Monthly Archives: June 2010

Design at the extremes, test at the means.

A good time was had by all at the FWE&E Innovation Leaderships, Visions for the Future event last night hosted at Ericsson’s Experience Lab in San Jose. Sarah Beckman spoke on  learning theory for design innovation. She is senior lecturer at the Haas School of Business Management at UC Berkeley. Her talk was followed by a panel session of distinguished leaders in the field moderated by Lisa Solomon.

The panelists included. Dr. Jan Uddenfeldt, Senior Vice President, Senior Advisor Technology to CEO, Ericsson Group. Susan Worthman, Associate Chair, MBA in Design Strategy and Director, Leading by Design Fellows Program, California College of the Arts. Jennifer Dulski, Co-Founder and CEO, Center’d/The Dealmap. Chris Ertel, Partner, Monitor Group’s Doblin Practice.  The meeting was graphically recorded by Lynn Carruthers, Visual Practitioner, Monitor Group, Global Business Network.

In her two hour presentation, Sara Beckman described the four key take aways for any organization needing to innovate. These are:

  1. Develop empathy through out your organization for customers and users.
  2. Focus on the most imp. Problems and ladder up the hierarchy by asking why
  3. Motivate change innovation with compelling sticky stories
  4. Learn through rapid prototyping of alternative solutions.

Develop empathy through out your organization for customers and users. Identify the audience and design for the extreme then test your solution on the mean. For example, the potato peeler the Oxo Goodgrip, was designed for a person with arthritic hands to use. Arthritis sufferers make up a small percentage of Oxo’s customer base however, the design innovation also met unexpressed needs of the larger audience. This design is a market leader.

Empathy is also needed for the stakeholders in an organization on whom you are pushing your innovation. This remark was made by panel member Chris Ertell from Doblin Inc. As a design innovator and leader for fortune 500 companies like Apple, Yahoo! and Excite, I often failed to understand this point. Product innovation led by a designer without proper institutional support from user feedback, business planning and engineering implementation is destined to fail, at least this was my experience.

Design innovation can succeed when you have command and control leadership like Steve Jobs at Apple or you have open innovation born out of love. Without this arrangement it is hard to avoid the corporate run around and business incentive to focus only on short term financial wins.

Focus on the Most Important Problems. Sara spoke to the need to Focus on the most important problems and ladder up and down the hierarchy of needs and keep asking why. Working with individual clients and companies over the years I have found this to be true. What a client tells you is a problem often masks a deeper issue that needs addressing before any attempt at resolution can be found. Diagnosis is critical to establish the true problem to be solved. Where the pain shows up, may not be where the pain originates so you have to keep asking questions. More explicit or stated needs that can be found through interviews with customers.

Where Sara spoke to “laddering up and down the hierarchy” I believe she was speaking to the scope and focus of design innovation in the product design context. In my experience innovation is a ladder with four steps.

Step One: Improving an existing product to create greater efficiency or cost saving for example, creating a cheaper aluminum can.

Step Two: Evolving a product to bring it to a new level of performance, for example, Oakley sunglasses do the same job a any pair of sun glasses but have evolved to serve the community of sports players.

Step Three: Inventing a new product solution. For example, the iRobot is a new class of vacuum cleaner. The iRobot cleans on its own, whilst the competition continue to compete on suction power.

Step Four: Transformation occurs when a product comes to market that changes the market or the organization for example, the iPhone.

Motivate Change with Customer Stories. Sara recommends enforcing and motivating change with compelling stories discovered from customer observation. There are two types of story. One you tell internally to unite the team in pushing ahead with a new idea and stories you tell the market to help sell your new product. For example, Kimberly Clarke customer insight stories helped reframe their perspective on diapers away from “waste management technology” to clothes designed to help parents potty train children. This research inspired story then became the story which launched a new product of “Pullup” diapers with the famous tagline “I am a big kid now”

Learn through rapid prototyping of alternative solutions. In the five years I worked in the Advanced Technology Group at Apple Computer, all I did was prototype new product concepts for testing, feedback and industry promotion. The type of prototype ranged from simple card sorting exercises to understand the order someone would complete a task, to interactive prototypes people could click on and tell us if what happened on screen matched their expectation of what they thought would happen.

Sara mentioned that getting her students this year to test their ideas is proving difficult. She feels this generation is so used to looking stuff up online, that interacting with people and sharing their ideas face to face is not desirable.

The reality is, if your audience can’t try out your ideas before you go to market, you are missing out on one of the most creative moments of the design innovation process. When you make the time to observe, listen, analyze your work being used by the people you are designing it for, you experience profound insights which help transform your OK ideas into great ones. This is when the stories are made, this is when the penny drops, and this is when you and your team find the heart connection, what martial arts experts call “hitting the Tai Chi”. Finding that perfect right point that when you attain it, all the other variables, problems, glitches and hiccups fall away and you have your perfect right solution.


Mobile Research for Patient Record Keeping in India

Observations on Patient Record Keeping in Rural India

Between 1993 and 1997 I worked for Apple Computer in their Advanced Technology Group. I used my newly minted Master Degree from the Royal College of Art in London to prototype new product experiences. My job was to illustrate new ideas which emerged from the teams of  business experts, scientists, engineers and user researchers. Finished working prototypes of new technologies, like QuickTime, the Newton, ColorSync etc. were demonstrated at Apple Developer conferences to inspire Developers to build applications for the Apple platform.

Being fresh out of design school, I had never met an engineer or a human factors expert before. Without a shared frame of academic reference, making myself understood was often difficult. How had I got from North London to Cupertino California and what was I really doing there?

The answer to this question came in 1994 when I found myself  involved with an Apple project in India investigating the work of rural healthcare workers employed by the Govt. of Indias’ Health and Family Welfare Program.

The work of the healthcare worker is to collect information on population growth, malaria, weddings, vaccines and general ailments like camel bites. Their biggest challenge was to identify couples of marrying age and enlist them into a family planning program. In the center of the photo above you see the records kept on a shelf are aging and falling apart in a rural outpost field hospital. The Government wanted to collect patient information digitally hoping it would be more accurate and asked Apple to see if this could be done on their Newton Personal Digital Assistant.

During one of the many exhilarating research trips I made to India, I found myself attending a major technology conference in New Delhi. Gursharan Sidhu, was speaking. He asked the audience of nearly 600 men, “How many of you had access to a library growing up”.  9 hands went up in the audience.

Never in my life had I questioned or considered whether the rest of the world had free access to books and useful reference material like magazines and newspapers. That is when I understood what I was doing working in Silicon Valley, Cupertino. It was about making a commitment to making information available to people who had not had access before so that when the day comes and they can access information freely without fear or cost, I hope the experience makes them feel included, empowered and their life transformed.

“Massive change is not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world” Bruce Mao.


For more information on the mobile computing project in India, please see our paper Unfamiliar Ground: designing technology to support rural healthcare workers in India available at the ACM Digital Library.

Revisiting Learning to Read

Testing a design prototype to improve reading comprehension. London 1990

A master hand analyst, from the HandsonCompany recently took a look at my fingerprints. Her work confirmed something I already suspected, I love to observe, analyze and reflect. My passion for observation and innovation has, like my finger tips, always been with me.

This was the case in 1990 when, as a graphic design student, I spent a week at the Uxenden Manor Junior School in London School observing a class of 8 year olds. The purpose of my visit was to identify a problem and solve it using my design skills.

The problem I identified was illiteracy among a handful of the children in a class of 30. It was unclear why they had fallen behind in their reading, but what was obvious. was that there was no alternative teaching vehicle to help them catch up with their peers.

The children who struggled with reading were re-presented with the entry level “Readers” for a six year old in front of their 8 year old peers. One child tried to mask his discomfort by memorizing the “Baby Readers”. The other was disruptive during reading time so he could stand in the corner. The little girl became silent. A “dimming of the lights” had begun for these children, as they were slowly left behind.

Here was a design problem, to solve childhood illiteracy. To find a non traditional way to engage children in reading comprehension.

The three children were assigned to me for an afternoon to test out my design solution. Employing paper engineering to make two sides of folded A4 colorfully open and close like a Venetian Blind I made one for each child.

The children became engaged with the opening and closing of the paper folder and were asked to “Spot the Differences” between the images on the front and back of the folder.

Next they were asked to list the items they noticed that were “different”. If they couldn’t write the word, they could draw its image instead or find it from a list of words with drawings next to them.

Next they were asked to make up a story using the list of “Spot the Difference” words. To build their story, the children were given a paper story board with six spaces for pictures to illustrate the story and lines underneath each box to write in their story. Picture and words were provided “Fridge Magnet” style, to help them make up their story. The pictures and words could be from the reading curriculum.

My design solution tried to solve the problem of inertia, stagnation and fear  about reading. Through engagement I hoped to light desire so they might revisit words and reading in a natural way, born out of curiosity and self expression. There was no no peer pressure or need to act out.

We all had a splendid afternoon making stories together. No I didn’t solve childhood illiteracy, but it was the first time I officially did what I love to do. Watch, learn, listen, create and innovate. Something, I hope to spend the rest of my life doing.

Raising a future Beckham?

Three Faces of Soccer, Beckham, Ballack, Terry

Facial Similarities Among Soccer Stars

The photo above is of three well known British Soccer players. At this time, Ballack and Terry are playing in Group One of the 2010 FIFA worldcup while Beckham sits on the sidelines nursing an injury. All three players are known for their footwork on the field and lucrative contracts with the teams they play for. Beckham will earn $4.3 million this year playing for AC Milan, Ballack $5.6 million and $6.5 million at Chelsea in England.

Aside from their fancy footwork and enviable bank accounts what else do these super stars of British Soccer have in common? Look at their faces…

In her first book “The Wisdom of Your Face“, Jean Haner explores the patterns on peoples faces and discusses what it says about our personality and nature. Jean is a non judgemental visionary who has taught me and thousands of students to appreciate every bump and wrinkle on our faces.

In her latest book, published last week, “The Wisdom of Your Child’s Face” Jean teaches parents how to feel more empowered raising their children. When a parent understands the facial characteristics of their child and discovers what this means, it gives the parent more confidence to know how to make their child feel loved, safe and recognized for who they truly are.

So, if you think you might be raising a future soccer star, here are some facial characteristics I spotted which describe a personality archetype.

  1. Well defined jaw line
  2. Strong eyebrows
  3. Indented temples
  4. Strong brow bone

If you have a child like this, you already know you are dealing with a high energy exuberant child who loves to do things. They thrive on competition, love to win, are quick to anger and capable of great benevolence and discipline.

So if you think you are raising a budding Beckham, here are some things you might do to nurture their true nature.

Redirect the energy into purposeful meaningful activities. Avoid trying to shut them down just because they have more energy than you. Provide structure and give them tasks or errands to do. Allow them to participate in sporting activities. Reward them often. Don’t blow up when they do, stay calm. Lastly, if you read this far, and found the facial wisdom fascinating go read Jeans Book “The Wisdom of Your Child’s Face“. Your child will thank you.

Dangerous Relationships

This image below was sent to me by a fellow wise woman Connie from Mexico. A tigress from a California Zoo who lost her cubs during birth. The tigress was so depressed the zoo consoled her with orphaned piglets wearing the fur of her still born cubs.

Dangerous Relationship

Clearly, this relationship has a limited life expectancy. When will Tiggers depression lift and her mood turn sour? When will the mighty predator turn on her prey?

Does this remind you of the tension in your relationship? Cautiously walking the line between nurturing peace complete destruction.

In Chinese Astrology the relationship of the Pig and Tiger has two possible meanings. The first meaning is physical destruction associated with travel. Since 2010 is the year of the Tiger and I was born at Pig hour – yes  I am taking out extra car and travel insurance this year!

Secondly, it can mean a potentially prosperous union. If you were born in the year of the Tiger and the month of the Pig, you may enjoy easy prosperity. If you were born in the year of the Pig an the month of the Tiger you may enjoy slow prosperity but good intelligence.

The brilliance of Chinese Astrology is that it is built on 3000 years of research. The observations of Pig and Tiger are metaphors for the type of energy present in a persons birth chart. Like the photo, it reminds us what we already know about the nature of our relationships. Some are peaceful and nurturing and some are deadly and destructive.

We get to choose how we will manifest our relationships to ourselves and to others. Will it be toward the dark edges of the extreme? or will we hold both polarities and choose the middle path where we can watch and wonder?