Hippocratic Oath for Design Thinkers

It's so heartening and gratifying to see how popular design thinking has become and how widely it's been adopted. With that popularity also comes those who simply learn a subset of methods in order to hang out their shingle as a "design thinker". Some will argue that doing some design thinking is better than doing nothing. I disagree. I think you need to do it right in order to glean the benefits of it. I think you can do more harm if you don't do it right. In fact, I think we should adopt the physicians' Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm". 

I've had a chance to observe design thinking being described, taught, and practiced at numerous institutions and organizations worldwide and have concluded that there are three major ways that I think some practitioners fail to do design thinking properly which, in turn, can have a negative impact.

  1. No User Research. A common practice is to start doing design thinking by using an Empathy Map exercise. However, if the team hasn't done any user research in order to understand the user, the value of the exercise is questionable because participants will simply be "making it up". And if the results are summarized in a persona the negative impact is further amplified. The team may think that they've accomplished something by empathizing with their users but they've done something worse, they've created a made up summary of a user that doesn't have any basis in fact. Human beings are wired to recognize people and internalize key attributes of the people they meet. If the team created a made up person with made up attributes, they're going to recognize and internalize that incorrect information. To mitigate against this, the team should first carry out user research using methods like ethnographic observation and structured interviews and then create the Empathy Map based on the information collected. If that isn't possible before doing an Empathy Map exercise, the team should arrange to have representative users or even someone who knows them really well be interviewed during the exercise. It's also a good practice to have the team members mark each sticky note that they're not certain about with a question mark during the exercise which can then be followed up with some user research to explore or validate those areas of interest. You want to have confidence in the information captured in the Empathy Map in order to glean insights from it for your project. At IBM, we have a User Research practice that provides the foundation for our IBM Design Thinking framework.        
  2. No Organizational Alignment. One of the tangible benefits of design thinking is the collaboration across diverse participants, diverging and converging, and creating a shared understanding of, alignment on, and commitment to the desired outcomes. Often key disciplines, organizations, and decision-makers are not included in the design thinking exercises. Those important voices therefore aren't heard and those people are excluded from the collaboration. All key disciplines, organizations, and decision-makers need to be included in the collaboration in order to achieve organizational alignment. Even if all the key players are included, teams sometimes don't diverge and converse properly. They will sometimes have the facilitator solicit input which then gets written on sticky notes. Other times, a senior participant will ask a junior member of the team to write their input on the sticky notes. Both of these approaches lack true divergence and convergence. The most effective way of ensuring input from all disciplines, organizations, and decision-makers present is to have them all quietly and individually capture their input on sticky notes (divergence) and then come together to share and decide on which of the collective input to pursue further (convergence). Lastly, organizational alignment requires that the team have a clear shared understanding of what was decided and a way to track the achievement of it. At IBM, we have teams develop what we call Hills, which are statements that say who will be able to do what with what wow experience. These Hills statements, a maximum of three per project, provide incredibly clear organizational alignment. Hills also provide the alignment function in Playbacks, which are meetings with all key stakeholders during which the evolving user experience is reviewed. Hills help to determine whether the objectives have been met. Organizational alignment is critical to the success of design thinking.
  3. No Pervasive Use. The third and final major way that practitioners fail to use design thinking properly is when they fail to understand that it is a way of thinking that should be used throughout a project by all members of the team. Many people equate design thinking with simply doing a workshop. Some see it as a shiny new method that is in vogue at present and makes the team look modern. I contend that simply doing a design thinking workshop without follow through and use of the methods pervasively can do serious harm. An expectation is set after doing a workshop that if nothing happens and nothing changes then it is worse than not having held the workshop at all. If it isn't used pervasively, it can also lead to a conclusion by participants in a workshop that it doesn't really work. Design thinking, and IBM Design Thinking in particular, is amazingly powerful if it is practiced pervasively end-to-end on a project and by all key team members. Check out the IBM Design Thinking Framework for more information on the attributes and elements that are key to achieving optimal pervasive use. 

I've introduced IBM Design Thinking to hundreds of companies, practiced our version of design thinking on hundreds of projects, with thousands of people, and I've taught design thinking to hundreds of practitioners. I believe that the framework is amazingly powerful when used properly. As I've pointed out above, it can also be used incorrectly. I therefore believe that all design thinkers should take the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm."

  

 

Infusing Design into Pan-University Programs

I believe strongly that education should provide a solid foundation for the skills, knowledge, ways of thinking, and fostering of a curiosity required to progress advancement in society. I also believe that design and design thinking are critical ingredients of education at all levels.   

This commitment to education led me to start working with a variety of education institutions, design schools, business schools, medical schools, and whole universities. I've delivered guest lectures, given invited keynote presentations, served as a judge in case competitions, worked with my IBM design teams to provide collaborative real world capstone projects for design classes, and participated on a variety of university and government education boards and committees. I've worked with education institutions worldwide and have recently been working more closely with Canadian universities including University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Carlton University, York University, OCAD University, University of Windsor, and McMaster University. 

I most enjoy helping to develop and then co-teach entirely new programs and courses. I've done this mostly thus far with McMaster University as well as with it's DeGroote School of Business, it's DeGroote Health Leadership Academy, and it's Directors College. I do this teaching as a personal passion on Saturdays as my Design Director role at IBM more than fills up my weeks and involves significant travel. In this role as Industry Professor, I've collaborated closely with Michael Hartmann, the Associate Dean of the School of Business, Del Harnish, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the insightful and forward thinking Dean of the Business School, Leonard Waverman. I've helped infuse design and design thinking into a new Executive Digital MBA program, a Health Leadership Program, a Directors College Program, and most recently a brand new Innovation by Design pan-university course. I absolutely loved working with the students especially given their diversity. While further improvements can and will be made in these programs, I think we're really onto something here. 

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a strong proponent of fostering a T-shaped person, someone who has deep skills in one or two disciplines (the vertical stroke on the T) as well as has broad skills that all disciplines should have (the horizontal stroke of the T). I believe that design thinking (and in fact IBM Design Thinking in particular) is in that latter category of cross-discipline skills. And I don't mean exclusively the mechanical learning of specific methods but rather the new perspective on problems and opportunities to improve a situation, the approach used to conceptualize and evaluate future directions, and the practices to make it real. 

Feedback from students and faculty on the keynotes as well as on the programs and courses has been extremely positive (e.g., "this is absolutely the best course I've ever taken!"). So what's so special about the new perspective and skills provided by the innovation by design approach? And, how is it that it's relevant to such a wide range of disciplines? Well, let me give you some examples of experiences that the students had. Business students are typically deep in analytical thinking but while analytical thinking is very useful for many things, they need design and design thinking skills to know how to come up with something innovative. Of course, they need to have analytical thinking and design thinking skills and they learned how to know which to use in what situation. Medical students, and health sciences students more generally, learned how to take a patient-centered perspective in everything they do, for example, how they arrange the patient flow through a medical office, clinic, or lab setting using service design or even to include the conceptualization of various methods of automating and digitizing the experience. Engineering students learned how to not focus immediately on the solution but rather to understand the problem or opportunity for improvement better first, and to explore and evaluate with users alternative solutions. Students from other undergraduate and graduate faculties had similar transformative experiences. Executive students learned how to ready their companies for the future, how to foster innovation, and what organizational models they should be considering. Directors College students learned how to evaluate the innovation readiness of companies and how to help guide companies to optimize for innovation by design. All disciplines learned from each other and realized that future innovation requires truly diverse multidisciplinary collaboration.

Does including these approaches in the curricula guarantee that students will be more innovative? Well, no, but it does give students a perspective that is human centered and focussed on the opportunities to be innovative and provides the approaches that will increase the likelihood of an innovative solution. I believe that something is only truly innovative when the user who is using it thinks that it is innovative.  

There's an appetite for this change in education at all levels: executive education, health education, and in fact pan-university education. I believe that traditional approaches to university education need to be disrupted and incorporating innovation by design approaches is a first step in doing this. There is a lot of attention in education circles of late on what are called the STEM disciplines. That is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Others have argued for the inclusion of the Arts, which makes the acronym STEAM. I believe that if we really want to prepare students for the future, we should be focusing on STEAMED. The additional two letters represent Education and Design. Given what I've written above, you probably see the wisdom in the addition of the D but might be wondering about the E for Education. The contributions to the various university programs summarized above haven't been solely focussed on content. They also focus on the way the students are taught. The focus has very, very little lecture style learning but rather has mostly experiential learning. Students learn much more effectively and retain more of their learning in an experiential learning environment. In fact, I believe that university education programs should actually be designed using design methods to intentionally create the right learning environment for the students.  

Check out our IBM Design site for more information about our overall program and our version of design thinking. You can also check out the Emerging Health Leaders program, the EMBA program, and the Directors College program. Details of the next pan-university Innovation by Design course should be available shortly. 

I'll discuss in a future post how I believe design schools, business schools, universities, enterprises, and entrepreneurs should be working more closely together in a new innovation by design ecosystem.      

IBM Design Thinking Badges

Many of you may have seen notifications on various social media sites, most notably LinkedIn, that someone has been awarded an IBM Design Thinking badge. Some of you have asked me what these badges are all about. Well, let me tell you.

These badges are part of IBM's overall design transformation model and focus on the calibration, assessment, and professional development of IBM employees. The IBM Design Thinking badges in particular focus on skill and experience acquisition and mastery of our IBM Design Thinking framework.

I first discovered the need for calibrating, assessing, and specifying the IBM Design Thinking professional development of staff when I was activating our global business services organizations. We'd started our design transformation of IBM in our product organizations but when I was dealing with staff in our services organization who would be using the framework in their direct work with clients I decided that I needed to ensure that staff had the requisite knowledge, skill, and experience. I decided to implement a program that required the people whom I was teaching IBM Design Thinking to carry out at least two internal workshops/projects and to have themselves recorded on video presenting, facilitating, and workshopping particular portions of our framework. I then reviewed those videos to determine whether the candidate was ready to be allowed to work with clients using IBM Design Thinking. That worked well for a while but of course wasn't scalable with only me doing it and using such a laborious process. 

As with most things I do in our IBM Design program, after I've explored it and shown it to work, it is taken over by our amazingly capable IBM Design Core Team to flesh out, harden, and scale. Our team worked tirelessly on developing the rubric, the badging levels, and the companywide program for managing and sustaining the program. 

There are four levels of badges: practitioner, collaborator, coach, and leader. Employees make their way through the badges from practitioner to leader with coaches in their region mentoring them so that they acquire and hone the skills and also gain the requisite experience practicing the skills. It's important to note that these badges aren't exclusively for designers, far from it. We believe strongly that everyone should know and practice IBM Design Thinking regardless of their discipline or role in the company. The challenge is to ensure that the right level of skill and experience is acquired at the right pace while assessing and tracking progress effectively and efficiently companywide. That's what the IBM Design Thinking badging system provides.

As I've mentioned many times before here, design thinking is necessary but not sufficient to transform a company. Many people think that it is. Design thinking, or more accurately IBM Design Thinking, is core to IBM's design transformation but there are many other elements that are critically important to our design transformation program. This badging system is but a small example of an additional element. I'll cover some of the other elements in a future blog post.    

A New Interaction Paradigm

We've seen a number of paradigm shifts in interaction with technology over the decades. The first interaction paradigm that I experienced with computers was one that involved using a keypunch machine to create punch cards that you fed into a hopper for the computer to read and the output was a printout from the printer. Next was a keyboard and cathode ray tube (CRT) followed by a personal computer. Next was a mobile phone using T9 texting followed by the amazing multitouch iPhone.

We're now witnessing another phenomenally important paradigm shift in interaction: the use of voice as input and audio as output. I remember using voice in the past as an input mechanism. In fact, I wrote much of my book, User-Centered Design: An Integrated Approach, using voice dictation with IBM's ViaVoice. That generation of voice interface was limited to dictation and voice commands to control a computer interface. The former was quite popular especially with specialized applications like medicine. However, the voice commands never caught on. The technology wasn't ready for prime time, but it is now. Today's voice interfaces don't require a computer and they're free-form. Amazon Echo is an instance of an ambient voice interface, being able to speak to it anywhere in a room, while the Apple AirPods are a personal instance that makes Apple's Siri accessible with the simple double-tab of the AirPods. Because it's personal, Apple's AirPods essentially act like an augmentation of the human brain. Issue a question or a command, like you would to your brain, and your trusty AirPods deliver the answer or action directly to you or for you personally without anyone else knowing. 

So, what are the implications for this new interaction method for designers. Well, it means that the traditional mainstays of design, like typography, iconography, and color, are no longer the only types of skills that are relevant. And, voice, earconography, and tembre are now important. Is the voice whimsical, authoritative, or neutral? Is the earconography recognizable, meaningful, pleasant? Is the tempre that of a woman's voice, a man's voice, or mechanical voice? These are entirely new challenges for designers to understand, master, and apply.

Given that the interaction is now more natural and human, expectations are also higher, expecting human-like interactions. How intelligent the content of the interaction is turns out now to be crucially important too. I'll deal with that and the broader topic of artificial intelligence or what IBM more all encompassingly calls "cognitive computing" in a future post. Its worth noting that much content delivery is now also consumed via audio. The popularity of podcasts and audiobooks is evidence of that trend.    

The point I'd like to leave designers with here is that future "user interfaces" may not at all be what you've been considering UIs thus far and the skills you'll need in this new world will also be different from the ones you've developed to date. Of course, not all interfaces will be voice and audio based but increasingly more and more will be, similar to the transition from full desktop user interfaces to increasingly mobile ones. The future will likely see certain interactions being delivered by voice, others by a mobile device, and yet others still using a computer. It's an exciting time to be a designer, as long as you add voice and audio interface design to the skills you're going to focus on in your Career Workouts (see my last post for more information on this). 

Career Workouts

I'm often asked for career advice by family and friends, by my staff and the couple of dozen or so people I mentor at work, as well as by people who listen to my podcast. I have episodes in my podcast series that address particular topics but I'd like to reflect in this post on the way I think you should frame your thinking and approach to your career. In doing so I'd like to again use an analogy, this time to physical exercise.

I'm sure that you regularly workout at a gym either daily or at least a few times a week to build your cardiovascular capacity, your muscular strength, and to look good. If you don't, you at least know that you should. Do you take the same approach to your career? Do you have regularly scheduled times daily or at least a few times a week for a workout that focuses on your career, developing your skills, broadening your experience, and looking good to your current and future employers? Likely not and you're likely also not aware of the fact that you should either. That's what we'll discuss here.

I too often have a conversation with people looking for a promotion mid-career who have only done their jobs most of their lives. They haven't honed their skills, developed their experience, and haven't established their career eminence in their chosen discipline or field. If you're in that situation, the approach I'm proposing is still relevant to you but its preferable to start this early in your career.

These are my specific suggestions.

  1. Schedule Career Workouts. You should even start these before you begin your career while you're still in college or university and you then need to keep these up for the rest of your professional life. So, what's a career workout? Just like a physical workout at the gym, it involves making a commitment to do it, to put time on your calendar (I'd suggest at least once per week for an hour at a minimum), and then plan what you'll cover during those sessions. I often say that it's the one time during the week that you should be selfish and take the time to work on yourself. An early session can be devoted to developing a plan, determining your career goals, identifying what skills you need to develop or further hone, considering what types of career experiences you'd like to have, and what level of career eminence you'd like to strive to achieve. Subsequent workouts can be devoted to exercising and further developing desired skills and experience. You might take an online course, read a book, or just practice further developing a skill. The workouts could also include working on your career eminence. That will depend on your particular discipline or field but often includes becoming known inside your company and in the field outside your company by blogging, vlogging, submitting articles to journals, presenting at industry or professional conferences, submitting patent disclosures, entering your work in competitions, etc. The career workouts are the time for you to work on you and your career. They can also be used in order to keep a career journal. 
  2. Keep a Career Journal. You can use a physical one but I prefer a digital journal. Just like many people do at the gym, organize your Career Workouts work using a journal. It's a place for you to keep everything having to do with your career. This could include the plans you make for your Career Workouts, the notes you take about what skills or experience you need to develop, the place where you record compliments that someone gives you and also the place where you keep copies of particularly noteworthy work you've done, and it should include a living resume and, if relevant to your field, a living portfolio, to capture your career progress, accomplishments, and eminence.
  3. Get Career Checkups. While you track the minutia of your workouts at the gym using a journal, you likely also regularly, often yearly, take stock by having a checkup with your doctor, checking your weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood work. You should similarly schedule career checkups with your manager and/or your mentor. Its a time for you to organize what you've put in your journal for the period prior to the checkup, and then have someone other than you review the progress you've made in terms of accomplishments, skills you've developed, experiences you've had, and eminence you've achieved. Much like doctor's visits, you can also schedule career checkups more frequently if you need to or more infrequently too if that makes sense given where you are in your career. Don't delay them too long though because you really do need to have someone else provide you feedback on how you're progressing and to give advice on filling gaps you may have in your accomplishments, skills, experience, or eminence.

To reiterate, everyone either does and at least knows they should exercise regularly. In contrast, few people realize that a similar approach needs to be taken regarding your career. I've therefore made the case for the importance of regular career workouts, journaling, and checkups. I'd like to suggest that if you do adopt these, you'll have a healthier and more fulfilling career.     

Workshopping for the Big Leagues

In a previous post I made the case for seeing design thinking, and IBM Design Thinking, as more than the running of workshops. This time I'd like to address another misconception people have about workshopping itself. Many people believe that you just need to have sharpies and sticky notes and you're good to go. Anyone can do it and there's not much to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective workshop facilitation is hard and there's more to it than most people think. And, to make the point, I'll use a sports analogy. 

Most people don't approach a sport with the assumption that you just need a ball and depending on the sport a bat, a glove, maybe some pads and you're set to go. Most people realize that there's much more to it than that. You not only need to have the requisite equipment, you also have to spend hours and hours learning and practicing the skills and getting experience in practices and in actual games to get good. They also realize that there are specialized skills for certain positions on the team. Whether professionals or amateurs, most people take their sport seriously and often spend a lifetime to master it.    

I'm concerned that many people simply participate in a design thinking workshop, get some post-it notes, some Sharpies, a few charts and think they're all set to go. I believe the field would benefit from taking a more rigorous approach, more like that used in sport. And, the approach taken in the big leagues. 

I've led hundreds of IBM Design Thinking workshops all around the world with some of the largest companies and also some of the most promising startups too. I've also run numerous internal company workshops and trained hundreds of facilitators and co-facilitated workshops with many of them. I've also seen how design thinking workshopping is taught, how other organizations use it, and have incorporated workshopping in several university programs.

These then are what I consider to be the ways to unleash the power of design thinking workshopping for the big leagues. 

  1. The venue is key. Big league teams care about all the details of the venues they play at and leagues ensure that facilities are optimal for game play. The same holds true for workshopping. You may think that any room will do. But you'd be wrong. I've been asked to run workshops in boardrooms with one very large table in them and virtually no room to move around the table. I've also been asked to do workshops in rooms that have cloth, brick, or cement walls and insufficient room to bring in whiteboards on wheels, or even the less than optimal flip chart easels. You should select a room that has tables and chairs on wheels and with sufficient wall and/or window space for the number of large post-it note board the you'll need. You should have sufficient room to keep all Post-it Note boards up at all times. Ensure the venue has the right equipment too. Make sure to use actual fine tipped Sharpie brand pens. Ballpoint pens won't do. You'll need the flip-chart sized Post-it Note brand pads and small, square, multi-colored Post-it Note brand pads that have the glue on the back top in the same position on each sheet. Don't use the accordion-style. Anything less than this will compromise your workshop. Using ballpoint pens will allow people to write too much and make what's written on the sticky notes unreadable from a distance which makes group collaboration difficult. Using sticky notes from other brands often leads to the sticky notes falling off onto the floor and using accordion-style ones which alternate glue on the top and then the bottom of the sheets makes them awkward to use and often leads to people sticking notes with the glue on the bottom leading to them not being visible or falling down. Much like sports teams have a maximum number of players so should your workshop. I think twelve to eighteen participants with two to three groups of six participants is optimal. I have run workshops with several hundred participants out of necessity and while they were workable and met the objectives, they weren't optimal. You should plan on having one facilitator for every six or so participants.  

  2. Have a game plan. You may think that you can just launch into the workshop and figure out what you're going to focus on when you get into the room, it is a workshop after all. That's like saying to a big league team to just go for it. Of course, they don't. They carefully craft a game plan, discuss it among the leadership team, and then execute on it. The same goes for a workshop. You have to have full clarity on what problems you'll address, hone them in collaboration with the leaders, and then map a workshopping plan of methods to explore, progress, and address the problems identified. Make sure that your problem statements satisfy the Goldilocks rule, not too big, not to small, just right. Also ensure that the problem statements include who's life will be improved if the problem statement were to be addressed.  

  3. Its a team sport. Just like any sport, workshopping needs the participation of the entire team. You need to ensure that you've got the right people in the room with the right skills, experience, and who will follow up on the work that will be progressed. In addition, if someone is on the field or in the workshop, they can't just decide that they'd like to sit on the sidelines and watch. Everyone has a position and role to play so everyone has to be all in. Just like a player on the field can't pull out a cellphone and start talking or texting during a game, the same holds for a workshop. Multitasking is fine in other environments but during a game or a workshop, every single person has to be fully engaged, focussed, and participating. 

  4. Bring your A-Team. Coaches, quarterbacks, captains, and other leaders are critically important in sport. They are also to workshopping. Workshop facilitators need to be highly trained and also have significant depth of experience. As with a sports team, you can have assistant facilitators but you have to have one lead facilitator who ultimately calls the shots. In my experience, the lead facilitator should be a designer with significant experience not only in workshopping methods but also of one or more of the design disciplines. I teach all facilitators to learn the material extremely well, the flow, the charts, the exercises, so that virtually all of their attention can be focussed on the people in the room. I tell them to focus on how they'd like to have the hearts and minds in the room changed from the time they start the workshop to when they leave it. I also get them to focus on what they objectives of the workshop are and to relentlessly stay on track to achieve them. And, lastly, I get them to empathize at every moment of the workshop with the participants and not themselves. Just like it takes focussed practice in sports, it also takes many hours practice in workshopping to master these skills. 

  5. Keep your eye on the ball. Everyone in sport has to stay focussed on the ball and the ultimate goal. Same goes for workshopping. Inexperienced facilitators will sometimes pursue topics that aren't central to the problems being worked and will waste precious time on them. An experienced facilitator will keep a board on the wall for "parking lot" items. These are for things that an important member of the team may have raised but aren't directly related to the objectives of the workshop so you can satisfy that person by acknowledging the importance of the topic by putting into the parking lot which can then be dealt with at the end of the workshop if you have time or can be dealt with following the workshop proper. Also, when you have sales people in a workshop, they often have a desire to demo, pitch, or just get into a selling mode. That's inappropriate for most workshops. Like the parking lot, the lead facilitator should handle this situation by directing the team to do any of these sorts of activities after the workshop. 

  6. Use all of your playbook. Sports teams develop and practice a series of plays that the team's leadership can call up at will during the game depending on what's going on in the game. The same holds for workshopping. Many facilitators have learned a default set of workshopping methods and they run that play regardless of what's going on in the workshop. This is often the case if facilitators aren't designers. Designers typically have a deeper playbook of methods to draw on and also have more skill and experience at knowing how to apply particular methods optimally given the particular needs of the workshop. Assistant facilitators whom I've worked with as the lead facilitator are often surprised to see how I modify methods or use new to them methods given the particular needs of a workshop. 

  7. Win the season and not just the game. Stretching the sports analogy a little more, teams don't just play one game and that's it, they have a whole season of games to play. Similarly for workshopping, a single workshop doesn't win the season. As I pointed out in a previous post, IBM Design Thinking is not workshopping, it is a framework for a entire project (or season). Please refer to my previous post "design thinking is not workshopping" to understand the ways in which workshopping fit into an end-to-end IBM Design Thinking project. 

Analogies are often helpful in visualizing something or getting a different perspective on something. I hope my use of a sports analogy helped bring some clarity, understanding, and actionable insight regarding design thinking or more specifically IBM Design Thinking workshopping. 

Agile Needs Design Thinking

When Agile methods were first introduced, I thought they were going to be a significant improvement over waterfall methods for design. Developing smaller parts of an application to support a subset of user tasks and then testing them as soon as they were built rather than developing the entire application and only then testing it was a significant improvement. And, in many ways, Agile has been a significant improvement. However, in many other ways it has made things worse and the zealously articulated phrase "fail fast, fail often" sums up the major problems in my view. 

This phrase is usually meant to communicate that teams should start coding to build a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) quickly, release it, and if it fails, to learn from it, pivot and start over. This is the approach most startups use, in my experience, and the approach many enterprise teams are readily adopting too.

In contrast to this approach, if teams practice design thinking, or better yet, IBM Design Thinking, they will very quickly carry out some user research to identify a problem to address or an opportunity to pursue, or to validate that an initial idea the team came up with has merit. In doing that user research they will also be empathizing with the users to be served by the solution which can then be used to inform the early design visualizations. They will then prototype the idea rapidly using pencil and paper and gather some quick feedback on it. If any aspect of the conceptual design should be improved, they can even change that design while they're with the users giving the feedback. They can then take the information summarized in assets like Empathy Maps and Scenario Maps, to write the user stories which can then be developed using Agile methods but with a much higher sense of confidence. During Agile development, the detailed design for the user stories is crafted and coded and quick user feedback is gathered and incorporated in every Sprint. Additional elements of IBM Design Thinking like Hills and Playbacks will further increase the chances of success. 

This approach doesn't preclude the chance of failure but it minimizes it rather than glorifying it. It increases the likelihood of success by ensuring that the team has more information with which to design and develop. And if failure does happen, and its bound to some of the time, the team will have even more information that they can use to understand the failure and what to do next. It's important to point out that this approach requires more than engineers. It also requires designers with expertise in user research methods, visual, and interaction design.

Can Agile methods lead to building solutions more quickly? Yes, but without the information and methods that design thinking provides, many of the teams using Agile methods simply build badly designed solutions or even ill-advised solutions more quickly. Those kinds of failures can and should be avoided. The combination of Design Thinking and Agile methods together provide the approach that optimizes for designing and building the right solution rapidly and, in turn, minimizing the chance of failure.         

Designing with Peripheral Vision

Designing with Peripheral Vision Cover.png

It's useful periodically to review designs that fail in order to learn from them and then avoid those failures in future designs. These seven anti-patterns all suffer from not taking context into account, or stated another way, their designers failed to design with peripheral vision.

I was working with faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) a few weeks go and during a break we visited RISD's Nature Lab. It's director, Neil Overstrom, spoke about the need for art and design students to be aware of details in their environment, in the periphery, which is why his Nature Lab includes many natural artifacts for students to study. I've been talking about designing the "total user experience" since the mid-90s, wrote about it in my 2001 book, and its central to our IBM Design Thinking framework but I thought Neil's concept of being aware of what is in the periphery through peripheral vision was a good way to frame the challenges of commercial design practice when context isn't taken into account at all or not enough. Hence the title of this post.

Here are seven anti-pattern themes with examples for each from my own experience.  

  1. Cool technology and visuals but failure to design the end-to-end user experience.
    I was excited to try out e-registering and using a digital key when I stayed at a hotel a few weeks ago. I was really impressed with the capability of the technology. I was even impressed by the rather visually engaging iPhone app (it also had an Apple Watch app but that didn't work at all). The app allows you to avoid having to register at the front desk when you get to the hotel. So, you walk right past and go to the hotel room that you selected using the app. It's rather cumbersome to navigate through the app to get to the digital key but once you get there, it's pretty slick that you can open your hotel room door by simply pressing the button on your iPhone (see top right image above). The cumbersome navigation to get to the key becomes quite annoying subsequent times that you go to unlock your door. In fact, it's way easier and faster to simply use the usual card key. However, the shock came when I noticed that I didn't have a receipt under my door on the last day of my stay. I looked all through the app to see where the option to get to the digital receipt was. I ended up going to the front desk only to be told that the e-registration still requires you to checkout by going to the front desk. I travel a lot and I haven't checked out at the front desk for years. And, checking out is the part of the total hotel user experience that is in most need of being fast and automated! So, the lesson here is that the cool technology and nice visuals on the app got me to try the new capability but the fact that the designers only used their foveal vision and didn't see the checkout process in their periphery make the entire experience a failure. This may have been their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version and they may well have the intention of eventually designing the entire user experience but I won't ever experience that because their initial design so failed to address the full user experience that I won't try this technology again. Or, at least not from that particular hotel chain. An initial bad end-to-end experience sours the user sufficiently that they won't come back.
     
  2. Failure to design for the full audioscape. Designers are now also asked to design audio related systems.. I experienced the public address system in one airport recently where the emergency message was completely indecipherable due to poor quality speakers and was being drowned out by the flight announcements which used high quality speakers. I'm confident that the designers of the two separate systems never actually spoke to one another or tested their systems in actual use. By contrast, a week later I was at another airport where every announcement was crystal clear and understandable. This may actually be a failure to design with peripheral hearing (if there is such a thing). 
     
  3. Failure to design the software and hardware experience. I use e-tickets on my Apple Watch and find it really convenient especially after gate scanners were modified to allow the watch on a user's wrist to fit under them so that the QR code could be scanned (see top left image above). However, a common problem I experience is that I ensure that the Apple Wallet app is running with the ticket QR code showing but just as I get to the scanner, the Watch display turns off and of course my other hand is holding a passport or something else preventing me from easily tapping on the watch face to turn on the screen again. When the QR code is displayed, the Apple Watch display should not turn off until you turn it off. Similar to the problem described in number 1 above, a problem like the display turning off is enough of a bad experience to turn users off of the technology altogether.  
     
  4. Making major gratuitous changes to an app's design. I wrote a blog post here some time ago "Fine Tuning the Design Throttle" which made the case for designing several releases out and then staging in bite sized pieces the changes so as not to cause users too much of a challenge adjusting to the new designs. I think that advice is still relevant and some recent app design changes didn't heed that advice. A good example is the iOS Camera app which changed the positions on the screen, from the top to the bottom, of the most frequently used actions. These changes don't take into account the fact that users have developed motor memory for those actions. Similarly, the iOS Mail app changed the arrows for moving from one email to the next from up and down arrows to left and right ones. In my experience, that conflicts with the mental model I'd developed from the previous design and in dealing with email clients of all sorts for decades. And the direction of the arrows seems to be the opposite of what they should be with the action to move ahead in your email now being the left arrow key, something that seems to me to be counter intuitive. These kinds of fundamental changes to the design of a heavily used app for what appear to be purely random or in fact gratuitous reasons leaves me thinking that the designers completely ignored the context of regular use and arrogantly went ahead anyway with changes that serve to annoy users. If that happens to users too often, they're apt to stop using apps from that vendor.  
     
  5. Failing to take mobility into account when designing wearables. If there were one category of product that really needs to be designed with peripheral vision to take the context of use in mind, it's wearables. Users are on the go when using wearables so the interaction with them has to be even simpler with less reliance on physical interaction with the device. I found it interesting therefore to discover that even though I could text message using Siri on my iPhone entirely while staying in auditory mode, the Apple Watch required me to get out of auditory mode and actually tap a small touch target to send the Siri dictated texts. If there were ever a device that required hands (and fingers) free interaction, it's the Apple Watch! 
     
  6. Apps that don't take the other apps screen real estate into account. Apps should appropriately adjust themselves given what else is using screen real estate. When I'm using Google Maps on my iPhone or using the phone app, the top bar on the iPhone is taken up by those running apps. However, other apps don't take that possibility into account in their design. Again, motor memory to logout of a financial app, for example, by hitting the bottom most option in a left nav, leads to unintended actions when the bottom most selection is no longer logout. Or, in a social media app I use, the upper most options aren't visible when persistent apps like Google Maps or the phone app are are in use.   
     
  7. Physical designs which don't take the context of use in mind. I love all of my Apple products and devices. I love how sleek, sculpted, and beautiful the peripherals that I use in the office with my Thunderbolt display are (see bottom image above). However, while the new Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad can be used while being charged with a cable, the mouse cannot. I'm not in my office very often due to travel so the batteries on my mouse and keyboard last a long time. However, the other day, I got a notification that the rechargeable batteries on my Apple mouse were getting low. I unfortunately didn't have a charging cable with me as I only charge my Apple Watch and iPhone overnight at home. A little after that initial warning the mouse died and I couldn't do my work. I then asked around the studio to see if anyone had a cable I could borrow. I found one but then discovered that the cable only fits into the bottom of the mouse, making the device useless while it is being charged. The other peripherals can be used while being charged and it's not as if the human race hasn't figured out how to attach a cable to a mouse and allow the mouse to be used while the cable is attached. All these devices for decades have had cables coming out of the top end of the mouse. Again, the context of use was either not understood (which in this case is unimaginable), not taken into account, or intentionally ignored. Any one of these reasons is totally unacceptable. I brooded about this as I sat there waiting for my mouse to charge. Another example of this problem is Google Glass, an amazing technology that didn't sufficiently take the surrounding social environment into account. Had the product been introduced without the offending camera, it could well have been hugely successful.   

Context in the environment, context on the screen, and motor memory are so important in designing for mobile and for people on the move. I'm seeing a trend toward foveal and in fact even myopic design that is focused on the technology and great visual design. Designers need to use their peripheral vision too and be aware of and design for the entire user experience for the environmental and screen context especially for users on the move. Even though the concept of "designing the total user experience" has been around for decades, it appears, sadly, that using peripheral vision to be aware of and then design the total user experience has still eluded many designers. Let's redouble our efforts to truly design the end-to-end experience. For additional information, check out IBM Design Thinking and also our new IBM Design Research information. Let's design with our full field of vision to craft innovative solutions for the entire user experience.   

Design Thinking is not Workshopping

I wrote previously here about the 7 myths that I believe many people hold about design transformation that limit their effectiveness. Those myths are still pervasive but I'm coming across another more recently that is worth addressing: workshopping.

Many people seem to be of the view that simply doing workshops with sticky notes is sufficient. In fact, they're of the view that design thinking is workshopping. As with the other myths I discussed, workshopping should be practiced but it's insufficient by itself. I think this perception is getting traction because many people's introduction to design thinking, including IBM Design Thinking that I introduce to companies, is via a workshop. In fact, workshopping has become synonymous with design thinking. 

Of course, workshopping is core to design thinking, and to IBM Design Thinking, because it has powerful methods like empathy mapping, stakeholder mapping, as-is scenario mapping, ideation, prioritization, storyboarding, and more. When these methods are put in the hands of experienced facilitators working with diverse groups of participants, amazing results can be achieved largely due to the simplicity of the tasks and the selfless radical collaboration that proper workshopping fosters. Several C suite executives have pointed out to me that the simple act of writing something on a sticky note and putting it on the board anonymizes the idea as it becomes the group's idea. Workshopping, when done right, removes ego and ownership while also levelling the playing field ensuring that everyone can and does participate. All of this leads to far superior group collaboration than, for example, a team sitting around a table in discussion, an approach where contribution of ideas is mediated by status, introversion-extroversion, gender, age, and other factors that unnecessarily bias or constrain the free expression of ideas. 

If workshopping is so powerful, you may ask, why am I saying that it is insufficient. Let me illustrate by using what we call "The Loop" within the IBM Design Thinking framework (have a look at the full description of IBM Design Thinking to see how the loop fits with the rest of our framework).

   The loop illustrates the iterative nature of good design practices. After the team has identified the problem space that is of interest to them, they need to observe the people whose lives they're going to be focussing on improving with the project so that they can empathize with them in order to understand them deeply. This observation can take the form of such methods as ethnographic observation and/or structured interviews. Once sufficient initial understanding has been gleaned, workshopping methods can be used to allow the team to reflect on what they've learned and to help synthesize that information in a form to progress the project so that they can make their first prototype. This prototype is usually of low fidelity and typically made of paper, in the case of software, or foam core, in the case of devices or hardware. The prototype is then shown to representative users so that the team can again observe the experience users have with it. That leads to more reflection, which again can be done using group workshopping methods. As the loop illustrates, this cycle continues throughout the project until the final deliverable is produced and released. And, of course, then the loop starts again. 

To reiterate, workshopping with sticky notes is central to design thinking and IBM Design Thinking but is insufficient and needs to be augmented by observation methods and making methods as illustrated in the IBM Design Thinking Loop.      

Design Thinking: What's it good for?

I use design thinking, in fact IBM's version called IBM Design Thinking, in my work everyday on a very wide range of problem spaces and with a wide variety of organizations. I'm therefore often surprised by the limited view people have of the applicability of design thinking. Many people believe that it is only relevant to the user interface or the "look and feel" of an app or application. Nothing could be further from the truth. These people are essentially conflating and thereby confusing design and design thinking. I explained the difference between the two in my previous post.

In that post, I pointed out that design thinking, or more specially IBM's version called IBM Design Thinking, should be learned and practiced by all disciplines represented by the horizontal generalist stroke of their T skill set. So following on from that, if design thinking isn't limited to the user interface and the "look and feel", and should be practiced by all disciplines, you might ask, what is it good for and what kind of problem or opportunity spaces is it relevant to?

Well, I'm finding in my work that the framework is applicable to virtually everything I've applied it to and I haven't found a situation yet where it wasn't relevant. Let me summarize briefly several examples that illustrate the wide range of applicability. 

  • Healthcare providers have developed new approaches for making patient care more effective, convenient, and at lower cost including processes, apps, and systems.
  • Financial institutions have focussed on making their client experience more engaging, seamless, and automated focussing on procedures, policies, apps, websites, and call centers. 
  • Transportation companies have developed innovative ways to make their client experience efficient and their application development operations more agile through apps, technologies, and simplified processes.
  • Insurance companies have examined and redesigned the various touch points their agents have with clients and the technologies that mediate those touch points.
  • Telecom companies have improved the B2C and B2B client experience to competitively differentiate their offerings and to speed up delivering new capabilities to clients. 
  • Retailers have refocussed their companies on their customers and their employees and the various ways they can make the experience of both more enjoyable, efficient, and cost effective.
  • A collection of high tech companies looking to attract the best talent to a particular city used the approach to better understand the variety of types of candidates they should targeting and how best to communicate to them.
  • Universities have used the approach to design the direction for their curriculum, how they should collaborate with one another and with industry, as well as the methods they should use to communicate what they offer. 

In many of these cases the initial experience of IBM Design Thinking was through a one to two day workshop I ran with them. A typical experience often starts with some level of scepticism, largely due to misperceptions about the approach that I referred to earlier. However, once everyone gets into the workshop proper, they quickly see the power in the approach and the applicability of it to their organization and problem/opportunity space. C level executives often comment that they think the approach is powerful because it focusses everyone on the human beings they are trying to improve the lives of and also because the methods drive a level of collaboration that takes the ego out of the equation, gives everyone an equal voice, and leads to more diverse and often more innovative ideas. 

Many companies quickly realize that there is much more to the approach than simply using it within workshops and they ask us to help them launch a design transformation of their company like we've done at IBM. They realize that IBM Design Thinking is the foundation and is necessary but that it isn't sufficient to transform the way a company works. I'll get into great detail on that topic in a future post.

When a company has gone through a design transformation, all parts of the organization start to use design thinking as a matter of course. They start to think and act differently. That is the case for IBM. Here are several of the ways different parts of IBM have used the approach.

  • Product development: We use IBM Design Thinking in the development of our products whether its an entire ecosystem for developers to create apps and applications like Bluemix or a Cognitive solution to help Oncologists treat cancer patients with IBM Watson. The designers, offering managers, and engineers together use the design thinking to conceptualize, iterate on, and develop the product. 
  • Services: We have a business services and a technology services organization and both now use IBM Design Thinking. We use the approach when our services involve designing and developing a solution (website, apps, call center, etc.) for a financial institution, for example, and also when our services involve designing an entire IT infrastructure solution for a transportation company, for example, for whom we run their entire IT systems. 
  • Sales and Marketing: Our sales organization and our marketing and communication functions uses IBM Design Thinking to better empathize with clients and potential clients to better understand them, their current experiences, and challenges in order to more effectively determine a solution to their challenges, as well as to develop marketing (websites, advertising, etc.) that communicates to a broader audience what we have to offer to address challenges companies are having.      
  • Human Resources: Our HR organization has used IBM Design Thinking to reimagine our employee evaluation system so that it actually has built into it key aspects of our framework (collaboration, iteration, feedback) and they're also using the approach to improve our recruiting and on boarding methods, applications, and processes. 
  • Finance: Our financial analysts have used our framework to determine how to better serve their internal clients, managers and employees, by simplifying processes, approvals, and reporting. 
  • IT Systems: Our CIO's office as well as individual country IT organizations have used IBM Design Thinking to dramatically improve the user experience with the internal apps and applications our employees use. For example, we have a new app and web application for finding any employee in the company, any information about them, and the ability to connect with them directly. Another example is the internal Mac@IBM App Store which dramatically simplifies setting up, installing new apps, and requisite updates for employee computers.   

It's important to point out that incorporating design thinking into a project or using it to transform an entire company involves a journey and isn't accomplished overnight. It should also be noted that the approach has limited effectiveness if the scope of project is too narrowly defined, if it isn't applied at the beginning of the project, and if the requisite skills and staffing aren't made available to the project. There are initial conditions that need to be met in order to effectively apply the approach. However, I hope that the examples I've given here of the various types of companies, the types of problem spaces, and the types of areas within companies have provided you some idea as to the wide applicability of design thinking in general and IBM Design Thinking in particular.   

Design vs Design Thinking Explained

Sara Diamond and I recently wrote an article entitled "There's no innovation agenda without design thinking" which generated significant interest and discussion. One of the commenters wrote, in part, "...functional and aesthetic design is important but the technological innovation and the ability to implement the ideas are even more so. The kind of design the writers are speaking of acts as a discriminator if there are competing products but without the existence of a new product, does not come into play." 

This comment confuses design with design thinking. This is a common confusion and one that those who coined the later phrase are painfully aware of. The best way to explain the two terms is by reference to skills and practices as illustrated by the concept of the T-shaped person. I've discussed this here in a previous post. The vertical stroke of the T refers to deep specialized skills whereas the horizontal stroke refers to the generalist cross-discipline skills. 

Design Thinking skills and practices, as illustrated above, should be thought of as being appropriate to all disciplines including design. Design itself is a craft of deep specialized skills comprised of visual design, interaction or user experience design, user research, and front-end development. Each of these design specialties needs to know and practice their own specialized craft (the vertical stroke of the T) while also knowing and practicing design thinking (the horizontal stroke of the T). 

Of course, many other disciplines are needed on the team, business and engineering for example, and each of these needs to contribute their specialized discipline specific skills while all needing the generalist design thinking skills. The IBM version of design thinking, which we call IBM Design Thinking, has further enhanced the set of cross-discipline skills and practices to optimize for cross-team collaboration, alignment, and transparency. 

It is the practice of design thinking by a team that leads to the opportunity for innovation and each discipline's unique contribution, including design, that fleshes it out and realizes the potential. 

Let's use an example to illustrate. Let's imagine a startup wanting to create a new product in the increasingly important health space. In my experience, startups often approach this by simply having smart engineers sitting around in a cool looking incubator space working all hours staring at their MacBooks trying to dream up some innovation, building it (and perhaps also having a designer to "make it pretty"), and then pivoting when it doesn't work.

The design thinking approach would start off by having user researchers understand the people the startup wants to improve the life of (i.e., patients, nurses, etc.) using various ethnographic observation and interview methods. Other disciplines on the team would help with this, gaining first hand knowledge of the domain and deeply empathizing with the people they intend to serve. The team comes back and uses methods like empathy mapping and as-is scenario mapping to capture what they learned, importantly reflecting on a 360 degree view of the people they intend to serve, what they do, say, think, and feel. The team members then individually, and afterwards as a group, determine which aspects of the current experience are the most problematic and opportune to significantly improve. Based on this knowledge, the team collectively articulates their intended objective using what we at IBM call Hills, statements that communicate who is going to be able to do what with the new solution with what "wow" outcome for them. Hills provide the clarity and focus for the team and are used throughout the project as well during what we call Playbacks when all stakeholders review the evolving client experience. The team then ideates on potential solutions, importantly getting input from all the team's individual specialized experience and skills. They decide which of the ideas they'd like to explore further and then create paper mockups of the most promising ideas on which they then get feedback from a few representative target users (which we call Sponsor Users). The team determines which ideas were best and iterates on them based on the feedback received. That cycle of iteration continues as the product is further fleshed out in higher fidelity prototypes and then production code. At all stages, team members are involved in and using design thinking while also contributing their own deep specialized knowledge and skills. Design is an important but only one of the important specialized skills on the team. It's important to point out that the above can be done extremely quickly and efficiently while at the same time increasing the likelihood of success. There is no prescribed order and teams have a wide selection of methods to use. Design thinking, as the name suggests, is at its essence a new way of thinking about a problem or opportunity space and how to address it collaboratively with a team of specialists. 

I truly believe that using design thinking, particularly IBM's version, with teams that have all the requisite talent and skills, including importantly design, will dramatically increase the likelihood of delivering highly successful and innovative outcomes.

 

Level Up Your Work & Personal Relationships

Almost all aspects of our lives, personal and professional, are grounded in relationships. And, the quality of those relationships determine our success and happiness. However, we rarely consider what contributes to the quality of relationships. 

The key ingredients to a successful relationship, whether professional or personal, include listening to, empathizing with, and truly understanding each other. I'll address how to level up your skill in each of these areas in turn.

In conversation, most people concentrate on and even rehearse what they're going to say next. How well do you think they're listening to the other person in the conversation if they're doing that? Not very well. And, what's the result of doing this? The other person is aware they're not being listen to, they don't feel validated or valued, and the quality of the communication is compromised. Or, as George Bernard Shaw famously said, "The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished". 

I do a listening exercise in some of the workshops I run that has people quietly listening to another person without saying anything and then playing back to the other what they heard and understood after they truly listened. That's what I call authentic listening and involves completely focusing intently on what the other person is saying and synthesizing what they're saying. I also recorded a podcast with advice on authentic listening in which I suggest that listeners spend the next day saying as little as possible so that they can truly listen to others in their lives whether professional or personal. I find it fascinating to read the emails I get from people who have been in the workshops or listened to the podcast episode saying that authentically listening to others was a profound experience for them and that it had a transformational effect on them leading to deeper relationships through more effective communication. 

So, authentic listening is an incredibly important skill to level up for any effective communication to happen. Developing empathy is the second. This essentially involves not only listening but also truly trying to see things from the other person's point of view, and as some would say, "to walk a mile in their shoes". Its important to not see the situation with your usual lenses that may well distort the reality they're describing. See the situation through the other person's eyes, hear it through their ears, and feel the situation through their heart. Get out of yourself, your life experiences, your biases, and truly experience things the way the other person does. For more specific advice on developing empathy, have a listen to my podcast on the topic.  

Authentically listening to and empathizing with the other person will provide you with deep insight about the other person which you next need to internalize and synthesize yourself in order to better and more fully understand. Listening to and empathizing with another person doesn't mean that you have to agree with their views or opinions. It also doesn't mean that you can't have your own point of view. What these methods provide is the ability for you to better understand other people in your business and personal life. They, in turn, also appreciate the fact that you take the time to listen to them, to see things from their point of view, and to more deeply understand them. If they then do the same, and reciprocity here is common, the effectiveness of your interactions increase and you improve the overall quality of your relationships.

I purposely used the term "level up" to also stress the importance of needing to practice these skills so that they become habits by focusing on them and spending the requisite time honing them. Most people recognize the need to master the skills and techniques in a video game before being able to level up to a higher level. They realized that you can't just get started playing a video game and expect to level up immediately without having the requisite mastery developed. But, when it comes to interpersonal communication, everybody thinks that once you learn to speak as a child that you know how to communicate. They may well be able to speak but they need to develop the necessary skills of authentic listening, empathizing, and understanding to level up to true interpersonal communication and effective relationship building. So, start practicing your listening and empathy skills in the game of life in order to level up your work and personal relationships.  

 

The Innovation Trap

Innovation is the buzzword of the times. Everyone wants it. Very few are finding it. And, there is considerable confusion about how to get it. 

I find it fascinating to watch some early stage startups. They often sit in really trendy creative looking incubation spaces heads-down staring at their MacBooks hoping to find that spark of insight for a new innovative product or service. I've noticed that some established companies have recently been hiring senior executives who are assigned the responsibility for innovation. Both the startups and the innovation officers of established companies do have meetings to come up with innovations and to visualized what's often called "the art of the possible" but both are falling into what I refer to as the innovation trap. 

The innovation trap is believing that you need to be innovative and that innovative ideas will just come to you. It doesn't work that way in my view. First of all, innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Only when the intended user of what you're producing considers it amazingly helpful, engaging, and indispensable will it be deemed innovative. So, instead of focusing on being innovative, focus on what problem you should solve or what opportunity to improve something you'd like to address. But how do you go about doing that? You close your MacBook, get out of the building, and start to observe, listen, and probe.

A term that is often used for this is user research. There's a lot to learn in order to do it really well, drawing insights and techniques from disciplines like ethnography, anthropology, and psychology. However, everyone can get started doing it. Simply focus on the domain you're interested in exploring, be it healthcare, travel, finance, and observe what people do today in particular parts of that domain. Learn what the current users are like, what do they do, say, think, and feel. Capture what you observe and probe with open-ended questions anything you don't yet know enough about. See the world from their point of view or in other words, empathize with them. Identify what pain points they current experience in doing what they do today and/or look for aspects of what they do today that could be improved whether they see it as a problem or not. Also get direct feedback from them on what they consider to be most problematic. However, don't rely solely on what they tell you, also make sure to observe their behavior yourself. People aren't terribly good at remembering events or introspecting about their reactions to them. It's often better to observe them instead. 

Once you have a good set of problems to solve and/or opportunities to address, you're finally able to start to explore solutions. Here again many people try to come up with that one killer solution. They often run with the first idea that comes to them. The first idea is rarely the best one. In order to come up with a great idea, you have to have many, many ideas and then choose among those. It's also important to provide an optimal environment for ideation, one that encourages diverse views, one that minimizes polarization, and one that is structured. Make sure to include a diverse set of people from different disciplines and life experiences. Prevent polarization of views by first having everyone capture their ideas privately, on Post-it Notes for example, so that the group isn't influenced by the ideas presented by the loudest, most influential, or most senior person in the room. And, you should structure the ideation session so that it starts by diverging, generating a lot of ideas from everyone, and then moves to converging by using a variety of methods to vote on the best ideas. Interestingly, if you do use Post-it Notes, the ideas written on them tend to become disconnected from the people who wrote them. As a result, there is less individual ego involvement when the group is evaluating the ideas and it fosters more effective teamwork. After that, you have to make a quick and cheap mockup or prototype of the solution and get feedback from a few real users on it. You keep iterating with feedback as you continue to make the solution higher fidelity and more real.  

We practice this approach to first understanding and then ideating solutions with our teams at IBM as well as in the work we do to help our clients. It is our approach to avoid falling into the innovation trap and is an essential part of what we call our IBM Design Thinking framework. You can read more about the framework and our use of it and other foundational design practices in a piece published in the New York Times as well as a Forrester Research report.  

 

  

 

Wearables, IoT, and the Quantified Self

Societal and technology trends are converging and have the promise of being fully integrated in the future. I’ve been fascinated by the societal trend toward health, fitness, and optimizing behavior and the ways in which technology trends such as mobile, wearable, and what is referred to as the Internet of Things are converging. I tend to be an early adopter of anything tech so I’ve been exploring these technologies personally. I’m often asked about all of this so thought I’d share my experiences in this post. 

My iPhone now has an M9 motion coprocessor integrated into the A9 chip that connects to the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and barometer to measure my running or walking pace as well as my steps, distance, and elevation changes. Using the iPhone with my Apple Watch with it’s Activity app, I can now select what fitness activity I’ll be engaged in and then track my progress directly on my wrist. I also get taptic feedback discreetly on my wrist when I’ve met particular milestones. I also get that taptic feedback as a reminder to stand for at least one minute per hour as well. The Activity display nicely visualizes how I’m progressing toward my goals for standing, moving, and exercising. I try to become “whole" each day by having complete circles for each activity by the end of the day. 

I’ve also been using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone and watch. The app allows me to track what I eat and drink and also what exercise I’m doing each day. I used apps like this some years ago and it was so difficult at the time because you had to manually input all the information. With the current app, all I do is search for or select the food or drink or simply scan the UPC code of a product in front of me. The app intelligently estimates the serving size almost perfectly but you can also modify it. The exercise metrics are captured automatically from the iOS Health app on my phone and also from the Activity app on my watch. 

In addition to my phone and watch with their apps, I also use devices from Withings including a scale that measures weight, body mass index, and fat mass, and also a blood pressure cuff that provides measurements of systolic and diastolic readings and heart rate. All of these data are also automatically captured by the iOS Health app and thereby to the other iOS apps like MyFitnessApp.  

I’ve recently been using one other device which tracks my driving. It’s a small telematics device that connects to my vehicle’s OBD2 port. It tracks and transmits distance travelled, the time of the day I travel, sudden braking, and rapid acceleration. My insurance company provided an incentive of a 5 percent reduction in my insurance premium for installing the device and up to a 25 percent reduction for really good driving behavior. I actually just wanted to try the device. The app allows me to see the details of every trip I take and gives me a summary of the key measurements including any “events” which are instances of what it deems to be bad or risky driving. 

As you can see, I now have sensors which are quantifying many aspects of my life and through the Internet of Things technologies together with mobile and wearable devices, I can view the data at a glance on my wrist. So, how has all of this changed my life? It has changed me in some pretty dramatic ways. I’m way more aware of my health and what impacts it. Being able to see at a glance how many calories I’ve consumed versus how many I’ve expended by itself has made a huge difference. Drilling down into the details and seeing the impact of certain foods in terms of their caloric and nutritional value and also the health benefits of particular activities has been eye opening. This is truly actionable information and I regularly change my behavior based on it. It’s important to point out that it wasn’t just the activity monitoring, or the automatic uploading of my scale information, or recording what I eat. It was all of it integrated together via the iOS Health app and visualizing it together on my phone and in particular my watch that made the real difference. I’ve significantly improved my health indicators.

The assessment of my driving behavior has been interesting. The act of monitoring and visualizing things like my acceleration and braking has had a substantial impact on my driving. While I may have driven aggressively at times in the past, I no longer do that at all and my family has noticed the difference too. I’ve introspected about what this change really was all about and I’ve determined that it is mostly that it has gamified good driving behavior. I feel good at the end of a week when I see five stars with no so called events, or bad driving behavior. 

It used to be that medical practitioners would provide you with the measurements of your health when you go for an annual checkup and if those measurements were significantly off the norm, they would suggest corrective action often involving expensive medications or surgical procedures. These new directions in technology enable individuals to track their health in real time and make changes in behavior based on them proactively and preventatively. Similarly, driving behaviors that are more risky in the past would have resulted some of the time in accidents and expensive repairs. Whereas now with these technologies, a driver is able to assess and be motivated to have optimal driving behavior resulting in a lowered likelihood of accidents and resulting costs.

I think the future looks bright for the quantified self enabled through the Internet of Things technologies together with mobile and wearable technology.

The 7 Myths of Design Transformation

Many companies from the smallest startups to the largest enterprises in the world now recognize the need to infuse design into their organizations. Many are investing heavily in design but are often using a silver bullet approach, making the assumption that one specific change will be the right one. I've spent time over the past few years working directly with many of these companies and meeting others at conferences. I've also worked with leaders of academic programs preparing business, design, and engineering students for this new world. I regularly encounter the following seven myths which I think hamper success in transforming companies. Of course, all seven of the myths aren't held by all organizations and not all organizations hold these myths. However, sufficient numbers hold some of these myths to warrant this post. I summarize the myths and provide some insight based on our experience at IBM to help dispel them.   

1. You just need to hire designers

Clearly, properly trained designers are critically important to a design transformation program. They are necessarily but not sufficient. Many companies think that they can simply hire designers right out of design school and then wait for the magic to happen. They are learning painfully that simply hiring designers isn't sufficient. Mike Monteiro gave a talk recently with the title, "This is the golden age of design! ... and we're screwed". He outlines well the opportunities and challenges. He also points out that one company in particular is doing a good job in this space. That company is IBM.

When we hire designers at IBM straight out of design school, we put them through a three month bootcamp to ready them to take on the responsibilities of being a designer at IBM. We don't rely solely on college hires either, we also have professional hires who have significant experience in industry. They too go through a bootcamp, albeit less than three months. We also make sure to hire the right balance of design specializations including visual design, user experience design, user research, and front end development. Even after having done all of that, we don't rely on designers to be solely responsible for the client experience. We believe that design is a team sport and that business, engineering, and design need to work together using what we refer to as radical collaboration. IBM Design Thinking provides the framework and methods for that collaboration.  

2. You just need open workspaces

Workspaces are clearly important. Putting people in offices or cubicles is the fastest way to suck collaboration and creativity out of them. Open workspaces encourage collaboration and create the conditions for greater creativity. However, building out open space facilities isn't enough. In our experience at IBM, the employees who work in those open spaces need to be allowed or even encouraged to make the space their own. They need to put design assets on walls, be able to draw on any wall, have sufficient movable whiteboards in order to collaborate visually, and, most importantly, customize the space for their team's needs. In our studios, that means that any piece of furniture should be able to be moved by the team and often is. I often visit our main studio in Austin, Texas, and see a completely different arrangement of desks, whiteboards, sofas and TVs each time. We now have some 26 studios worldwide. So, are beautiful, open workspaces important? Yes, but how they're designed and operated makes a difference. And, of course, just like hiring designers is necessary but not sufficient, so is having open workspaces.  

3. You need to quantify everything first

There are two types of thinking in business, analytical thinking and design thinking. Both are important. Analytical thinking is best for things like making businesses efficient, optimizing supply chains, target marketing, and driving down defect rates. Analytical thinking is best applied when a product and/or business is well established. However, analytical thinking is incapable of driving innovation. That's where design thinking has it's strength. Many established companies are reinforced every day for their use of analytical thinking so they often mistakenly think that they can use it to innovate or they look to use design thinking but expect to apply analytical thinking parameters. Design Thinking needs to be allowed the time to flourish and to create innovations that at first won't yield quantifiable benefits. Over time, of course, analytical thinking can again be applied. Many business leaders received their training in MBA programs and to date, many of those programs focused exclusively on analytical thinking. However, there are now innovative business education programs being developed that incorporate design thinking and analytical think. I'm helping to develop such a curriculum with the DeGroote School of Business Executive MBA program.   

4. You just need to code MVPs quickly and iterate

Many companies, particularly, startups, believe that you just need to get a brilliant idea, code the minimal viable product, release it, and then iterate. I was on a panel in silicon valley on which all the other panelists were from startups. Some of them argued for this approach. However, I pointed out that they were the successful ones, the 10 percent of startups that are successful. I pointed out that the company I work for needs better odds than that. The 90 percent of startups that fail, often do so because they didn't understand the market or users and didn't have the right skills or approach.  

5. You first need to visualize the "art of the possible" 

The designer's version of myth number 4 is to start work by ideating with colleagues and then creating high fidelity mockups of what is often referred to as the "art of the possible". The coding MVPs and the art of the possible visualizations feel good because everyone sees results really quickly that actually run, in the case of the MVP, and are beautifully creative, in the case of the art of the possible visualizations. The problem with both of these approaches is that they leave out a critically important step, understanding what the problem is that they're solving. Our IBM Design Thinking framework reinforces the need to first do user research to understand the intended user, what they do, think, say, and feel, what their current experience is, and what pain points are most important to them to address. Once we have that information, we're ready to ideate many different possible solutions to those pain points and quickly and cheaply prototyping those using pencil and paper to get feedback on them prior to choosing the optimal designs to start to code and then iterate on.  

6. You should make small changes to what you do today

Many companies believe they're already doing most of what they need to do and thus simply need to tweak things a bit. That's what IBM did for years, with less than optimal results. It was only when the company took stock, decided to launch a full new program, and provided the requisite investment that dramatic transformation happened

The new program we put in place at IBM focused on addressing each of the myths discussed here. The formula we used was simply: people plus places plus practices equals outcomes. These three Ps of transformation all need to be addressed. People includes hiring designers from design schools and from industry, educating and activating them through bootcamps, creating open workspace design studios that they can and should customize, adopting an enhanced design thinking framework optimized for business and linking it directly with agile development, educating business, engineering, and design leaders in the most important projects on the framework, and then tracking progress and holding regular pivot meetings to rapidly make changes. Further information on our approach can be found in a recent New York Times article as well as in a Forrester Research report as well.   

7. Transformation is easy and shouldn't take too long

Lastly, many believe that a design transformation of an organization should be pretty straight forward and that it shouldn't take too long. However, it's important to understand the extend of what needs to change in most companies. Very few companies have a culture of design excellence and the myths outlined here illustrate the types of attitudes and practices that need to change. Although there are clearly differences between organizations but most companies should set an expectation of years rather than weeks or months to make a dramatic transformation in becoming design led.  

Design transformation is difficult. While we don't have all the answers, we've learned a lot in transforming IBM. And, we're working with other companies everyday to share what we've learned and to help them realize the benefits of a design led company. 

 

The Power of Design for Business

Most of my career has been focused on the methods, skills, tools, and overall approach to design as well as on optimizing design outcomes. I've written a book and numerous articles and blog posts on those topics. I've spent time over the past few years on the business of design and on the design of business. And for both, the words of IBM's second CEO Thomas Watson Jr. are as relevant today as they were in 1971 when he spoke them, "Good design is good business".

We spend about 11 percent of our time on entertainment but more than three times that on work. Much of the investment in design over the past few decades though has been spent on the design related to that portion of our time we spend on entertainment. Comparatively little has been spent on the design of things we use at work and the ways we connect with companies digitally. Just take a look at the screens that can be viewed in public like those used by airline agents, store clerks, doctor's office staff, restaurant servers, and most office workers. Many of those screens look like they should be in a technology museum. Small wonder that 80-90 percent of workers feel stressed. No doubt this isn't entirely due to their experiences in using technology on the job but it likely represents a significant portion of it. Included in this world of work are the clients of companies who often have to struggle through badly designed websites and apps. And, increasingly, it is the digital experience with a company that is the primary and most important experience clients have with a company. 

The company I work for, IBM, was the first to introduce a corporate wide design program in 1956 and we are again focused maniacally on design, in fact, directly addressing the design of work and design for the enterprise. Transforming the company to work in this way is described well in a recent New York Times article and in a Forrester Report.  

Most companies realize now that they need to focus on design as they move rapidly into a digital, cloud-based, big-data, social, and mobile enabled world. They often appropriately look for professional help in creating their new digital properties. Given IBM's experience in driving a major design transformation, I'm often asked to meet with clients to outline the key ingredients of a successful design transformation. In addition to sharing our lessons learned, I also like to talk less and do more by actually involving the senior executives of companies in a workshop that provides them with an experiential, hands-on feel for the power of some of the approaches. They glean insights, gain new perspectives, and learn how our design framework and transformational practices can help them not only drive the design of an awesome client experience with their digital properties but also in transforming their entire companies. 

While the craft of design guided by a framework can be used to create products, apps, and systems, the general approach of the framework can be used by all employees of a company to ensure a maniacal focus on the client experience at all levels. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me personally to help companies learn how they can use the power of design for their businesses and how our services organizations can then help them realize that power for their business outcomes.     

Apple Watch: Awesome but not Perfect

I've now had my Apple Watch for two weeks. I've provided early experience reports via social media and promised that I would provide a more complete review here when I'd had a little more time with it. Has Apple designed an awesome new platform? Yes. Is it perfect? No.  

The out-of-the-box experience was the best I've experienced with any product, including previous Apple products. It was obvious what to do and doing it was straightforward and, in fact, thoroughly enjoyable. First use was similarly intuitive and the product has imbedded itself into my personal ecosystem completely. I pointed out in a prior blog post here that while I tried using my iPhone and also a Nike Fuelband previously, I went back to wearing a watch because I need what I called ambient time visualization. Probably 90% of the time, I just need to be able to glance at my wrist to get a sense of where I am in an hour. I therefore don't want to have to take my phone out of my pocket nor press a button on the Fuelband to quickly and often unobtrusively get a sense of what time it is. Given that use case, an analogue view is therefore preferable to a digital one too. So, Apple Watch close to perfectly satisfied that use case. I can glance at my watch and get an analogue sense of what time it is. I say close to perfectly because having the display turned on all the time would perfectly satisfy my needs but I understand that's impractical at the present time given the need to minimize battery drain. 

Let's explore the gesture used to activate the device a little more. While the act of moving your wrist in front of you in order to look at the watch is a natural one for a society that still has many people wearing watches, the action itself also carries with it some social etiquette baggage. That same action is also often construed to be indicative of someone being bored, in a rush, and/or uninterested. By adding non-time related functions to the watch, such as notifications, Apple has increased the number of times people typically check their watch. I've had friends and colleagues mention that they find people who are checking their Apple Watches a lot really rude and even more rude than if they were checking their phones. I've purposely minimized the number of apps that I've configured to send me notifications so that I don't get into this situation. However, I suspect that this is going to be another category of annoyance. Having said that, it is important to note that unlike when people are on their phones, virtually everything you can do on the watch is very time limited so often it is literally just a glance. 

A few of you who have used a Smartwatch like the Pebble or Samsung Gear may be wondering why I'm speaking as if Apple established the category. Let me clarify. While Apple was rumored to be working on an iWatch for a few years, these other companies took first mover advantage and did a respectable job of putting out early versions of the technology. However, very few people bought those and they were typically the tech enthusiasts. Apple's introduction into the category with the Apple Watch effectively moves Smartwatches into the mainstream not only with widespread use by the general population but also in terms of providing an ecosystem for apps from all the major players. 

As I mentioned, Apple Watch is awesome in many ways but also not perfect. Let me briefly summarize what I think is great and what I think needs work. 

I think Apple, no surprise, got the design spot on including the nuance of the aesthetics required to make it a piece of jewelry with the many choices of bodies and bands. I chose the one shown above after asking my friends on social media and a couple of friends in person to help select the right one for me. I think they were absolutely right and I love the choice. And, of course, I can buy extra bands and I may well do that in the future. Its interesting too to hear friends and colleagues describing their choice of watch body and band say that they think they chose the perfect one for them. 

There were early worries that the battery would be insufficient to power the Apple Watch for a full day. My battery has never come close to running out in a day and most days I have half to three quarters of a battery charge remaining even after fairly heavy use. Of course, Apple achieved this by not only focusing on including a great battery in the device but also controlling battery use by apps. Because the display is OLED, only pixels that are lit up use battery power. A black background doesn't use any battery power. Now that Apple has demonstrated that battery capacity isn't a problem, I wish they they would make the duration of glances longer or configurable. The duration of a glance for the time app is perfect but is too short in my experience when reading some notifications. I do appreciate that Apple restricted app developers in their use of the lit up pixels and provided the time app faces themselves so as to have optimal battery life. 

The Siri integration in Apple Watch is well done and quite appropriate given the form factor. However, it does sometimes feel strange to be talking to your watch but then also somewhat futuristic. However, my recommendation to Apple to future improve Siri and voice more generally on the watch has to do with staying in audio mode for both Siri and the user. Right now if you want to send a text using the watch, you can quite beautifully simply say for example "Hey Siri, text my daughter." However, then Siri replies not using audio, as she does on the iPhone, but via the watch display prompting the user to dictate what to text. And, after that, the user is prompted again only on the watch display whether the user wants to send the text via audio or text and then there is still a step requiring the user to tap "send". There are ways to optimize this flow by changing the settings for messages so that it only sends texts and you can say "Hey Siri, tell my daughter that..." and then say "Hey Siri, send". That keeps the dialogue in audio form on the user's side but it would be perfect if the entire dialogue were to be conducted with audio on both sides. I'm sure that's coming. 

It is interesting and quite useful to hold telephone conversations using the watch. In this case, the speaker on the watch is used for the people you're speaking with and the microphone for what you're saying. The people I've spoken to in this way say that the audio quality on their end is surprisingly good. You can also use your voice to start and stop music and to launch many apps.

The apps on the watch are first generation and the non-Apple ones were developed without the designers and developers having access to the actual hardware and without first hand knowledge of and experience with an Apple Watch. I absolutely love the Activities app and find that it is more motivating than any of the fitness trackers I've used. I customized the time app face that I use so that I see the time, the date, the temperature, my next meeting, and a small visualization of the Activities app. The latter is brilliantly designed with circles, one for the number of calories you've used, another the minutes you've exercised, and the third the number of hours in the day that you stood up for at least one minute. I quick glance at the bottom right of my time app screen shows me how complete my activity has been thus far in the day. If it's half way through the day and the circles show as half complete, I'm tracking well. If I'm less than that, I know I've got to up my game and if it is more than that, I'm exceeding my plan for the day. 

Some apps look promising but not yet useful enough. The Uber app allows you to tap to call a car but you can't provide the address you're going to, something I find extremely useful with the iPhone app. A voice interface and audio interface would be a great improvement. The maps app is good especially because you can ask for directions verbally. The taptic feedback is wonderful too. However, where this app fails is in the base Apple Maps functionality. When I didn't follow the directions exactly, the app wasn't able to reset it's directions based on where I now was but instead it continued to issue the audio instruction to get back to the recommended route, something that the Hertz NeverLost system used to do years ago (I called it the ForeverLost system as a result). Similarly, the Air Canada app is very useful in displaying in a glance my flight information but right now I have to tell the app on the phone what flight I'm taking when that app should have that information directly from the rest of the airline's systems. In a similar way, my bank app is there but too limited to be useful yet. In contrast, the Yelp app is quite complete as is the Evernote app. The New York Times, Happier, Slack, Weather, and Calendar apps are also quite useful. I haven't found the app navigation menu to be particularly useful. I find that glance versions of apps are very helpful but only so when you limit the number of glances because you have to navigate them serially. 

In sum, the Apple Watch has already become a core part of my personal ecosystem and regular workflow. I also find that I now infrequently pull out my phone, preferring instead to interact with my watch. This device will establish this category and I'm very much looking forward to getting apps designed and developed by people who have the device and have had personal experience using it. I also look forward to the enhancements Apple will make to the operating system and base apps as well over the months to come. Hats off to Jony Ive and the rest of Apple for having designed and built another winning device that will become core to our experience in interacting with technology.                

Insights on Creating Great Design

LinkedIn discussion groups are great. A few months ago, I posted the following question to the User Experience group: "What would you say is the single most important factor in creating a well-designed product, website, or app?" I expanded a bit on the question with "Many factors determine the likelihood of a product, website, or app having a great design. I'm interested in learning what you, as a user experience design professional, believe is the single most important factor influencing the likelihood of delivering a product, website, or app with a great design."

There are now over 150 comments and I encourage you to read the insightful individual comments by going to the LinkedIn User Experience Group. However, I thought I would summarize the key insights from the discussion here. 

Many of the comments were rich in detail and often commentaries on previous comments. For the purposes of this summary, I captured the essence of the comment with a few words and then created the Wordle shown above which illustrates with increasing font size the frequency of the items being mentioned.

The cluster of items mentioned most often is made up of user goals, empathy, and user testing. The second most important cluster includes user and business goals and understanding the problem. That's followed by a cluster of simplicity, elegance, and collaboration. The remaining many items were only mentioned by few professionals.

Even though each person was asked to identify the single most important factor to them, which many found difficult, this collection paints a comprehensive picture of professional design experience. It reinforces the importance of connecting with the intended users, determining their goals through empathizing with them and understanding the problems they're experiencing, also factoring in business goals, making sure that designs are simple and elegant, collaborating with team members, and testing designs with users. 

It's interesting to note that items like ease of use, usable, useful, consistent were only mentioned by a few suggesting, in my view, that most professional designers now believe that focusing on the main items in the Wordle will yield these basic attributes and go well beyond them. 

While any one designer may not take this comprehensive view, the collective wisdom of this crowd of professional designers articulates well in my view the most important factors to address in order to create a great design. However, as pointed out in my "The State of Design Practice" post earlier on this blog, many designers know that these are the most important things to do but are not able to do them due to a number of challenges they experience in the organizations within which they work. Addressing those challenges and then focusing on the items identified here should be the goal of every professional designer and design organization.

I'd like to thank the members of the User Experience LinkedIn group for their insightful and articulate contributions to this important discussion.  

Is Creativity Enough?

The intense interest in design is leading more and more companies to strive to achieve design excellence. However, many of them fail to achieve that excellence because they don't understand the key ingredients. There are many ingredients to driving design excellence and many misconceptions. I plan to address some of these in this and upcoming blog posts.

Many people believe that you should simply be creative and intuit a great idea. One of my fellow panelists from a startup in the Bay area argued for this approach at a conference I was speaking at recently. He worked at a startup that has seen some success but I pointed out that he was in the minority, in that the vast majority (90%) of technology startups fail. In order to increase the probably of success of a startup or of a product or system within an existing company you have to understand your users and potential users.

So, how do you do that? Some people believe that you need to do extensive and rigorous empirical research. I don't. You essentially need to empathize with your users or potential users, understand their lives, their environment, their work (if that's relevant), and very importantly, their motivations, aspirations, concerns, worries, and their emotional reactions. You have to get inside their heads and hearts. You can do that most effectively by spending time with a small representative number of them in person. Simply observe them (ethnographic observation), talk to them (structured interview), and capture their environment (screenshots, photographs, journals).  

Watson Ethnography.jpg

In the early stages of a healthcare project, for example, our design team visited several cancer clinics and observed all the staff to determine who did what, when, with what. We also held in-depth interviews with key members of the clinic team such as the Oncologists. In addition to understanding their role, we also asked them questions like, "what keeps you up at night?" It was this type of probing that yielded some of the most interesting and useful information.

Once we had a deep understanding of the users and potential users, we could start to explore creative solutions to problems we identified and innovations for opportunities we observed. Without this user understanding, we would have been shooting in the dark.

So, is creativity and innovation important? Absolutely. However, you increase the likelihood of success for your creative and innovative design solutions if you start with a context of who you're designing those for. So, is creativity enough? No, it first requires understanding before you develop creative designs.

 

Opening the Design Aperture

Design is experiencing a phenomenal surge of interest, attention, and power. This is due in large part to the leadership of Steve Jobs who through the delivery of several game-changing Apple products proved to even the toughest critics that Thomas J. Watson Jr. was right when he said that "good design is good business". Apple's success led to a realization across many industries that they should pay more attention to design and to see design within a broader context than they did previously. 

This is all of course great news to designers. However, I'd like to suggest that with their newfound importance and power, designers also have much greater responsibility and in turn need to open the design aperture. Many experienced designers have learned to live within a world of severe constraint dominated by an engineering culture. If they took it upon themselves to mockup a total redesign of a product in the past, they would be informed that such a redesign wouldn't be possible due to time, resource, engineering difficulty or all three. Many designers have such mockups on their hard drives. Over time those designers learned to be more modest in their designs and, in turn, to severely limit the potential of applying their craft to make products great.

Those same designers now find themselves in a world of greater opportunity for design with fewer constraints on it. I found a Tweet by Michael Leggett, an experienced designer at Google, interesting in this regard. He was responding to someone who liked their new design and who had said "Google finally hired some designers". His response was "We've always been here - just finally being given the authority to do something bold".       

Doing something bold requires designers to open their design aperture, to take a broader view of the project they're working on, and to exercise design muscles they haven't used for a while. Here's a list of practical ways designers can hone their skills in this regard.

  • Empathize with and thoroughly understand the users of your product, their goals, desires, and preferences, as well as the experience they have in using the designs you create for the product they use. 
  • Observe design trends, your own use of products setting those trends, how well those trends are being accepted, how people are using your product, and whether any of those design ideas may work for your product design. 
  • Explore established interaction design patterns to see whether they would work for your product design. In addition to emerging design trends, it is often wise to be aware of and use design patterns that have been established for years because they represent what users have a natural expectation and mental model for.     
  • Sketch extensively and often so that you're ideating visually and capturing many alternative designs quickly and inexpensively. Resist the urge to move too quickly to a preferred design and also to a fully fleshed out high fidelity version of it.
  • Critique designs with other designers regularly to glean the benefits of their combined expertise, experience, and skill. Focus on the design (not the designer), start with what's good about it and should be kept, and then explore ways the design could be improved. All designers should get experience in both the presenting and critiquing roles.

It's a great time to be a designer. There's also now great opportunity to hone design skills and to open the design aperture in order to design absolutely awesome products. 

I'd appreciate any thoughts you may have on this topic communicated via the social networks I post this on as I no longer turn on commenting on this site. The social networks include LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Thanks.