Posts Tagged ‘people centric’

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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(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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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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