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?

 

Broadband: how wide should the pipe be?

Broadband, digitisation, digital transformation, big data, it has been a long process, mainly driven by technical innovation. Still. Back in the day, in 2001 working for The Fantastic Corporation, I wrote this Spoof article on digital fascination and how it is driving business descisions. Well, in all honesty, I did not know it then, my focus was on using the scientific method as a tool (which it just is), so the article was meant to illustrate how a fool with a tool remains a fool (you can freely exchange tool for ‘new technology’ or ‘technology focus’, or….). Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy.

Broadband: how wide should the pipe be?

Investigating end-user constraints on big-data accessibility

Broadband, the next generation Internet is at our doorstep. Technical advances have created fast connections, so called pipes, with even the most remote location possible. Anywhere, you will have the information highway at your fingertips. But what will this new technology bring us? Will it improve the end-user experience? This paper describes an experiment investigating the influence technical aspects of broadband such as pipe dimensions on the end-user experience.

Introduction

Broadband is maturing from an experimental stage and becoming within reach of every consumer. Fibre technology is dominating the market, allowing for data delivery with near speed of light. Over the last years network operators have invested a lot in high- speed glass-fibre technology, even more than there is demand for. As a consequence the prices for high-speed connections have dropped and have become affordable for every consumer [1]. Broadband is truly getting out of the labs and into the market place. The type of connection determines the speed in which you can send and receive data. The connection is commonly referred to as ‘pipe’. In particular, the dimension of the pipe determines the amount of data you have access to per time interval. There are two factors of the pipe influencing the transmission rate (see Figure 1), its lengths and its diameter.

Figure 1: an illustration of the factors pipe length and pipe width. Either a shorter pipe or a large diameter reduces transmission time. Length T results in larger transmission times. Pipe width D, due to the possibility of parallel transmission, results in reduced transmission times.

Figure 1: an illustration of the factors pipe length and pipe width. Either a shorter pipe or a large diameter reduces transmission time. Length T results in larger transmission times. Pipe width D, due to the possibility of parallel transmission, results in reduced transmission times.

The length of the pipe influences the access speed. The longer the distance, the more time it takes to receive or distribute data. Already running at the speed of light, the distance may be the least important factor. The diameter of the pipe also influences the access speed. A large diameter allows for parallel transmission of data, increasing the amounts of data per time unit received, whereas a small diameter allows for mostly sequential data transmission. Obviously, compared to parallel transmission the sequential data transmission results in a lower connection.

The end-user experience

The influence of the pipe dimensions on the end-user experience is still unknown. Not surprisingly, technical advances are driving the broadband market, ignoring the importance of information about the end-user experience. Contrary to technical aspects, the consequence for the end-user experience of these parameters never has been investigated. However, unless end-users experience benefits from technical advantages, all investments in these systems may be in vain. Reports from the market, such as [1], suggests the need for an alternative approach: using the end-user needs as basis for broadband rollout and development. This means answering questions like ‘What is the influence of the width?’, and ‘What is the effect of pipe length on the consumption of a so- called ‘compelling’ site?’ ‘Does the amount of joy the end-user experiences depend on the speed with which the data is consumed?’ This paper aims to systematically investigate and by doing so give insight into the effect of pipe dimensions on the end-user experience.

Experimental set-up

This paragraph describes the prototypes used and the experimental set-up and the task the users had to perform.

Figure 2: The largest (left, 80% percentile) and smallest (right, 20% percentile) of pipes normally available in the environment of consumers. These dimensions were used for the prototypes.

Figure 2: The largest (left, 80% percentile) and smallest (right, 20% percentile) of pipes normally available in the environment of consumers. These dimensions were used for the prototypes.

Apparatus used

As the focus for broadband is the consumer market, the sizes of pipes used for the experiment reflect those that commonly are available for house appliances. Figure 2 shows the two extremes (taken are the 20 percentile and 80 percentile of dimensions found). A prototype to control the information pick-up by end users was constructed. This prototype will be referred to as ‘GLobal Information SenSitive Experience transducerS (from here on referred to as GLASSES-TM). Figure 3 shows the prototypes used during the experiment. Various versions of the GLASSES-TM were created, to match the experimental conditions.

Figure 3: The four prototypes of the GLASSESTM, developed for the conditions of the experiment. Each prototype matches a specific combination of pipe width and pipe length.

Figure 3: The four prototypes of the GLASSESTM, developed for the conditions of the experiment. Each prototype matches a specific combination of pipe width and pipe length.

Experimental conditions

Table 1 shows the prototypes and the experimental condition for which it was used.

Task

Subjects were presented twelve different tasks, and asked to grade the page on a seven point scale running from highly interesting to extremely dull. Subjects were given as much time as they considered required.

Dependent and independent parameters

As stimuli a twelve web pages were selected ranging from full multi-media experience to a page with text only. The stimuli were presented in random order. Six subjects participated in the experiment. All subjects were member of the Fantastic Corporation R&D department. After making participation to the experiment part of their MBO1, subjects were found to participate willingly and voluntarily. An aside, using the MBO to motivate the participation in such experiments might be the only useful application for the still controversial MBO [2]. Stimuli and conditions were randomised for each subject. Measured were the grading of the web pages and the amount of time used viewing the page.

Table 1: An overview of the experimental conditions and the GLASSES-TM’s used for each of the four conditions.

Table 1: An overview of the experimental conditions and the GLASSES-TM’s used for each of the four conditions.

Results

This section gives the results of the experiment. Given the novelty of the broadband media, the data was recorded using Reverse Engineering techniques2 and analysed using Bistromatcis3 [3, 4].

Interaction: grading and pipe dimensions

Figure 4: results of the grading of web pages for the pages with multimedia content (left) and for the text only pages (right)

Figure 4: results of the grading of web pages for the pages with multimedia content (left) and for the text only pages (right)

Pipe dimensions were found to have most effect with multimedia content (see Figure 4). For text only pages only a small effect was found if the differences between conditions are extreme (a small and long pipe verses a short and wide one). For the grading of the pages, the best condition was found to be a short and wide pipe.

Conclusions and further research

For multimedia applications the dimensions of the pipe preferably is short and wide. For non-multimedia applications the benefits of a short but wide pipe are less clear.
During the experiment it was noticed that with narrow pipes end-users start to compensate the reduced information flow by active exploration, by making head- movements. It is known that information pick-up closely relates to possibilities of action [5]. Based on our observation it is believed that there is room for improving network and web technology by linking the behaviour of the user to the data transport. Further research will focus on how active exploration of the end-user can compensate for the dimensions of the pipe.
Also, additional applications of GLASSESTM are being developed. Especially promising are preliminary experiments conducted with additional filters GLASSESTM with a short but wide pipe. Depending on the end-user, the same information has to be presented in a different format to enhance it application and consumption. For the creation of these filters an Extremely clear yet Motionless Liquid (referred to as XML) was found, and successfully applied. Figure 5 – left shows a first prototype using a short and wide pipe encapsulating such a filter.
Further investigations will also focus on data filtering by using semi transparent reception, the so-called Partially OccLuding trAnsmission pROtocolair Information Device (also known as POLAROIDTM, see Figure 5 – right). However, as the results of the experiment show, to reduce data access, one could also use a longer and/or narrower pipe.

Figure 5: Two examples of possible applications of GLASSESTM. Left, a subject wearing a preliminary prototype incorporating a personalized XML filter for optimal information pick-up and right, subject wearing a prototype incorporating POLAROIDTM based semi transparent filtering techniques.

Figure 5: Two examples of possible applications of GLASSESTM. Left, a subject wearing a preliminary prototype incorporating a personalized XML filter for optimal information pick-up and right, subject wearing a prototype incorporating POLAROIDTM based semi transparent filtering techniques.

In sum, despite its slow roll-out [e.g. 1] broadband shows potential, and may have an extremely interesting and promising future, provided technical constraints are investigated and developed taking into consideration end- user needs and constraints.

References

[1] Karlin Lillington (2001) A ninety billion dollar mistake In: The Guardian. August 23, 2001
[2] Milkovich, G.T. & Wigdor, A.K. (1992) Pay for performance, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC.
[3] D. N. Adams. (1982) Life, the Universe and Everything. Pan Books
[4] D. N. Adams (1986) Mostly harmless (the fifth part of the hitch hiker’s guide trilogy). Pan Books
[5] Gibson, J.J. (1979) An ecological approach to visual perception. Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, London. [Reprinted in 1986].

You can download the original paper here

Effective use of prototypes

A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as an object to be replicated or learned from. This can refer to hardware (i.e. tangible items), but also to software models or simulations. An excel sheet with model of how a business may develop is also a ‘prototype’. A prototype is anything that is designed specifically to test and validate a new design.

RierveldConnectionThe main reason for prototyping is to give you the ‘oh-I-should-have’ feedback. This is feedback you would like to have before you have the final version of what it is you are building or constructing. For example the figure on the right, let’s say you are building a chair and you are trying a classical connection method using dowels. If I would have created and tested a prototype, I would have realized that the diameter of the dowel is critically important and should not be selected too small. I now have in our living room a chair that is almost perfect, and a constant reminder of the ‘oh-I-should-have’-importance of prototypes.

As the purpose of a prototype is testing, a prototype is not defined by its quality, i.e. the material used, the precision of manufacturing, the choice of color, the finishing applied etc, provided it serves the purpose of testing. Clearly, the material and manufacturing quality used must be selected based on the purpose of the prototype. For example, if you want to test the maximal load balance of a bridge you will not build a bridge from paper, although a paper version of the bridge would be sufficient to evaluate the aesthetic properties.

prototypes_when to applyThe matrix on the left shows the generally accepted guidelines on situations in which prototypes are more likely or more appropriate. Basically, this depends on the risk of the final product as well as the cost of producing a prototype. The higher the risk, the more likely the design process is supported by prototypes, while higher costs inversely relate to the likeliness of using prototypes throughout the development process.

Types of prototypes are typically split into horizontal and vertical prototypes. A horizontal prototype is one that covers the product or process from start to finish. Typical examples of horizontal prototypes are fire-frames. The purpose of horizontal prototypes is clarify requirements and to validate the scope. Vertical prototypes, however, focus on a specific aspect of the product and make a working version. The purpose of a vertical prototype is a (technical) proof of concept; to show the design will function under realistic load and use.

 

Prototype quality

The quality of the prototype (e.g. finishing, precision, care of creation) often is taken as proxy for the quality of the thinking leading to the prototype. Although those who have built prototypes know this is not necessarily related, but still motivates you to build a presentable prototype for every stage of the development process. However, this sometimes undermines the effectiveness of your prototype as means of testing and validating. Test subjects’ reaction and feedback often depends on the quality of the prototype. They may react differently to a sketch compared to a perfect rendering. With a beautiful rendering you may find them hesitating to even touch or point, while with a sketch they will be immediately look for their pen, even while talking to you. Depending on the phase of development and the characteristics of the product you are testing, you have to balance quality and finishing to optimize feedback.

 

FantasticPrototypes

I experienced this difference when I was called in to help evaluate a new software prototype. The development team told me they had produced a prototype, which they had evaluated with a few end-users. The feedback collected up to that point was very poor at best. To the users, everything seemed good and perfect. Too good and perfect, which contrasted with the feeling within the team. I participated in one of the evaluation meetings and verified that the end-user had little or no comments about the prototype. Except maybe for the position of the logo and the colors used, all seemed perfect. I am exaggerating a bit, but software, and especially software prototypes, are difficult to prototype for two key reasons. First, it is easy to make a software prototype appear like a finished product. With some artistic skill, basic web technology or even using a simple presentation tool, you can create a prototype running on your iPhone, which you can make to look like a finished App. The prototype from the example here is shown above. It shows two screens, one of which is the prototype (after two weeks of hacking) whereas the other is the real application, which took at least another 6 months to complete. I do not recall anymore which one was which, and at the time the state of development was also not clear to the end-users who were asked for feedback. With prototypes like this it is difficult to understand the state of development. This is less likely to occur with physical products. Take for example the images below, of the 1963 Citroen Ami6. Nobody will have difficulties understanding which is a prototype.

CitroenAmi6_RealVersusPrototye

Just out of curiosity, I created a new prototype (right); obviously hand-drawn, and went back to a few of the end-users. This prototype, although in terms of structure was a copy of the previous version, it was more clearly in its initial stages of development. By presenting itself for what it was; a first sketch, this prototype invited a completely different type of feedback and discussion. Subjects revealed more flaws and eagerly looked for a pen to make corrections, resulting in a list of issues for the development team to chew on. This is exactly the purpose of prototypes; to invite examination and criticism. paperprototyp_smallAt the early stages of development a prototype that shows the stage of development, like the sketch in the example, is often more suitable to invite feedback compared to a more polished looking prototype, which may make users reluctant to criticize. Or worse, they may leave with the impression that the product is almost finished. Another risk of polished looking software prototypes is illustrated by the case of member of the marketing team testing a prototype and then one week later informing us that he already had a potential customer, and inquiring about release dates.

Prototypes help to ‘ground’ the discussion, to align different views and expectations. This is true not only for discussions with the client, but also between members of the design team, helping to facilitate work across disciplinary borders. A prototype cannot be disputed as a written description can. In this way, prototypes help to get a formal approval at each stage of the process.