Posts Tagged ‘inspire’

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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(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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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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