Tag Archives: User Centered Design Process

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.