitators can keep it fun and focused at the same time. Practice makes perfect.
Close the session
Make sure that you end the session on time. People will not want to come to your workshops if they have a reputation for running late. Remind everyone what the goals were and sum up what you achieved as a group today. Make sure any actions that have merged from the work have an owner who is responsible for following up or doing something. Ensure you group ideas in the parking lot, and ask the group whether a further session should take place to resolve those things. If there's no clear grouping, and lots of unrelated things, ask the group how they'd like to handle those.
As your group scurries off to enjoy the rest of their day, you still have a little bit of work left to do:
Photograph all the walls and whiteboards
Throw away paper that has served its purpose
Roll up and keep any that you need for further work
Write up the workshop outcomes together with photos of the work on a collaborative space for everyone to refer to
I hear a lot of people using "Usability" and "Experience design" interchangeably. This is quite a big mistake. They are both important for product success, both are tested differently, both are successfully crafted differently, and they both need quite different focus and skill sets.
Usability answers the question: "Can the user accomplish the goal"?
Experience Design answers the question: "Is the user delighted"?
Imagine you go to a retail website to buy a pair of jeans. You arrive at the homepage and easily find and navigate to the jeans that you want. You pick your size and the colour. You add them to your cart without a hitch, pay and check out. Job done: awesome.
This is usability. Your customers can easily buy products off your website. They understand what to do, it all works as expected, it's easy, and fast.
Ok. It's 5 days later and your jeans have arrived, but 3 days later than promised. They are the wrong size and the wrong brand. You can't find out how to send them back and ask for your order to be filled properly. None of this information is with your package. You go to the website and after 10mins of searching find a phone number. You're not sure whether it's a customer service number or not but you call it anyway. You listen to 5mins of options to choose from on a recording before you even get to speak to a human. Finally a tired sounding man sighs and then says "whateverjeansdotcomcustomerservicehowcanihelp?". You begin to explain your problem and he interrupts you and transfers you to somewhere else. A woman picks up and asks you what you want. You explain your problem again. She tells you that you have to go to a post office and send the package back yourself. Then you need to fax them the receipt and they'll reimburse the postage costs. She needs to refund your money for the jeans to you and needs you to go back to the website, order and pay all over again...
Will you be ordering from here again?
This is experience design. I can delight you by taking full responsibility for my mistake, and ensuring that you not only get your order the same day, but that you also are compensated for the mistake. I can also take into consideration that because I sell jeans, sometimes people will order the wrong size, so I can delight you by not penalising you for it. Instead I will include in every package a ready paid empty mail bag so you can just drop it in a post box and return it at no cost. I might determine that my customers want to experiment and try products they have never bought before. I can create a whole experience around that so that people can select a whole bunch of clothes, we ship them out to you, you try them all on and send us back what you don't want to keep. We'll charge you for the ones you keep, you don't need to go back on the website to do anything.
Delving into your user journey, seeing that this is a single purchase, I question needing to have to add it to a cart. After all in a store you wouldn't grab a shopping cart or a basket if you are about to buy one item. If I wanted to improve on the usability, I might investigate this in more depth. Can I reduce friction even more? If you are a repeat customer, can I remember your payment and shipping details for you too?
Can you see any other opportunities? I'd be learning about my customers as much as possible. Not just about the things that they tell me they want, but also by using ingenious methods to gain insights into the things they never knew they wanted. What are the unarticulated needs? What is my competition doing and how can I be a better? How do I give you a totally kickass experience that you will love and remember? How can I reach you on an emotional level?
If I have a physical store, I'll do more. I'll want to ensure that the entire experience of our brand, be it online or in the store, is always the same kind of awesomeness that you deserve as a customer, or even as a potential customer. What do you think the Amazon physical store would be like if there was one?
The Four Seasons hotels have found a common pattern where people enter their hotel room, throw their bag on the floor and coat on the bed, and then drop into the armchair...and exhale. They refer to this as something like "the exhale moment". You want to savour that moment. They have ensured that everything is in place to make that moment especially amazing. The seat itself, the proximity of reading material and the mini bar...(more about this in Tim Brown's book). Where is the "exhale moment" in your software product? I think it has its place in experience design as well.
Things you might talk about when considering usability:
Path to completion
Time on task
In short, you are in the minutia of user interface design.
Things you might talk about when considering experience design:
End-to-end customer journey
Real world context
It's a much larger subject area than usability. It involves a lot of diverse and complex skill sets, and requires a solid understanding of psychology, business strategy, design principles, brand strategy...it is cross-disciplinary.
As a developer, you should know all about usability, especially if you are a front-end developer. You should have a fantastic grasp on how to lay things out and know all the rules and how to break them. This is not the sole responsibility of the "UX" person on your team. It is your responsibility too. It's fundamental if you want to create a quality software product. Usability is the responsibility of the team.
The real crux of the job for experience designers is being outstanding at experience design. This does not mean that as an experience designer you don't care about usability. On the contrary, it's one of the keys to success. On the other hand, you should know where the areas of improvement are, how to find out about the ones you don't suspect, know how to benchmark and measure quantitatively and qualitatively, and know the customers. You should know what they want, what they want but can't articulate, what they need from your services/products, who they are, who they might be in future, how to persuade them, know how they behave in every different scenarios, be able to understand if this reconciles with the current business strategy and know what to do if it doesn't.
Where does visual design fit in?
It is fundamentally important to have excellent visual aesthetics for your product. There is plenty of evidence about what a huge difference it makes and I rarely find anyone argue that it isn't. The mistake here is to think that this is the only aspect of design to take into consideration when actually designing a software. When you are designing a service, there will always be visual touchpoints and these need to be cared for as much as any other detail in your work. If the experience is awful like in our jeans buying example above, do you think you'd be more impressed with the service if the website and packaging looked stunning? On the other hand, do you think that you would even consider buying jeans from the website if it looked terrible?
It's not "usability design" it's just "usability". Why does this fall to the designer on so many occasions? It is the responsibility of the whole software team to ensure that what they are making is at least usable. It's called "experience design" because it is a practice of design. Design is fundamentally about problem solving. Innovation is a design problem, for example. Design is about solving problems by finding out what they are exactly, and then executing the best solution possible. Jonathan Ive does a lovely job of summing up what it means to be a good designer in this interview. He's an industrial designer rather than an experience designer, but still design is design.
I think that the following quotes sum it up neatly:
"Design needs to be plugged into human behavior. Design dissolves in behavior." -Naoto Fukasawa
"A lot of what we are doing is getting design out of the way." -Jonathan Ive
To conclude, if you are worrying exclusively about what colour that "Add to cart" button is, rather than considering whether you need a cart at all, and finding out what to do instead...You're not doing experience design.
Design is a pursuit that requires you to be very methodical, logical and smart. You must be able to spot patterns that are not obvious, see things from many different perspectives and bring together seemingly disparate ideas. There is a need for great attention to detail as well as having the ability to abstract something down to its raw components, and being able to sense how it fits into a wider ecosystem.
That beautiful object, interface, gadget, or tool is highly practical as well. You enjoy touching it, you enjoy using it, you enjoy looking at it and having it in your life. It enhances your day, and makes you react emotionally. You love it. It solves a problem, and delights you at the same time. In fact, thinking about it now, it just seems like an obvious solution and you really can't imagine life without it. Someone however did have to sweat the details and work on many many prototypes before you even knew it existed. Why didn't you think of it?
This is where "Design Thinking" fits in. It is a method that allows you to deconstruct a problem, view it from all possible angles, and then craft a solution for it. It is a highly potent recipe for innovation, bringing together people from varied areas of expertise an intellectual and cultural persuasions, to solve a wicked hard problem together. Design Thinking can be applied to any sort of problem from running a hospital to evolving a product and anything beyond and in between. It applies the way that designers think about problems to just about anything.
Design is not a beauty parlour. It is not where you go to pretty things up. It's where you go when you have problems to solve.
Design Thinking is a user-centered process for innovation based essentially around observation, collaboration between individuals from different disciplines and user group, rapid learning, focus on visualising ideas through prototypes, business analysis and strategy. When I mention "innovation" I don't mean having a lot of ideas, I mean actually making good ideas a reality. Innovation requires action or else they're just ideas. Design Thinking in my mind should be applied to all software development pursuits and can easily integrated with Agile and Lean methodologies. To some extent there's quite a bit of overlap. Using Design Thinking in your software teams will help you get the results you're looking for from a product perspective.
User-centered design is not design by committee
You must develop a deep understanding of your user-base. You must develop empathy for your users, and determine what the best way is to gain insights into unarticulated needs. You need to gain the experience, knowledge and ability to frame the real problem.
Many people mention Henry Ford who reportedly said that "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". There's no evidence that he actually said that, but it is clear that he believed it. Ford made the T-model in black only, and dominated the market for nearly 20 years. Ford's mistake was to stop innovating, and to refuse to understand what the market wanted. Harley Earl was GM motors head of Colour and Trim from 1927 to 1959. He not only introduced the idea of the clay prototype (still used to this day), but carried out user centered design by understanding what Americans wanted from their cars. This led to the strategy "A car for every purse and purpose". GM made 5 distinct brands from the Chevy to the Cadillac, and dominated the market. Ford was forced to shut down and re-tool his factories. (You can read more about Henry Ford and the "faster horse" thing on HBR)
This story is sadly still repeated in many industries and companies today, from Kodak to sony and beyond. If you fail to balance your portfolio, failure is a high likelihood.
Companies like Patagonia for example, have continuously innovated and listened to their customers to ensure they were responding to their needs and growing in the right direction as a company. Listening to users does not mean that you should act on every demand, but rather that you get good at sorting the wheat from the chaff, and making well balanced design, business and technical decisions. This is not easy to do, and there are a lot of great tools and techniques to help you get it right. This is the discipline of user-centered design, and it sits at the heart of Design Thinking. It overlaps a great deal with sociology and anthropology. We use ethnographic methods where we seek to understand people by observing, listening, discussing and through open-minded collaboration. If you think you already know what your end-user wants...you're starting to sound a lot like Henry Ford.
Take the time to do it properly and you will be leagues ahead of where you hoped you;d be. Do it wrong and it will cost you dearly as Target found out. They asked consumers in a survey whether they would prefer the aisles to be less cluttered. That was a 1.85 billion dollar mistake. Surveys have their place and this was not one of them. Asking leading questions will also never get you good results. User-centered design is a science, and if you want to do this yourself, then you need to learn how it's done. Learn from the mistakes of others first. Here's a quick overview on surveying to get you started.
The Method in a nutshell: Think - Make - Check
This very same cycle is being seen all over the "Lean" software methodology at the moment. It has been around for at least 50 years, and is finally being popularised and applied to all sorts of different industries by companies like IDEO, who drive large scale innovation in almost every industry that touches our lives.
During the "Think" stage you should be ideating, encouraging a lot of blue sky thinking, introducing yourself to the box so that you can think outside of it, and imagining all of the possibilities. It is a time to think big and broad. Invite specialists from different areas of expertise and give them a voice. Invite end-users to your workshops and brainstorms. Get all of the ideas on the table and then converge towards a few key directions that work from a business, design, and technical perspective for you and your market.
Tip: Include users by interviewing them, observing them using your current product or a competitor's product, visiting them in their environment.
It's time to think with your hands. Make some rapid prototypes of the directions that have emerged from your "Think" phase and try them on for size. A prototype can be anything from a role-play (like the Google checkout one for example), to sketches, 3D models made out of cardboard and tape or a user journey draw on post-it notes. Made sure that you only do enough to learn what you ned to. Once you have learned that, it's time to move along and throw this prototype away. You'll be iterating on it many times before you get to your end product. When I say this I don't mean that it is going to take a long time, I mean that in a week or even a day you can make many iterations on a single prototype. Don't get attached to anything, stay open-minded.
Tip: Include users by getting them to participate in collaborative design sessions. Invite them to show you what they are thinking by drawing, role-playing, acting out and modelling.
Check that your ideas so far are actually in line with what end-users need and want from your product. You can test with humans (anyone who is human) to test if basic interactions and flows are going to work. You should test with end-users and gradually more and more specific user groups, the more you have evolved your prototype. This is a time for stopping a direction dad in its tracks, adapting it to be something else more useful, or giving it the OK. Remember that you may still decide to not go ahead in future, so keep it as rough as you need,and don't waste time on cosmetics and documentation. The documentation is the learning. It is the prototype.
Tip: Include users by getting them to evaluate your prototype, but also by inviting them to tell you what they would change if they were in your shoes, and why.
Rinse and repeat:
You will go back through Think-Make-Check many more times, however many times you need to be comfortable with the result. The early Think-Make-Check cycles are gross and the later ones subtle. The key here is learn quickly whether an idea has legs and what is needed to make it a reality if it does. Learn by making it. Don't waste your time on long meetings where you endlessly discuss the same small details or where groups disagree and theorise over things. Put every to the test. Get people making rather than talking. Call out facts and assumptions. Check the assumptions. Make informed decisions.
A few tips to put it in place:
You don't need a lot of time or effort up-front to get Design Thinking working for you. You just need to do it.
Start by getting the people you need together, being mindful to include people who view things from different perspectives
Timeboxing all of your workshops together and keeping the focus and momentum rolling will help you greatly
Make sure everyone is heard by using different facilitation techniques
Don't shut down ideas, build on them. Encourage groups to say "Yes, and..." rather than "No, but..."
Don't allow any "Devils advocates" to exist in your groups, encourage people to speak for themselves. As Tom Kelley says "Devil's advocates can go to hell". It's too easy to shut ideas down and hide behind the devil.
Having direct responsibility for your thoughts and ideas in a safe environment where failure is ok, will speed things up
Prototype all the time. Every time we fail, we learn something important. When we make a paper prototype that fails, we didn't put a lot of time and money into making it, so we are less attached to it. If you have ever spent months working on something and polishing it only to find it isn't what users want anyway...you will know how painful and costly a lesson that is. You can learn those things in a matter of days at little cost. Focus on learning quickly through rapid prototyping
Don't try to avoid the mess, the failure and the chaos that can sometimes ensue - keep moving towards a solution do not lose momentum. Those spaces of high emotion are where creativity lives.
Different environments will have their own challenges that you will need to deal with of course, and I am confident that it can be done. This is a really short intro to Design Thinking, I encourage you to delve deeper starting with the resources below and to experiment. If you are in a software environment you can work to iterations and soundly incorporate Design Thinking practices within the Agile or Lean framework you are using. More on that soon.
Wabi-Sabi, simply put, is the ability to see beauty in simplicity, the ordinary and the imperfect. English is too clumsy a langage to explain it fully, and I am too much of a clumsy writer to do so well, but you can think of them like this:
Wabi: The ability to make do with less; A "wabibito" is a person who can make something out of less parts than anyone else. It means content with little, and taking pleasure in the ordinary.
Sabi: The gift of time; To grow old gracefully and with dignity.
Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is also described as "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete". The beauty of those things is found in their simplicity, their unpretentiousness, their humbleness. They are unencumbered by anything unnecessary but not to the point that they look or feel clinical, rather their raw essence alone is left. They are not the center of attention but are unassuming and command a quiet authority. Wabi-sabi isn't just about the aesthetic though. It's also about the object giving you a feeling of serenity and having a connection to the object.
"Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent." (Tadao Ando)
Wabi-sabi in Life:
I've always loved the wear on my beloved denim jeans and old shoes.The wear on my moleskins that I dragged around the world with me. My cherished old family photographs, yellowing and frayed at the edges. Our old children story books from when we were small. I love asymmetrical things and simple design. I find magnificent beauty in less. I found joy in fewer possessions, less waste, big passions, being in nature and an uncomplicated life. Not striving to have it all and not trying to predict what my life should be like next year or next month or next time. Learning to be content in the present, and finding enjoyment in every day things. Wabi-sabi exists in my life, and I wager that it has its place in yours too.
Wabi-sabi in experience design and Lean/Agile teams:
As experience designers and as members of Lean/Agile teams, I think we are very Wabi-Sabi in our work:
Our work is never finished, and so always incomplete
We try to fail fast
We try to limit waste
We never release anything that is perfect
We try to keep our experiences simple and unencumbered, without losing the humanity in them
We strive to keep them subdued and honest
The work we do will always evolve and age, and we will work with the downsides of design decisions we made earlier
We never do "big upfront design", so our worldview is ever-changing and intuitive
Our emphasis is always on working code and not on beautiful looking documentation. In this sense each artefact is one of a kind
We know that our design will evolve, so we think about the present moment rather than projecting far into the future
We work in iterations, in an organic way
We adjust to change easily and avoid deliberations
If we can do it with less, we do
We pay attention to the ordinary (all those habits people develop to deal with bad design)
We ensure our software "fails gracefully"
Users "wear in" our designs and their relationship with the product changes over time
The more people use our designs, the more they connect to them (like your relationship to your email account)
We reuse code and design elements where we can
The team has a history and a shared knowledge that seeps into the product
BERG London have a beautiful blog post written by Tom Armitage on Wabi-Sabi right here.
There's an awesome essay by Keith Yamashita called "15 things Charles and Ray teach us" (PDF), that I found via SwissMiss. I wanted to share it with you and summarise the 15 points here for those who don't have time to read the whole thing, but I encourage you to have a gander, because it's really beautifully presented and well written. I've applied the 15 points to experience design of course :)
01. Keep good company
Surround yourself with other awesome people, it will inspire you. For us experience designers it means brilliant people from different backgrounds, areas of expertise, industries...Making the effort to get out and meet them, and spending some time learning and sharing.
02. Notice the ordinary
Notice the simplicity in people's desired interactions and design them in that same way. If someone wants to drag and drop an item with a finger, don't make a complex dropdown menu. Use patterns that work well and are familiar to people where appropriate, so the learning curve stays manageable. Don't over-design things, keep it simple.
03. Preserve the ephemeral
Don't be afraid to design something that will work for a while and then be replaced by something new. I keep notes on things that I made to serve a purpose for a little while (lean start-up style), and then replaced and redesigned as I discovered more about the user needs. Those things in turn get redesigned again. As the user's relationship with the software evolves, so should the design. In the same vein, keep note of fads in experience design. They reflect a culture and a need at a certain time. There are interesting patterns there.
04. Design not for the elite but for the masses
Design things that will work on all sorts of devices, make your designs responsive, and cater for all kinds of connection speeds. Make your interaction design easy for most people to grasp, and allow your visual design to tell a story that many will appreciate. Ironically, observing extreme users will help you identify needs not so easily spotted in the average user. The designs you craft as a result will delight the majority of users.
05. Explain it to a child
In the same way that toddlers are able to pick up an iPad and use it immediately, your should strive to design software that is so simple to use that even a child could pick it up. I think this can apply to accounting software as well as games and anything else. This is not to say that it is designed for children, mind you. Your product/service/process ideas be solid enough that you can explain the essence of them to a child and have him/her understand with no difficulty. In fact you might get some pertinent questions!
06. Get lost in the content
Reach out to subject matter experts, read up on the new industry you are designing for, immerse yourself in the needs of users and the lives they lead...understand what their world is like, how it looks form the inside of their world, and what they aspire to. Understand the technology, speak to developers, try it out.
07. Get to the heart of the matter
Make sure you are solving the right problem, and articulate it clearly and concisely. Don't make documentation for documentation's sake. Just what you need, when you need it, aimed at the correct audience, and get to the point swiftly.
08. Never tolerate “O.K. anything.”
Fight for great design, in your work and in others too. If you are working in a lean way, ensure that your product is a great MVP, not an ok one. "Just enough design", does't mean "ok design". If you think something isn't good enough, that it could be better, say so.
09. Remember your responsibility as a storyteller
Collect user stories, tell them in a convincing way, either through role-play, customer journeys, a video clip, presentations, illustrations...Tell the story of the design clearly, and in appropriate detail. Get good at storytelling. Read up on this and practice, it's a really useful skill.
10. Zoom out
Never fail to see the big picture.
"Never get Bored". Don't restrict yourself to designing websites, apps or whatever. Expand your horizons and apply your skills to whatever you can, whatever comes your way. Design a garden, a process, a book, a shop, a shoe, a room, a city, a bus or a spoon. Anything.
12. Prototype it
And early on.
Have fun. Play on words, play with ideas, with software, with images, with objects...can you use something in an unusual way? Have fun for fun's sake and share it with others.
14. Make design your life… and life, your design
It is awesome when you are lucky enough to find a career path that you love so much that the line between work and play ceases to really exist anymore. I think that's when you can say that you're in the right job. Make your own design for life, your own philosophy, and live it.
15. Leave something behind.
Our work lives through the people we work with, those who use our products, our clients, our friends. Beyond our craftsmanship, we should have the kind of positive presence that allows everything we stand for to emerge and remain once we have gone.
Designers of all kinds, in particular experience designers, come from a variety of backgrounds. They are different in many ways, and will always disagree with each other to some extent (minimalism, Helvetica, logo size...the list is long) but great designers have a number of qualities in common. I am fortunate to know a bunch of really brilliant experience designers, and was thinking about made them so great. I found that I could distill that into 8 main qualities that they all have in common.
To engineer a great design you must have great respect for all of the rules, and break them when they need to be broken, not just because you can. You also need to continuously learn about new interaction patterns, seek out interesting designs, and read up on up and coming methodologies in all areas that touch experience design. Working on your project alone will teach you more than you knew before, but won't be enough to sustain you in good ideas for long. Great designers are always seeking out the cutting edge of their discipline, and spend many hours reading, learning and practicing.
It can be tempting to cut corners when you have designed something a thousand times before. It's important to keep the rituals in place, and keep looking for a new way to do something, question everything until you are sure that it has a legitimate place in your design. Explore, find inspiration first, then ideate and find a solution. Don't get sloppy.
You must be attentive to the details, check your design, and communicate it effectively to the team. Wireframes should be clearly annotated and thorough, assets should be high quality, the end product should be excellent. You should be a master of your craft, at every stage of the design. This means that you need to identify any areas for improvement and actively work to get better at them all the time. The craft of experience design goes beyond deliverables such as wireframes, sketches, interactions, and so on, but also includes facilitation skills, communication skills, presentation skills, diplomacy, and more.
This means awareness of new technologies, design patterns, trends and so forth, but also awareness of the current project space. You are never designing a noun (an app, a shopping website...) you are designing a verb (shopping, discovering, enjoying...). Ensure that what you think you have been asked to make is really what the business and the users need. Make it your business to be aware of the full implications of what you are designing (does it impact the world in a positive way?). How is the evolution of the design being perceived by others? Are your stakeholders scared of your unusual design? Be ready to explain, show, convince at all times.
Take some time on each project to be alone. Even on a fast Agile, collaborative team. Even if it's just 10mins. On every project there are a lot of people to listen to and work with, from people in your team to people who will be using the product once it's made. I noticed that great experience designers take a little time alone on each project to think slow. Everyone I have ever met has an opinion on how a design should be. Has a decision been made because it's easier to agree and move along, or was it legitimately thought through? Do you really agree with the decisions that have been made? Are they really for the best?
Decide on what the end goal is for your design at the start, and focus on making it happen. This saves you from adding in unnecessary features, trying to design for too many needs, and making something that is a complicated Swiss army knife rather than a slick, easy to understand design. Define your design language and stay with it. Go for a colour or a set of principles and stay with them. It is important to be able to pivot and change course quickly, but it's also important to focus long enough on what you're doing so this can be sensibly judged.
At the start of a project there is always excitement, everything is new and shiny, full of potential. As you make your way on the path to completion, the best designers enthusiasm remains high, and they continue to commit themselves fully to the work. While we all have ups and down on projects, and it's important to acknowledge that there are low energy days, we still need to give ourselves to the work fully each day. Beware of situations where you have more than one project on the go, and be quick to voice any problems you see up ahead. It's all too easy to commit to more than one project and then see all of them turn out mediocre. This will exhaust you and you won't get the satisfaction you get from doing great work. Don't muddy the water. Dieter Rams during his whole career has been committed to particular principles of design. Do the same, even if your principles are different.
If you don't love the work you are doing, if you don't love the act of designing, you will never truly do any great work. It's really difficult to be focused and committed to something you don't genuinely have an interest in. All great designers of any ilk really do love what they do. If you don't, then find what it is you do love and go and do that. There's nothing satisfying about being mediocre at your job. Pure love for what you do is a nourishing thing, that helps you grow as a person and drives you to want to improve and break barriers. It lights up your life. There is a real blur between what is considered "work" and "play" when you love what you do.
Dieter Rams was chief of design at Braun (1951-1995), where he emerged as one of the most influential industrial designers that has ever lived. His legacy is of immense importance to us all. In the 80's, as consumerism went wild, he felt unhappy with the way things were going and penned his "10 principles of design", sometimes also called "The ten commandments". This sound advice resonates with me, and applies even in the world of software, where the level of complexity is typically very high. It takes a lot of practice and patience to be able to mentally abstract out all the angry noise out and provide a quiet and balanced design. Dieter Rams also penned my first and foremost rule of thumb: "If you can do it with less, do it". As he says here, design is not all about "making it pretty":
“To use design to impress, to polish things up, to make them chic, is no design at all. This is packaging. When we concentrate on the essential elements in design, when we omit all superfluous elements, we find forms become: quiet, comfortable, understandable and, most importantly, long lasting.”
Here are the Ten principles, re-framed for the software industry:
1. Good design is innovative
This about not blindly using pattern libraries to address interaction problems, or with no forethought, going ahead and doing something you have done a thousand times before. Even if it is "just another web form" for example, and that you have made thousands like it before, what is it you have become blind to? What is it that you can change? Is there a better way? Does there even need to be a form? Every time you approach a piece of work, "empty your cup", and try and see it with beginners eyes.
2. Good design makes a product useful
Question whether the features you are designing are really needed, and ask users even if you think you're sure. If you make features that nobody uses, its wasteful and already bad design in itself. The Standish Group’s statistic is that 45% of features in software go unused. It's your job as an experience designer to ensure that the user gets what they need, not what they think they need and not what anyone else thinks they need. This is why it's good to do prototype testing, and also role-playing. Role-playing will enable you to work out what the interaction users want to have with the system is, better than asking them what features they want. The same goes for unnecessary images, links, text, screens, clicks, cognitive load...keep it simple and balanced. Do away with anything that detracts from the original user intention.
On another note, before embarking on building a product or a service, system or process, ensure that it is going to be used, that there is a genuine need for it. Please don't make the software version of one of these.
3. Good design is aesthetic
This sounds like a no-brainer, but there is a lot of awful looking software out there, some that I am sure you use quite often as well. It's one thing for it to be functional, useful and that it "does what it says on the box" but you're not selling a can of beans here. This is where you really need to have someone who understands what makes a good design also visually pleasing. Different aesthetic directions will work for different cultures, sub-cultures, demographics and so on. The visual designer does not make something that s/he wants to see, but rather something that will work for the audience and the brand. S/he will use their expertise and experience to ensure that it looks good as well.
Don't underestimate this part, and over-simplify it. If you have ever had to make presentation slides, you will know how time consuming the visual design can be. It requires a really creative thinker and an accomplished expert to make an excellent job of this. Beauty is in the execution.
4. Good design makes a product understandable
The software you make should be self-explanatory for users. Help text and lists of FAQ's are a poor substitute for good design. It should be obvious to the user what it is they need to do, and what the software will do for them. That conversation between human and software must be smooth and simple. Continue to refine the design until users can easily and quickly achieve their goal...without frowning or looking worried.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
Your software is not a work of art. Its function is not to provoke a reaction in anyone. It should fulfill its purpose and do so elegantly, without arrogance and without trying hard to be noticed and loved. It should be a comfortable enabler for people. Dieter Rams defines "unobtrusive" as "both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression". The same is true for design in software. Imagine that the software is telling a story, and allow the user to write the ending.
6. Good design is honest
Always deliver on your promises to the people using your software, even if they are implied. Software needs transparency to gain trust from the people using it, and to gain their loyalty. We need to be clear about what we're doing with their information, with their money, with their actions, with their social networks...and be sure that we've communicated that really well. We also need to be transparent about what our software can and cannot do.
7. Good design is long-lasting
Dieter Rams said that "It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated". In the world of software, there is a lot of waste. An Agile philosophy, with well integrated experience design practices will ensure that the right thing is delivered, and that it fundamentally lasts. It will go through iterations and then more iterations and really never be finished, as software moves and morphs with needs and changing technologies. We should ensure that our decisions are not based on what's hot, but what's needed and what is best for the business and the people who will end up using our software.
8. Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
I said in my "Experience design manifesto" that I would "Sweat the details so that you don"t have to". A great execution of an idea is fundamental to it succeeding. Every detail of the experience design needs to be thought through, so that we can ensure that it's not clumsy to use. The information architecture needs time and testing to get right, interactions that seem like a good idea in your head don't play out as planned, and not everyone uses the same language as you do. Testing with enough users will allow you to hunt for the details, as will running an "unfocus group" with users from polar extremes of the spectrum.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
Let us please put a stop to all those horrible websites that litter the web, software that gets left unused or abandoned by those it was intended for, and the software that causes pain, anger, and sadness in people. Software needs to be human-centered to be environmentally friendly, because its environment is people's lives.
10. Good design is as little design as possible
Good experience design is about taking things away not adding things in. Can you design fewer steps in the process, fewer clicks, fewer screen reloads, fewer minutes waiting, fewer distractions on the screen...Can you create an experience that is less hassle and less painful than any other? We often talk about making experience design more enjoyable, or delightful or something else. Really I think that we should not be "making" but "unmaking" the experience, at least to begin with. What is the most direct path for a person? If that path involves being delighted that I can browse shoes or that I can quickly pay for something, then that should be the focus. Anything that distracts from it should be taken away. Each part of the software must not overload me with choices but point me to where I need to be. In order to do great experience design, you have to be able to synthesize all of the information that you have about about it, and distill it down to the crux of the thing. Then simplicity emerges.
A couple more quotes from Dieter Rams for your pleasure:
"A designer who wants to achieve good design must not regard himself as an artist who, according to taste and aesthetics, is merely dressing-up products with a last minute garment. The designer must be the gestaltingenieur or creative engineer. They synthesise the completed product from the various elements that make up its design. Their work is largely rational, meaning that aesthetic decisions are justified by an understanding of the product’s purpose.”
"I hate everything that is driven by fashion. From the beginning it was hating the sixties American way of styling. Especially the cars. They changed their styling every two years to sell more. Which has nothing to do with good design".
“Good design is innovative. It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product.”
Many of us are consultants, work for agencies, or are freelancers which means that we get to meet a lot of different clients and work on a wide range of different projects. All of these projects come with their share of opportunities, challenges, laughs and lows. Some teams you'll get on with better than with others, and some will naturally gel straight away, whilst others will take effort and time. There will be projects that don't go your way, and some that allow you to over-deliver and out-do yourself. There's no telling what combination of circumstances you are going to face on your new project, so come with an open mind and an open heart.
It's not about you
Some clients aren't going to understand why you are pushing for a particular outcome, or why you are unhappy about a change in direction, heck, some won't even understand why you're even on the team. Who needs an experience/service/product designer anyway? Isn't your job just to make things pretty? Why are you talking about information architecture and on-boarding processes? You won't always agree with the decisions they make, despite all your efforts to explain and your polished presentations. You might want to wring your head in your hands sometimes, or cry out in pain as your design is pulled apart and demolished irrationally, pixel by pixel. Your best efforts at delivering the perfect experience and the most compelling design is thwarted before it even has a chance to be explained. But this isn't about you or what you want.
Give them what they need
Don't become so demoralised by these experiences that you stop doing your best work. Be accustomed to change. Give them what they need to progress on to the next level of understanding, to the next experience that drives them towards a direction or a goal, to the next rung of the ladder for them. It isn't all about you and your desire to create a flawless, beautiful and meaningful piece of work. It's about educating, explaining tirelessly, trying a new tack, finding the sweet spot where the client, the users, your team and you can work well. It's about doing what's right, right now, and sometimes, shock horror, they are afraid of their users, afraid of showing their product, or so convinced that they know what their users want, that you will largely be ignored. We have an interesting job, which requires us to play a game of balances. Balancing what the client is ready for,what the users need and what your team can deliver. Sometimes these things are completely at odds with each other.
Be kind, be open-hearted, be cool, be patient, be friendly and be generous. Be generous with your ideas, with your time, with your knowledge, with your smiles. Tell them what they're doing right and not always what they're doing wrong. What's wrong is always available, so ask yourself what's right and start from there. Tell them how much you appreciate working with them and having the opportunity to be part of their work. Remember that they may be under a lot of stress, and your support will earn you a reputation for being willing to listen and help, for being constructive. In return, you will be listened to and you will earn their trust.
Still do your work with energy and vigor. Challenge the status quo and the people on your team. Push for change and improvement. Don't be afraid to suggest something wild that you think might work, and be honest when you they ask you if you're sure. Say "of course not, but here's why we should try". Look for ways to make things happen. Keep it fresh. There's no better project or client than the one you're with right now. Find what stirs them and be a part of it. Initiate. Pick up the slack. Turn things around. Keep trying and have the wisdom and compassion to stop pushing when it becomes unproductive for them, your team and yourself. In that situation stop moving and listen.
This is their dream, their baby, their investment. Respect their capabilities, their desires, their weaknesses and discover their untapped genius. Be the generous designer. It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.
It's important to collaborate because it allows the team to become a powerful unit, full of common knowledge and questions. Each individual has a clear view of what is going on and has the power to affect the product direction and evolution. If as a designer you do not collaborate with the rest of the product team, you essentially deny yourself this right. By pairing with the QA, (front and back end) developers, BA, PM and anyone else who is part of your team, you gain all of the necessary perspectives on the project to really understand the product you are making. You should ideally always be working with another person and never alone. This allows the team to cut out a lot of time draining and uninspiring inter-team formal communication, and actually focus on the product.
More importantly, the design then belongs to the whole team, and is no longer treated like a sacred cow.
How to pair with a developer:
You will need a whiteboard and a few whiteboard pens, a shared screen and a mouse and keyboard between you. Use the whiteboard to communicate your design ideas, and work together on solving design problems that crop up and technical problems that you encounter as well. This way you are designing that is feasible technically, every single time. You don't have to have meetings about the design, where you show wireframes or photoshop files. You don't have to have talk about possibly trying this or that to get over a hurdle....you can just do it right now, together. Experience design needs to be user-centered but also technology centered. Weirdly enough, a lot of designers forget the latter. If you need you need to make something in photoshop to go into the design, then do it together and then make it into working code right away. Working this way is a LOT of fun and the product that you are making comes to life quickly. Your client will be super happy because you have made something tangible in record time, and you now have something that works to put in front of users. Yey!
It is tough though. Be prepared to sweat. As a designer you have to know your job well enough to do it on the fly with little preparation. You have to let go of perfectionism and aim for a minimum viable product that still fulfills your user needs. Remember that you will iterate. Better still, because you have a working product to put in front of users really quickly, you can include solid feedback in the next iteration and not make all those features that nobody ends up using.
Why you shouldn't code (even if you can):
The whole point of pairing is that you can share the load together, and bring a wealth of expertise and experience to the product. Imagine that you are designing a login screen. It's always useful to start with the action, so tell your programmer pair to make a login button. While s/he is focused on the button, and on the minutia, you are focused on how the entire design hangs together across the whole product...all the other screens that you know about, and all the design decisions that you are about to have to make. You are the big picture person and the other is the small picture person. If you are coding, you will pretty much only be focused on that button. While that button is being made, maybe you are drawing out the login interaction on the whiteboard and the next screen.
Where to start?
"Build what you can with what you know" is the slogan I like to use. It is tempting to want to get all of the information about everything up-front, but the reality is that by actually making something you put yourself in a better position. You can modify, start again or carry on the next day. Iterate. remember that there is never really such a thing as an "End product" because if it's any good, it evolves and there is no end. The more you think about it, the more the whole team thinks about it...the more it is misunderstood by the team. Everyone forms their own assumptions and ideas of what it is and how it works and what it looks like. It all becomes more like a field of dreams. Sometimes we even agree as a team, whilst all thinking we are agreeing to whatever we each have in our heads. Actually we are more confused than ever before. Keep it tangible. Make the product now and keep making it. When you talk about it, point to it. Everyone can see what it is, what colour it is, what shape it is and how it works. It couldn't be clearer. All of your focus should be on your product and not on your process. Show your work often to your client, and let them use what you have made so far. It makes for a better conversation than a meeting that refers you to wireframe 180(a).
But what if it's all wrong?
Throw it away and start again. You are throwing away some code, that's all. This is far preferable than the potentially huge cost of a design lead time (where developers are twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to come up with a design). You may have made some mistakes or maybe yes, t is all wrong, but by collaborating you now have shared experience as a team, you have learned to make something together, and you have probably alos won client trust because you have shown that you can make something that works in a morning rather than a week or month. Even if it is wrong, you have failed fast and learned something valuable from that experience. The team will be a lot closer. You will share your valuable design knowledge with team members and learn things from them as well. You all win. A lot is to be gained from jumping in and making something that is wrong rather than spending a lot of time making nothing, trying to fill in all those gaps (we talked about those in the last post). At the end of the day, you might find that you have pursued 3 different approaches and made all of them in the same time it would take to go away and wireframe everything meticulously on your own.
What if you have layers of management to get approval from before you can make anything?
Working in an Agile way requires the client to work closely with you, so that you can make decisions quickly. If your client is very removed from your project, then it will be hard to be Agile. You will have to make documentation that gets sent up the management chain for approval and this might take some time. In this case, you have fallen into a waterfall. Fear not though, this is fine. As a good BA friend of mine says: This is exactly the situation for which waterfall was designed for". If this is not the way you and your team want to work, then you need to have a chat.
How do you ensure that the product remains user-centered and ends up being right?
If you are in an Agile environment, you need to ensure that while you are making, you are also discovering and learning how best to evolve your work. The diagram below shows that you should be focusing all of your energies around the product. The further you are from actually doing code (making), the further you are from the center of the concentric circles. Tasks on the outer rim might include user interviews for example. That isn;t to say that these tasks are less important or devalued, they remain deeply and crucially important, because they give you direction and ensure you make the right thing. Anything in between the outer disc and the inner one are things that...we...fall in between. To ensure that you are not just blindly making or lost in a world of research and no making you should be working on tasks on the outer and on the inner discs simultaneously. The stuff you do in between is up to you. Additionally I split the whole thing into examine, define, create, verify. Most tasks will see a full revolution.
To finish: Cultivate Li:
Jade cracks along its natural contours, which adds to the artistry in working with it. Jade carvers incorporate the breaks into their work, bringing into evidence the natural elegance and great beauty of these lines. They are said to rely on the stone's natural "Li". Each and every project has its own "Li". Allow it to be there and learn to work to turn all of the challenges into something beautiful in the end. Take advantage of them. Drop the fear and the resistance, trust the integrity and capabilities of the team. It takes more than just your immense capacity to make logical decisions to succeed. You need to be invested fully so that you can trust your instincts, trust your heart and trust your gut. (More about "Li" in this excellent book: "Awake at work")
I've seen teams start out by making big long lists of tasks and deliverables at the beginning of a project. This assumes that they know exactly what the product is going to end up being. I think that this kind of way of thinking goes entirely against a culture of creativity and innovation, and of the Agile philosophy. By deciding on all of the tasks up-front and by setting up an infrastructure for the team to work in (process, tools, tracking, tickets...), we actually restrict the potential for innovation.
What it takes to innovate:
Innovation requires serendipity and creativity. If we impose a tonne of rules and processes, we throttle both. Before deciding on what the product is and how to get there, you should start with a creative brief and well thought out elevator pitch, that allow the team to think for themselves, and have focus without being dictated to. If you have a team of very smart people, they will most likely feel disengaged if you give them requirements and impose goals and a path to follow. Each of them come with a wealth of expertise and experience that should be allowed to flow through the product, fully. To do this effectively and to set yourself up for the highest likelihood of immense success, you need to get comfortable with the gaping voids that inevitably exist in projects, and in fact allow them to be much positively palpable. When you set up processes and tools, you are filling up the void, masking it with man-made certainty that doesn't really exist. If you are after a cog for your machine, then this will work fine, but if you are after a whole new dream machine, then this won't do. Drop the rituals and face the discomfort of the unknown square in the face. If you are feeling uncomfortable and so is your team, then you are in a good place. If chaos ensues...then this is extremely good news.
The voids on a project are like unchartered territory, which can lead to great discoveries. There were those that thought that the earth was flat and there were those that wanted to check. The latter were forced to innovate simply to make the trip possible. They had a starting point and went from there. This is often how the most inspiring projects are started. Even the most mundane projects can be fertile ground for innovation if you allow for the circumstances to be exist.
A quick checklist:
Make sure your team has mastery around the work you are planning to do (everyone)
Only set up enough structure around the team to allow them to gain focus and begin to be productive
Don't use Agile tools and methods to minimise uncertainty and discomfort
Trust your smart team to be in charge and self-organise
Give a creative brief to provide focus
Impose frequent playtime on the team and make sure they stay fit, rested and healthy
Be clear about constraints (budget, time, resources...) - constraints are conductive to innovation
Be prepared to be surprised and to bend your mind into different shapes
Don't get attached to your idea of the product - the team is going to shape that
Remember, there is no such thing as an end-product - there is never an end.
Stick these up to keep you clear:
"When all think alike, then no one is thinking."
— Walter Lippman
"It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date."
— Roger von Oech
"The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."
— Dr. Linus Pauling
"We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
— T. S. Eliot
"The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail."
— Edwin H. Land
"The achievement of excellence can only occur if the organization promotes a culture of creative dissatisfaction."
— Lawrence Miller
"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction."
"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."
— Howard Aiken
"Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things."
— Theodore Levitt
As some of you know, Cathie Hagan, Megan Cook and I recently ran a workshop at SxSW entitled: "AXD: Agile Experience Design". This was a good mix of skills, as Cathie is from the BA practice and Megan is a bit of a hybrid between BA and XD.
What we did:
We were allocated a 60min slot to run a workshop on Agile Experience design. There was a diverse audience of designers, developers, managers and company owners. Some were familiar with Agile, many were not. We wanted to teach some fundamental principles of design in Agile teams and to allow people to experience it for themselves.We designed the "Play Doh Zoo" game (inspired by the Lean Lego game).
We split people into teams as they came into the ballroom and then those teams were split into construction workers and designer/planners. An extra group represented the customers. We prepared packs for each team full of play doh, pipe cleaners, pop sticks, tape and more tools. We gave them foam boards to build their zoo on. We used whistles to signal the end of iterations, and we led them through a retro highlighting the learnings we wanted them to take away. We will post more information about how to run this game soon.
Roy closed our session with a stirring and inspiring speech and you can see his notes here. It definitely inspired the crowd, and helped people see that we are much more than just another software consultancy.
How it was received:
As the whole ballroom descended into chaos, I was quite sure that we had pulled it off. A client tapped me on the shoulder and told me with a wide grin, that this is exactly how it feels when we come into their workplaces. People were running around, fully engaged in the game, and shouting enthusiastically at each other.
Lots of people came up to us at the end and said that they really enjoyed themselves, and that they learned a lot. It's clear that it would have been great to be able to do an hour Q&A session after the game, as we spent at least that long answering questions. A couple of people felt that we didn't give time to answer their questions and some were disappointed because they thought this was a panel, although it was clearly listed as a workshop. You can't please everyone, and we take this on as feedback that next time it would be good to also run a panel at SxSW.
How we would do things in an ideal world (briefly):
Agile is about continuously evolving your product, this is BOTH delivery and design. You need to build what you can with what you know. That is, start with some of the known areas, use your design patterns. For instance, registration forms are a well know space use the best practice here, get the team working and spend your research time and energy in the truly innovative areas of your product (hint this should happen in parallel).The key is getting the product out as soon as possible so you can validate that what you are actually building (rather than conceiving) is the right direction.
The benefits of this approach are many. Firstly you can validate your direction. Secondly your client (product owner) is happy because they achieve ROI earlier, and they can really see the product evolving, rather than less engaging documents they can play with the real thing. Finally your team will be happy as they will be able to start making them feel more confident that they can reach their deadlines and more engaged.
The other important point is to be collaborative while design. Not just with the business stakeholders either, make sure you can include your team. The developers will invariably have a deeper product knowledge than you and their fresh perspective may uncover fresh opportunities that would have never been thought of without their inclusion. Also collaborating is the easiest way to to get buy in, as the design becomes communal property rather than seen as something imposed.
A lot of people talk about innovation, and a lot of people describe themselves as innovative. You probably know some too: "innovative problem solvers", "innovators", "innovation machines", "creative problem solvers", "Creative innovators"... but few people actually do innovate. What was your last innovative act? Was it an idea? If it was that's good, but realising that idea is just as important, and sometimes where your greatest chance at innovation lies. If all you have is a big list of ideas that never became reality...you're dreaming. Imagination is a really important part of innovation, so you are part of the way there, but innovation comes from making it happen. That's where it gets really interesting.
A few places to start:
Creativity is "the defeat of habit by originality". How often can you be original in your every day work? How often are you? Do you think you can be? Whether you fit kitchens or speak in court for a living, you can be innovative.
Here are a bunch of ways you can be invite innovation in:
- See the bigger picture; Step away, then step away some more...
- Flip the problems around to see different perspectives
- Stop colouring inside the lines
- Solve the problem rather than being right
- Deconstruct first, then construct
- Start with the desired effect/outcome (rather than the minimum requirements)
- Throw out the obvious
- Rebel Intelligently against rules; those you set yourself and those imposed on you.
- Let go of what you know (and be ok with the uncertainty)
- Have vision, don't change things for the sake of change
- Hang a question mark on all of those things you take for granted
- Change lives, not companies, businesses, products or processes
- Have great ideas and execute them ; Get it done
- Challenge complacency around you and your own
- Demand innovation: "What if..."
- Disrupt habitual thought patterns
- Question why, when you do things the same way as last time
- Be curious and excited about challenges
- Try new things all the time
This will open your mind and your life in ways that you never imagined possible. It's easy to read this list, and easier to not attempt any of the things on it.
Treasure the limitations:
A lot of people talk about innovation in ways that seem elusive. It's almost as though you need to wait for the perfect alignment of the stars, the perfect team, the perfect conditions to be able to create something, or hatch an idea. Remember this quote when you start to think that way:
"Whom the gods wish to destroy, the give unlimited resources" (Twyla Tharp)
The more money you have in the bank, the more control you have, the more time you have, the more everything you have, the less you are likely to innovate. Innovation is borne out of limitations, out of need. Constraints mean that you have to be creative, that you have to find a solution. The best thing to have in the world if you want to innovate, is a good set of limitations. A chance to really dig at something and keep at it until you have it solved in a way that will surprise even you.
If it feels unsolvable, walk away. Mix it up and do something completely opposite to what you think you need to do. It'll change your perspective and cheer you up. When you least expect it, you'll see a few more ways to solve this one.
Persuasion and vulnerability:
If you're really innovating often, you're probably ok feeling vulnerable. When you're breaking new ground, you have a lot of people to convince before you can get your idea actually built or created. A lot of people will tell you it's too expensive, too insane, too "out-there", "nobody will like it". You need to be a master in persuasion and thick skinned at that. Howard Aiken rightly said:
“Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.”
If lots of people are agreeing with you, and you're not getting enough pertinent questions, it should send your alarm bells ringing. Anything truly original looks ugly at first, so be sure to watch for that strange weird idea that doesn't sit quite right. That stands out. Give it some time, look at it again. Picasso knew how to do this really well. Something really original can be unsettling, Be sensitive to that.
Move in unfamiliar circles:
It's pretty tough to invent something completely novel. Sometimes great innovation comes from applying some method to a totally new field or combing a few things together that have never really been thought of in that way before. That's why it's so important to learn things outside of your field. That's why great innovators have passions in many fields. Steve Jobs loved art, Richard Feynman loved music, as did Einstein, Benjamin Franklin influenced physics, Isaac Newton, Isaac Asimov..where do I even start? Move in unfamiliar circles.
Leonardo DaVinci (another awesomely productive and curious mind) said:
“Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”
And that my friend, is a good place to begin and end :)
photo credit: poppet with a camera
I read a lot of books, especially about experience design, consulting, Agile and innovation. The last few months I've read a seriously good batch of XD books, and I wanted to share with you those titles. I think they're useful for people both new to field and the vetarans too. There's such a wide choice of books around this relatively new subject, and there are a lot of useless ones too unfortunately. This list has a bunch of books I enjoyed reading and that I find useful as reference works. Enjoy.
"In Seductive Interaction Design, speaker and author Stephen P. Anderson takes a fresh approach to designing sites and interactions based on the stages of seduction. This beautifully designed book examines what motivates people to act."
"Early user interface (UI) practitioners were trained in cognitive psychology, from which UI design rules were based. But as the field evolves, designers enter the field from many disciplines. Practitioners today have enough experience in UI design that they have been exposed to design rules, but it is essential that they understand the psychology behind the rules in order to effectively apply them. In Designing with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson, author of the best selling GUI Bloopers, provides designers with just enough background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just a list of rules to follow."
"Universal Principles of Design is a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary encyclopedia of design. Richly illustrated and easy to navigate, it pairs clear explanations of every design concept with visual examples of the concepts applied in practice. From the "80/20” rule to chunking, from baby-face bias to Occam's razor, and from self-similarity to storytelling, every major design concept is defined and illustrated for readers to expand their knowledge."
"Design is explained, with the means and manner for successes and failures illuminated by engaging stories, true examples and personal anecdotes. In Sketching User Experiences, Bill Buxton clarifies the processes and skills of design from sketching to experience modeling, in a lively and informative style that is rich with stories and full of his own heart and enthusiasm. At the start we are lost in mountain snows and northern seas, but by the end we are equipped with a deep understanding of the tools of creative design."
"Neuro Web Design employs “neuro-marketing” concepts, which are at the intersection of psychology and user experience. It’s scientific, yet you’ll find it accessible, easy to read, and easy to understand. By applying the concepts and examples in this book, you’ll be able to dramatically increase the effectiveness and conversion rates of your own Web site."
"There is no single methodology for creating the perfect product—but you can increase your odds. One of the best ways is to understand users' reasons for doing things. Mental Models gives you the tools to help you grasp, and design for, those reasons. Adaptive Path co-founder Indi Young has written a roll-up-your-sleeves book for designers, managers, and anyone else interested in making design strategic, and successful."
"Effectively measuring the usability of any product requires choosing the right metric, applying it, and effectively using the information it reveals. Measuring the User Experience provides the first single source of practical information to enable usability professionals and product developers to do just that. Authors Tullis and Albert organize dozens of metrics into six categories: performance, issues-based, self-reported, web navigation, derived, and behavioral/physiological. They explore each metric, considering best methods for collecting, analyzing, and presenting the data. They provide step-by-step guidance for measuring the usability of any type of product using any type of technology. "
"Adeptly address today’s business challenges with this powerful new book from web analytics thought leader Avinash Kaushik. Web Analytics 2.0 presents a new framework that will permanently change how you think about analytics. It provides specific recommendations for creating an actionable strategy, applying analytical techniques correctly, solving challenges such as measuring social media and multichannel campaigns, achieving optimal success by leveraging experimentation, and employing tactics for truly listening to your customers."
"In this all new edition of Communicating Design, author and information architect Dan Brown defines and describes each deliverable, then offers practical advice for creating the documents and using them in the context of teamwork and presentations, independent of methodology. Whatever processes, tools, or approaches you use, this book will help you improve the creation and presentation of your wireframes, site maps, flow charts, and other deliverables."
"One of the web designer's greatest challenges is to create a site distinctive enough to get noticed among the millions of sites already on the web. This book examines the bond between code, content and visuals to guide you through the factors that increase your design's visibility, usability and beauty. Using this practical advice, even web designers who lack strong artistic skills can develop super sites that strengthen the message and stand out from the crowd."
"The grid has long been an invaluable tool for creating order out of chaos for designers of all kinds—from city planners to architects to typesetters and graphic artists. In recent years, web designers, too, have come to discover the remarkable power that grid-based design can afford in creating intuitive, immersive, and beautiful user experiences.
Ordering Disorder delivers a definitive take on grids and the Web. It provides both the big ideas and the brass-tacks techniques of grid-based design. Readers are sure to come away with a keen understanding of the power of grids, as well as the design tools needed to implement them for the World Wide Web."
"New research on emotion and cognition has shown that attractive things really do work better, as Donald Norman amply demonstrates in this fascinating book, which has garnered acclaim everywhere from Scientific American to The New Yorker.Emotional Design articulates the profound influence of the feelings that objects evoke, from our willingness to spend thousands of dollars on Gucci bags and Rolex watches, to the impact of emotion on the everyday objects of tomorrow.Norman draws on a wealth of examples and the latest scientific insights to present a bold exploration of the objects in our everyday world."
"In this thought-provoking book, based on nine years of research in captology, Dr. Fogg reveals how Web sites, software applications, and mobile devices can be used to change people's attitudes and behavior. Technology designers, marketers, researchers, consumers-anyone who wants to leverage or simply understand the persuasive power of interactive technology-will appreciate the compelling insights and illuminating examples found inside."
"We design to elicit responses from people. We want them to buy something, read more, or take action of some kind. Designing without understanding what makes people act the way they do is like exploring a new city without a map: results will be haphazard, confusing, and inefficient. This book combines real science and research with practical examples to deliver a guide every designer needs. With it you’ll be able to design more intuitive and engaging work for print, websites, applications, and products that matches the way people think, work, and play."
There are a lot new roles and job titles emerging from our changing times, especially in this technological landscape. The one I have seen around most of all these last few months in particular is "creative technologist". There's a good few advertising agencies, digital shops, start ups and other organisations all requesting this new breed of technologist. Everyone seems to have their idea of what it is which is fine, but I'm also seeing marked inconsistencies. We're getting to the point slowly, where companies are saying "I want one of those!" but will they really know what to do with a creative technologist when they get one? Would you?
First of all we should cover off what we mean by "creative technology" to begin with. It sits at the intersection of science, technology, humanities and arts. The entire goal of this discipline is the pursuit of innovation. It may well feature a collection of difference technologies that work to achieve something useful, artistic or fun for example. Innovation comes from addressing a need, or from getting a wide range of different ideas from a highly multidisciplinary team. This isn't a new idea, creative technology has been around as a concept for many years. Some of the areas we commonly work in are social innovation, Eculture, digital arts, computing, robotics, psychology, basically anything that can contribute to a new invention (be it social or technological). "Creative technology" doesn't exist as an academic discipline in its own right. It's not really in our interest to make it one, because we need experts from different fields to come together to work on different projects, some completely out of their usual remit. Collaboration is probably the most important keyword in creative technology. In fact, we talk of "extreme collaboration".
Claudia Eckert uses the department of trade and industry's definitions of "creativity as a thought process, design as an articulation of creativity and innovation as an output of the process" to explore the wisdom of separating technical design domains from artistic ones. She says in this article:
"Artistic design domains, such as graphic design, furniture or fashion design, have a very strong artistic component in the training designers receive and sell their products largely on their aesthetic appeal, rather than a functional distinction to other products. Technical domains, such as engineering or software development, have scientific and mathematical foundations. Products are usually distinguished by their functions or features. Many design domains and projects combine both aspects. For example architecture and construction span everything from the purely artistic to the functional and good buildings need to excel in both".
I define creativity as " having ideas and solutions that are completely novel", so in this I include discovery of new knowledge (in science, medicine, law and so on), technical innovation, insightful analysis (in any field), composition of art and music in new ways. My experience is that few people tend to think about lawyers or scientists when they think about creativity. To properly understand "creative technology", these associations are fundamental.
- Synthetic intelligence (the ability to combine existing information in novel ways)
- Analytic intelligence (the ability to evaluate ideas and recognise truly novel ones and the ones that need a whole lot more work, and also the ones that aren't worth pursuing)
- Practical intelligence (the ability to communicate the ideas, make things, test things and so forth)
They also have knowledge, in that they have enough context and history around something to be able to avoid reinventing the wheel. They also know when to stop taking in knowledge, to avoid blocking their creativity. They also question everything. This style of thinking can put them into situations of conflict, which is something they need to be resilient to. They're not afraid to take risks, be it looking silly or trying something very hard. Creativity is a full-time job, it's not something you turn on and off depending on what you're working on. We've just looked at some important skills and attributes that make a person creative, regardless of what field they work in.
In this paper, Sternberg says that if you're really creative you "Buy low, sell high" in the realm of ideas. He means that you pursue ideas that are unknown or out of favour, but that have high potential. This is another area where he mentions that the truly innovative encounter resistance. A quote that I always remember when I think I've hit the jackpot on an idea and nobody else thinks so:
"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats." (Howard Aiken - computer scientist)
The creative technologist has a strong technological background (read computing, engineering, or whatever is appropriate for the organisation). They have a very logical, rational, analytical, scientific and objective outlook and are highly left-brain active. They are however also very right-brain active and are intuitive, subjective, holistic, and synthesizing. This sort of combination is partly learned but I believe you are also naturally pre-disposed to it. Interestingly Prof. Ronald Standler says that highly intelligent and creative people often get average grades. I think that a certain amount of distraction is natural, because you are able to look at something in such a large number of ways.
In many agency environments, the creative technologist bridges the gap between "creative" and "technology". Personally, I don't think this is the best use of these excellent skills, and this unique viewpoint. I think that bringing together people who are capable of having lots of ideas at many different levels, and who can also be very practical about them necessitates a certain kind of freedom from a set recipe. IDEO and Jump Associates are the prime example of innovative companies that bring together multidisciplinary teams in an ideal way. I would argue that everyone from the psychologist to the engineer is a creative technologist there (to some degree). The briefs are around pure innovation and everyone's ideas are taken into consideration. Often the outcome of a project is a good mix of everyone's ideas from what I can tell.
Creative technologist Mark Avnet has a nice definition of creative technologist:
"CTs understand the business of advertising, marketing, and branding, take a creative, strategic and people-centric view of how to connect people and brands, and understand the kinds of mediating technologies that can best be used to make those engaging experiences where the connection happens. They sketch with technology, just like a visual creative can sketch with a pencil. They’re steeped in strategy, so the things they come up with make sense – it’s not about technology just for the sake of technology. The experiences they design address real needs of people and brands".
On the iAB blog, Randall Rothenburg interviews RG/A chairman Bob Greenberg:
"There are critical creative needs that didn't exist in the old advertising," says Mr. Greenberg, who counts 130 technologists in his New York office. "Advertising is no longer just about the display ad or the TV commercial or the banner; it's about creating meaningful tools and architecting user experiences. Our technology group, they can keep up to speed technically with the top people at HP or IBM. But they also understand how to work with others to create an application that will lead to community."
It's good that agencies across the board are recognizing the advantage of hiring creative technologists, and their importance in a fast changing ecosystem. We're in a place where innovation is key to the equation and where technology is the main driver. Start ups and idea incubators are popping up all over the place, putting pressure on the older, more established creative agencies worldwide. The focus however needs to remain on innovation and extreme collaboration rather than an industrial race.
None of these things are new for the field of computer science in particular, and also physics for example. The best scientists are all right-brain + left-brain dwellers. Einstein played violin, Richard Feynman the bongos, and Leonardo da Vinci was probably an early example of a master creative technologist. Science is only about discovery and innovation.
Looking after your creative technologist
Here are 5 things you should do to ensure you get the best out of your CT.
Once you get a CT in your team, ideally you'll be looking to find him/her a fellow creative technologist to hang out with and bounce ideas off. The danger of having a sole person responsible for creative technology in your team, is that they are likely to get overloaded with projects that need to be done, and:
- Do not get them involved in production and operations (you'll burn them out on tasks not requiring idea generation, which is what you want)
- Let them read, research, and ponder to their hearts content (Good ideas come from having knowledge, remember?)
- Don't try and measure their output (4 bad ideas can combine to produce one awesome idea)
- Don't rush them (well, not all the time. A little pressure can be beneficial, but requesting things by yesterday is just going to shut down their creativity)
- Do send them to conferences (the more exposure they get to different people, ideas and technologies, the better)
And lastly, if you can create a positive, interesting, fun environment to work in, you'll keep them.
Here is the team at IDEO re-inventing the shopping cart