Designerly Ways of Knowing and Thinking


If you have ever struggled to explain why design thinking is important, why it is different than other forms of thinking, I can recommend you read “Designerly Ways of Thinking” by Nigel Cross. Since the 1970’s Professor Cross has investigated the evidence for design cognition as an essential aspect of human intelligence and whether design can stand as a third “coherent discipline of study” alongside the sciences and humanities. To avoid being subsumed by these, he suggests that Design needs to establish clear insights into the nature of design activity, behavior and cognition.

Service Safari @ Continuum


The Continuum service design team ended our year with a series of short Service Safaris where we set out in small teams, pith helmets in hand, to immerse ourselves as customers in a range of what we perceived to be interesting service businesses. Apart from treating ourselves at the end of the year, the Safaris were intended to inspire by exposing us in a personal way to the qualities of great services.

Our teams investigated a diverse range of services including an innovative new barbershop concept, a tarot reading, a restaurant reservation service, a digitally enhanced private taxi service, and a sneaker customization service. I was part of a four-person team that indulged in the latest of barbershop care. It was a tough assignment but the four of us were up to the challenge of straight-razor shaves, massaging shampoos, layered and buzz cuts, hot face towels, and shoulder massages.

Consistency and multi-touchpoint experience design

A blog on the topic “Consistency and multi-touchpoint experience design” has been posted on

One of the guiding design principles for creating a positive user experience has been the consideration of consistency as a critical attribute of the experience.

Designers have evolved the principle within the context of the design of single touchpoint interfaces such as software applications or ecommerce Web sites.

However, the challenges of designing integrated multi-touchpoint digital, physical and hybrid user experiences delivered via mobile, Web and software warrant a fresh look at how design teams apply consistency – and just as importantly – ignore it.

Read it all here……

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 2


In a recent blog in response to the excellent 2010 book entitled “Service Design Thinking” (Stickdorn/Schneider 2010) I noted that this was the first qualifier of design thinking, as least as I had witnessed at the time, that spoke to how design thinking might be applied to a specific design practice. I also noted that the sky was the limit as to how design practitioners could take design thinking tools and methods and apply them to their own area of practice. “Service Design Thinking” does an excellent job of just this mash-up. The key elements of an integrated service design and design thinking approach to the creation of new business service/product interactions can be outlined as follows:

  • Empathy with customers
  • Ideation / Co-creation
  • Service Journey over time and space/place
  • Service/Experience mapping
  • Prototyping
  • Concept validation / Co-creation
  • Objective requirements
  • Prioritization and road-mapping

There is a growing recognition amongst financial institutions around the world that differentiating the banking experience is a way to attract new and retain current customers. Many of these initiatives are the product of partnerships with leading design innovation agencies such as Ideo, Continuum, and others. Because of this, the new initiatives are benefitting from design thinking approaches that practice the best practices outlined above.

The following are a small collection of examples of various financial institutions across the globe engaging with design firms to help them take fresh looks at old habits. I do not have proof that all of these endeavors followed the best practices described above, but warrant that many if not all did do so!

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 1


Recent turmoil in the financial services industry has lead many consumers to question how they manage their financial lives, both now and for the long-term.  The global recession has compounded the sense of unease consumers feel about entrusting financial services providers with managing and safeguarding the financial fruit of their labors. Trust is at an all-time low.

Trends emerging show consumers are looking for alternative ways to manage their finances, whether through new tools or completely new institutions. In addition, consumers are practicing a frugality that is inspired by a fear of loss of long-term hard-earned assets, leading to a more risk-averse society than has existed for the last decade or so. A recent article in the Boston Globe (10/16/2011 “Gen Y asks: ‘Why should I have faith in the stock market’”) reveals that Generation Y, those born between 1981 and 1995, are displaying a conservative investment profile more akin to someone in their late 50’s considering retirement than someone in their youth with more than 30 years of investing to level out their buy and hold approach.

Know your verbs! Building lasting relationships between businesses and people


As a user/brand experience design strategist I often rely on the structure and flow of the customer experience lifecycle as a way to create a personalized language that may be used to inspire fresh ideas for new products, services and communications. The lifecycle can be used to tap into emotional contexts within which consumers, customers, and users might be motivated to engage with and finding meaning in these same products, services and communications. The language may start simply with Attract, Convert, and Retain but within that framework a designer may also wish to Inspire, Inform, and Connect…for instance. The language should be recognizable as a shared language between the customer and the brand…both can instantly relate to it because it speaks to the goals and needs and forms of personal expression of both.

The language of experience is very much an action language…dominated by verbs, because, as a songwriter friend of mine once wrote, “Actions! Actions make things happen!” The language of experience is also very much the language of relationship-building. The value and success of most digital interactions today is measured by the how often and how deeply users do some or all of the following verb actions…

Are designers losing design strategy to business strategists learning design thinking?


One of the early and simplest aspirations of those in the design community who feel that design can and should play a role in the formation and realization of business strategy is that design not simply be used in a tactical, ad hoc fashion…later in the process of bringing a product to market…just to add aesthetics and make something look good. Over the years there have been enough market success stories to allow for this expanded role. Many companies would even describe themselves as design-driven. This has expanded the role of the designer and design strategist.

However, when design has succeeded in making its way up the strategy ladder to have a more front-end role, communication between business strategists and design strategists has not always been the smoothest. Separate left and right brains have not always easily been able to produce a shared creativity. The language is not the same. The thinking is not the same.

I have always advocated that the best-case scenario driving innovation by design is the designer as design thinker who can move up the process to become a business thinker and naturally integrate the two. Why? Because the designer cannot just designthink but can also designdo and is in a great position to translate the strategy into action by producing a design. I like the designer as strategic designer!

Strategic design for competitive advantage: the competitor customer experience audit


Whether or not you agree with Bruce Nussbaum, one of the leading media voices to support the approach to design inherent in design thinking, and his recent highly publicized declarations that design thinking has been a failed experiment; it may be useful in that it may provoke a broadening of the discussion around what it takes to create great design.

One aspect of the design of business upon which I would love to see such discussion is the role of design in the creation of competitive advantage. I have always believed that design thinking is most powerful when paired successfully with the elements of business thinking and that this happy marriage can provide great momentum to the process of producing market innovations. Market innovations that provide competitive advantage often exhibit one of its key characteristics…they differentiate the business from competitors in the market place. I believe it is the responsibility of business designers to understand how to achieve this and to continually innovate the tools and methods of design to achieve this. It is core component of the strategy formation process and an important area in which the role of designers and design managers can move upstream.  

In the design innovation process insights drive ideas and the deeper the understanding generated by your insights the more plentiful, inspiring and diverse your ideas are likely to be. Design research that engages with customers and users is the principal way that designers gain the insights that reveal unmet needs. Customer personas are an important by-product of such research and provide a lens through which empathic designers can imagine and validate ideas and concepts aimed at satisfying their goals and needs. However, I would like to suggest a desk research tool that builds on the primary research and resultant personas and can help focus in on potential unmet needs and which are not provided by competitors. The goal of this tool is to identify competitive white space that a business might occupy and which can result in differentiated products and services. The tool is called the competitor customer experience audit.

When is a persona a reliable persona?


One of the most useful of tools of human-centered design are personas. They are a wonderful form of synthesis upon completion of primary user research. They become a lens through which design and business teams can define users; understand their goals, needs, behaviors, and motivations; and remain objective when determining the features that may satisfy those needs.

However, I would almost guarantee that from one design agency to the next you would be hard-pressed to find a consistent definition of personas, why they are useful, how to create them, who should create them, and how to use personas during the design and marketing of new products, services, communications, and well…just about anything that can be designed for people! And because agencies present personas in different ways to the marketplace, businesses are also often unclear on what qualifies a persona to be a truly reliable and quality persona. Arriving at reliability and quality is a question of degree. The degree of insight and information the design team has at their disposal, the means in which it was obtained, and the skill at surfacing the important dimensions of the persona are critical to building confidence that teams can indeed make important design and business decisions that they can stand by.

The questions of degree in the creation process look something like this…

Strategic design and the dynamic duo of Qualitative and Quantitative research!


Research is often a fundamental activity in tackling design challenges. Research is often a fundamental activity in tackling business challenges. Two statements that sound like you might be talking about the same thing, but depending on whom you are talking to, you are likely to find yourself on the frontlines not of a battle, but rather two separate battles! The combatants are what these days are being called the “design thinkers” and the “business thinkers”. However they are not battling each other. They are instead battling the traditional demons that keep them isolated from each other’s approaches to solving the challenges of designing innovative business today. To demonstrate the reality of this difference I present you this dazzling panoply of opposites in the visual above! 

But the story doesn’t end there!