Thinking about Design!

I was cleaning up and recycling some notebooks that I had used to capture impressions I was gathering at various design conferences and other design events last year. Below are a random sampling!

> In a siloed company, how do you organize your design resources and deployment?

> How do you knit a suite of existing services and those in development into a connected integrated system of services?

> I read that the drivers of motivation are autonomy, competence, and relatedness but all need a supportive environmental model

> Though the world of human experience is indeed being transformed from analog to digital is digital experience, in most cases, simply a portal to enhanced analog or real world experience? Is it a gateway experience that provides access to accelerated life?

> Quick wins are a bottom-up approach to progress. Strategy is a top-down approach. Can you be strategic from the bottom up through the right suite of quick wins?

> What are the elements of the business case that grounds your UX proposal?

> An ROI model that is built around three elements… the perceptual, financial, and operational. Customer or Patient Satisfaction, Direct Revenue, and Employee Efficiency and Effectiveness.

> Strategy is about marshalling the resources to go from your current state to a (desired?) future state.

> When customers are moving along their journey with a company, and transitioning from acquisition to conversion, by “adopting” a product or service, what is the evidence of this evolution and how do we recognize it and act on it?

> Charles Eames said that “recognizing the need is the primary condition for design”.

> If you want to be a UX Strategist fall in love with the problem, not the solution” -Janika Kumar, Microsoft (at UX Strat)

> I am what I share… social media’s role in the establishment and maintenance of identity

> I contribute therefore I matter.

> Social Service Design, inspired by a design-led intervention, requires the involvement and commitment of local user citizens.

Strategic Design Management in 250 Floors or Less

The following article was first published 13 years ago. I am not convinced that despite this being the age of design thinking and the associated high profile of design in business that things have really changed much! What do you think?


Recent (2002!) research into the extent to which design management is being offered as a consulting service offered up some interesting (and perhaps disappointing) insights. Virtually no consultancies (PARK being the exception) that provide design-related services include “design management” as a specific competency that has been articulated into a set of services. Although one would think there is a market opportunity here for an enterprising agency to differentiate itself from the competition, the evidence shows that for those who have tried it hasn’t been easy and it won’t get any easier any time soon.

Among the reasons offered by the consultants interviewed was that clients or potential clients don’t have a clear understanding of what design management is. Those who have tried in the past to establish a design management service and communicate its potential value to their clients have faced an uphill service marketing battle. The all important elevator pitch, communicating the essence of the proposition in 30 seconds or less, or approximately 10 floors, proves a formidable challenge! These challenges become more formidable when the form of design management being envisioned is elevated to a higher level, the formidable beast known as strategic design management.

Part 1

Why call it a formidable beast? Well let’s just take a look at the phrase ‘strategic design management’. It is constructed of three words that in and of themselves can have professionals from three fields debating the depth and breadth of their meanings for at least the length of several weekend conferences! For example, Mintzberg discusses 10 schools of strategy in Strategy Safari. Management consultants and gurus offer new schools of management every season. And design? As John Heskett in Toothpicks & Logos likes to say, “Design is to design a design to produce a design”. The words combine into a dizzying lexicon of terms: design, strategic design, design strategy, design management, strategic design management. The conceptual complexities become even more daunting when we bring marketing into the mix.

Much of the literature on the subject urges that design management is most effective when user-, consumer- and customer-focused. From the strategic management point of view, customer-focused differentiation effected through design can be a source of competitive advantage. From the user-centered design and customer-centered marketing point of view, market-based practices can be developed that inform the strategy formation process, especially in the transition from planned to emergent strategy. This systematic production of design information can support the creation and iteration of all customer interactions manifested in the design of products, services, environments, and communications. It is the vast scope of this holistic inclusiveness that provides one of the largest challenges to converting principles of strategic design management into a set of valuable consulting services that doesn’t require a firm the size of McKinsey to support.

Part 2

Probably the single most influential factor in determining the types of consulting services potentially required by a company is the organizational context of the prospective client. Since strategic design management, to be effective, requires an organization with the strategy and operations to make it work, the nature of consulting engagements will vary according to the extent of design’s infusion into the client organization and the level from which the contracts originate. It can also depend on factors such as culture, size, nature of the business, and on the internal resources and competences the client has at its disposal. Organizations in which design is an integral part of corporate or business strategy tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Design is viewed as a strategic resource valued as a tool of Strategy and managed strategically
  • Strategy and Design are represented and managed at each level of the organization
  • Strategy and Design are enterprise-wide activities and each level of the organization has the requisite business and design knowledge to effectively manage and be productive
  • Organizational structure supports vertical and horizontal integration and coordination of activities of people, practices, and processes in the pursuit of strategic objectives
  • Organizations plan and manage multiple channels of interaction with customers
  • Design and marketing, as tools of strategy, are pivotal in integrating customer experience through all points of contact

Each of the values described above will vary depending on the unique context of each client organization. The degree to which any of these factors are present in an organization will in all likelihood determine the type of engagements external consultants might have. It will also determine the degree of strategic impact the work of external consultants will have in the client organization.

Part 3

Because the range of services offered by current consultancies is finite, focused on implementation, and carried out by functional specialists, they cannot be expected to solve all of the strategic needs of large client organizations that interface with internal and external customers through multiple channels and points of contact. Even firms that include strategy in their range of competencies use it to drive implementation. In other words, the strategy is purely tactical and directly related to a project.

Most of the interviewed consultancies offering design-related services are still hired by their clients on a per-project basis. This tactical employment of design means that consultants find it difficult to influence the development of the client organizations’ emerging strategies. In addition, many clients have not yet developed integrated enterprise-wide strategies for the use and management of design. Corporate design objectives are not communicated to consultants before they begin their work, further hampering their ability to include themselves in a process of strategic design management. As such, the involvement in strategy formation as opposed to only strategy implementation may distinguish strategic design management consulting from traditional design consulting.

A unique quality of strategic design management is its ability to manage Design to the point that it is a source of sustainable competitive advantage, no matter what the organizational context, no matter what the design need. There is potentially a market for a new model of consulting services, divorced from specialist design outputs, the goal of which is to help organizations manage Design as a critical element of strategic management. The service could be designed to have a universally scalable application to any organization large or small and facilitate the optimal outcome from any of the numerous design implementation specialists available to companies. In such a scenario, strategic design management consultants will need to be design generalists and management specialists in order to adapt to the unique and specific needs of each organizations context and requirements.

There is great diversity in the consulting industry, with consultants being found in almost every field of professional practice. Management consulting has been simply described as the identification, diagnosis, and resolution of business issues and is very often employed by firms to help in the areas of strategy, operations, and information technology. Might we then say that strategic design management consulting is concerned with the management of design in the identification, diagnosis, and resolution of business issues that are of strategic importance to an organization? As short and sweet as this is, it may still not be enough to help an innovative service market launch communicate its value in 10 (let alone 250) floors or less.

Published originally by the Design Management Institute in April 2003 as part of their eBulletin series.

How not to interview a customer/user!

InterviewingtechniquesOver the years I have had the opportunity to observe a lot of user interviews. Interviewing users is not easy and when done correctly it can provide the impetus to inform your ensuing actions. On the other hand a poor interview can leave me cringing! The following is a list of interview behaviors that make me cringe! I will start out with the most obvious of all but no harm repeating it… don’t lead the user!

Don’t ask a question and then immediately answer it. You are leading the interviewee. If they can’t answer then maybe use an example as a way to get them thinking. Don’t answer it with a or b answer as they will choose one just to please you. The answer becomes your answer. Don’t give away the answer you are looking for!

Don’t suggest answers if you are not sure what they just said. Just ask them to clarify or expand.

Don’t ask loaded questions such as “How difficult is it to move from Location A to Location B?” You are essentially telling the interviewee that it is difficult. The interviewee sees it as loaded. You are presupposing that he also thinks it is difficult?

If the user asks you a question… don’t try and answer
Ask her what she things the thing (link, button, tool) is for. What does she think it is for or should be?

Your silence may often prompt a user to offer a more detailed answer. However, your pregnant pause, followed by a slow “uh-huh” can also sound condescending… as if you can’t believe the user answered that way!

Don’t ask more than one question at a time.

Don’t ask two very different questions in the same sentence!

When a user expresses an opinion, don’t just accept it as is. Probe into the underlying attitudes. Ask what else?

If a user says something is important, helpful, preferable, thrilling, boring, scary, unfriendly, hard to use, etc then find out why. Try and understand the underlying motivation attitude that drives the behavior. Don’t just accept it at face value.

If you ask an a/b type question and the user answers “a” don’t just accept that as gospel. The value is in understanding why they chose “a”?

Don’t treat the user as if she is a designer!

Get the gist!? Feel free to suggest other annoying interview behaviors you have experienced!

Service Experience Innovation: Claiming Property Insurance


This past winter in New England was the coldest and snowiest I had ever experienced. My poor old house felt the same and when the pipes burst and flooded the kitchen and family room I had to take measures to repair the damage and get her ready for the summer. What I faced in order to claim my insurance coverage and receive payment was a much bleaker experience than the winter that preceded it. As a designer of product and service experiences I am keenly aware of the products and services I interact with on a daily basis. I celebrate the great experiences and am dismayed and disappointed with the ones that fail. The process of claiming property insurance to cover the repairs of a mortgaged house must be the single worst service experience of my life. There is an opportunity to make what is already a difficult time less painful by acting in a way that displays empathy for the customer and all that they are going through to renovate their home.

Without going into the details of my experience with my insurance company and mortgage provider let me instead highlight some of the potential attributes of great service experiences that were terribly missing from mine.

Transparency: Don’t make a process a mystery. Be clear about the steps required and help your customer understand those steps.

Consistency: Don’t change the process along the way. Don’t introduce new rules that suggest you don’t want to complete the originally understood process.

Communication: Keep your customer in the loop. Linked to transparency, don’t be afraid to explain what is happening and providing regular updates that can help keep your customer confident that he is doing all he needs to do and you are doing all you can to keep the process going.

Speed: Communicate progress and demonstrate that you are making all efforts to complete the service cycle in a speedy fashion. If there are factors that are delaying you let the customer know that you are doing your best to accelerate the service delivery.

Information: Make sure that all documents required to complete the process are clear and unequivocal and easy to understand. Make it easy to complete and supply documentation and once received be quick to reassure your customer that the documentation is correct and received.

Trust: Don’t treat every customer as if they are a felon trying to work an insurance scam. If your customer is credit-worthy, hasn’t made 20 insurance claims in the previous 5 years, has never been convicted of a crime, has paid every bill you ever sent them… begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt. As intermediaries check the insured’s claim and verify the truth of it increase your display of trust and accelerate the process.

Ease: It is obvious but in this case it is not redundant to shout it out loud… make it easier than it is.

The process through the property insurance claim service experience is a nightmare of hurdles and pitfalls all working to make it hard to receive what is rightfully yours. You’ve paid for insurance throughout your life and now you deserve to receive the benefit of your responsible behavior!

I am sure that there is an opportunity to innovate this service experience to remove all of the issues that currently make it so painful. However, my cynical side says that the insurance and lending industry does not believe that there is profit to be had in improving the process. On optimistic days I believe that someone is going to come along and bring the customer experience revolution to the industry, rocking the boats and ships of old-school companies, and bring a fresh, communicative, transparent, easy and painless quality to the experience. If you are an insurance or mortgage company executive reading this (yeah, right!) then get in touch… I think I can help you with this!

4 Conferences in 4 weeks!


This past Fall I had the unique opportunity to attend 4 conferences in 4 weeks! Friends thought I was crazy but I was thrilled for the chance to hear from esteemed colleagues around the world about their latest thinking on the current state of design… at least within these 4 quite distinct communities. The four conferences were UX Strat in Boulder Colorado, where I had the honor of being one of the speakers; FutureM and DMI Annual Conference both held in Boston; and finally the Service Design Network’s annual conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I have added links to the conference sites below.

Survey Madness! Is there a better way to demonstrate that you care?


One of the tenets of great Customer Experience is to listen to your customers.

As more and more businesses recognize that they need to pay greater attention to the quality of the customer experience one of the inevitable tools in the CX quiver is the customer survey. The survey demonstrates that the brand is listening to its customers and keen to gather their feedback to improve the services they provide. The only problem these days is that every other brand that a consumer interacts with is seeking to capture the Voice of that Consumer and the poor consumer is suffering from survey overload. I know this because I am one of those consumers.

The switch! How can customers better target their companies?!

I remember a 2004 Fast Company article (“Every Move You Make,” by Linda Tischler) that discussed how marketing agencies were employing anthropologists and ethnographers to better understand what consumers do, rather than what they say they do. The story was told through the experience of Ogilvy & Mather’s ethnography group and their lead corporate ethnographer as the team investigated the behaviors of people drinking in bars. Though the term wasn’t new to me at the time, and certainly will not be new to many people, it was the first time I really “heard” the words corporate ethnography. It struck me that it sounded more like the conducting of ethnography of corporations and not what it was, the corporate-led research by a company of its customers…which led me to want to turn corporate ethnography on its head.

What if corporate ethnography was actually research conducted by customers into the behaviors of companies in order to better understand what businesses deliver, rather than what they say they’re delivering? What if the purpose was to enable customers to address the unmet goals and needs of company stakeholders? This research could channel a business’s behavior toward a positive customer experience, one that would be determined by the customer’s influence on the company rather than the company’s influence on the customer.

There are already signs of a change toward more customer-influenced design. Social media has enabled customers to take a more active role in brand dialogue, changing what was previously a one-way conversation from brand to consumer (epitomized by the 30-second TV spot) into a consumer-to-consumer brand dialogue (manifested in the sharing of thoughts, images, advice, feedback and experiences by one consumer to others). The content of the conversations and the overall sentiment being expressed are already drivers for behavioral change within companies: If I check into a major brand hotel in a major metropolis and tweet that I am unhappy with my room, hotel management might quickly respond to ensure my stay is not a disappointment. (This is only a singular behavior change, not a company wide one…but it’s a start.)

In addition, customers are increasingly involved in the creation of the very products and services they may be in the market to buy. Brands such as Starbuck’s (My Starbuck’s Idea), adidas (online custom shoe design tool), Threadless (community-driven product selection), and BMW (Co-Creation Lab) are just some of the companies embracing open innovation. Co-design/co-creation and participatory design are early indicators of customers engaging as partners in a process; it gets them involved as equals in determining their marketplace destiny. While some of these open innovation scenarios are customer-driven, most are still initiated at the invitation of the company. Customers are not walking in and leading the charge—yet.

We need to create a new field of customer ethnography (or “corporate relationship management”) that will be the proactive study and gathering of data and insights on corporate culture by networked consumers. This will allow customers to better understand what motivates their companies and what behaviors influence their companies’ products and services, and will likely result in bringing new customer-influenced products and services to market.

Can we imagine a day when customers have the tools to proactively influence the behavior of company stakeholders? A day when the conversation is two-way, allowing consumers to understand and influence the behaviors of companies? Is there a digital innovation in the future that puts customers behind the wheel in leading the design and marketing of sustainable, meaningful, useful, useable products, services and information? Will current social media outlets be transformed into the future tools of customer-driven relationship management?

Is it already here!?

I’m open to hearing your ideas.

Good Reasons to Create Great Personas

Over the years I have been asked to explain the value of personas. After all, they are not cheap to create, especially when you do it right. When I say right, I mean supported at the very least by contextual research into the circumstances of the target audience followed by a thorough analysis of that context that results in great information design deliverables capturing the essence of the personas. This qualitative form of persona can also be enhanced by subsequent quantitative research, which may provide accurate insights into the relative size, value, and desires of personas, acting more as market segmentation and supporting business strategy. This balanced qualitative/quantitative approach

Shopping is Emotional! Service Design can help!


Recent shopalongs with consumers starkly revealed the emotional rollercoaster ride that many embark on as they seek the perfect purchase. Shoppers are browsing, learning, buying, and engaging with both the brands they know and the ones they don’t in increasingly complex ways. The customer journey they take from identifying a need to considering a product, from using a new purchase to becoming a loyal customer is no longer a linear path but rather a series of parallel and intersecting lines and loops.

Once upon a time shopping was simple. Get in the car, hop on the bike, or simply walk to the store that holds the product you need…view the selection at hand, decide, and buy. Shopping is not simple anymore…as soon as you open yourself up to the possibilities presented through the amazing array of channels within which one can research, browse and purchase.

Classic Design Management Books to Inspire the Strategic Designer in All of Us!


Over the course of every design practitioners career there are days when one comes across authors and their books that act as intellectual catalysts to spark new ways of thinking about how one approaches design. I’d like to introduce you to three such books on the subject of design management…all with one thing in common. They are co-authored (with other colleagues) by Rachel Cooper and Margaret Bruce. These are not new books, with publishing dates ranging from 1995 to 2002 but their message is still potently relevant today. I suggest that they are ideal primers to inspire the strategic designer in all of us. I also believe that they are fundamental to any business strategist trying to understand how to better incorporate design into driving business innovation and to any strategic design manager seeking to drive the design organization that will underpin it.