Design Thinking, what is core?

the-flower-of-design-thinkingCore to design thinking is prototyping & testing. If you browse around the web you find many aspects linked to design thinking, one more fancy than the other. But central to all; prototyping and testing.

The reason is clear; designers think differently then the rest of us (let’s say the engineer). What differentiates a designer from an engineer is that an engineer creates a solution to a carefully analysed and understood problem, whereas a designer creates many solutions as a means to understand the problem. For a designer, a prototype is a hypothesis. Well, that is how I see it.

The image shown aims to illustrate my view on Design Thinking.

It tries to bring across 3 main points:

  1. Core to design thinking is prototype and test, serving the design process, of which evaluation (learning) is a core element. It does not say anything about time to market (speed to get it out there) nor about the quality of the prototype. This is a skill in itself. Talk to a designer to get a feel for this.
  2. Contextual to design thinking are the many tools and methods that you can apply to get a better understanding of the problem space and help you to identify the solution space. These tools are not core, and often distract from what design thinking aims to achieve, which is to make ideas tangible to find out why they do not work (which is a different way of saying “do I understand the problem”). Some even go as far to say that design thinking by itself may not be enough anymore. For example, “In the era of Living Services, Fjord have created their own design system – Design Rule of 3 – which consists of design thinking, design doing and design culture.” Yes, I agree. The larger the (scope of the) project, the more difficult it is to understand the problem space, so you need to scale up on your exploration, and manage expectations concerning time to market.
  3. Basis of any design project, at least in my experience, is a business opportunity and/or a business model. Only in rare situations, a design project is performed completely outside any business context. For that reason, I place the business model canvas as a leave of the root of the flower.

OK, I admit. I just wanted to create a nice illustration and immediately came up with a flower, so I tried to fit Design Thinking to the idea that I had and make it work. I think it does, more or less. What do you think?

 

Digital transformation: Competing for attention

Digital technologies are forcing companies to transform. Digital transformation is not an easy topic and possibly disrupting the complete value chain of most businesses faster than we think. Brian Solis gives some insights in what to consider when taking on ‘Digital Transformation’.

A key tool to manage this process is user journey mapping (see e.g. here, or see here for more basic information about user journey mapping). This is true for any transformation, but especially digital transformation because of the sheer amount of content flowing towards us through our digital devices and competing for our attention. Yes, there are the 5 ‘W’s to help you understand digital transformation from a business point of view. But if the user is simply being entertained, persuaded, lured, do you know what you are competing with at the level of attention?

Remember OurDigitalDayOur digital day (see on the right)? I though was a funny, bit sarcastic user-journey of us in today’s digital life, showing how we are connected throughout the day. Actually, how we are only connected digitally and maybe ignore the physical world around us. But this overview was just generic, maybe a bit sarcastic and for sure self-reflective. But generic. I also was trying to make a point, namely that although we are connected throughout the day, we are not always connected using the same channel, or using the same device. This means, that when you are defining your digital transformation strategy, you have to map out what you will push through which channel.

I like to take it one small step further, looking at a specific user journey, and map-out the channels and opportunities for using those channels. What it boiled down to, is mapping out the channels and the attractors you are competing with at specific points of the user journey.

The user journey I looked at was one of the Wealth Manager Client Advisor. Over the past years I have been consulting in FinTech, helping traditional financial institutions to move the communication towards the clients on digital platforms. In most cases it has been a discussion mainly about technical implementation; “how to implement“. Much more relevant, but also a much more difficult discussion, is “what to implement“. With what implementation do we actually reach our clients. As Our digital day indicates, clients are fluent in reaching content through whatever device, therefore any offering must be platform agnostic. But in the journey towards covering all channels in this multi channel platform agnostic day and age, where do you start, and how do you get there.

In this user journey below, the ‘user’ is the Wealth Manager Client Advisor. The purpose of the journey is to support digital transformation; how to move printed information onto a digital platform. When does it make sense, and what platform/channel should it be moved on.

DDWMCA_1 Morning wake-up. The CA checks his phone for messages and important news. Printed material does not enter the scene here.

Entering this space competes with social contacts, the shower and a first cup of coffee.

Breakfast. If not talking to loved ones or being distracted by pets, the CA may be browsing information, trying to find out what happened the night before, chatting checking out social media etc.

Entering this space competes with actual news, social media, personal discussions, walking the dog and a good espresso.

DDWMCA_1 Commuting into the office, by bus, train or street car. Maybe by bike? Depends a bit on distance of travel and means of travel. Standing on the streetcar will limit the CA’s possibilities to swiping.

Entering this space competes with whatever is entertaining and easy to consumer (i.e. little interaction needed, minimal attention needed) such as for example reading (can also be print), watching a movie, playing a game, etc.

DDWMCA_1 In the office.

Entering this space competes with work. This can be a digital channel or printed materials.

DDWMCA_1 Client meeting. Somewhere in a bar or restaurant, maybe outside in the sun, or in the office.

This space can be occupied by printed media or by digital channels (e.g. using an iPad). The advantage of printed material is that the client probably much better remembers the discussion. The challenge with digital channels is to add to the discussion (simulate, support) and not interrupt (movie, animation).

DDWMCA_1 Comitting back home, by bus, train or street car. Maybe by bike? Depends a bit on distance of travel and means of travel. Standing on the streetcar will limit the CA’s possibilities to swiping.

Entering this space competes with whatever is entertaining and easy to consumer (i.e. little interaction needed, minimal attention needed) such as for example reading (can also be print), watching a movie, playing a game, etc.

DDWMCA_1 Coming home.

Entering this space competes with post (invoices) family, social events, dinner, a cold beer and maybe a dog. Little space for digital channels, but print – provided recognizable within the post – might have a chance.

DDWMCA_1 In the evening. Relaxing at home.

Entering this space competes with social events, actual events (e.g. European Soccer Championship etc.). Print, if it manages to enter this space, has the advantage that the reader will always check the next page for something interesting. The same is true with digital channels, but the next page can be a completely different web-site.

DDWMCA_1 Going to bed

Competing with a good book, social media, just sleeping, or all other opportunities a dark bedroom offers. Print or digital, make it interesting.

CompetingForAttentionIn sum, when creating a user or customer journey, when looking for the most opportune channels to support the digital transformation, interesting to consider is what you are competing with in terms of user attention . This spans beyond the device or channel you are considering. I mean, during breakfast you are actually competing with a nice espresso and with the dog wanting to go for a walk. How would you do that? How would you shape your digital channel such that the dog has to wait two more minutes? When would you offer print material so that it does not end-up on the big pile (or how do you make sure it is the first thing the client pulls from the pile)? Ideas?

Context of Use: A simple form to identify main constraints

Context of use is an essential input to the design process. It helps to frame the problem, define product goals, identify requirements, inspire conceptual design, and create basis for scenarios for validation and usability test. Information about the context of use of a product are generally collected early in the product life cycle and then refined as additional data are gathered from usability studies. By definition context of use determines usability. The ISO 9241 standard Part 112 Guidance on usability (ISO, 1997) defined usability as ‘the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”

The Context of Use consists of the users, tasks and equipment (hardware, software and materials), and the physical and social environments in which a product is used. ISO 9241 standard Part 112 Guidance on Usability (ISO, 1997), or, in different words: the Context of Use is the actual conditions under which a given artifact/software product is used, or will be used in a normal day-to-day working situation. (ref: Interaction Design foundation).

The context of use analysis involves collecting and analysing detailed information about:

  • The intended users, i.e. personas
  • Their tasks
  • The tools that support the users’ goals
  • The physical environment in which a product will be used
  • The user’s social and organizational milieu
  • The technical environment and associated technical constraints
  • Other contextual factors that will affect the user experience

Great. That sounds simple enough. Now what?

EMUS suggest that “Context of Use (CoU) analysis is a generic technique that assists development by posing certain probe questions about the project. [No] The probe questions elicit from the development team and other stakeholders in the project information that may be held ‘below the surface’ by one or more of the constituent groups (usually unwittingly). The effect of carrying out CoU analysis is to bring this information out into the open at an early stage in development, when the implications can be examined and to drive the formulation of a realistic test plan.” (ref: European MultiMedia Usability Services)

So a checklist is what we need?

Actually, browsing the Internet you stumble over checklist, summarizing items to check, record and consider. I’m not a fan. Checklists that have the problem that they do not give insights into the constraints, merely offer a list to tick-off. Often, the process of ticking-off dominates, shifting from checking usability to the next item on the checklist. You see a similar behavior with alert boxes. Are you sure you want to delete this file? Are you absolutely sure you want to delete this file? Are you definitely certain? By now you just want to get rid of the alert box, so of course you are absolutely definitely certain. Luckily, we have time machine.

Obviously, there are more methods then just checklists to collect data for context of use. For example interviews, workshops, surveys, site visits, artefact analysis, focus groups, observational studies, and contextual inquiry. Basically any method that helps to collect data can be used to collect information about the context of use (……).

If methods are plenty and available, critical for collecting information on context of use part must be in what the methods are applied for? What is it that we are looking for?

What we should be looking for when analyzing the context of use are the factors that constrain use. Yes, we want to know typical behavior and scenarios, but as designer we are especially interested in boarder-line situations. “Yes, I want to have that information on my tablet 24×7. Well, not when I am taking a pee, obviously. Then I want to have it on my smartphone. These borderline scenarios may not serve as requirement, but they will help prioritize the requirements we do have.

For mobile software, the most basic parameters that govern the constraints on use are; the physical location, the device on which the software is running, and the available attention span.

  • The physical location is a fundamental parameter. Typical locations are home, office, on ‘on the road’, i.e. in-between. To specify this a little further, the locations are further detailed. For example, at home the areas have very specific application and because of this you can expect the portal use to be different. In the kitchen, while eating breakfast, you may have less time and attention compared to sitting in your study with a tablet on your lab.
  • The device is an important parameter. Depending on you location and situation, you prefer a different device. A laptop in the office, an tablet at the kitch table and a mobile phone while walking through the city.
  • Most important parameter may well be the user’s attention span. My attention span is different when I am sitting in a tram in Zurich with people entering and leaving every 3 minutes compared to being on the train gliding through the alps with, apart from beautiful scenery, nothing to distract or interrupt me for maybe a hour. Attention span and usability appear orthogonal, when it comes to their relative importance. In case attention span is infinite, usability becomes almost irrelevant; given infinite time anybody can learn anything. By contrast, when the attention span is limited, the tools must not be complex.

To analyze the context of-use I’ve created the form as shown below. You can download a free copy here. This context-of-use-form combines ‘device’, ‘attention span’ and ‘physical location’, into a basic grid to support the analysis of context of use.

COU

To illustrate the use of this form, we use it to evaluate the context of use of a new to be developed research portal. A bank is developing a new research portal for their wealth management clients to give access to research material. The portal will be available via multiple devices, via a pc/laptop, via a tablet and via a smart phone.

As a first step, we looked at the use situations for the ‘standard user’. The result is shown below. This overview, although revealing, reflects the general expectation. For specific users the situation may be different.

COU2

To become more specific about actual user needs we use personas. In a previous project we have interviewed a large number of client advisors and based on this developed a set of client personas. From this set, we selected a few to create a small cast.

The next section gives two examples of how the context of use form will look like for specific users (as characterized through the personas). Meet Ana and Danny.

Ana is independent; not employed but with has moveable assets in the amount of 30 Million CHF, which was inherited. Her father was an entrepreneur while her mother took care of the household. Ana was married, has a University degree in Art History, and 2 children; a son 30 years working as electrical engineer and a daughter, 28 and married, with a university degree in Marketing. Ana is frequenting the club life. Clubs have beach campuses, city campuses, and sport campuses for members – and are very popular with the high society in Latin America. In addition, she likes to play golf and fitness. She drinks black coffee, but only in the morning. She has both the latest blackberry and iPhone. Ana consumes information throughout the day, both in paper form and on-line. She typically reads one local newspaper and one form the US. She will surely cover the economic, political, cultural and social life sections. Ana is in regular contact with the bank. She is fairly experienced and likes to be involved in the investment decisions.

Completing the form for Ana reveals a completely different situation, as show below.

COU3

Let’s have a look at Danny.

Danny (or Daniel as his mother calls him) obtained his wealth through a donation. He was born and still lives in Stuttgart, where he followed a professional education and became a certified accountant. His mother was a teacher. His father owns a company in network components of about 900 employees large. After his studies, Danny started working fro the KPMG in Zurich, mergers & acquisitions. He now is COO in his father’s company. Danny drives a Porsche 911, likes travelling, cooking, dine and wine. No sports. He reads the Wall Street Journal, the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung and the NZZ. He reads research information provided by his bank, provided it is crisp and clear. After receiving the donation he immediately invested all with his bank. He is a conservative client, and although he is independent and experienced, Danny allows himself to be driven by the Client Advisor.

Danny, being different person than Ana, also gives a  different situation, as show below.

COU4

In combination (the form for the generic customer, for Ana and for Danny) the forms give a diverse overview of the constraints, sketching the solution space from the point of view of usage (i.e. context of use). Using the personas, and based on these overview it will be easy to describe a number of scenario that illustrate the usage and can be used as reference scenarios capturing the context of use in aspects that are relevant to consider when designing a solution.

Working with personas

In 1998 Alan Cooper published the book “The inmates are running the asylum”, evangelizing the method of using personas to give a face to the end-user. Cooper developed the method based on his own experiences as consultant, searching for a way to explain design ideas to software engineers.

 

Persona exampleThe basic principle underlying personas is straightforward; in the absence of a specific person you are developing for, you will typically design for yourself. If you set out to build something that your mother would like, most likely what you produce is indeed something your mother likes. Fashion companies have long understood this and typically hire a designer who himself or herself is in fact part of the target audience so that when the designer develops something he or she likes, chances are that the target audience likes it as well. This is not possible if you develop something for ‘the customer’.

 

 

For you as a designer, working by yourself, developing personas help you to get a better picture of the target customer, which in turn helps in taking design decisions throughout the design process. This is different from ‘knowing the customer’ and ‘having a clear image of the target customer in mind’. Having an image in mind – however clear – is not as confronting as having a picture in front of you on the table.

 

persona_aPersonas have especially benefit in teamwork. As your team members are presented with a clear picture of specific target customer they can relate to as if it was a person they know. As such, personas help you to explain why certain properties or solutions are more appropriate than others. Moreover, the discussion shifts from “in my opinion the customer needs…” to “I think Mark needs…”. This shift may seem subtle, but is a crucial one, especially in a team of junior designers. Without using personas ‘the customer’ is not a person you can relate too, and the discussion will be directly or indirectly about ‘your opinion’, inherently making the tone antagonistic and defensive. When using personas, the discussion will be about ‘Mark’. Since Mark is a person you can relate to, you can debate what he would or would not like, inherently making the discussion positive and constructive. This difference disappears with the maturity of the team members, but maybe also the need for personas as tool to guide the discussion.

 

 

 

 

canvas_Personas_aPersonas as such do not appear directly on our Product Design Canvas. However, the canvas supports you in thinking about the customer, most prominently the sections of the user, the context of use and the user’s skills and experience. These in combination describe who the user is and what the user brings to the table, i.e. to the product and interaction you are designing/re-designing.  What you put into these boxes helps to define what the user you target can do (their luggage), with what purpose interaction is pursued (task & objectives), and in what context the objectives are pursued.

 

 

canvas_Personas3The remaining boxes of the template, especially product, product portfolio, pricing and product interaction, are not to be ignored, and contribute to defining your persona. Defining the products the user uses and characterizing the specific interaction of these products explains your user and gives meet on the bone of your persona. It tells you how your customer’s expectations, their mode of thinking.