Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Good design is good business

In keeping up with reading design-related articles, I skimmed this article today (and some of its following case studies): http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670679/good-design-is-good-business-an-introduction

I particularly liked these passages, as they address a struggle between design and business (even though there should be no separation there!) in the corporate world:
The phenomenon of designer-led startups, which also includes companies such as Pinterest and Path, is a telling variation on something legendary Braun designer Dieter Rams once told me. "My work was only possible because I was reporting directly to the chairman of the board," he admitted. "Design has to be insulated at a high level. Otherwise, you can forget it."
Business is shifting now, toward recognition of the value of design. It used to be technology that was growing leaps and bounds, where all the innovation was happening. But that's slowing now: what one company can do, another can mimic within a few short years. So design has started to become the differentiator for business. However, it's hard to break people out of their entrenched ways of thinking, on focusing on whether we can technically do it or not.

Changing How We're Used to Working

In a large company, it's rare to see design reporting into its own chain of command that reaches up to the top. Instead, UX typically rolls into either product development or product management. What kind of message does that send young designers? That there's no future or career path for design, except going up a technical or people management chain?

And let's not forget the attitudes of the people with whom a young designer directly interacts. In a DACI model (driver, approver, contributor, informed), it's usually the PM who is the Approver, leaving designers as pixel-pushers or deliverable-creators. At best, a designer is driving the project or product. I've seen so many clashes between designers and their "business counterparts" -- if they're about to figure it out between them, the end product is usually a sad imitation of what it could've been. If they're unable to settle their differences and escalate the issue, usually the response is, "The PM is the final approver," which is to say, the design voice isn't worth anything if you can't back it up with business logic.
When designers lack influence, superb products become almost impossible. Good designs seldom stay good for very long if they must navigate a gauntlet of corporate approval. That’s because the design process is as much reductive as anything else--figuring what can be simplified and taken out. Corporate approvals are usually about adding things on to appease internal overseers. When something has been approved by everyone, it may be loved by none. 
Note that I specify that we designers must back up our decisions with a solid business case. It isn't helping our cause for us designers to say that something is better because of our gut feelings -- something that I think happens often and discredits our craft . We're here do do business, so let's make sure we drive toward business outcomes, couch our goals in terms of business outcomes, and essentially prove that we're thinking business via design.

Bring it, prove it, turn perceptions around. That's how we'll change attitudes.

Getting Us All to Think Like Designers

And then we can't rest our our laurels, either:
A reliance on design-driven innovation poses a challenge for the companies that live by it: You can’t easily patent how something looks, or the feel of a user interface. Features, subtleties, and finishes spawn imitators with unprecedented speed. That means that design-led companies must innovate constantly to maintain their edge. 
This means we not only have to get good at leading innovation by design, but also at identifying the areas where it's ripe for innovation, where we'll make the biggest impact our our users and thus our business. And who knows the users best? Shouldn't those people be much more valued, if not calling the shots?

Okay, so there's only so many designers to go around. But then, shouldn't we all learn how to think like designers, so that we all can push the envelope? We don't have to learn the craft. We just have to learn how to approach and solve problems the way designers do, and thus open up the space to allow creativity to flow and innovation to happen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Designing for experience or for memories?

Today a colleague forwarded the following article for perusal:

The author tried to make the article read as incendiary as possible -- it seemed that he was trying to imply that User Experience Design was unnecessary (and check out the comments; lots of people read it that way, too!).

But in the end, all he's really saying is that we ought to remove the blinders and look beyond the experience itself, to the memory of that experience.
Attempting to instill fond memories will be possible only via UX design, but it will require a different kind of UX design, that is laser-focused on the memories we hope will stick.
Essentially, great experiences lead to great memories, which lead (hopefully) to a great Net Promoter score.

Therein lies the reason that it's so important to design not just to meet user's expectations (thereby creating no notable positive memories), but to design for that delightful or WOW! moment. And as one commenter aptly put it, "We need the user to complete the experience before having any memory of it."

The Peak End rule also applies here. (That's where we judge our past experiences on how we felt about them, which really boils down to our peak positive or negative emotions and the emotion we feel at the end of an experience, irregardless of the length of that experience.) I attended a talk by Colin Shaw at SXSW 2012, where he talked about that as well as 20 different emotions that drive & destroy value (where increased value leads to an increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention):

  • Destroying emotions
    • Irritation, feeling hurried, neglected, unhappy, stressed, frustrated, disappointed, unsatisfied
    • If your user experiences these, you're probably going to lose them
  • Attention cluster
    • Interesting, energetic, stimulated, exploratory, indulgent
    • These will lead to short-term spend
  • Recommendation cluster
    • Trusting, valued, focused, safe, cared for
    • As the name suggests, these will lead to users who will recommend your experience. (I'd say probably the 7-8 range in Net Promoter)
  • Advocacy cluster
    • Happy, pleased
    • This cluster, along with the recommendation cluster, will drive long-term engagement
UX practitioners spend a good chunk of time designing flows and how easily one can accomplish the task we want them to accomplish. We'll do usability testing to see when this breaks.

But how much time do we spend ensuring that they are experiencing the emotions we want them to experience? How can we accurately test our flows to map out what emotions are experienced when? And, is the self-reporting of emotions accurate? (We certainly know it isn't for perception of accomplishing a task!)

Update 3/28/13: I found a LinkedIn article that Colin Shaw wrote about this very topic (where I got my inspiration from): https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130328131514-284615-how-emotions-generate

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Design thinking for the masses

Recently I've spent a good amount of time talking about design and design thinking to some people who don't practice the craft of design. It's been an interesting experience, starting first with debunking misconceptions about what design as a craft or practice really is. What's the difference between interaction design, visual design, industrial design, user experience design, product design, etc.? You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers. Trying to explain makes me feel like I'm splitting hairs.

Then there's the hairier challenge of explaining what design thinking is.

I remember preparing to graduate from the Product Design program at Stanford (which Facebook insists is "Industrial Design," no matter how many times I try to change it) and talking to my advisor at the time about how to "sell" what we've learned in the industry. "You've been trained in design thinking," I remember him saying -- paraphrasing, of course, as that was many years ago -- "Think of it as a methodology to approach and solve problems." (Well that's a helpful way to frame it, but it's still hard to sell someone on being able to think in a particular way.)

Maybe because it has always felt natural to me that I still find it difficult to quantify what exactly design thinking means.

I can wax eloquent about how design thinking is a means to achieving delight, of solving the real problems in order to ultimately make the world a better designed place. I can speak to the need for deep customer empathy, for really understanding what mental models someone holds, for discovering things about someone that they perhaps haven't even admitted to themselves. I can shed light on how to get beyond our own egos and business methodologies to branch out into new, creative pastures, and how to test those ideas to see if they can hold water. I could keep going on about all the multifaceted aspects of design thinking, but it is ultimately not a well-crafted elevator pitch.

(Wikipedia, by the way, has a similarly long-winded definition of design thinking, here.)

But while design as a craft is the realm of a few, I believe that design thinking is something that we all can do.

We can make smarter decisions and make this world a better place. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon once said, "Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones."

Why not? It's just a way of thinking. But it's always difficult to change habits for yourself, never mind others. So bringing along others toward the gospel of design thinking then ends up being a journey in creating experiences to allow people to come to their own conclusions about design thinking.

Thankfully, I'm not alone in this belief. We're all just trying to go about it in different ways -- making tools to suit different people's learning styles. Two quick examples off the top of my head:

  • ZURB's manifesto, especially the "Everyone Can Do This" page, is completely in line with this...although they don't make much of a distinction between design craft and design thinking. (Maybe it's just semantics.)
  • I found my entire sense of being resonating with a strong "YES!" while reading Tim Brown's book, Change by Design, earlier this year. (It's a quick read, focused more on the stories to show how effective design thinking is and providing a business case for it.)

What other ways can we bring design thinking to the masses?