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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Myths About Design Thinking

How You Can Find Out If You Are Truly An Integrative Thinker. Take The Test Now. And Yes, We Are Hiring!

The Myths About Design Thinking
by Idris Mootee

These days I am getting a little bothered with the phrase "design thinking". There is a lot causal misuse but the phrase has gained popularity and currency because it is new, it gives designers new status and it helps to push design firm upstream and hopefully they can solve bigger problems with design ideas. I am as guilty as many and I do like the phrase because it gives new meaning to a thinking style that are suppressed or often ignored in the boardroom or in executive meetings.

But there's a few myths and people assume anyone who is working as a designer or received a design education is naturally a design thinker. That's not true. It is like saying anyone who graduate from a business school with an MBA is naturally a strategic thinker. I can pretty much guarantee you that's not true, having hired more than 500 MBAs in my career. Many strategic thinkers are non MBAs. But MBA helps.

What makes a person a design thinker? And what makes a person a strategic thinker? First myth, design is not the domain of designers. Design (beyond form and function) encompasses a broader set of influences and is (should be) part of any complex decision making process. Designing for Social Change; Designing for Business Transformation; Design for New Organization Structure; Design for Social Participation; and Design for Strategic Agility etc. Most of these are beyond the training of designers and many great traditional industrial design companies. This is not about designing a cute logo or poster or chair.

Second myth, design does NOT replace analytical analysis. It is true to say that analysis alone cannot solve some of the wicked problems that are immensely complex in nature, but without analysis we can't even pinpoint the problems. I'll admit I am a "Deductionist" first and I am also a "Creative Artist". I probably use the logic of necessity or the logic of probability to support my day-to-day decision making more than I use my creative thinking. It is most powerful when I combine the two... and with a little artistic flair.

Unfortunately our societies (and school systems) like to lead us to think we can only be good at one. I am an example. I am good at both and I think many others are good at both without knowing it. There are many examples out there. John Maeda is one good one.

It is an education system problem, It is how we want people to think - you are a creative person or you're an engineer. I believe everyone has the potential to be good at both (and sometimes people are bad at both, that's another discussion).

In additional to creativity and analytical thinking, there is a third component - style and elegance. OK not all designers have style and can design in an elegant fashion. This is the third myth. I am guessing (from my past experience) that only 35% of designers have styles. The others are just design technician. And probably only 3-4% of MBAs have styles, that's a pretty high estimate? It may even be lower.

Designing itself is an extreme activity. So is strategizing. Both tends to call on all those engaged in the process. It is contextual. It is embodied. It uses the whole person's mind and body, left and right brain, economics and empathy, hearts and minds, analysis and expressions, elegance and structure. So what are you?

Our resident scientists and anthropologists have spent months designing an application which was originally used as part of Idea Couture's recruitment process. As you know, we pride ourselves as D.School and B.School thinkers and that's how we bring innovative solutions to clients' wicked problems. Now we decide to open it up and allow you to do the test and share the results with your friends on Facebook.

If you get very high D.School and B.School scores, you really should contact me asap. The next step of the test is a little more complex and will require some attachment of sensors to your head while we show you some power points, you don't need to know more about that for now. And if you unfortunately get very low scores on both, I suggest you get some immediate counseling.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't Believe the 98% Innovation Failure Rate

It Is Just A Myth. Here Are My Top Five Innovation Tips.

by Idris Mootee

Don't Believe the 98% Innovation Failure RateInnovation is hard in many ways. What is hard about innovation? Finding new ideas is not hard. Building an innovative culture is hard. Turning ideas into product/services that people love is hard. It all begins with a piece of paper and a pencil. Innovation is hard because there are so many myths about innovation and consultants are selling snake oil. Innovation is not something that is taught in MBAs and not part of any MFA curriculum.

You can look at it from a process view, a strategy view, an organizational view and a toolkit view. Everyone's journey is a little different and what works for one organization may not work for another. There is no one size fits all solution. Creating an innovation culture is easier said than done. There is no magic bullet for creating innovations, but there are many ways to develop a culture that encourages innovation. Developing an innovation culture takes a lot time and many companies have the will but not the time, you need to look for help externally. What will bring the organization together overnight to translate product and service initiatives into sustained results? The process one is a tricky one and here are some quick tips:

1. Challenging Orthodoxies And Overcoming Dogmas.

This is an important starting point and no good ideas will be seriously looked at without overcoming thee orthodoxies. There are orthodoxies in service such banking, healthcare and hospitality as much as in products such as CPGs, consumer electronics and personal care products. You can start with challenging your own orthodoxies or look at industry level dogmas. Think media, music, computing, beverages, travel etc. Forget the value chain for a second and start playing Lego. Challenge everything!

2. Participative Design and Co-Creation.

The customer is King, Queen and Jack. Any innovation efforts will fail eventually if the end user is not driven to use your new product or service. Most consumers are intelligent and can contribute so much to the process. It is true that people can not always voice their needs and desires in a way that makes sense, but our job is find creative ways to understand their attitudes, values and behaviors and figure out how to include them in your innovation process.

3. Innovation Sponsor and SWOT Team.

The majority of innovation teams start when a mandate from the CEO and followed by the appointment of an executive sponsor. Without top level support, you may never get the resources needed to get things done.

Even a CEO have challenges finding the resources to invest in innovation, if there are multiple established businesses, the P&L owners of each of those businesses are going to fight for resources. The CEO often must take dollars away from yesterday's businesses and give them to future's businesses and untested ones. That takes guts. Innovation is not for everyone. Majority of people are not ready or motivated to make innovation happen.

When putting together your innovation team, pick people from across different functions and business units, find people who have nothing to lose in their careers and willing and ready for some risks. People who have imagination and who have always been acting as the voice of the customers. Start with a small team and gradually expand to add more people. At some point, you will be ready to make this an organization-wide undertaking and ready to harness the collective creative energy of people from all parts of the organization.

4. Demonstrate Progress Often and Show Them the Prizes.

Any innovation efforts cannot be done in a black box, these activities should be tracked and measured. The quality and quantity of foresights and insights, the number of unique idea contributors, the total number of ideas generated and total number of ideas that have been prototyped, etc. And when you do get a big or small win, make sure you communicate them across the company. Innovation needs publicity.

5. Defy The 98% Failure Rate Myth.

A client of mine once told me that their success rate of innovation was 90%. I immediately felt off the chair and responded that it was probably because there weren't any real innovation at all. People in the room laughed as I explained that they were most likely talking about some incremental improvements and called them innovation. On the other side, when people say their failure rate is 98%, I would think that they're simply not doing it right and probably lack a systemic approach of scanning, visualizing, imagining and early commercialization of ideas. If you do it right, your failure should fall below 70%. Yes, failure is part of any innovation process, but improving the chances of success is also part of an innovation strategy.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

With Innovation, It's Trust But Verify

by Dr. Mike Shipulski

With Innovation, It's Trust But VerifyYour best engineer walks into your office and says, "I have this idea for a new technology that could revolutionize our industry and create new markets, markets three times the size of our existing ones." What do you do? What if, instead, it's a lower caliber engineer that walks into your office and says those same words? Would you do anything differently? I argue you would, even though you had not heard the details in either instance. I think you'd take your best engineer at her word and let her run with it. And, I think you'd put less stock in your lesser engineer, and throw some roadblocks in the way, even though he used the same words. Why? Trust.

Innovation is largely a trust-based sport. We roll the dice on folks that have already put it on the table, and, conversely, we raise the bar on those that have not yet delivered - they have not yet earned our trust. Seems rational and reasonable - trust those who have earned it. But how did they earn your trust the first time, before they delivered? Trust.

There is no place for trust in the sport of innovation. It's unhealthy. Ronald Reagan had it right:

Trust, but verify.

As we know, he really meant there was no place for trust in his kind of sport. Every action, every statement had to be verified. The consequences so cataclysmic, no risk could be tolerated. With innovation consequences are not as severe, but they are still substantial. A three year, multi-million (billion?) dollar innovation project that returns nothing is substantial. Why do we tolerate the risk that comes with our trust-based approach? I think it's because we don't think there's a better way. But there is. What we need is some good, old-fashioned verification mixed in with our innovation.

When the engineer comes into your office and says she can reinvent your industry, what do you ask yourself? What do you want to verify? You want to know if the new idea is worth a damn, if it will work, if there are fundamental constraints in the way. But, unfortunately for you, verification requires knowledge of the physics, and you're no physicist. However, don't lose hope. There are two simple tactics, non-technical tactics, to help with this verification business.

First - ask the engineers a simple question, "What conflict is eliminated with the new technology?" Good, innovative technologies eliminate fundamental, long standing conflicts. These long standing conflicts limit a technology in a way that is so fundamental engineers don't even know they exist. When a fundamental conflict is eliminated, long held "design tradeoffs" no longer apply, and optimizing is replaced by maximizing. With optimizing, one aspect of the design is improved at the expense of another. With maximizing, both aspects of the design are improved without compromise. If the engineers cannot tell you about the conflict they've eliminated, your trust has not been sufficiently verified. Ask them to come back when they can answer your question.

Second - when they come back with their answer, it will be too complex to be understood, even by them. Tell them to come back when they can describe the conflict on a single page using a simple block diagram, where the blocks, labeled with everyday nouns, represent parts of the design intimately involved with the conflict, and the lines, labeled with everyday verbs, represent actions intimately involved with the conflict. If they can create a block diagram of the conflict, and it makes sense to you, your trust has been sufficiently verified. (For a post with a more detailed description of the block diagrams, click here)

Though your engineers won't like it at first, your two-pronged verification tactics will help them raise their game, which, in turn, will improve the risk/reward ratio of your innovation work.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Video Interview with Mickey McManus - MAYA Design CEO and Principal

Video Interview with Mickey McManus - MAYA Design CEO and Principal
by Braden Kelley

I had the opportunity to interview Mickey McManus, Chief Executive Officer and Principal at MAYA Design at The Economist's conference "Innovation: Fresh Thinking for the Ideas Economy". I'd like to share a video interview I did with Mickey during the event:

In this video Mickey talks about the role of design and a bit about the future of pervasive computing.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Is Crowdsourcing Disruptive?

by Stephen Shapiro

Is Crowdsourcing Disruptive?There was an excellent post by Hutch Carpenter on this website. In the article, he asked the question - "Is Crowdsourcing Disrupting the Design Industry?" He makes an excellent case for the value (and pitfalls) of crowdsourcing design work. As loyal readers know, I have used design crowdsourcing on several occasions.

In response to the article, I wrote:

I use crowdsourcing for some of my designs. And I have to admit, I do sometimes feel a little bad. It's clear some people put a fair amount of thought into their designs. Sadly, there is typically only one winner.

Having said that, as a consultant, no one feels bad for me when I spend days or weeks developing a proposal that does not get awarded to me. We recognize that it is the cost of doing business.

Let's face it... for some design work, it might be just as fast to develop a rough concept as it would be to develop a compelling proposal. Crowdsourcing can reduce the time and effort involved in selling design services.

And crowdsourcing, when done correctly, can give you (the 'Seeker') benefits that you would not get through conventional means.

Right now I am running a crowdsourcing competition for a design for my Personality Poker cards. The competition has been running for two days, and I received some amazing designs. Because I did a blind competition, everyone has to develop their own idea, rather than simply build on the idea of someone else. This is enhancing the level of creativity significantly.

The winner will get follow on work from me in fleshing out the concept and in future design work. [NOTE: The competition is over and I received 32 designs of which a half dozen of them were fantastic]

I used to use eLance (an eRFP site) for design work. But the results were not always great. Plus each designer has to submit a proposal and decide upon a fee. With 99designs, the designer knows the 'prize' and can decide if they want to invest any effort at all.

It's not spec work that is changing the rules. It is access to the masses. Personally, I would prefer to pay for a solution than a proposal.

I do think, if done well, design crowdsourcing can be beneficial to all involved.

Crowdsourcing has the potential to give designers a reach they have not previously had. Although their cost per design might go up, their cost of acquisition might actually go down. Proposals are a cost of doing business - and you don't win every proposal. Spending time/money on finding customers who want the proposal in the first-place is another cost - and you don't acquire every customer you target. Mailing marketing materials to potential customers is another real cost. The list goes on. The real cost/time associated with marketing/selling design services is not insignificant.

Crowdsourcing allows you to convert your marketing/selling time into design time. Your only cost is your time to develop the submitted designs. This feels like a much better use of design resources.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Innovate How You Innovate

A Breakthrough Innovation 2010 Conference Wrap-Up Report

Innovate How You Innovate - Innovate How You Innovate
by Richard L. Tso

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with some of the most influential thought leaders in the innovation industry at the second annual Breakthrough Innovation conference. The event took place in Barcelona, Spain and was hosted by the Connecting Group. Common themes surrounding the conference were:
  • Companies need to refine and improve how they approach innovation

  • A formal innovation management process or platform is needed to help capture ideas and drive them towards adoption

  • Executive sponsorship is required to proactively drive innovation initiatives

  • A strong need for cross-functional innovation across all departments

  • Innovation is inherently a creative process

The agenda encompassed product, process, service, and business model innovation. Kai Engel, an AT Kearney Partner and Connecting Group Chairman, kicked off the conference with a broad overview of how companies are approaching innovation management within their organizations, and what they can expect to gain from the process.

Engel presented research showing a positive correlation between the top innovators and share-price, while highlighting the importance of cross-functional innovation across an organization.

Collaborate with Academia for Value Creation

Dr. Michael Duncan of Proctor & Gamble discussed the advantages of open innovation. Given the stagnant economy, Dr. Duncan argued that many companies are posed with the question: "How do we get more for less?" He addressed how organizations around the globe can take on innovation strategies, despite having less money to invest in the process.

This presentation outlined P&G's approach to drive scale into its academic research program in the UK. It discussed a key strategic partnership P&G developed with the EPSRC and described the key elements how P&G has delivered a win for academics, P&G and the Government. P&G has 22 billion dollar brands, currently spends $2 Billion in R&D across nine technical sectors and touches over four billion people around the world. Their global business units represent: Global Beauty (30%), Global Health & Well Being (20%), and Global Household Care (50%).

Identify Subject Matter Experts Within Your Organization

Chief Customer Innovation Officer Paul Excell of BT demonstrated the need to tap into the smartest people within your company and a clear linkage between innovation and commercial success. Much like the human brain, as the number connections increase, linkages appear that drive innovation and thoughtful contribution. Long-term survival depends on being capable of reinventing yourself time and time again. Excell said, "Innovation doesn't have to cost you money, you just need to change your way of thinking." He then mentioned that it is not about money but about talent. "People will ultimately make the difference in your company."

Historically, the process of innovation was driven by the individual and this evolved to team innovation and now distributed. The sun never goes down on innovation and people are your best assets. BT currently spends $1.1 Billion on R&D.

Designing for Innovation

Roland Heiler, director of the Porsche design studio presented the history of Porsche and how they are known for more than just car design. He discussed how design can make or break a product, the need to employ Bauhaus design elements for the intersection of form and function. He discussed the innovative process of building the first titanium watch from concept to creation, how this element is neutral against the human skin, but extremely difficult to work with.

Art & Science of Innovation

Karin Morris, Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Chartis Insurance gave a dynamic presentation about the art and science of innovation across a spectrum of strategies and tactics. She discussed the need to create and instill a culture of innovation across an organization. As she eloquently explained, "To innovate is to imagine that which does not exist yet."

Business adjacencies are often overlooked because managers are focused on what they know and what they do. They are less apt to take on something new. Management Science itself is the art of counting and controlling things and is not really focused on innovation. The management toolkit needs to evolve to be open to innovation.

Teams need passion, vision and initiative to be true innovators.

Innovate How You Are Innovating

Annie Lawrenson, VP of Innovation Strategy at Spigit explained the need to work on the business to innovate how you are innovating. She showed, not only how companies are resistant to innovation, but how innovation is really the job of everyone within an organization. Lawrenson presented a case-study about her time at Taylor-Made Golf where she developed an innovation site called Harold powered by Spigit. Harold was a site created to drive employee innovation, capture ideas, and identify the best ones for implementation and adoption.

Priorities for Innovation

Frederik Van Oene presented the top 12 priorities for Innovation as results from a global survey conducted by Arthur D. Little:
  1. Understand what customers want
  2. Explicity including innovation in vision and strategy
  3. Building a seamless innovation process between Marketing, R&D, and Manufacturing
  4. Involving whole company in innovation
  5. Competence management / technology strategy
  6. Innovating with partners
  7. Tailoring of innovation management
  8. Changing the mindset in R&D
  9. Training managers
  10. Introducing fitting measurements & rewards
  11. Optimizing geographically the innovation network
  12. Utilizing ICT support tools

Van Oene identified a correlation between innovation performance, quality of process and innovation success. Top innovators around the globe possess the following qualities: they continue to focus on keeping a good balance between intensification, enhancement and enlargement during a downturn, they focus on getting the most of their idea management and on getting big and bold ideas, they closely align products and service portfolios with their short, mid and longterm business objectives, and they innovate in modules throughout manufacturing and testing. This enhances product success and profit ability.

Well, these are some of the key insights I captured at the event. I hope you find them useful.

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Richard L TsoRichard L. Tso is Vice President of Marketing at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Empathy-Driven Innovation

by Tim Kastelle

Empathy-Driven InnovationThree things came together to make me think of this post:
  1. I regularly get feedback from my research interviews that people really enjoy them. That's interesting, because I'm a lousy interviewer. After the last round, we got some feedback from our contact at the firm who said that he had received thank-you emails for setting up the emails. My colleague was a bit taken aback by this, and said to me "but we didn't say anything". True, I said, but we listened to them.

    And it occured to me how infrequent that is in a lot of workplaces. It's sad, really. I was reflecting on this on the walk in to my office this morning, and decided that in a lot of businesses, having genuine empathy could be a source of competitive advantage. This is built on scarcity, since genuine empathy is rare. Something to think about I guess...

  2. Then when I got to my office, I ran across several excellent articles tweeted by Elizabeth Sosnow (they were so good that I've almost gotten over her saying that she didn't see why hockey was exciting). One of them was a post called Empathy is a Presentation Skill by Sims Wyeth. Among other things, Wyeth says this:

    "Remember, empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy implies that you feel the same as the other person. Empathy only means that you understand how they think and feel.

    By using your powers of empathy, you are more able to get and hold their attention by making your ideas more relevant to their frame of experience."

    So, more evidence that empathy is important.

  3. Finally, those two things got me thinking about Roberto Verganti's controversial post called User-Centered Innovation is Not Sustainable. Verganti argues:

    "It's time to move beyond user-centered innovation paradigms that have brought us into this unsustainable economy. Are executives and innovators ready to take the lead in establishing a new design-driven process? Are they willing to stop observing the use of existing products and instead propose new scenarios and solutions that are meaningful for people, good for the environment, and profitable for businesses?"

    Many people interested in customer-centred innovation have reacted strongly against this post, as Verganti discounts the value of all customer feedback. Maybe empathy can get us out of this conflict?

Verganti's two examples of non-user-centred innovation are the Toyota Prius and the innovator Ezio Manzini, founder of the Sustainable Everyday Project. The Prius and Manzini's various initiatives are described as visionary, and they certainly are. But the Prius didn't evolve in a vacuum. It's true that while it was in development, the overall market trend was running towards gigantic SUVs with ever-dwindling fuel economy. And yet, at the same time there were a significant number of people that desperately wanted a more fuel-efficient car. Toyota clearly designed the Prius with them in mind. The Prius is user-centred, but not majority-centred.

Another classic example of non-user-centred design is Apple's decision to cut the 3.5″ floppy drive from the iMac (or their current decision to drop Flash from the iPad). This was done without extensive user consultation - after all, who in a focus group would say 'yes, I think it would be great if you dropped a feature'? But the decision was made based on an excellent understanding of what users were doing - at the time they were switching over to USB drives in great numbers. It's not exactly rocket science to decide that users might prefer USB drives with a 50 mb capacity to a floppy disk with 1.44 mb. So this decision was also driven by an understanding of customers.

My view of Verganti's approach is that he's overselling vision. Even in his book, his examples of design-driven innovation (which are great) all include a deep understanding of what customers are trying to get done. I think that what the examples really show are the dangers of letting the majority of customers drive innovation. That just gets you the 'faster horses' solution.

I think that Verganti's examples show innovation from leaders with vision, and a deep understanding of customer objectives. When you combine this with empathy, you are able to figure out which of the customers at the fringe are the ones that will lead to the next mainstream. Design-driven innovation can't just be based on intuition alone. It has to be anchored in empathetic understanding of the people that will respond to your proposals.

The key to good design-driven innovation is vision combined with empathy.

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Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Mapping Customer Experience Excellence

10 Steps to Customer Journey Mapping

by Arne van Oosterom

Mapping Customer Experience ExcellenceWhen the nice people at MyCustomer.com asked me to write an article about customer journey mapping, I knew right where to begin.

A product or service is merely a means to an end. The real deeper value lies in the story attached. I don't want to own a coffee maker - I need to wake up early with a little help from a cup of coffee. I don't want to use a train - I want to get home to my wife and children. I don't want to go to a store and buy a stereo set - I just want to listen to my favorite rock music when I'm home, it makes me unwind after work.

Unfortunately, most organizations are not capable of listening to stories. And this is why the gap between "inside and outside" has grown too wide. To stay competitive and survive the changes organizations are presently facing, they need to reassess the way they are structured, function and build relationships with customers. Closing the "reality gap" between organizations and people (employees and customers alike) should be the number one priority. And for this we need a new set of skills, methods and tools.

People-centered approaches like Design Thinking, Social Design and Service Design have emerged because it provides us with useful methods and tools to bridge the gap. One of the tools is customer journey mapping. And in this article I'll explain what customer journey mapping is, and how it is used to improve quality and foster a culture of innovation. But first I'll explain why tools like customer journey mapping emerged and are needed.

I like the description given to it in an article by Kable:

"CJM maps the route people take as they interact with services, taking quantitative measures such as number of contacts made and the time taken to access a service. What distinguishes it from data that might be gleaned from customer relationship management systems is its equal focus on emotional insights about the citizen's experience. The goal is to mix quantitative approaches with qualitative, experiential data, providing a dispassionate analysis of the issues."

Change Causes Friction

Thinking in journeys can be very helpful. Change is a constant. And thinking in journeys takes this into account and puts more emphasis on quality of the whole experience. Dwight Eisenhower said it like this: "planning is everything, the plan is nothing."

Only those who are adaptable survive. That's just one of those inconvenient evolutionary things. But generally speaking, companies and governmental organizations are not designed for adaptability. They are organized in static, pyramid shaped, top-down-broadcasting models and not organized to receive feedback from the outside or the bottom of the pyramid or to use this information for change and continuous improvement. Most organizations are incapable of having real and meaningful (two-way-street) conversations with their customers.

And it's exactly in this area where the biggest business opportunities lie. We need to design and implement systems that will allow our organizations to have meaningful and ongoing conversations with our customers, using the insight we gain to improve and innovate in an ongoing iteration. And this all starts by taking a good look at the organization from the outside. There are no magic tricks. But it's just common sense to start with the people you work with and your customers.

Customer journey mapping builds a mirror and enables us to question why we do the things we do. It makes things visible, which might have been right in front of us, but were so familiar we did not notice them or question them. It never occurred to us we could change them. It brings knowledge, already embedded in the organization, to the surface and makes explicit what is implicitly already there.

It allows us to take a step back from where we are, away from our internal targets and agendas and lets us be open-minded and put our creative energy to good use. And the beauty of it: there is no lengthy report, which no one actually reads. Customer journey mapping is a creative tool and works with visualizations. It is meant to inspire, energize and kick-start good conversations and ideation. And it's the conversation that matters - and the opinions and ideas it brings to the surface.

Building a Culture of Trust

Customer journey mapping is primarily used as a tool to investigate, analyze and improve customer experiences. However there is another more profound use of the customer journey. DesignThinkers, for instance, has developed a system called the Customer Journey LAB.

The Customer Journey LAB is used to facilitate an ongoing conversation within the organization and build or strengthen a culture of mutual trust. The LAB is embedded into the internal workings of an organization. It's a "short iterative feedback loop" and allows for top-down and bottom-up conversations. It's facilitated by an online LAB and offline media and events.

The Customer Journey LAB is an iterative method to build a culture of trust and adaptability, which is the most important step into building a relationship with your customer and maintain a strong, long term, almost irreplaceable competitive edge.

A quick guide to customer journey mapping

This allows us to step into the customer shoes. It shows us the customer's perceptions and the larger context in which we play a part. It lets us be emerged in their world, their reality. Get a deeper insight into customer needs, perception, experience and motivation. It will answer questions like: What are people really trying to achieve? How are they trying to achieve this? What do they use and in what order? Why do they make a choice? What are they experiencing, feeling, while trying to reach the desired outcome?

A customer journey map is built up layer by layer. We start 'above water', with the customer and slowly dive deeper and deeper into the organizational structures and context. The tool can be used with customers or management, employees and other stakeholder or, even better, in a mix.

A customer journey map (e.g. used by front-office employees) in its simplest form will contain the following:
  1. Context or stakeholder map. We list all stakeholders and we order the hierarchy in circles of influences around the centre, where you are. When working with customers you'll have the customer in the centre. Describe all relationships on the map by answering the question: what do we do for them; what do they do for us? This map shows you the landscape or force field you are dealing with. And you can discuss how this influences the quality of your work and how a customer benefits or suffers from it.

  2. Persona. We need a rich customer profile or persona. Describe his/her personal and business situation now (present situation) and in the future (ambitions).

  3. Outcomes. A description of his/ her desired outcome - what is he/she trying to achieve?

  4. Customer journey. We list all actions (as far as possible) the customer has to take to reach the outcome (placed in a horizontal line). Don't start listing actions when the customer uses your service the first time. Start before the moment he/she decided to use your product or service. This way we visualise behavioural patterns.

  5. Touchpoints. Underneath every action we list all channels and touchpoints services the customer encounter. Not just yours! This way you'll discover the landscape you are in form the customer's perception.

  6. Moments of truth. Then we identify the moments the customer encounters your touchpoints and channels. We start focus on those (you can move them down a bit). Identify the most important 'moments of truth'.

  7. Service delivery. Underneath every touch point, we write down who delivers the service. Who is directly responsible for it (e.g. front office personal)?

  8. Emotional journey. Then give every vertical line a grade for the experience (Actions -> touch point -> who delivers the service -> grade). Don't grade the functionality, grade the work. For the emotion, how do you think the customer felt at that moment? Use a scale from 0 to 10. The higher the number, the better the experience. This can be visualised (e.g. by a line going up and down), and is very effective as a conversation starter. It can often be a real eye-opener.

  9. Blueprint. Now, to make a long story a bit shorter, we can go on listing the organisation underneath, writing down who supports the people delivering the service (backoffice), and in turn who influences the back office (we link back to the stakeholders map), until we have a complete organisational blueprint, a complete picture of the working of an organisation and emotional journey, from the outside in.

  10. Improve and innovate. Use creative, brainstorming and any other ideation techniques for the service opportunities you identified (low grades) and/or design complete new and ideal journeys or services. This usually is the moment people have the most fun. I have been surprised many times by the talent and eagerness of people to engage in this creative process. People are usual a lot more creative than you think. We just need to put them in the right situation and mood.

Don't wait until the end to collect ideas. Write down all ideas and insights during the building of the customer journeys. These insights will be a rich source for improvements and innovative ideas. And all you need to start are some large sheets of paper, markers and a lot of sticky-notes.

We will shortly be publishing all the materials for building your own Customer Journey LAB and all the material will be downloadable with a guidebook from the DesignThinkers website.

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Arne van OosteromArne van Oosterom is lecturer at various International institutions, owner at DesignThinkers Amsterdam, founder of WENOVSKI and Chairman of the Service Design Network Netherlands.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

8 Design Tips for Startups - Moving Beyond Aesthetics

by Thomas Petersen

8 Design Tips for Startups - Moving Beyond AestheticsDon't panic, this is not going to be a lecture on typography or what color palette you should use. It's not going to require you to have the latest Creative Suite from Adobe either. In fact you don't need to be a designer or UXD expert to use these principles. This is an attempt to cut through the noise from the art directors, usability experts, designers, developers, Venture Capitalist and family members to help you design better products.

So what does it take to design a successful digital product or service? Is it the brand, the choice of colors, the functionality, the chosen platform, or the social features?

Well all of the above certainly have some importance, but it's going to be very hard to prove that one particular element is why company X is a success. All too often we become attached to this idea that there is a recipe for success. That if you just get the right idea or if your design is cool or uses a certain technology you will be successful.

Nothing in my experience, supports that belief. In fact what means success for one company might spell failure for another.

For instance WordPress.com is based on PHP, a server side language that many "real" developers loathe. They claim it's not a real programming language and that it doesn't scale well. None-the-less, a whole plethora of successful companies uses PHP, including FaceBook.

Google isn't exactly winning design prizes for their look and feel, yet they are so successful that many companies are copying their style.

Hulu.com was a success long before they started to add more complex social features. Joost was designed primarily around social features and have joined the deathpool.

In other words, there are as many ways to design a successful product, as there are ways to design a failure.

Large companies almost never allow for failure, which partly explains why their solutions most of the time are as bland as they are.

They have the money to continue down a dead-end and will invest millions in doing all the right things from user research, to usability tests to 5 different design proposals to establishing brand guidelines, then launch something two years too late to great fanfare and unfortunately often to great obscurity.

If you are a startup, you are normally not allowed (and shouldn't be) to spend that much time and money building spaceships no one want to fly.

So what to do.

Take the design process seriously, but don't get too attached to one particular part of it and don't rely on any one particular discipline to give you the right answers. Get to the point where you have real users or customers as quickly as possible. It's these users that will provide you with the information that will get you you in a position to make better design decisions.

The following principles should help you get in a position:

1. Start simple, stay simple.

It cannot be said enough. Less is more - much more, and there is a very good reason that it pays to understand.

"If you do less you can measure more. If you can measure more you can better experiment with what works."

Most products are simple, based on simple insights.

Make sure that you stay true to those insights, until you know you tried out every different interpretation of them. Don't add new features just because you think that it will help, it won't, not yet. If your product becomes a success it's not because of how many features it has.

2. Don't confuse change with improvement.

One of the biggest challenges record artist face when producing a new album is fatigue. They get this from listening to the same riffs, passages, drum tracks, choruses etc. over and over and over. It's actually one of the reasons why many have a problem listening to their own album when it's finally out. Startups as intense and time consuming as they are, have similar problems. It's very tempting after a couple of months of looking at the same design to want to change it and think you are improving your product. You aren't, so don't succumb to the temptation. It's not worth it.

Furthermore, if it goes like it does in most cases, you will soon enough have to spend resources on changing things after you launch.

3. Build to integrate.

Think about whether your product could be a good extension to already existing products/services. That way you can tap into already existing digital ecosystems and leverage on their popularity and reach this will give you some standards to adhere to. Remember that the more you are able to interface with other services the more trust you will establish. Guilt by association works both ways.

4. Don't do everything that is possible only what is necessary.

Constrain yourself. A good product has limitations. It doesn't just succumb to every temptation that comes along. Focus on what makes your product the product and only add features if you get clear signs that it is needed. Most users will have to learn your product anyway so don't try to impress them with features before they understand what your product is all about. iTunes may have many flaws, Basecamp from 37Signals leaves a lot to be asked for, but when all is said and done, their products are rock solid and there is no feature like the rock solid feature.

5. Usability studies and focus groups are for refinement not for innovation.

Let me be perfectly clear. Running a successful and informative usability study or focus group wont help you understand whether the market wants your product or whether you have solved your interaction flow satisfactory. I know there is a lot of buzz around User Centered Design (UCD) and that a hoard of usability experts will claim that they can help you design more successful products if you just ask the user (Which I find ironic). Don't believe the hype, I say this as someone who also makes a living doing usability tests. There are a few situations where usability studies make sense for startups, but most likely it wont be in your situation.

I will write a separate post about UCD but leave you with a few observations.

There is no one-to-one relationship between what people say in a focus group and what they actually do. It's way to complex and there are way to many psychological elements and social dynamics involved to allow you to extrapolate important data out of it at an early stage.

In most cases you are testing in a pseudo environment with mock-ups, html prototypes or even paper prototypes. Just imagine how Twitter, SMS, Google or LastFM in its early days would have scored. So many products need to be experienced before users will provide you with any valuable insights to build on.

It would be like trying to determine the usage and usability of a hammer by looking at a piece of paper with a drawing of it. You get the picture.

6. A feature is not a product.

Speaking of hammers.

Don't just think about your product as a bunch of features. Instead focus on what it is your are selling at its core. What is needed for your product to function? How much can you take away from it without sacrificing the core product.

Think about features as something to add after you have launched.

Features are something to add after launch
A hammer has one purpose, which is to help you knock in nails. Everything on top of that are features. Therefore understand when you are working on your core product and when you are working on adding features.

The benefits of thinking like this, is that it will help you establish a very clear an precise picture of what makes your product your product. Which means you will much better be able to understand why you are adding features when you are and won't get caught in the "me to" behavior that can drive companies out of business very fast.

7. Think how, not what.

What matters is not what functionality your product has, but how it works. A sign-up process is not just a sign-up process, a checkout process is not just a checkout process, a button is not just a button, a rating system is not just a rating system.

Think about how you can stand out by introducing something that everyone else might have but in a unique way. That's what Steepster did when they re-designed their rating system (see how they did here). Skype was not the first VOIP provider, far from, but Skype managed to make it stand out and look like a product not just a technology. In other words they productified a technology

You will be surprised how much the "how" can help improving your product.

8. It's not innovation to use the latest technology.

It's tempting to try and set yourself apart by using the latest build of some framework or technology. But don't do it just because it's the latest. Make sure that you understand the implications of what you are introducing. Is it processor intensive, is it increasing load time, does it improve the experience, is it understood by enough developers so that you can optimize it.

If you can't answer the above, you probably shouldn't do it.

All too often companies get caught in thinking that new technology in itself is the differentiation factor. But as most successful businesses know. Innovations have an introduction curve and not everyone should take advantage of a given technology just because it's available.


Designing successful products has more to do with understanding what doesn't work than with what works. If you can get your company in a position where you can "feel" the state of your product, you are able to make smarter decisions and in effect will have a better chance of success.

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Thomas PetersenThomas Petersen is the co-founder of hello, a digital creative agency that designs and develops products and services. He writes on Black&WhiteTM and on twitter @hello_world.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is Crowdsourcing Disrupting the Design Industry?

"This is an issue that I simply cannot wrap my head around. Spec work appears in the design field infinitely more times than any other industry. It absolutely floors me that people think that it is even remotely ethical to build their businesses by tearing down ours."

- Mark Hemmis' comment on AIGA policy statement on spec work

by Hutch Carpenter

Is Crowdsourcing Disrupting the Design Industry?The past couple years have seen an increase in the use of crowdsourcing by companies to procure design assets. It works like this:

  1. Requesting organization posts a request for submissions to a design crowdsourcing site (e.g. 99designs, crowdSPRING, MycroBurst, etc.)
  2. Interested designers review the request, and create their entry
  3. They submit their entry to the site
  4. Requesting organization selects its favorite, pays the winning designer the announced fee

These design requests are often for logos, but for a number of other types of initiatives as well. For example, 99designs' list of requests (to the right) gives some sense of the types of projects.

So far, so good, right? Well, a lot of designers think not. As Mark Hemmis' comment above shows, these open spec work contests have been raising the ire of the designer community.

Is crowdsourcing ripping their industry asunder?

Designers' Beefs with Crowdsourcing

Three aspects of crowdsourcing design raise concern for many in the design industry:

  1. Lack of compensation for designers whose entries are not selected
  2. Diminishes the design profession
  3. Not sustainable in the long term

Compensation: To be competitive, individuals will need to invest some time in designing a submission for a company. With a good number of entries, this equates to a decent number of hours invested. According to Pamela Pfiffner:

"The problem is, spec and crowdsourcing can lower your value and hourly rates so far that minimum wage looks like a fat paycheck."

Her statement takes things to a logical extreme - someone would have to do nothing but spend their time entering contests. But she does a good job framing the issue.

Diminishing the profession: The issue with crowdsourcing is that it says, "this stuff is easy!" A commenter on this post, How NOT to Design a Logo, baldly gives this concern legitimacy:

"Logo design contests are great, its the only way I go. I get my pick of 5-10 designs for less then $20. Designers these days are a dime a dozen, be happy you get the work."

The design industry has characteristics of being craftsman, as well as strategists. At least the higher end firms do. Sentiments like that are grating.

Not sustainable: The concern here is that over the long term, the economics of crowdsourcing will cause existing designers to exit the industry, and potential designers will opt for different careers. According to Jacob Cass:

"Design contest sites are not the future of graphic design... nor do I see a time when it ever will be, however, in the long term I believe spec work is going to be detrimental to the design industry... both devaluing design and designers as a whole."

The argument here is that rather than expand the pool of talent for design, crowdsourcing will ultimately reduce the industry.

So designers themselves are lining up against these types of crowdsourcing design contests. Which begs the question...

Why Are Crowdsourcing Design Contests Growing?

Jason Aiken has this to say:

"Truth is - 99designs is growing by leaps and bounds. We have record numbers of projects being launched and have needed to hire new staff to help us keep up with the growth.

The motivation of organizations seeking design work seem clear enough - tap a large network of creativity, manage expenses within budget. But what are those designers doing there?

It seems that not all designers are of the same mind about these crowdsourcing design contests. Some actually embrace them. Why?

Build your portfolio: Not all designers in the world have 10 years experience and a roster of paying clients. For those starting out in the business, the competitions provide great fuel for creating designs. If you want prospective clients to see what you're capable of, the design competitions seem to offer a chance to create that portfolio.

Benefits include:
  • You need to think not abstractly about design principles, but concretely about how a design project relates to a business
  • Competitions are great for elevating one's focus and creativity
  • You can benchmark yourself against other submissions, including those selected if yours is not

Personal interest: Some projects just pique the interest of a person. Maybe there's a day job with a paying company, and then a chance at night to do things "your way" on a project of interest. The project taps some areas you want to pursue, or maybe allows you to try something out without concern as to whether the client will ultimately want the design.

Extra business: Everyone is hustling in a weak economy. If your design business has some slack in demand, why not apply the available creative resources toward an occasional crowdsourcing project? If you're a professional shop, presumably your odds are better than most.

Access to high-end ad agencies: This was the case when Porter Crispin + Bogusky solicited logo designs for their start-up client Brammo, maker of electric motorcycles. They ran the contest through crowdSPRING. The contest sparked plenty of debate, but also saw 700 entries. One reason was that young up-n-coming designers wanted the chance to impress a firm of the caliber of PC+B, who can send many paying clients their way.

That's the designer participation set of motivations. I guess the best way to think about companies' motivation is this - Do they get results?

Since the number of requests from companies is growing, design crowdsourcing sites are working at some level. If they weren't, word would spread pretty quickly and companies would stop using them. This comment from designer Morgan Stone on Alex Bogusky's blog post about PC+B's use of crowdSPRING is illuminating:

"As a designer... crowdsourcing scares me. I think it has to do with the harsh reality that sometimes it doesn't take experience or a big title to design something truly amazing."

What's the staying power of the crowdsourced design contest approach? And will it disrupt the industry, in the Clayton Christensen sense?

Sustainability and Reach of Crowdsourcing Design Contests

Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang wrote last year, "Without a doubt, Specwork (like crowdspring or 99 designers) is here to stay - economics will drive this forward." For the buyers, yes. But the supply side of the equation - the designers - is that here to stay?

I believe it is. The numbers say it is. Here's what I mean:

Crowdsourcing Design Contests
In a 2009 article, Forbes noted that there are 80,000 free lance designers in the U.S. alone. Add in the talent from around the world, and you can see that there is a large of pool of creativity. Maybe 200,000 designers globally? 99designs claims to have roughly 54,000 designers on its site.

Designers have some motivation to participate in crowdsourcing design contests, as noted for the reasons above. It's not like every designer will submit regularly. But every project reaches some new set of designers, and occasionally gets a repeat one as well.

All it takes is for a business seeking design work is maybe 30, 40, 50 submissions? As a percent of the global number of designers, that's not much.

40 / 200,000 = 0.02%

Here's what designer David Airey said about getting clients from crowdsourcing sites:

"I've had direct clients and also have been one of those in the crowd. Surprisingly, some of my best clients are the ones that followed me from these crowd sourcing sites. That's probably because they've already been through a working process with me, and they like what they've experienced, so there's no mismatch of expectations like a new client."

I do see the sustainability of the business. It's complex, but there are enough people who do see advantages to participating. Even if only for certain periods of their lives or only on occasion. I don't see entering crowdsourcing design contests as a full-time pursuit for someone.

Next question: how much can crowdsourcing chip away at the traditional areas of the design industry? Is there a gap that crowdsourcing addresses? (Erica's post, Bokardo's post):

Many designers in the debate note the importance of establishing a rapport with clients, and understanding their clients more deeply than a set of colors and fonts. A firm such as Nocturnal Graphic Design Studio appears to deliver value through deeper relationships and more strategic approaches with its clients.

But Erica's point above is well-taken. Sometimes, you're not in the market for that level of involvement. Small and mid-sized businesses do not need the full horsepower of high-end design firms. As one designer (snootily) commented on the PC+B blog post about using crowdSPRING:

"99 designs and their nefarious brethren have a client roster whose market recognition for the most part is similar to that of Joe's Morgue & Jerky Outlet."

Of course, this may not be contained to SMBs.

The Disruptive Potential

Have you checked out what Mountain Dew is doing with crowdsourcing (aka "DEWmocracy")? As Wired notes in a January article:

"Mountain Dew is asking consumers to choose three new sodas, from selecting the flavors to naming them, designing the cans and choosing the ad agency to promoting the product."

Not all of this is crowdsourcing design, but it is an edgy experiment in leaving the professional firms behind.

Right now, as Steve Douglas of the Logo Factory notes, the biggest chunk of business is for logos. Which you can see at the start of this post in the 99designs project list.

The U.S. Census Bureau had the graphic design industry generating $2.8 billion in revenue in 2002. It is a large, diverse, complex industry. My expectation is that design contest crowdsourcing will encroach more into large enterprises for tactical projects, as the smaller businesses continue to use them and get good results. Large companies' efforts, such Mountain Dew's DEWmocracy, Unilever's crowdsourcing contest for a TV campaign for its Peperami snack food, and Doritos' crowdsourced Super Bowl ads, add fuel to this.

Two things are needed for the crowdsourcing model to encroach further into the design industry:
  • Leaderboards/reputation
  • Smartsourcing

Leaderboards let prospective buyers know who the best are. We see them on Topcoder for programming contests. It's a way to establish visibility and credibility far beyond the recommendations you maintain on your own site. It will take some changes by the crowdsourcing sites, enabling recognition for designers who do well in contests, even if they are not picked. It also would need to have different bases for identifying top designers.

The other wrinkle is to allow a form of smartsourcing. Once the top designers are identified, they are invited for larger companies' design projects. This is pretty similar to the current state of things, except the basis for access changes somewhat. It's not just business relationships a designer/firm has established with the big ad/marketing/brand agencies. It's based on performance.

With these two elements, I can see how crowdsourcing becomes more important, more disruptive, in the world of business design.

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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Out with the New, In with the Old

by Paul Williams

Out with the New, In with the Old

Amsterdam Streetlight CloseupToday in Amsterdam, in a park near my home, I saw city workers replacing the new, contemporary lights [pictured, left] with this old-school style [right].

While this small image is a big grainy, you can see that these 'new' lights are styled after old gas lamps. They have more charm than the contemporary lamps. Atop the fixture is a crown. Decorative crowns adorn fixtures and architecture throughout Amsterdam to celebrate Dutch royalty.

It is pretty neat that the city is embracing this old style look. Just goes to show ya, newer isn't always better.

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Paul WilliamsPaul Williams is a professional problem solver at Idea Sandbox. He can help you create remarkable ideas to grow your business. You may read more at his website and find him Twittering as @IdeaSandbox.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Innovation gone too far? - The Toyota Recall

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Innovation gone too far? - The Toyota RecallOnce upon a time, to start your Toyota Camry, you placed a key in the ignition and turned until the electrical connection was made and engine started.

To accelerate, you pressed the gas pedal, which pulled a cable attached to a mechanical throttle. Assuming the shift had been manually placed into gear - the car moved.

Today, electronics and computers have replacement many of the mechanical parts that once made cars move. To start many cars or place them in gear, buttons are pushed. To accelerate, the gas pedal is connected not to a cable, but to a computer - via electronic circuitry.

In light of Toyota's massive recall of 10 million of Camry, Tercel, Prius hybrid and luxury Lexus models (and that's a shortened list), one has to wonder: At what point does innovation encourage failure?

In other words, has Toyota gone too far? In the interest of fairness, these issues potentially affect any modern automobile. Already, GM is facing recalls related to steering.

The costs - in terms of finances and consumer confidence - can be great. As Toyota mechanics are correcting millions of cars and consumer confidence lags, rival automakers have reported double-digit sales growth.

But the question of innovation for innovation's sake - or for the sake of "technological evolution" - begs to be asked. Sure, innovation of the vehicle and the way it's manufactured cuts costs, including labor and benefits. We continually innovate to cost reduce. But now, cars don't just turn on with the turn of a key. And when they don't roar to life as expected, the corner mechanic must be trained not only in auto repair, but in computers technology (assuming he or she owns the equipment).

This reminds me of a story. It was the 1970s. Two adventurers once were traveling by pick-up truck in northern Mexico when their vehicle broke down. The local mechanic took a look under the hood, grabbed a coffee can of old parts, and fashioned a fix.

How does this all relate to the innovation imperatives? In "Robert's Rules of Innovation", it mentions two key imperatives that seem to have gone awry here. First, Toyota sought the imperative of value creation in pursuit of innovation. Yet, any value created through their innovation-gone-awry is more than lost through the recall and labor costs and lost sales and good will.

Second, who has been held accountable? After first declining to do so, Toyota President Akio Toyoda made a very public appearance on Capitol Hill. He apologized and promised to "do everything in my power" to ensure the malfunctions and tragedies don't happen again. Do Americans buy it? Can Toyota afford to wait and wonder?

To that end, the complexity of the conundrum facing Toyota at one point was belied by the simplicity of their first apparent fix. After spending days in conference over how to remedy the stuck throttle, high-paid engineers came up with a simple solution: Shorten the gas pedal.

To be sure, in the end, the issues facing the automaker were far more complex than nipping an inch off a too-long pedal. But could the issues have been remedied in the designer's or accountant's office years ago - when the company believed innovation would save money?

We - and Toyota - may never know. But we've learned that innovation poorly planned can have the greatest expectations, but the worst outcomes.

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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Dangers of Design Research

The Dangers of Design Research
by Idris Mootee

What is design research? It is generally referred to as the upfront contextual inquiry work that designers perform before they start ideation. Sometimes it involves some light ethnographic work and some interviews, but it is often not structured, comprehensive, or rigorous. Design research emerged only in the late 1960s with the goal of improving how we see consumers use the product and look for ways to improve the effectiveness of a product. It is pretty much a human factor investigation and is now widely practiced, but is now facing a few serious challenges.

Design research is more than just a design tool, and the truth is that 80% of the time, they are not designed and conducted properly.

The emergence of transdisciplinary design is changing what skills are needed by those who undertake research design. These required skills go beyond improving a physical product and now include knowing how to build the voice of customer into the design research process, either directly or indirectly. The ability to collect data is not the critical activity, but instead it is the ability to decode visual and non-visual data and translate emergent issues into concrete, actionable insights.

The effectiveness of design research is determined by the research team's ability to translate identified functional and emotional characteristics into unique innovation drivers. Ineffective design research activities are often characterized by the presence of assumptive decision-making, lack of immersion into the consumer's world and undifferentiated innovation drivers. Design research is lesser known than traditional market research among marketers, and they often misuse it as a market research tool instead of applying it as a product development or innovation tool.

Many organizations are only beginning to use an receive the full benefits of design research. Many see it as an unnecessary cost because the people who performed it in the past did not do it justice. Improperly done, many of the presented outputs are useless and unactionable. There are many reasons for this. First, most designers are trained to observe the insights for the purpose of applying them directly to their work, but are poorly trained to codify these insights, while also lacking the writing and analytical skills to make sense of what they see. Second, observation research and individual contact is very consuming, particularly when you need to see them performing non-daily routines. Feeding useful data input into the creative process is a critical skill, one that is an "intuitive learning process." During this process ideas 'evolve' or 'mature' and lead to the improvement of the previous idea.

Design research at Idea Couture is not just an observation exercise; it is often a participatory exercise. I can't talk more to our proprietary methodologies, but they are a lot more than just sending in two designers to learn about how a consumer uses a product. It is not productive to do that. Cross-disciplinary teams perform design research at Idea Couture and consider issues from multiple perspectives - from anthropological to human factors and brand influences. Design research for us is the starting point of reflective collaboration, getting D-School and B-School collaborating to solve wicked problems. It is fun. Designers often like the idea of involving users early and generally hate focus groups. Unfocus groups on the other hand are hard to manage and often discussions get side-tracked. Involving users is always a good idea, particularly when you need to gain a deeper understanding of cultural issues - such as lifestyles and wider issues beyond functional details. This is why you need anthropologists.

It is interesting to see that the contextual inquiry hype has been migrating toward the participatory/designer-led corner of the design research space the last few years as design-led methods such as visioning and storyboarding have been added to contextual inquiries. Finally, a lot of designers have difficulties moderating an unfocus group evaluation for a product idea that they designed, as the personal aspects involved often cause some uncomfortable situations. You can see why design research projects are so difficult to design and conduct properly.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Radical Innovation is a Proposal, Not a Product

by Thomson Dawson

Radical Innovation is a Proposal, Not a ProductWe've noticed a common thread among many companies these days. When thinking about innovation - most seem to be heavily focused on providing incremental features and benefits as a cornerstone for their competitive advantage. What seems to elude many executive leaders is a lack of understanding that people do not buy products, they buy into meanings.

Maybe the reason for this is simply the physics of most organizations inhibits radical innovation and the competitive advantage that results. What matters the most to people is not the function of a product, but their emotional, psychological and cultural connection to what a product means to them. The key to sustained competitive advantage for companies is to innovate around meanings rather than function and performance. Radical Innovation does not happen when you bring people an incremental improvement of what they already know. Rather, radical innovation (and market leadership for that matter) is the result of 'proposing' an unexpected meaning. This meaning, unsolicited by user needs, once discovered, turns out to be the very thing people were waiting for!

There are countless examples of companies who have mastered this. Of course, Apple is an easy one. And there are other compelling examples. Back in the early 80's, Seiko and Casio were driving technological innovation in quartz watches, believing people wanted technical precision. However, a Swiss watchmaker realized people cared more about self-expression than technical precision. Swatch was born and proved to be a radical innovation of meaning that created radical market success. While Seiko and Casio were closely observing user needs and existing meanings, Swatch created new ones.

Forget User-centered Innovation

With so many such examples in every industry to benchmark from, I am surprised most companies don't seem to "get it". Most are heavily invested in traditional market innovation - finding a consumer need and filling it. From our own experience working in early stage product and brand innovation, seemingly the conversation starts by the client explaining how their new product innovation has more buttons and is easier to use than the leading brand. A radical innovation of meaning rarely, if ever, comes from user-centered approaches.

In my view, this explains why so many high user involvement product categories are being commoditized. Most companies continue to improve incremental performance within existing market concepts leaving only a few visionary companies to gain competitive advantage (market leadership) by proposing new and different meanings. Did I mention Apple yet?

Good and Different

In his whiteboard book "Zag", noted consultant and author Marty Neumeier outlines the fundamentals of good and different. The premise is simple - you can't lead by following the leader. To remove uncertainty and hedge risk in innovation, many companies rely on focus group testing. While useful for certain kinds of learning, people in focus groups have a frame of reference that is based on what is currently known to them. Most people usually want more of what they currently know - only with more features and cheaper. This is not an effective venue for discovering new meanings or competitive advantage.

Today the marketplace is over-crowded with good. Good is expected. Good = the same! Different on the other hand, is more elusive. When a company proposes a radical innovation of meaning, it's no surprise it will be first judged as crazy or impractical idea. Radical innovations of meaning don't test well. A product that is radically different is always radically different than the current dominant meaning in the category. Think back to the Swatch example; personal expression trumps precision instrument. Indeed Swatch is still good and different.

What is your innovation strategy?

In his book, "Design-Driven Innovation", author Roberto Verganti outlines a framework for mapping strategy for innovation as a radical change in meanings. Check out his thinking in the diagram below:

Design-Driven Innovation
Verganti describes the process of product innovation and competitive advantage as historically being the result of product performance enhanced by disruptive technology advances and intense analysis of users' needs. Radical innovation, on the other hand, is more about baking the more elusive unexpected meaning into the product. People discover something unexpected that, when delivered, is somehow what people have been waiting for, just not asking for. Radical innovation is a proposal to people. Radical innovation is not about function and form, but about function and meaning - never driven by users.

As your company maps its innovation strategy, this distinction of radical innovation of meanings rather than features may be noteworthy in your product development. If you're not thinking about radical innovation right now, you can be sure your competitor is. Lead, follow, or get out of the way has never rang so true.

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Thomson DawsonThomson Dawson is the Managing Partner of PULL Brand Innovation. PULL helps leaders and teams gain more insight, clarity and confidence to pursue their most promising opportunities to create new value.

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