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When customer service goes bad…

I am currently in the middle of a lengthy and very poor customer service experience. You see, my 9 month old rather expensive condenser dryer suddenly stopped working on 22 March… right in the middle of a record breaking rainy period.

My customer service journey began smoothly enough with a call to the customer service centre who immediately arranged for a service technician to come and inspect my defective appliance. Great – I think to myself. This will be resolved in no time at all. Two days later, the service technician is punctual and courteous on arrival. He is at my house for less than 2 minutes before announcing that the dryer needs to be shipped off to the repair centre and he will arrange for a courier to contact me for collection. Two days later again and my machine is carted off to be repaired. And so begin my woes.

At first, I am contacted every few days to advise me of progress:

Customer service:  “We don’t have the part in stock, but we have ordered it and it should be here in a couple of days. We will call and let you know when the part arrives.”

Ok, that’s not too bad, I think to myself. A week later I hear from them again.

Customer service: “Your spare part has arrived at the workshop and we are ready to start repairs”.

Me: “That’s great! When can I expect my appliance back home?”

Customer Service: “Oh I can’t answer that. Your appliance has been placed in the repair queue and once repaired will undergo testing to confirm everything works as it should before we return it to you”.

Me: “Will I have it back before Easter – that’s one a half weeks from today?”

Customer service: “Oh I really couldn’t say. Someone will give you a call when it is ready for delivery”.

And that’s the last I heard. Easter comes and goes. The school holidays come and go. It’s now over a month later and I am still waiting and chasing to try and discover the fate of my faulty dryer…

Customer service is all about meeting the needs and exceeding the expectations of your customer. Providing delights, as Kano1 suggests, to change the perception of the service and or brand is one way of doing this. In order to do this, you first need to understand your customer’s needs. It also requires you to anticipate what your customer might reasonably expect in common scenarios such as the repair of faulty products under warranty. This requires empathy and the ability to listen openly and honestly to customer feedback. A good place to start is to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself – how would I feel and what outcome would I want? In my case, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to want to know when I could expect to have my appliance returned, especially when I have just been advised that they have the required spare part in their hot little hands.

Think about the times when you have been in a hurry and you have had to stand in a queue at a government department or bank – You ask yourself ‘how long is this going to take?’ The issue is that you have lost control and now don’t have all of the information for you to make an informed decision – ‘should I stay or should I go and come back later?’ If an estimated waiting time was indicated then you are in a better position to make that informed decision. Of course, there are other ways in this instance to improve customer response – add more staff so the wait time is less, modify the processing system to enable things to be completed online thereby negating queues, create a Fastlane and so on. However these systems all bring with them potential for error and issues that may be disagreeable for the consumer.

This is where the concept of the service blueprint should be developed for that particular service and system. Fundamentally, the service blueprint reviews the interactions between the consumer and the frontline service personnel, it then reviews the interactions at the backend of the organisation that make the frontend work. It allows the service to be dissected and integrated in order to minimise negative touchpoints and maximise business efficiency and effectiveness and of course customer satisfaction.

When customer service degenerates to ticking boxes and following procedures, based on business processes, rather than listening to and empathising with customers to try and genuinely meet their needs, then you are no longer providing good customer service. While on paper your employees are meeting all their customer service targets by following up with customers and keeping them informed, by all appearances providing ‘good customer service’, in actual fact you may be doing more harm than good.

When you fail to meet a customer’s expectations the impression you leave behind is most often one of dissatisfaction, frustration and an overwhelming sense of your incompetence. Worse still, not only have you lost that particular customer for life, but you have in all likelihood lost many more potential customers. What you don’t know is how many other people your dissatisfied customers are telling about their experience – family, friends, work colleagues, their hair dresser – anyone who will listen. Believe me, I know firsthand and there are at least a dozen people in addition to me who will never go near this dryer brand in the future.

In todays ultra-competitive, brand saturated world, great customer service can make or break a company’s reputation. With the commoditisation of products business need to look for different ways to gain advantage and differentiate themselves from the competition. In this ‘experience economy’ the provision of exceptional customer service is a critical way to differentiate your brand, build strong and lasting customer relationships and a loyal customer following. Can you afford not to deliver great customer service?

1 Kano, Professor Noriaki – Theory of product development and customer satisfaction 

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3 Tools to boost your creativity

In our last blog we discussed the need for creative thinking as a pathway to innovation. In this post we look at some of the tools and techniques can we can apply to develop connections and new ways of thinking. But first we must recognise that the ability to think creatively may vary from person to person and to become proficient training is a must. And so before we look at the tools I will run through several ‘warm up’ and ‘stretching’ exercises to help develop our creative minds just like we do our body.

We need to practise and practise every day, we need to create connections and look at the world in a different way – we need to look at and question the things around us, not in a literal way but ask yourself ‘what if that was used for…’. To do this I have outlined three exercises that you can do to practise and develop your ability to think creatively. The exercises below are just three of many so I encourage you to go out and find some more. The exercises are broken down into three categories, verbal, visual and conceptual.

1. Alternate uses (Conceptual)

In this exercise we look for alternate ways to use everyday objects, for example what else could a bicycle tyre be used for? (tie something together, flexible hoola hoop, a diving target in a swimming pool). The aim of this exercise is to limber up your thinking by asking you to think beyond the intended and obvious use of an item and develop new use contexts. It trains your mind to make new connections between objects and systems.

Firstly go out a make a list of five everyday objects. They could be things you have at work or home, at the park or the shops, really anything but make sure they are single discrete objects like a stapler, pen, rubbish bin, saucepan, park bench. The other thing, when you choose your objects, make sure that you select dissimilar objects, don’t pick say a saucepan and a frying pan, they are too similar in function and won’t challenge you.

Next take your list and start at the first item and think about what else this could be used for, e.g. a saucepan could be used for a flower pot, fish tank, storage container, a space helmet for a child’s game and so on. Write or sketch (or both) your response next to the original item. Continue to do this for each item on your list. You should allocate a time of say one minute per listed item. Be creative and silly as much as you want as you move through the list. As you get better you will find that you will begin to create new ideas and products from your response and that the time you require to conceptualise new uses will reduce. When this happens challenge yourself with more obscure objects.

2. Visual connections (Visual)

Firstly create a grid of 3 squares wide by 4 squares tall. In the first square place a question mark – you won’t use this square. In the second and third square along the top sketch or place any random image of something, say a car and a plate. In the second, third and fourth squares of the first column also place images of distinct objects, say a plane, cloud and a piece of cheese.

You should now have 6 blank squares. So for the first blank square look at the car and the plane and create a sketch that connects the two images. You might draw a flying car or a plane that becomes a car or a road that can become an airport or landing strip. Don’t worry about the quality of your sketches – just get your ideas down on paper. Repeat this exercise for each blank square. If you have more than one idea for each picture combination then sketch your additional ideas on a separate piece of paper so you don’t lose your ideas. Take about five minutes to complete this exercise.

 

3. Making headlines (Verbal)

This exercise is based on storytelling. This is something that we all do as part of our daily life, whether it’s with our friends or trying to communicate and sell an idea at work or to a client. We tell stories not to embellish the idea but to provide context to create a better connection and bond between the message we want to convey and the person we want to share it with.

Randomly select four to five images of different things, it could be a person, an object or a landscape scene. Place them in front of you and take a few moments to study them and understand the content. Try to imagine a news story that encapsulates the content of the images – something that connects each of the images. Think of a headline. Now write down that headline and a story that connects each of the images. Take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete this exercise.

Remember these exercises are just warmup exercises designed to get your mind used to thinking more creatively. Take the time each day to practice these exercises. The aim of the exercises is not to create the best and most original ideas but instead to train your mind to see and make more connections as this is the key to becoming more creative.

Start a creative thinking workbook, record your work in the book and make sure you date your work. As you progress through the different exercises, over time you will see an improvement in the way that you think and the depth and complexity of the exercise you undertake. You should see that you are becoming more creative in the way that you think and the way that you apply this to your everyday life.

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A new approach to innovation – Creative thinking

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls others build windmills”

This old Chinese provide is one of the most beautiful things I have read. So simple and elegant, so meaningful and for me inspirational.

I found this proverb in a book that I recently bought and read called “The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker” by Neilsen and Thurber (2016). The book’s premise is that anyone can become a creative thinker through practice and changing ones mindset. In essence the proverb describes our natural instinct when things change, i.e. we tend to hunker down and build protective walls around us. We become reactionary and the rational mind can sometimes cease to exist. Typically this is what I find a lot of businesses do when things get tough. They cut costs, reduce staff and so on, they react to the immediate needs / threats and forget about long term thought.

Being creative is the thing that helps us build the windmill. Being a creative thinker helps us change our mindset and allows us to venture into uncharted waters. It changes our view and perception of a situation and it gives us confidence to act in unfamiliar situations. Working in unfamiliar situations means that there are no clear boundaries and this is an exciting opportunity to explore new directions. It allows us to develop entirely new paradigms and solutions and it “fuels innovation” as there is no innovation without creativity. It helps us through hard times.

So why am I talking about creativity? I’m not really talking about artistic endeavour, however this may be the media used to express your creative point. What I’m really talking about is the ability, using creative techniques, to make connections between disparate things and jumble them into new forms, challenge what’s happened before and most of all explore the unknown without fear. As an example we are probably aware of the notion of biomimicry. This is where we turn to nature to look for insights and solutions to our everyday ‘mechanistic’ society. The idea of Velcro was developed after George de Mestral found his dog covered with burrs after hiking in the countryside. Seeing the burrs, George’s interest was piqued and after removing and inspecting them he noticed many hundreds of small hooks which allowed the burr to hang onto the fur of his dog. From this point George saw a connection between the burrs hooks and the possibility of creating a fastening system – hence Velcro was born.

The idea of connection making and creativity go hand in hand. The notion of seamlessly making radical connections between disparate fields or things enables us to dramatically expand our thought processes and hence our creativity. It doesn’t matter if the connections that we make seem silly or non-workable the point is that the process provides us with options, a direction to move and it allows our brain / mindset to loosen up and become more open and accepting of ideas.

In today’s business world, creative thinking is a core skill that cuts into everyday life and one that we should all have on board. It has become a necessity in almost every job. The level of creative intelligence and the ability to think flexibly and adapt to new situations will deliver solutions and new approaches that can be applied in changing circumstances.

For me creative thinking underpins everything we do – the tools we use and the situations we re-imagine. For me, any problem starts with some creative thinking. 

In our next blog we will share some of the creative tools that we use at Scintilla both internally and with our clients. These tools will form a foundation for you to take away and use within your own organisation to build and create new modes of thinking.

We hope you enjoyed this blog, if so please like us and follow us on linked in to receive our regular blog and quarterly information bulletins.

Image credit: D. Nielsen and S. Thurber (2016) "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker : How to Make Connections Others Don't"

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10 questions to check your [design] health

So, is your organisation design-driven? Are you getting the most value from design? Or could you be doing more to fully harness the opportunities that considered and well crafted product design, strategic design thinking principles and practices can deliver? Take our 10 question health check below to find out or print your copy using the link below.

Over the last few blogs we’ve been talking a lot about design and the value it can bring to organisations when implemented at all levels within the business – strategic, process and product / service level. When fully integrated within an organisation, design also brings significant financial rewards. According to the Design Value Index (DVI) study, companies that implement and embed design management practices across their organisation show 10 year returns yielding 2.11 times (211%) that of the S&P 500 companies1

Companies that are considered truly design driven by the study include recognised design companies such as Apple, Herman Miller, Nike and Whirlpool. The list also includes companies not traditionally associated with design such as Proctor and Gamble, SAP, Starbucks and Target. In order for companies to be included in the Index they must meet six criteria:

To download and print a copy of the Organisational Design Health Check to start a conversation in your organisation, click below.

Design Health Check print

 

To learn more about the benefits of working with qualified design professionals, such as Scintilla Design, read our post on “8 reasons to use a qualified designer”.

1  Rae, J 2015 dmi: Design Value Index Results and Commentary, http://www.dmi.org/?page=2015DVIandOTW

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Design is everywhere, man!

In today’s fast paced media savvy world the word design is thrown around from many different directions. We hear about industrial design, interior design, product design, web design, UX design, service design, graphic design, fashion design and so on. There are many interpretations out there, so what is design really?

The word design is often misappropriated and used by individuals to mean planning or styling, and whilst these activities are a subset of the act of design they do not constitute design as a whole.  We define design as a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are reimagined and created to attain goals. In essence what this means is that design is about solving complex problems, those that require specialist skills, often involve more than one discipline and affect more than a single person. The outcome of design is the creation of something new, an artefact, which may be a physical product, a service, an experience, a process or even a new methodology. And finally, design has purpose. It has a specific end goal that it is deliberately working towards.

So now that we have a working definition of design we also need to understand how design may be applied. Design can exist as an action or as philosophy. Design as action is focussed on the creation of a tangible outcome or artefact, be that a product, service etc. Design as philosophy is a mindset and an approach to tackling challenges that embraces the unknown, is visionary and above all else is human-centred. Design as philosophy has been translated more recently in the business world under the moniker of design thinking. Traditionally design has been viewed by most people as an action rather than as a philosophy. However, as products and services increasingly become commoditised, organisations are exploring other ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. As a result we are seeing design being applied strategically as a philosophy integrated across entire organisations, many of them organisations that traditionally have had little or nothing to do with design e.g. financial institutions.

Evolving role of design

“As a way of working and thinking, design sits between the two poles of science, which observes the facts of the material world, and the humanities, which interprets the complexities of human experience. Design is a culture that blends the concerns of science and the humanities to search for outcomes that are balanced and opportunistic, grounded in the real world but driven by human aspirations. It is equally concerned with probing the limits of our current reality as it is with making new realities possible.”1

The role of design has changed over the past 80 years, mirroring changes in society. Design was traditionally focussed on the aesthetic styling of products, the creation of a beautiful skin. Today, design provides strategic value and is no longer relegated to the R&D department but has a seat at the corporate boardroom table in progressive organisations. Having design sit in the C-suite brings more balance to organisations and puts people at the centre of business alongside dollars and resources.

Design is now being applied to the business itself, as well as the products and services that a business produces. Using a design mindset, organisations are able to embrace uncertainty and unknowns as opportunities for new directions, growth and innovation. Applying design to the organisation itself also ensures alignment between the corporate vision, the products and services offered to customers and the delivery model. Design increasingly plays a pivotal role in creating visions that lead and inspire organisations and their customers alike. Design is driving organisations to truly understand their customers in order to better create value, deliver meaningful experiences and make deeper, more insightful connections with their customers, be they an individual or another organisation.

In our ever changing world it is critical for design to be strategic and visionary because designers shape the world of tomorrow. Designers drive the values and behaviours of the next generation through the experiences, products and services we deliver today. We condition and set their expectations of connectivity, immediate gratification and constant novelty/ newness. Who could have predicted or imagined the far reaching impacts of the iPad/ iPhone – you can now find out anything you need to know, anytime, anywhere; book your next holiday while you’re taking a tea break; or crowd fund your next great idea without needing a bank loan. Design acts as an enabler and encourages individuals to be innovative and break new ground.

And of course, design is still the key driver for the development of physical products. The application of design to product development ensures that all priorities are balanced to ensure the delivery of a feasible, viable and desirable product. Design balances competing requirements from functionality to ergonomics and ease of use, materials selection to manufacturability, regulatory requirements to aesthetic objectives, user experience to budgets and timeframes.

What does design do for you?

In a perfect world there would be no need for design as everything would work together seamlessly. But the reality is that we live in an imperfect world full of complex problems which is why we need design. Design affects each one of us every single day on many different levels, often without us even realising it. The alarm on your phone that woke you this morning – a designer helped ensure you made it out of bed. Your coffee machine and the mug you drank your caffeine from – you have a designer to thank for that. Your car or the train you caught to work – a designer created that ride and that experience for you. Checking your Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn feed on your tablet/ smartphone/ laptop – many designers created the experience, hardware and software for you to stay connected personally, socially and professionally.

Design strives to make our lives easier, it shapes the environment we live in, and of course it drives the world of commerce. Design boosts the economy by helping to drive innovation and connect business opportunities to markets and talent. It drives and shapes culture and society by connecting people, forming people’s perceptions and values, sparking our imagination and inspiring us to greatness. Design provides businesses with ways to connect with internal and external customers and delivers greater competitive advantage. According to the Design Value Index (DVI) study, companies that implement and embed design management practices across their organisation show 10 year returns yielding 2.11 times (211%) that of the S&P 500 companies2. And on a personal level, design helps us to express who we are (or who we aspire to be) and provides a sense of satisfaction through the experiences it creates and the connections it enables us to make.

Design as practice

Now that we know what design is and how its role is changing within society, let’s look at who actually does design. The fact is, everybody designs in some way, whether they realise it or not. The 6 year old child who is bored and creates a game to play is designing a solution for their boredom. The housewife who needs to buy a range of things from the supermarket and makes a shopping list to remember everything is designing a solution to how to remember all the things she needs to buy. She could equally have taken a photograph of each item or recorded an audio list on her phone instead of the written shopping list. While in both of these examples problems were being solved, the problems were simple and really only affected one person. We would not call the child or housewife a designer. While everyone designs, not everyone is a designer.

A professional designer is someone who has studied design at a tertiary level and applies that knowledge in a professional capacity to solve the challenges of other people and organisations. Today there are many disciplines that practice design including architecture, industrial design, interior design, engineering and even scientists. For our purposes however, we’re focussed on professional designers of products, experiences and services. Having said this, we recognise that to achieve a successful design outcome you need collaboration between multiple design disciplines in the right balance depending on the nature of the project. For example, the design of a new car would require more engineering expertise than the design of a range of glass ware.

A professional designer brings specific values in terms of both their mindset and the processes/ methods they use. Professional designers are trained to put people at the heart of what they do – not numbers, materials, costs or other myriad things. People first. This sounds simple, but it is not. In fact it is often the hardest thing because people are so variable and in some respects unpredictable. In actual fact, when confronted with all the requirements of an organisation that ultimately must deliver a profit, people often get lost. Designers can balance and weigh many competing requirements simultaneously. More importantly, designers also understand when to put certain objectives to the side temporarily in order to let creativity flourish and not squash good ideas before they have had a chance to breathe and develop legs.

Designers are open-minded and flexible in the way they work, which can appear mildly chaotic or unorthodoxed to the uninitiated. This is because design by its very nature is circular – a continuous cycle of observe, ideate, create, test and refine. Such processes can seem unstructured and repetitive to people used to working with linear problem solving methods. The benefits of the design process are huge – learning happens in real time thus avoiding costly mistakes further on, customer feedback is incorporated before launch and all stakeholders are involved from the beginning. The result is a smoother process with buy-in from all parties, shorter development timeframes, fewer issues after launch and greater customer acceptance. Who wouldn’t be happy with that outcome?!

So if your business wants to inspire people, connect with them and grow into the future, use design (and professional designers) – from top to bottom, inside to outside. Your customers, your talent and your organisation will thank you.

1 Bryan Boyer, Justin W. Cook & Marco Steinberg, 2011 In Studio: Recipes for system change, Sitra, Helsinki Finland, p25

2  J Rae 2015 dmi: Design Value Index Results and Commentary, http://www.dmi.org/?page=2015DVIandOTW

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Strategic Design – your innovation enabler

The term strategy has long been used by the military (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War from 500 BC) and more recently (since the ‘40’s) in business circles. Some of you may think it has dark and underhanded connotations – meaning that the military or the business were up to no good. How wrong that view is. Strategy has been used in business in for the good of the business for some time now. For example organisations may adopt a low cost strategy to compete more aggressively in the market or adopt an acquisition strategy to rapidly grow in the market or attain skills and expertise in a complementary market sector.

Today, however we hear the word strategy being used in a slightly different context – in the design context. So you may ask, what has design got to do with strategy? Well the answer to that is everything. Strategic design refers to the discipline where designers use their mindset, values, tools, creativity, methods and experience to influence strategic decision making within organisations. Strategic decisions within an organisation have long term impact, require monetary commitment and typically include multiple stakeholders and non-monetary resources. Such decisions could relate to the formation of organisational vision, business opportunity and innovation definition, customer engagement and organisational culture.

Before we delve into the world of strategic design it is worthwhile to take a few moments and have a brief look at the development and the value that design brings. By looking historically at the general design movements over the last 80 years or so we can see that design has provided value to society, business and the individual on an ever increasingly sophisticated scale. Design in the ‘40’s was considered as styling – something that was wrapped around the functionality of a product in order to make it attractive. As the decades passed design became more sophisticated, increasingly operating at a level beyond the functional product to encompass changing societal values  e.g. sharp aerodynamic features borrowed from jet aircraft that were applied to cars during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. As time progressed the notion of the user became more integrated within the product offering and so functionality and form were considered together. Sustainability and social responsibility drove design in the ‘90’s and early ‘2000’s due to greater awareness of the environmental movement. Today we see the notions of customer experience and strategy playing a role in the delivery of design value. New movements develop as they become embedded and widely adopted within society. Today, as always, design has shaped and directed the future.

So why is this happening? Well, first of all, design reflects the values of society and reinterprets these values through some sort of product or service which we will call an artefact. We also all know the world has changed a lot in the last 80 years. It has become a much more complex beast, through globalisation, improved communications, asset rich societies, and increasing global conflict and human displacement. Problems have become more complex and interrelated on multiple levels. No longer can we just resolve a problem in isolation, with a few facts at hand. The fact that organisations and individuals now communicate globally and instantly means that the word has become more accessible. Problems and issues are shared not only in the local community but globally.

By its very nature design is a profession that transcends multiple disciplines and some might argue (this author included) that design by definition is essentially a problem solving activity – a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are structured to attain goals. Design has the ability to lead because it is transformative as it applies design thinking, systems and integrative thinking, and human centred values across the problem to be solved. The ability for designers to challenge the unknown and to test the waters of the future place the discipline in a unique and key position.

In this complex and interrelated world the way we resolve problems needs to be tackled in a different way. No longer can issues be resolved in isolation within a silo by a lone bureaucrat or CEO or company board. We need people who can challenge the norm, step back and ask why, view the problem from multiple perspectives and have the ability to reframe the problem and direct others during this process. This is where design can take the lead. This is where design can become strategic.

Traditionally design sat in the R&D or engineering group, perhaps it was part of marketing and in some leading organisations design had its own group. Whatever the case, design was relegated to the act of design and its influence within the organisation was limited to the development of artefacts and branding. Today the notion of strategic design moves design from the R&D group to the executive suite or even the boardroom. As artefacts become commodities organisations are actively looking for new ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. Increasingly organisations are embracing design at a strategic, cultural and organisational level to give them this competitive advantage. Design as strategy moves design from an act to a philosophy which is infused across an organisation.

Design brings new value to business when it is integrated across all senior levels. Design no longer becomes just a service provider but a strategic partner in innovation. It has the ability to address issues and complex problems at a senior level where it has the most influence. It is applied at the same level as more traditional disciplines such as marketing, sales and finance, and in fact to be truly strategic, design should be applied across, within and outside an organisation. Design applied at a strategic level can contribute to the identification and development of opportunities. Design can evaluate the extent to which the opportunity meets the needs (both known and unknown) and desires of the customer (Desirability), and balance this with the performance needs (Viability) and capability (Feasibility) of the organisation.

So what does strategic design mean for business? Well it means that organisations become much more capable and self-sustaining. Design helps change the mindset and culture of an organisation from one focused on the production of an artefact to that of a more considered human centred approach. This could be through the concept of co-creation and collaboration with customers and stakeholders to help achieve the development of fantastic customer experiences. It means that design can be applied as an integrator within an organisation to develop human centred effective and efficient processes, defining operational frameworks and just getting stuff done.  Design applied strategically helps determine the right product for the right market at the right time. It ensures that the business model aligns with the organisational strategy. Design supported by design research, develops a unified customer experience across all touchpoints, creates behavioural change, builds capacity and ultimately improves product delivery to your customer.

If you would like to talk to Scintilla more about how to apply design in a more strategic way then please contact us – hello@scintilladesign.com.

 To finish I leave you with one of my favourite quotes;

Tactics is something you do when you know what to do, strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do

Savielly Tartakower, chess grandmaster (In: Studio Recipes for Systemic Change: Boyer, B, Cook, J & Steinberg, M, (HDL)).

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(Design) Research – 5 outcomes it delivers

So what’s research? Research can be defined simply as the search for knowledge. It is a systematic investigation into anything in order to establish facts, answer a question and reach new conclusions.

While scientific research provides information to explain the natural world around us, that is ‘what exists’, design research is concerned with ‘what could be’ in the future. Design research tries to break the mindset and paradigms that have shaped the past. It challenges, provokes and disrupts the status quo. It does this by using visual imagery – sketches, maps, photos, storyboards, models and prototypes to explain concepts, stimulate discussion and collaboration, inspire new directions and engage emotions. Design research draws on knowledge that is transdisciplinary and contextual, relying on a range of methodologies in order to derive insights in topic areas as diverse as users, markets, materials, processes, history, culture, nature and so on. Design research is often applied throughout the entire development process as an extension of a designer’s natural inquisitiveness.

As designers, we are always striving to place people at the heart of our designs. To achieve this, we naturally tend to focus our research activity on trying to understand the unmet needs, wants, desires and dreams of the people we are designing for. We want to know what makes them tick. What motivates them to do the things they do? How and why do they do the things they do? What challenges do they face in their daily lives? For designers, it is design research that provides the context for any solution – the who, why, where when and what. By doing design research you are laying the foundations for a successful outcome and delighted users.

Here are 5 outcomes in particular that design research can deliver to your business. Each outcome is discussed with the following mini case study as an example. A car manufacturing company wants to design a new car specifically aimed at mothers with young children as they believe this may be a new market opportunity. No-one in the project team has young kids themselves.

1. Problem validation

Often designers are given a problem to solve in the form of a brief. Designers use research to interrogate the problem to determine whether it is in fact the real problem or merely a symptom of a larger and/or different problem. To create innovative and engaging experiences, products and services, you need ensure that you are solving the right problem for the right people at the right time. Validating the problem and articulating it in such a way as to be directive but not prescriptive will set up your project for success.

For our car company, they need to understand if mothers as a user group have needs that are not being met by current cars in the market. If they do, what are those needs? And if a new car could meet those needs, would they consider buying that vehicle at what price point? By observing mothers using a variety of cars and speaking with them about their experiences the team discovers several unmet needs e.g. they need extra boot space to fit the pram, nappy bag and the weekly grocery shopping. They often need places to put children’s drink bottles, baby wipes and other commonly used items within easy reach without them rolling around the car. Still need to be able to park in normal spaces in busy shopping centres.

2. Understanding your customer through empathy

Design research is great for developing a deep understanding of your customer or end user, their needs, wants, desires, rituals, painpoints, work arounds and idiosyncrasies. Using techniques such as observation, interviewing, shadowing and physically putting yourself in your users’ shoes, it is possible to truly immerse yourself in their world and empathise with the person you are designing for. This strips away personal biases and assumptions (which are the result of your own personal experiences and values) and replaces them with a greater appreciation for what the user is experiencing, their actual needs and wants. This type of ethnographic research is especially important when you are designing for people very different from your own experiences e.g. hospital patient, the elderly, children, aid workers in remote areas.

For our car company, they need to understand what a mother is going through as she juggles schedules, temper tantrums, unwieldy prams, shopping bags and so on. By ‘walking in her shoes’, observing her and talking to her openly and honestly without agenda the team discovers that trying to open the car boot in a busy shopping centre carpark when you are holding a toddler’s hand in one hand and bags of shopping in the other is very challenging. They also discover that trying to buckle kids into their car seats requires a gymnast’s flexibility when the car door can only open 2 feet because of the car parked right next door.

3. Reveal deep customer insights

A critical part of design research is analysing and synthesising the information collected, looking for patterns and trends, and telling stories about your customer with the aim of distilling insights into why your customer does the things they do and how their experience could be improved. Opportunities for insights often lie at the margins of potential user groups and the junctions between pieces of information. For example, in the mismatch between how a customer says they do something and what they actually do when you observe them completing the activity. Recognising that what may appear to be a somewhat strange action or work around is their way of coping with a world that is at times confusing, complex and contradictory. Design research helps you to identify patterns and trends which may ultimately lead to deep customer insights that provide opportunities for true innovation. Such insights can only occur with a deep understanding of your customer, their experience and their real needs.

For our car company, they observed that mother’s often got their car keys from their handbags long before they arrived at the car, holding them awkwardly together with shopping bags and children’s hands. Many mothers when interviewed omitted this step from their accounts of what they do. The insight was that mother’s need hands-free access to open the boot.

4. Test assumptions

Research weeds out fact from opinion, heresay and assumption. By speaking with potential users and observing their actions you see their approach, hear their thoughts and reasons firsthand, rather than second or thirdhand. Design research can reveal knowledge gaps and potential opportunities e.g. new markets, new technology, new materials, new processes for further investigation.

5. Creating fertile ground for innovation

Perhaps the most useful outcome of design research is that it sets the stage for creative problem solving and innovation. Innovation is not a lightbulb moment of genius. It requires deep understanding and the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. Only by having immersed yourself in the design research can you hope to uncover meaningful insights (connections) that are the foundation for innovation and creative problem solving.  Ideas do not form in a vacuum of information but from immersion in and exposure to a wide variety of relevant information.

For our car designers, their problem has become focused around designing a car with improved access to the boot and rear seats. They may look into alternative hands-free ways to open the car boot such as voice activation once the key is within a certain range. Or perhaps they will investigate other ways to configure the side doors so that they slide instead of hinge open or move upwards to enable easier access to children in the back seat.

So as you start your new projects this year full of optimism and excitement, don’t be tempted to skip the design research and dive headlong into solving “the problem”. While design can (and frequently does) proceed without the design research, without it, you will struggle to know what to design for whom and why. The result is likely to be mediocre, rather than delightful and engaging for your customer. So set yourself up for success and use design research.

Once you have done your design research and uncovered your deep customer insights, what do you do with them? In our next blog we look at taking your research insights and using them to develop strategies – for the business and the business model, for completing a project or developing a process and for approaching the design of the solution itself.

Image credit: Participants role playing in a focus group on the topic of ‘medical care’. "Research methods for product design" by Milton and Rodgers (2013).

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Santa Claus is coming to town…but how???

rj-watson-santa-sleigh

Ever wondered how Santa fits all those presents in his sack and sleigh? Or how he delivers globally in just one night (FedEx eat your heart out!)? We surveyed 12 children and adults to find out their most burning questions when it comes to the elusive Man in Red. So here we put our design thinking caps on to propose answers to the top 6 questions as revealed by our survey.

  1. How does Santa fit down the chimney?

Many people think that Santa has a “round little belly that shook when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly”, but in actual fact he wears an inflatable suit that disguises the svelte form of a former Olympic athlete. From our research, the word is that Santa was once a gymnast and after his gymnastic career ended he became a contortionist and acrobat for Cirque du Soleil. His flexibility combined with a de-flatable suit means that he can fit through the smallest of spaces, from your chimney to the cat door. We also have it on good authority that Santa can deflate his suit to match the size of the chimney and help control his rate of descent to ensure a quiet landing.

  1. How does he fit all the presents in his sack?

This was a hard one to answer and generated much active discussion. As with many design problems, the solution was not obvious. After much debate two options became apparent: 1) the sleigh is in fact the original prototype for Dr Who’s Tardis, and therefore all the presents can easily fit in here. Santa then simply replenishes his sack with presents after each house call. This has the added benefit of reducing the likelihood of Santa sustaining a back injury due to an overloaded sack. Alternatively, Santa’s sack is like Mary Poppins’ bag that is endlessly deep and can carry an infinite amount of presents while appearing a perfectly normal size.

  1. How does he deliver to everyone in just one night?

The answer to this question has two parts – 8 svelte reindeer and a customized sleigh. According to our research, an interview between Santa and R.J. Watson (2006)1 revealed that Santa has developed a special reindeer feed that stimulates their ability to move exceptionally fast. The feed is made from a combination of “Austrian edelweiss, Canadian lichen, Norwegian oats, Finnish glacial milk, Russian bee pollen, Swedish cloudberries and solar flare”. Watson also reports that Santa has a customised sleigh called “Polaris which is comprised of high-tech and low-tech materials such as foam titanium and comet dust. It is also tricked out with electron injection and a little old gamma ray booster”.

  1. How do the elves get all the toys ready in time?

In the past when the population was less, it was quite easy for the elves to make all the toys themselves. However, with the ever increasing population, the elves have had to change their business model and now outsource part of their operations. The elves now partner with companies such as Amazon and FedEx to supplement in-house toy making. These online partnerships mean that there is less load for Santa to carry as he collects his parcels from designated collection points in each continent.

  1. How does he know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice?

All those Santas you see on every street corner and in every shopping centre are actually part of Santa’s franchisee network who all report back to him. The network expands exponentially during the festive season so that he can collect the needed intel on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice and what’s on everyone’s wish lists.

  1. What does he do with all the cookies and treats kids leave out for him?

While Santa and the reindeer strive for peak performance, they do also let their hair down a little and indulge in some treats from each continent. While Santa would love to share all the treats with the elves and Mrs Claus back home, the increasing incidence of allergic conditions among his elves, means that he is forced to graciously accept the offerings and then uses them to supplement the fuel of the Polaris during the journey.

rj-watson-elf-marblesSo, there you are – some of the burning Santa conundrums solved.

To all our clients, friends and supporters, a Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Scintilla will be closed from 19th December 2016 until 9th January 2017. We look forward to an even bigger and brighter 2017. And please stay safe.

1 C.C. Moore and R.J. Watson (2006) The Night Before Christmas, Harper Collins

All illustrations by Richard Jesse Watson from citation above. 

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8 reasons to use a qualified designer

2_8-reasons“Design thinking” has become the latest management hype and many organisations are busy jumping on the band wagon, believing they can do it all themselves. But design thinking is not a just part of a management “toolkit” that can be rolled out across organisations to a common recipe. Design thinking is grounded in the profession of design. It is a mindset, a people-centric, empathetic approach to problem framing and solution generation supported by an array of specialist tools and techniques.

Qualified designers complete a minimum of 4 years of training that teaches them core design thinking skills, research and design methodologies and tools and how to apply them to address complex challenges while always keeping the needs of the user at the heart of any design. When you partner with a professional designer, your organisation gains the benefit of their training, knowledge and skills to assist you in getting the greatest value out of design for your business. Just as you wouldn’t use a lawyer to complete your company tax return, or an engineer to develop your marketing strategy, you shouldn’t rely on non-design qualified practitioners to implement design strategically within your organisation.

Here are 8 reasons why you should partner with a qualified design professional to help implement and embed design thinking within your business:

  1. Opportunities not problems – Designers are naturally curious, explorative and driven to solve problems. In fact, the more hairy and complex the problem the better! Designer’s view problems as opportunities and our training has honed our skills in understanding, breaking down and re-framing problems to reveal insights and opportunities for solutions. Where many people see barriers, we see possibilities, where many throw up their hands in defeat, we rub our hands with glee!
  2. Unconstrained Vision – Designers have vision and imagine the future with a sense of optimism. We can imagine possibilities that do not yet exist without being hampered by the constraints of what is possible in the here and now. We can envision new experiences, new contexts and new markets that provide opportunities for growth. We can help develop company visions that inspire leadership, unite people and drive real organisational change.
  3. People driven – Designers are empathetic and have been trained to put people at the centre of all that we do. We are trained to change our perspectives, to conduct ethnographic research in order to develop a deeper understanding of our user, and to iteratively test and validate our assumptions with our user. We are the voice of the customer and advocate on their behalf throughout the process to ensure the final solution delights and connects.
  4. Embrace the unknown – Designers are comfortable working with ambiguity. Ultimately we trust that we have the skills, knowledge and tools to develop the best solution. This means that we do not feel compelled to grab hold of the first solution, but will keep exploring and developing, testing and evaluating until we find the best solution. We strive to push the boundaries of what is possible.
  5. Information integrators & insights extractors – Designers are integrators, capable of working with information from many different sources across multiple disciplines in order to extract meaningful insights and make connections others may not see. We have the ability to recognise patterns and emerging trends and draw parallels between seemingly disparate sectors to recognise opportunities and help drive innovation.
  6. Innovative solutions – Designers develop creative solutions to real problems by applying tools, techniques and methodologies to understand and define requirements, explore solutions widely and deeply, evaluate options, test potential solutions, reiterate designs and communicate possibilities.
  7. Collaborative co-creators – Designers are collaborative and thrive in team environments. We strive to bring all stakeholders along on the design journey to develop a common understanding, co-create visions for the future and build ownership of design outcomes.
  8. Visual storytellers – Designers are visual storytellers, communicating their ideas and solutions through visual mediums that resonate and connect with people. Be it a storyboard, process visualisation graphic, digital interface or physical model, the message is communicated in way that inspires and engages the audience leaving them asking for more.

So, if you’re struggling to gain traction for design thinking within your organisation, reach out to a professional designer.  At Scintilla Design we can help you envision your future, design a roadmap to help get you there and embed design thinking principles within your organisation for a more resilient future.

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We’re starting a blog.

1_welcome-image-smlTimes have changed. The ways in which we connect and communicate with each other have perhaps changed most of all.
When I started work back in the late 70’s the only way to communicate and inform someone was to use the phone, send a telegram or shout out, i.e. talk directly with someone – you know, face to face. Face to face communication was and still is great. It’s personal, it’s immediate and it enables a connection at you can’t get by any other method. You get to see and understand the true context of the situation – it’s direct and usually allows things to be resolved quickly.

Telegrams – Don’t see them anymore. I only ever received one of those. It was to tell me that I had been accepted as a trainee at AWA – my first job. Wow.

The phone well what can I say – it’s been around for a while and I think it’s here to stay. Well yes, it has changed, but the fundamental process and operation of the telephone has remained the same. Yes the behind the scenes operation of the phone has changed. Our phones are now portable. I remember seeing one of the very first portable phones back in the late 80’s. It was used by one of the sales guys at a company that I worked for. It was the size of two house bricks and weighed about the same. You carried it over the shoulder using a leather strap. Coverage was limited back then to the Sydney metropolitan area. Now look at the phones we use today – a bit like the star trek communicator. So much power, it enables us to do so much and some to the point of controlling our lives. It’s now hard to image life without a mobile phone.

As the years passed facsimiles (fax) came (early 80’s) and went (early to mid 90’s). What?! you don’t know what a fax is? Well, a fax was a great modern wonder of the world which allowed documents to be sent over the telephone line to someone else anywhere in the world. All you needed was a fax machine that was plugged into a telephone line, a document and someone else’s fax number. Dial the number, scan the document and then wait for the audible multi-tone – ‘de de de daa da doo doo de da do’ – confirmation that the document had been sent. Wonderful stuff in the day however upon reflection by today’s standards very cumbersome. You know what I find interesting is that to this day there are some companies that still use the fax machine. I always have a bit of a quiet laugh when I see a fax number or a document requesting a fax number. Come on folks let’s move on.

For me the next breakthrough came in the form of email around the mid 90’s. Now email, everyone knows about email. We receive lots of emails a day. We get legitimate email and of course we get lots of junk email. Fortunately the guys that write the code and user interface for the email system had the foresight to anticipate junk emails and kindly provide a rubbish bin entitled ‘junk email’ – thanks guys. On the whole though the world couldn’t run today without email. Its immediate, it can be ignored, it enables us to trace previous conversations and send documents just like the fax machine but much more efficiency and that audible multi-tone has been turned into a ‘sswwooosh’ which is much more agreeable (thanks UX designers) although a little clichéd. Email allows us to communicate with any number of people anywhere in the world, for business, while on holidays or just catching up with old friends. It draws the world closer.

The other thing that happened in the mid 90’s was the commercialisation of the internet. Wow did this knock everyone for six! Little did we realise the potential of this great tool. When you compare the internet of the 90’s to the internet of today it kind of makes you wonder where this will lead us in the future. As a designer I do have some particular thoughts on this topic which might form the basis for a later blog.

The internet has allowed ordinary folks to have a say. To reach out and make change in their community or beyond. It’s allowed immediate interaction on a worldwide basis. It has helped the globalisation of the world.

The internet has allowed us to expand and reach out to an even greater number of people in the world. People that we don’t know and may never even meet, people whose voice we may never hear but yet we come to know them so well. The internet has become an enabler. Of course what I’m talking about is the creation of social networking, being more social in a digital kind of way. The introduction of Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and all of the other (I suspect) hundreds of social networking sites available to us have brought us all together in ways that we could not have imagined just fifteen years ago. I for one have not really embraced this social networking concept as much as some. As I mentioned earlier face to face does it for me. Yes I do use email, LinkedIn, the internet and I do have a Facebook page (last opened in 2009 I think).

So why have I talked about how communication and connecting with people has changed? Well, that’s because we want to connect with you, our readers. We want to create awareness of and communicate the transformative power of design. We want to have an honest, deep and engaging conversation with you about design and its role in our world.

We want to inform and learn.

And we want you to be involved – we welcome comments and a deep engaging dialogue, we want to create friends of Scintilla and hear about and share your ideas, thoughts and insights. We want to become a collective, a voice in the community and the world.

Why should we do this? Well as designers we are open to change (or to be effective we should be) and we need to envision and drive the future to make our world a better place. So what we are doing is driving the future for Scintilla. We know that it is important to spread the word – we are passionate about design and the work we do, the people we come in contact with and the influences and the outcomes that we produce. In our line of work it is necessary to reach out and right some of the injustices that have happened in our world or organisations and it is through this blog that we at Scintilla will be able to share our thoughts, insights and our deep passions.

We hope that each of you who read our blog will come to realise how not only how necessary design is, but also how powerful it can be. Design has the power to unite, to connect, to inspire, to create, to deliver and ultimately to make things better.

So let’s unite. Welcome to our blog.

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