Posted on | February 3, 2014
The second half of the year was no less exciting with client work, but was boosted by the buzz of my own product hitting it’s stride in the market.
From July to December: Home brewing, TV, Mr. Tappy and Motorhomes.
5. Craft brewing insights
Location: Portland, Oregon. Micro brewery capital of the world.
Client: imake / (Part of the Better by Design programme).
Portland is the world’s capital of micro breweries and craft brewers. Visiting with imake’s team from NZ, Australia and USA, we stepped inside the garages, basements and minds of craft brewers, aiming to understand what makes them tick, and how they approach brewing.
My role as part of Better By Design is to help build design capacity within NZ export companies like imake. In many cases this starts with understanding customer needs, so getting out in the field like this was a perfect first step towards customer empathy.
In Oregon, I briefed the team on how to get the most from contextual interviews, supported them in the field, then coached them through collaborative analysis.
A deep dive into brewing culture, but my satisfaction came in that it was the client team who drew out the insights and identified opportunities for marketing and product development.
6. How do you view?
Client: SKY TV.
Location: Around NZ.
A classic contextual study in homes around NZ to understand how TV fits into people’s lives and how? / when? / where? / why? they get their fix.
Having run studies like this for BBC and SKY in the U.K. back in the late noughties it was super interesting to see shifts in consumer expectation and behaviour. Back then it was ‘time-shifting’, now it’s ‘omni-screening’. From devices to content sources, this felt like a ‘snapshot in time’ in the dynamic landscape of TV.
Insights from this project fed into new product development and an upcoming redesign of SKYTV.co.nz.
7. Tapping into the mobile market
Client: My alter ego – Mr. Tappy.
Location: My kitchen table, and 30 countries.
Yes, from kitchen table to global tech giants in 2 years and just 700 easy steps.
My side-project, Mr. Tappy, (a product I’ve developed to help film people interacting with mobile devices) continued to surprise me with sales to the point where I can nearly hear myself blush when I see my list of customers.
Taking this product to market has been a humbling learning curve for me. Even when working alone I find myself being design, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, etc., discovering how easy it is to work in silos and lose customer focus - Something nobody can afford to do, especially when your customers are expert product evaluators.
Having ‘skin in the game’ has resulted in greater respect for my design research clients‘. Running day to day operations, and shipping product is challenge enough let alone keeping an eye on customers. This first hand experience helps me understand my role as a design researcher with each client.
The entire product is made right here in NZ (some in my home workshop) and the next iteration will ship with a purpose designed HD camera.
8. Living the dream, via your own motorhome
Client: Tourism Holdings.
Location: Australia and NZ.
We’ve all been stuck behind one on a hill on the way to the beach, but what’s it like to buy a home, and a vehicle at the same time? We set out to find out.
I worked alongside Ed Burak, THL’s lead experience designer to provide research muscle on a project around motorhome sales. Motorhome buyers are a fairly relaxed bunch, usually at retirement age and with some time on their hands, but buying one of these rolling holiday homes is not always a holiday.
From a few dozen interviews with owners, buyers, salespeople and experts, we poured our insights into a customer journey map highlighting parts of the buyers’ journey where the experience could be improved.
… and as you’ll see, some of my illustrations for the journey map were verging on the autobiographical. Yes, the waves were always like that in my memories.
All the talk of holidays and time away was perfect timing for the end of 2013 and inspired me to use the caravan (which was once my office) a few times over the Christmas period. Good timing.
If you missed my previous post, here are the first four dream design research briefs from last year.
Posted on | January 25, 2014
Be careful what you wish for.
When I moved from design into design research, I dreamed of projects like these. 2013 was the year they arrived.
Contexts ranged from hospitals to homebrew, motorhomes to mobile devices, television to truck driving.
I was repeatedly humbled and surprised by the people I worked with, both research subjects and my client collaborators.
As much as I’d love to write a blog post from each, 2014 is in full swing, so…
Here are the first four of eight standout projects:
1. Hospital in-patient experience
Location: Christchurch, NZ.
The most sensitive environment and subject matter I’ve worked with so far.
I worked with hospital staff on wards and at patients’ bedsides to capture in-patients’ emotional responses to the experience of their stay.
After discharge we visited patients and their families at home for a reflection on the experience. A clear picture emerged, of what matters to a patient, from environment, to information to service, and their associated feelings. Together, the team formed key design principles to meet the emotional needs of patients.
In some interviews I used live-sketching to capture notes, It was fun so I wrote a short article about my technique, with ‘top tips’.
1.5 Hospital ward prototyping
Later, in a GIANT warehouse, I helped lead a series of ward design / prototyping exercises with a super diverse set of stakeholders – from cleaners to clinicians, anaesthetists to architects.
I worked with a team of anthropologists and architects from Seattle-based design agency, NBBJ to facilitate full-size prototyping and simulation exercises, using cardboard for walls, medical staff and actors to test various scenarios of use.
Those cardboard walls in the photos are a system called Mockwall designed specifically for spatial prototpying.
Since then the CDHB team have taken the prototypes through to a convincing level of detail where they can be validated through ‘almost real’ use. You can watch a short video showing where they’ve come to.
2. No Trucking Worries
Location: Virginia, USA.
I was dropped into Richmond, Virginia and the world of the long haul trucker. As I found out, Richmond is smack in the middle of the Interstate 95, the busiest highway on the east coast, connecting 15 States.
My role was to capture the voice of the driver, the way they communicated on the road and the information they handled along the way.
Big rigs, 53 foot trailers, truck stops and the dedicated ‘tribe’ whose mantras were either ‘live to drive’, or ‘drive to survive’. After a few days of interviews I was talking their language of lumpers, spots, hooks, dead-heads and bob-tails.
I worked in classic diners and freight depots, alongside product managers to inform the design of plan an app to let drivers spend more time eating up highway and less time worrying.
Yes, the app is called No Trucking Worries
3. Rock’n'roll radio
Client: Tait Radio.
To help Tait adopt a user centred approach to product development I planned and facilitated a rapid ‘learning by doing’ user centred design workshop focussing on installation of their in-vehicle radio systems.
This was a hands-on capability-building activity focussed on a specific project with the idea they could roll out the same approach on other projects.
I coached the team around research and analysis techniques, then took them through to prototyping and testing their concepts with their live customers.
I loved seeing engineers dig deep to define customer needs, then work together with plasticine and pipe-cleaners, receiving valuable feedback before moving designs forward.
4. Border Entry
Location: London, UK.
Client: UK Government.
“What is the purpose of your visit to the UK today sir?”, became what is the experience of travellers entering UK borders?.
This was a dream opportunity to work in airports, a context I’ve always been intrigued by.
Unfortunately, with my curiosity at it’s peak a week into this project, the project timeline shifted and I couldn’t eat into my next project in NZ, so frustratingly found myself experiencing the NZ border entry earlier than expected. …Maybe another time.
Dream projects 5-8 next week…
The rest of the year saw me into the world of craft brewing, TV, motorhomes and wrangling supply chain, sales and distribution with my own side project, Mr. Tappy. I’ll save all these for Part 2.
Posted on | November 4, 2013
The UK government has built a serious design team, with a bias towards user research and a user centred approach.
All signs (Read below) are that our government is taking the same course. This will mean exciting things for the UX design community in New Zealand not if, but when we follow suit…
I’ve just returned from London, working with Government Digital Service, a massive team of researchers, strategists, designers, developers and general smarties with a lofty remit.
- “To ensure the Government offers world-class digital products that meet people’s needs”
- “The quality and user centricity of major commercial internet properties should be our minimum goal”
- “Our aim is to be the unequivocal owner of high quality user experience between people and government”
They’ve literally put the user at the centre of their process, and adopted user research as a core design tool.
Their approach has been boiled down into a beautifully succinct ‘service manual’ which has become required reading for UX people, particularly in the digital field.
Throughout the approach is a strong bias towards user research, with 25 researchers on the team (and growing), tackling every type and method of research I’ve heard of and the ultra broad spectrum of users which is… the UK public, and every way in which they interact with goernment.
This quote from their website demonstrates how committed they are to basing their design work on user research and the needs of their customers:
- “People come to GOV.UK with specific needs. Anything that gets between our users and meeting those needs should be stripped away”
To achieve this standard, they’ve set 26 Criteria, of which the first is below:
Their work extends way beyond digital into service design and interactions in the built environment, as it should.
So to what degree is this happening in NZ?
Last month an initiative from the DIA came onto my radar…
It’s called Transforming the System of Service Delivery and lays out the same goals and principles as a way to redesign the way services are delivered to Kiwis.
- “DIA will put the customer at the centre of everything we do “
- “Designing and delivering our products and services around how New Zealanders live their lives: we will develop a deep understanding of what our customers want and need, and work collaboratively to put customers at the centre”
Here’s an illustration of their customer’s world:
I know IRD and the MOJ have some internal capability but when a wide reaching project like this kicks off, our telcos, banks and digital agencies will have to fight even harder for the best UX talent from the tiny pool here in NZ.
and now look what’s been floated by the director of the Design Museum … a Minister for Design.
Posted on | August 26, 2013
Which is better: Having courage to explore the unknown, or a map to help you find the way?
When heading on a design journey, I’m beginning to think courage and a good compass is better than a map.
This year I tentatively drew up a map of the design process for a specific client and their design challenge…
It became a 2m long poster to help a team of healthcare professionals new to design see what lay ahead, and refer to as they progressed towards their goal. A ‘you are here’, ‘look how far we’ve come’, kinda thing.
I enjoyed pulling this together, thinking about the likely journey ahead for this team, reflecting on my own experience of design and building on top of classic frameworks promoted as ‘best practice’ by the likes of IDEO, Design Council, and what I’d learned during my time with Stanford d.school as part of the Better By Design program.
Over a couple of years ‘collecting’, I began to see these design process diagrams as sales tools for design agencies, each claiming to have a point of difference and perhaps to have some ‘secret sauce’ that the other’s hadn’t discovered.
Semantics aside, they all promise gold at the end of a rainbow if you’re prepared to challenge your thinking upfront.
Other metaphors are funnels, diamonds, snakes, vortexes, washing machines, the list goes on, but essentially they describe a few phases of lost and found with a bit of loopback before finding that gold.
They make nice visuals and the theory seems sound enough, but when you start to actually apply one of these to a live project you realise how futile it is to try to map the design process.
A sequence of steps is convenient and tidy but the reality of design is more like this:
Maps and guidelines give us comfort. They can provide a sense of shared understanding of where we are going and what to expect…
… but the reality of most meaty design projects is that we don’t know where we are going, and we need to find a new kind of device to help clients feel comfortable with the unknown.
What makes the journey-maker comfortable with the unknown?
Is it time to throw away these maps and find a design compass?
Yes, it’s another metaphor, but perhaps it’s the designer’s job to be that compass. Something the client trusts to navigate through the messy reality.
Designers are comfortable with the ‘lost’ feeling, because we’ve ‘been there done that’ and believe in great outcomes based on our own experiences.
So how do YOU convince a nervous client you know where ‘north’ is?
Do you roll out a map, or are you the compass?
I’d love to hear…
Posted on | July 30, 2013
I’m willingly doing myself out of a job, and it feels great.
So, who are Better by Design? in their own words, they:
Inspire and enable New Zealand businesses to success by design. Our mission is to assist companies increase their international competitiveness through the process of design integration.
Each ‘design integration coach’ has a specialism. Mine is customer insights and user centred design.
So how does this mean I’m doing myself out of a job? the answer is right there in the word coaching.
The programme exists to build design capability within the staff companies already have, rather than make them reliant on external consultants.
Design often begins with design research, so this is where I step in as a coach – taking people away from their desks to learn new skills while gaining valuable insights for their business.
This is a new way of working for me, and has me thinking about what I do from a fresh perspective.
I’ve been consulting for 12 years – starting with being what I now see as a ‘hit and run’ gun for hire, then moving towards a more collaborative approach, involving clients where possible to help them benefit from the process.
…but coaching is about more than collaboration and as the crude graph above shows, it feels like a step up in value to client and satisfaction to me along the way.
I’ve been taking teams with no experience of design research out into the field to run ethnographic studies with their end users, dropping them in the deep end, and the driver’s seat as much as possible. If it’s scary for me, it must be even more so for them but the fully immersive approach is engaging and it works.
My first client in this programme is now able to plan and run their own projects. Next step is for those involved so far to coach their colleagues to their newly-found skill level. Despite the feeling of being less useful to the client over time, seeing them make increasing use of the skills like this is a real buzz.
All ‘teach a man to fish’ proverbs aside, I’ve found this to be a hugely rewarding way to work, with lasting value.
If you’re a freelancer or consultant and have a client who could benefit from bringing the skills you offer in-house, take them on the journey. It’s a win-win.
Posted on | May 21, 2013
A while back I clocked up my 1000th interview. This got me thinking how much my approach has evolved over the years.
Interviews with customers / end users of products and services are often the foundation of my research.
In the earliest projects I’d work from a page or two of questions all lined up in advance, in the shape of a ‘script’, or discussion guide. These were questions I’d literally recite to each participant. Sometimes these had been contributed to, signed off by, or even provided by the client.
I’d been told I should ask the same questions to all participants to maintain consistency, but found it awkward to work to the script, and at times like I was only hearing half of the story from the subject.
Over time, I found the questions I asked in response to the answers revealed more than the questions on my script, so I developed a more conversational approach.
Sounds like a convenient way to take the effort and rigour out of the process, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Whilst interviewing, you’re running a mental cache of what’s been said, where you need to take the conversation, how much time is left etc. …and all the while you’re trying to make the participant feel like the conversation is following natural twists and turns, rather than being steered by you, the interviewer.
There are plenty of techniques to learn in the craft of interviewing; building rapport, non-verbals, open ended questions, asking ‘the 5 whys’, repeating their words etc.
In fact, there’s a great book dedicated to interviewing customers by a cohort of mine, Steve Portigal. Totally recommended for design researchers / UX people.
These techniques, combined with your curiosity will get you so far. …But they are not enough.
When clients ask (and they still do) “So, what are the questions you’ll be asking them” …
When it comes to asking the right questions, there is no substitute for actually wanting to know the answer.
Instead of a script, I agree on a set of objectives with the team. This describes the ground we’d like to cover during the conversations and reads like a list of topics around which we’d like to learn.
Some of these might be framed as questions, but it’s far from being a ‘script’.
As an interviewer, you need to truly understand the context and objectives of your client / project sponsor:
It all starts with a set of questions to which I need the answer in my own head, before I begin planning the interviews…
- Where is the business and product at in the development process?
- Why is this the right time to conduct the study?
- Which aspects stakeholders agree / disagree on?
- What assumptions exist about the market, end user or value of the product to end users?
- How will the client measure market success for the product / service?
- How will the research be used, by whom?
- What design decisions do the team need to make based on the insights you uncover?
- Why are we including these types of participant in the study?
- Which areas does the team have enough insight about already?
This goes beyond the due diligence of taking the brief, scoping the study etc.
It’s a deep understanding of the business, product and design context and should be embedded in your curiosity.
The flow of the conversation and lines of questioning should all come naturally if you’ve built this level of empathy for your client’s position.
In the end it’s about user centred design – The user of the research is your client, so you need to understand your end users’ needs to be able to design the product (interview structure) to give them the best outcomes. In this case, rich and useful insights.
Posted on | May 6, 2013
It took some balls to design and launch a product for the hard-to-impress and razor-critical user experience market a year ago…
My first batch of 10 weren’t quite ‘minimum viable product’, but small production runs and a direct feedback loop from UX folk who buy and use the product has fuelled iterative evolution of a ‘live’ product. It’s a bit like every batch is a prototype.
Originating as a ‘number 8 wire’ solution, Mr. Tappy now helps UX designers in 23 countries to capture user behaviour as UX research participants interact with their designs on mobile devices.
Looking to improve things is an occupational hazard for people with a usability background, but this is a breed of customers who go out of their way to provide constructive feedback. I’m not sure the product would be where it is without the input from my customers.
It’s been possible to adopt changes, make tweaks to the product, packaging etc. from batch to batch. From an added tip in the user guide, to a different anodised coating to minimise reflection.
Shipping with the current version is an alternative to the velcro attachment. I simply build this into the production run and keep my ear to the ground for a verdict – hey presto! user research is baked in.
‘Perpetual beta’ is an aspiration in some digital projects, but doing this with a physical product has been a great antidote to working with some companies product development cycles. Oh the the luxury of tweaking as you go, as opposed to the big ramp up to launch. At least my clients employ design research to get as close to the target (and target customer) as possible before hitting the ramp!
I’ll keep ‘launching’ my prototype and, thanks to my customers… with every batch – another slightly evolved design.
How lucky I am to have customers who are as articulate as they are demanding.
Posted on | November 29, 2012
How do you share stories collected during dozens of interviews?
What if your ‘Customers’ are actually patients in a hospital?
…Rather than take notes and quotes, why not sketch it ?
Let me explain…
Collecting patient stories
I’ve been part of a team mapping the ‘patient experience’ through a hospital. The foundation for the project is collecting stories from patients in context.
This means interviewing patients at their bedside in emergency, on wards and later in their homes. The context can be sensitive and the content emotional.
The scale of the work means a raft of interviewers and large number of interviews, each with their own style. The stories have been so rich, diverse and engaging that working to a note-taking template went out the door…
So I began to experiment…
At one patient’s house I began sketching her story freestyle, in real time, as she told it.
My partner steered the conversation, while I scribbled furiously with a fat marker and a flipchart on my lap…
Below is a segment of about the first 15 minutes of an interview:
I’m glad I tried it
I’ve spoken before about the power of visualising research findings, and particularly sketched visuals over polished.
A sketch on the project room wall is very accessible, so gets a lot of eyeballs - great for sharing the story. As well as a standalone artefact, It can be a great prompt for discussion - As you talk others through it, somehow the context and tone of the conversation comes flooding back to you. It’s not quite video, but it does bring the story alive.
Try it yourself…
Here’s a ‘Top 10′ …Some starters from my experience:
- This works best if your job is only to listen and capture. Have someone else lead the interview.
- Go BIG – use a large format pad fat pen. This makes it essay to socialise later, and prevents you from getting all detailed.
- Try to maintain a few seconds ‘buffer’ between what you’re hearing, and what you’re drawing.
- Don’t analyse as you go – just scribble like mad, or your ‘buffer’ will max out and you’ll miss bits.
- Use visual metaphors, e.g. If the subject is looking for something, draw binoculars, magnifying glass, map, compass etc.
- Pepper the notes with verbatim quotes, I use speech or thought bubbles.
- Use a couple of sizes or styles of text to indicate strength of a comment, specific themes etc.
- Talk the subject through the sketch at the end of the interview. They’ll be pleased to see what the hell you’ve been drawing.
- Ask for comment. “What else would you add?” They might correct you in places or add further texture to the story which you can add on the spot.
- If you’re recording with video sit away from the microphone, felt-tip markers make quite a racket when you’re going full-tit.
Give it a try…
This is something I’ll definitely be doing again, trying not to be admitted to hospital myself from marker pen fume inhalation.
Posted on | October 9, 2012
“It’s not about going from left to right and some magic happens on the other side, it’s about understanding the intention”.
Intuit shared how design thinking changed the culture, and profit of the company (eventually).
Their story: How they tried and failed to install ‘design as a process’ into their teams, arriving at a more engaging and successful model of ‘principles’.
A couple of key points I took away:
Design thinking – to the rescue?
With a history of incremental usability improvements but no real innovation, Intuit took a big swig from the design thinking cup. Their aim was to integrate design thinking into the business, to be more user-focused – exceeding customer expectations, rather than just meeting them.
Things didn’t go as planned…
“We made a mistake in that we started with design thinking as a process, when we brought a process back to Intuit, they puked all over it. Because in a culture where; product development has an agile process, marketing have a go-to-market process and legal have a compliance process, they couldn’t reconcile the design thinking process on top of theirs, so they did nothing”.
So, the conventional design thinking process wasn’t flexible enough for the realities of their culture and practice, and it simply wasn’t engaging teams.
Principles, not process.
To replace the rigid ‘process’ approach, Intuit arrived at three principles to underline all development work- teams could use whatever methods they liked, so long as they adhered to those principles.
So, how did that go?
“A seminal moment in our journey was when we took the process of design thinking and made it into principles. It’s not about going from left to right and some magic happens on the other side, it’s about understanding the intention behind these principles, then you can make it your own”.
“We have watched teams come up with their own methods and tools at any time in the process and it totally works. Thats when we saw uptake in the culture, when we started to see behaviours change, when we gave them permission to make it their own”.
Here are their principles:
- Deep Customer Empathy (Know your customers better than they know themselves)
- Go Broad to go Narrow (Quantity of solutions, then focus)
- Rapid Experimentation with Customers (Prototype, test, iterate)
Sounds like a win to me, especially if this has taken hold in an organisation of thousands.
So, how do Intuit involve customers in their design process?
To deliver on their first principle, (apart from their dedicated UX team) Intuit has committed to getting their teams out of the office and into the context of their customers using their products. Unsurprisingly, this has proven to build empathy for the customer, and as a positive bi-product, engagement with the ongoing design process.
Two big wins.
“We went from listening and fixing problems, to watching to find what they really need but can’t tell us.
This changed the way the organisation makes decisions by watching people’s behaviours versus listening to what they say”.
If you’re wanting to institutionalise design thinking, there’s a video on the Adaptive Path website which tells this story from another Intuit insider’s viewpoint http://youtu.be/HrxD_BaZlcU
Posted on | September 20, 2012
A couple of years ago I visited the Eames’ ‘case study house’ and thought I had entered design nirvana.
…Well, it did have a great swing:
Next week I’m heading back to California, this time on a journey into the home of ‘design thinking’
Check out the highlights of the schedule…
I’m heading there with 25 CEOs of Kiwi export companies in the Government-backed Better By Design programme.
Along with a dozen others, I’m playing the role of ‘design integration coach’, helping promising NZ companies to integrate design into their business.
The principles behind the programme borrow a lot from the ‘design thinking’ school of thought popularised by IDEO, and more recently Stanford D.School. Both of which we’ll be visiting.
I’ve always been dubious of ‘design with a capital D’…
In fact, I tweeted not long ago:
“Is design thinking to design what cookbooks are to celebrity chefs?”
I’d love design thinking to be more than just a tarted-up version of taking a user-centred approach to design, beginning with end user insights.
This trip will either fully convert me, or leave me wondering whether it’s another wardrobe for the emperor.
I’ll let you know how it goes…keep looking »