Design Thinking: Easy as Pie

June 14th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink


Hey Internet!

Miles and me, of Kaleidoscope,  have given a talk tonight at the Brooklyn Brainery…the slides are here, as are some process slides from the day-one 10 minute design scrum. I’m looking forward to next week when we get to spend more time doing design together!

What did we learn? Well…time goes fast when you’re talking about your passion. But I also learned that 10 minutes is a plenty of time to dig into a design problem and excavate some insights.

The pie of the title is, of course, a reference to Miles’ muffin-pan apple pies.I learned how to make those pies at the brainery, from Natalie of Bike Basket Pies.

Those pies, along with a video from Mr. Eames taught us that examining and understanding context is a key place to start with design.

The slides below should help you review and do some reading for next week.

Or don’t! Come as you are!

We cranked for 10 minutes on Airline Stories. Thanks to our brave participant for volunteering her story of free booze on a flight!

What was amazing was that as we outlined her story, I felt stumped. It was a cool story, to be sure. Good times. Two free drinks and we are happy and in love with the airline.

But one participant coined the term “Unexpected Pleasantries” which gave us a seed for the ideation session…lots of great ideas flowed. The process and the results are below.

Reading list:

Things I mentioned:

99 Ways to Tell a Story, Back of the Napkin, Knowledge Games, Reading Ahead by Steve Portigal, IDEO design thinking for educators.

That’s it for now. Time to sleep!

9+1 steps to Doing Design

April 14th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Some background. I presented a live version of this post to a beginning thesis class at Pratt. I was tired of showing my own work and wanted to inspire them to get out of the classroom, go into the world, and Do Design. The video above and my 10 slides below are my attempt to do that.

What’s important and awesome about this video is that Eames is awesome. And Funny. Many of his answers are simply “No” or “I wouldn’t” (insert laughing!)

Listen in, about three minutes, when he is asked about constraints.

Q: “Does the creation of Design admit constraint?”

A: “Design depends largely on constraints.”

Q: “What constraints?”

A: “The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the Design problem: the ability of the Designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible; his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time, and so forth. Each problem has its own peculiar list.”

Q: “Does Design obey laws?”

A: “Aren’t constraints enough?”

Constraints are what I would call Step Zero of Doing Design. Eames said that the mark of a designer is their willingness to accept constraints, and to design with them. I don’t think this means we can’t change the world. We should, however, know what the world is all about before we decide what we are going to change.

The presentation below has 10 steps…or 9+1, as I like to say.


Step 1: Make something bad.

This is to say: start somewhere. After we’ve understood (or begun to understand) the constraints of the problem, we should start in the middle. Or as my thesis advisor would say:

Mock it up before you Fock it Up.

Truer words were never said.

Step 2: Mix up your Fidelity.

High Fidelity design experiments give higher fidelity results. Low fidelity prototypes give low fidelity results….but you can make more of them. Which way is better? Both!

Or…make a low-visual fidelity high-motion fidelity prototype. Mix it up.

Step 3: Make lots of things.

This is only to say that we should free ourselves to have lots of ideas, good and bad. Pretty straightforward.
How many flowers do you need in a field? Lots. More than you would think. There is no right amount. 17 pieces of flair? Is that the minimum required?

Step 4: Find real people to use those things.

Go outside, test your stuff out. You might learn something.

Step 5: Tell everyone about your passion

For students, this is easier…rope everyone in as your deputy. People will start funneling you ideas (good and bad), contacts and shared enthusiasm. If you share your passion for your project, it can only grow. Finding ways of relating your passion will refine it, make it clearer and sharper. This is storytelling. It’s important!

Step 6: Partner with enthusiasts

When you go into the world, you may be so lucky as to find like-minded souls. Hold onto them. Show them your work and get their opinions. Then take their advice and re-do your work. Then show them again. Since they’re enthusiasts, they won’t get bored of this. That’s good.

Step 7: Design for yourself

Wait…what? Yes…for yourself. After doing all of this, you will hear many conflicting opinions. They are non-reducible to clarity. You will have to be that instrument to weed out what’s important from what is less important. You will have to make choices. Design for yourself, with your values…through the user’s eyes. I call this Empathy.

Step 8: Stop digging

You might be getting tired now. Or is the work getting stale? Is the curve of awesomeness flattening out? When to stop? That’s up to you.

Step 9: Arrange your results, interestingly

Rule one of Information architecture is that organizing information creates new information. Arranging your results in an interesting way will tell you something out them. Organize them by ranked user preference. by size. By preference and cost. Use 1, 2 and three axis sorting methods. Try a few.

Step 10: Lather, rinse, repeat.

You might have learned something from steps 1-9. If you think you’re done, then you actually didn’t learn anything from step 9. If you’re over budget and over time…stop and ship. But if you can…start again at step 1 with what you learned at step 9.

So yeah…that’s all of that. Enjoy and share your thoughts!

The User as Hero

May 18th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

A few weeks back a new friend recommended that I check out Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. It is an amazing manual for screenwriters on how to use Joseph Campbell’s work on Mythology to create stories that resonate deeply with audiences. I’ve always loved watching the Power of Myth series where Bill Moyers talks with Campbell about life, love, growth and change. It’s great stuff. I found an audio rip online that I listen to in the train…a lot. But this is a new angle for me.

I finally started reading the book this weekend (thanks for the prod, Lee!) and something clicked today. A colleague went to the IIT Design Research conference this past week and came back telling us all that, apparently, “User Needs are Dead” and that no one wants to see “another picture of a Midwestern Housewife in her kitchen” ever again.

So I get that.

Here’s why: A great Hero is not one dimensional. Great Heroes are complex, rich and often flawed. They have conflict. They are unique.

Personas can get so flat, so boring…when you see that one page sheet, the distillation of some segmentation, it is hard to feel anything at all about them.

I’m about to go into the field to understand what’s wrong with Dishwasher racks.

It’s my job to bring back Dishwashing Heroes that we can actually care about!Heroes whose problems matter! And then make sure that our solutions meet those challenges. Gretchen Andersen’s talk at IxDA 08 (sadly the video is gone!) talks about having an “oh crap moment” that makes us wake up and realize that there’s conflict, a real problem. For Vogler and Campbell it is the Call to Adventure. So I think having a rich, relatable Hero with a true call to adventure is worth having. Telling that story will actually be interesting, and can’t be reduced to one powerpoint slide.

The plural of anecdote is data

April 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

That’s a quote from my friend Carl…What it means to me is that users give me their stories and I turn those stories into information and meaning…one story is an anecdote…a collection of stories is a design research report.

Check out this month’s Innovation Magazine featuring a slew of great articles from the IDSA Research Section.

What’s fun and cool in the issue?

ModeMapping is always a good time. (pdf here). Showing the story of a user’s experience visually always helps me (and a team) understand what the big picture is, and chunking the patterns into Modes can help the design process a lot. In essence, it’s really just a visual storyline…x-axis is time and the y-axis can be anything, really: enjoyment, tasks, roles. The key is the transition points. When users shift modes, there’s a real opportunity for design attention.

Participatory Design is worth revisiting, too. (pdf here). It revolves around giving the user a toolkit to design with alongside the investigative team, under guidance. Velcro, paper cutouts and stickers make it fun and easy. I think of these activities as design toys.

The three steps of PRIME – DREAM – CREATE are the guideposts for the process.

Priming is about getting users to think about their experiences, to talk and get into a flow. This gets the participants in the state to think or re-think their experiences. That’s the dream step. Once they are immersed in their dreams users can drift away from constraints and begin to think of their ideal experience. They may not know how to realize their vision – that’s finally up to the design team, to wrangle with trade-offs…but at this stage I want the user to focus only on the ideal situation. That ideal helps me define the top-level user experience that i want to capture in the product. That ideal is the one I fight for.

Oh…and don’t forget Testing! There’s an article from my old Design Research Professor on testing. (pdf here). On the subject of testing, I can only recall the words on another immortal Pratt professor who said “Mock it up before you fock it up.” (Thanks, Bruce!) What he’s trying to say is fail early and often, and get something in front of a set of users to get feedback. Iterations are ideal.


Mapping to Know

April 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Spending a slow day at the office bursting my mind with knowledge…it’s fun.

It all started with a great LinkedIn Discussion on Research methods. This post is a “cream of the crop” memory device for me. The diagram above is from Liz Sanders of MakeTools out of Ohio. What I love about this is that it shows that user research is not just evaluative, but can be seen as truly generative of real ideas. In a recent conversation with a lead creative at another firm, he pushed back on design research, citing the old Henry Ford chestnut about faster horses. Humbug, I say!

I found the diagram below on Service Design Tools. They have a ton of awesome links and ideas.


I like that this diagram is introduced first as a chart, then as a UX experience storyline. It’s like a chart-story. Wonky. Me like.


I enjoyed this diagram from this online design research guide. This would explain why my IxD peeps like to get down to business and verify later. I do a lot of “blue sky” projects, looking 5 years out. It’s fun, and you don’t have to user test your results. A group user session to gauge general acceptability is plenty.



And card sorting. Always fun and useful! The ever-popular IDEO deck is fun…but I found this cool Social Innovation Lab SILK Method Deck. Looking forward to unpacking it.

And then there’s always the IDSA research section with some goodies about mode mapping and pattern mining….


More later?

The Territory is not the Map: Personas and Storytelling

February 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Thanks to @whitneyhess I went off to learn about Ad-Hoc personas in an ad-hoc way – by listening to 3 (free) minutes of a webinar coming up from Tamara Adlin.

What impressed me most about her pitch was that we ALL have personas or mental models of our users already. And, as Socrates exhorts us, the unexamined persona is not worth having.

Personas can help us guide our products, choose pathways in development, and as Liz Bacon helped me see at #ixd10, we can use these personas to build out detailed scenarios of usage. Personas and scenarios can guide us from strategy through to development, depending on how detailed we want to go. From establishing a shared language and model to building requirements and affordances.

I just presented some of these ideas to my team (who weren’t as lucky to go to Interaction10!) and what I heard was some frustration…Do we have to get bogged down in terminology, language and process? Can we just design?  

When I do a Google search of “California” I get lots of images. Emotional impressions, Vistas, Maps and Shapes.

When we design or tell the story of the design, the real challenge is always jumping from this overarching, thematic view (the “big picture") down to the emotional qualities of the product or service. Maybe.

Some Designers just want to design. I like to think about the themes and the big picture to make sure we all know where we are on the map and where we’re going. Both are important.

What I got out of today is that my team is not homogenous. Some of us have more tolerance for context and themes. Some of us are wary and want to limit the “time wasted” on this aspect and get to real solutions first. And we all have varying mental models of what sorts of people we are designing for. Finding this balance INTERNALLY is going to be a challenge, let alone with the client!

I don’t know how to do this…but with my team, we manage to hammer it out eventually.

Flat-Packed digital Interaction

December 21st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

So much digital interaction…thanks to @kicker for the Android Tablet heads up… Watch the video of Jimmy Fallon being annoyed with the nook’s “sliver” of a touchscreen and play with an Android Tablet.

Here’s the thing…is long battery life so important to the user that they will put up with e-ink’s lackluster interaction capabilities? Nook tries to mitigate the issue and points the way to an interesting hybrid. This device, the eDGe takes it all the way.

The videos below (the first, from Bonnier, is very nicely done) show a rich and fluid interaction that is impossible to attain on e-ink. There are tricks and “stunts” that can be used to make e-ink look more fluid, but full, glossy color is out of reach for e-ink, as well as fast refresh times that users expect. I can’t seem to get Vimeo to embed…so just click the link!

I am curious to see what ecological niche e-ink screens occupy in the evolving digital lifestyle on the horizon. Smartbooks might be expensive for a time, e-readers might come down in price. Netbooks…oh, who knows? Anyway…enjoy.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.


Being Ecumenical: Dell Hymes

November 24th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I read Dell Hymes’ Obit today.

What strikes me about his approach to Linguistics was that it was all about context. Language took place in a cultural context, not in a mathematical wonderland, as Chomsky would have you believe.

Not to harsh on Noam, or anything.

But the word ecumenical came up in the obit…meaning general in extent or application.

Merriam-Webster tells us it comes from the Greek oikoumenē ,meaning the inhabited world.

The first step to solving a problem is to look at where it happens. To go where the problem is. Have Empathy, as @whitneyhess said here. And using an ecumenical approach, use whatever tools you need.

Steve Portigal on Improv and Creativity

November 21st, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Yesterday I hit an IXDA free event at RGA. Steve Portigal gave an awesome talk on Improv and its implications/applications to UX design and research.

He generously put up his slides here…which, had I known he was going to do, Maalik and I might not have taken such furious notes!

One idea from his talk that blew me away was this diagram. Everyone defines the norm in relation to themselves. I don’t know if everyone considers themselves in the center of their bell-curve reality…but everyone thinks of their behavior in relation to others. “I am more _____ than my friends” is a great thing to walk away with. When people describe their behavior, make sure you get the context they see themselves in.

His performance was really the big take-home for me. Steve created an environment where people shared, we unafraid to fail and were open. A lot of questions centered around this. How can we create a culture (or cultural moment) for ourselves or our clients where people can share ideas unhindered by fear or the “editor” that stops good (and bad) ideas? A great message was: Come up with bad ideas. Try that out. “what if we made poisonous cereal?”

I think once you relax into the possibility of failure, success is easier. There’s less fear. Getting up to do the “one word story” exercise I was, at first, nervous. I wanted to do well. And then I said to myself “screw it up. fail spectacularly.” And then I could relax and participate in the game, fully.

I’m looking forward to doing more of that.

Consumer Insights: Participatory Design

October 13th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink


Last night I went to see JooYoung Oh give a presentation on her participatory design methods at The Change You Want to See, a very cool activist and co-working space in Williamsburg. I was tired after a long day, but the exercise of  putting lots of stickers on a page to describe my ideal product experiences with words and pictures was lots of fun, and was a great jumping off point for solid and insightful conversations about people’s product lives. Getting that visual insight, tagging images and tracking what they mean to people is a very cool method.

Also, we went out for drinks afterwards and wandered into a quiz night. I am proud that our team was in the top half, despite missing half of the rounds! We could have been contenders. I’m sure of that.

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