Sunday, July 5, 2009

Meetings can be fun and productive

As part of the degree program at UArts, I have been involved in the organizational design of a local company in Philadelphia. The objective of the project is to use design methods of research, ideation, prototype and testing to make company processes more effective and transparent.

The project started with a group of designers, including myself, conducting interviews with company employees. The aim of this was to find out about their likes, dislikes, opinions and suggestions about how to help make their daily work flow more effective and enjoyable.

After conducting 20+ interviews, a common theme of frustration due to ineffective team communication presented itself
. In particular, employees highlighted that meetings were often indecisive because; strong characters dominated weaker ones, important but sensitive issues were ignored, people were non-participatory, and meetings always ran longer than they should.

Using these findings, we designed
a series of "Role Playing Cards" to act as communication tools to facilitate more effective meetings. These cards provide characters that help encourage users to participate in promoting more productive meetings. Each character comes with immunity so the user plays their assigned role without fear of consequence. Preliminary tests have already indicated the success of these cards and users have told us that just as much as they are helpful, they are also fun!

It is important to remember however that the cards do not guarantee meeting success. They are an educational tool that we hope will eventually become re
dundant, as users develop skills without prompts from the cards.

If you would like to know more please leave a comment,

Friday, July 3, 2009

Subject to Change by Adaptive Path Book Review

Subject to Change

Founded in San Francisco in 2001 by a group of product designers and user experience experts, Adaptive Path has worked with industry innovators and leaders to help them better connect with their customers. In their recent publication, Subject to Change, Adaptive path presents a guide that will enable businesses to adapt and respond to the unexpected effects of complex global, economic and social environments on product and service design.

Unlike, traditional business strategies, those described in Subject to Change focus on fundamentally changing the relationships between businesses and their customers – “Once you stop thinking of your customers as consumers and begin approaching them as people, you’ll find a whole new world of opportunities to meet their needs and desires”. Introduced in chapter one, this statement sets the tone for the rest of the book as the importance of user experience is frequently revisited as the core belief throughout the book.

The authors propose that via empathy, companies can begin to create the experience users truly desire when they interact with products and services. To begin to educate the reader about this topic, many references to unsuccessful versus successful experience strategies are described. Importantly, these help validate the author’s perception of design and aid in the reader’s understanding of why design can be so powerful in business organization and development.

The relationships between customer empathy and successful customer experiences are further described in chapter 3. Through first hand accounts of working with industry, this is effectively communicated in a clear manner. However, chapter 4 addresses perhaps one of the more important, and yet lacking in detail aspects of the book – how to generate empathy through research. Insufficient attention is given to fleetingly described “evaluative”, “generative” and “user” research. Furthermore, the terms “quantative research” and “ethnography” are all too quickly introduced and subsequently concluded. These methods of research ultimately influence the degree of developing empathy for users and eventual generation of a successful user experience. Therefore, further description and perhaps more successful examples of “research in action” would lead to a greater understanding of this process.

In order to fully deliver a complete and successful user experience, the authors propose that designers and businesses must “stop designing products”, and instead develop whole systems which foster user relationships and loyalty. An excellent example, highlighted frequently through the book is the success of Apple’s iPod and iTunes platform. By placing functionality across a system with narrowly defined functional components, iPod (play music), iTunes (manage music) and iTunes Music Store (buy music), the complete user experience is generated when each individual component seamlessly integrates together in a system. Thus, the user experience is never overwhelming and underscores the success of Apple in recent years. On the other hand, useful examples are also given by the authors to highlight businesses Adaptive Path have worked with that fail to deliver this systems driven successful user experience.

Design competency, iterative prototyping and agile design approaches are methods the authors believe can help businesses deliver an effective user experience. Although not entirely novel, design competency for businesses involves embedding design process throughout the organization. As such, the hope is to develop increased user empathy as all aspects of a company are involved in the design process. Sufficient content, including real business world examples such as Google, Apple (again) and Flickr, is included to help illustrate what makes a business competent, but an opportunity is lost to increase the clarity of the idea by sparse and poorly conceived pictures and diagrams. Indeed, this is a common occurrence in Subject to Change, as graphics often feel like an afterthought and do nothing to compliment the text. Though the written content is clear, the authors missed an excellent opportunity to use graphics and images that help communicate their ideas. Surely, as designers themselves, the authors must they value the power that bright, clear and informative diagrams could have on readers.

Straight to the point, with very little superfluous content, “Subject to Change” presents in easy to understand language for both design and business audiences the importance of and how to achieve successful user experiences. The book is well-written and packed with great examples from businesses in the field to help guarantee business success in the evolving global market. However, if you prefer design books that are more graphical or are easily frustrated by self congratulation, the authors frequently use the book as an Adaptive Path marketing tool, perhaps you should pass this book by.

Thumbs up!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I love infographics

Infographics are awesome and you can never have enough to look at for inspiration. Good magazine has a great collection posted here on flickr. enjoy.

one of my favourites
by Lokesh Dhakar

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The ultimate Venn diagram

Ever wonder how to explain what a Venn diagram actually is? Well, here's a great example of the perfect Venn diagram in action.

thanks to Ragbag for the post

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Now, is this all you need to pull your company through these difficult times???

Cool infographics

I've found that when you need to design some new ways to make data look cool, just look for inspiration. There's more to life that simple X and Y axes.

Check out Francesco Mugnai's blog for some ideas.

Monday, April 20, 2009

You're the designer: Thoughtless acts in Philly

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The I word

Innovation, it is acceptable or not these days for designers to innovate?

Only Transformation will be able to pull us through this economic crisis, as “Innovation” died in 2008, killed off by overuse, misuse, narrowness, incrementalism and failure to evolve. That was posted by Bruce Nussbaum in Business week last year. Innovation was labeled so 2008, and is to be replaced by Transformation. Add to this mix some Change from President Obama and it begins to sound to me that in order to successfully emerge from the other end of this crisis all we have to do is Mutate.

Just like a bacteria colony that survives by mutating out of its exhausted niche, businesses need to mutate to grow stronger and wiser to inhabit the new economic landscape that is presenting itself.

Let's Mutate. Weed out the week and replace them with stronger, more aware, more efficient and effective businesses. I think design can help companies mutate by making them aware of their fundamental building blocks, or DNA, that encodes the essence of who they are. By uncovering the DNA, beit the skills and investment of staff, needs of target audiences, sustainable growth patterns, design can help businesses secure longevity for the future.

Thorough design-based research allows all aspects of the business system to be analyzed, no one unit will be dealt with individually without appreciating it's positive and/or negative feedback mechanisms. This way, the whole business organization can be structured to support itself, sustainably and successfully...

...just an opinion

Affordances in NYC

On a trip up to New York, I found these examples of people creating their own design solutions within their environment.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thoughtless act

The perfect cable hanging device

I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok

Microlandscapes - My homage to Slinkachu.

The world needs more little people.

Thanks to Prof Bejamin Olshin at UArts, for introducing me to Slinkachu.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Welcome to Suburban Anthropology lesson 1.

Jane Fulton Suri calls them "Thoughtless acts". I've heard them called "affordances", "environmental artifacts", "user-centered designs"

The following photo are examples of how people interact with a world that isn't perfectly tailored for their needs. By taking cues from what the environment affords them, people can create their own, often insightful, design solutions to the problems they face in everyday life.

Lets observe

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Design, sustainability and spirals

Over the last few weeks I've been reading about sustainable human-centered design. One of the most interesting papers I read was by Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter, published by Design Issues journal here. The paper focuses on the role designers play in developing sustainable solutions. Wahl and Baxter present a unique (and an initially difficult to understand) viewpoint of how to generate sustainable design solutions. However, once I got my head around it (I'm getting better at readying outwith a science context) their argument is certainly compelling.

The paper proposes that true sustainable solutions will only be achieved by designing across disciplines and using cross-collaborative research. In order to do this, groups of design teams should integrate the knowledge from various professions, including designers, anthropologists, scientists, social workers, artists, historians (t
o name a few) and stakeholders (who they are designing for). By doing so, the view-points and "meta-design" (beliefs, knowledge, values) ideals held by different disciplines will create a dialogue which delivers a more "holistic" understanding of the problem.

How will designers make sure that dialogues (and potential solutions) do not miss their target. Wahl and Baxter propose that the theory of Spiral Dynamics may be used to structure a framework for integrating the perspectives across disciplines. Spiral dynamics is a systems that identifies a number of behavioral systems, based on the biological, psychological and social interactions and relationships that these aspects of humanity result in. Each level of the spiral is characterized by certain world views, value systems, beliefs, modes of living etc, and the higher you are on the spiral the less ego-centric and more world-centric you become. When employed in design, spiral dynamics can allow designers to better understand where participants/people/communities are "coming from" (their "mind-set" "needs and beliefs"). Thus, more effective dialogue and solutions will be generated.

Interestingly, Wahl and Baxter also speculate that by encouraging individuals to move up the
spiral via integrated holistic design, "designers can help change culturally dominant worldviews and value systems", which could "effect changes in lifestyles and resource use that will drive sustainable transition".

I can definitely see the benefit of this way of thinking. When many perspectives are brought together and the direction and target of their approach is properly understood, surely more effective solutions will be generated. This is particularly true to developing effective solutions to sustainability issues. When these integrated collaborations meet participants on their level on the spiral, they will respond positively and be involved in the solution itself. Furthermore, by meeting them on their level, designers can then begin to push society into a more socially and worldly responsible mind set.

Sustainable and organizational design links

These sites and sources have been particularly useful for learning more about sustainable and organizational design

Sustainable Everyday website on human centered design initiatives and scenarios
In the Bubble by John Thackara (fantastic book) highlights how we can change past design practices into ones that create more functional and effective solutions. These may have the potential to design new services that help reconnect us socially, economically and may not always be the answer!!
Design Issues journal winter 2007 has an excellent series of papers which concentrate on how design theory can be applied to organizational change. I found the papers on the deisgn pratices of Frank Gehry and the ZIBA redesign of Fedex particularly interesting and useful.

From a scientist to a designer


I'm Fraser, and this is the first posting on my first ever blog. It has taken me quite a while to actually get round to starting this thing up, but hopefully since the hard work is now done I'll find it easy to keep on posting.

I've decided that start this blog up to document my thoughts, observations and ideas as I go back to school to learn about design. This is a reasonably daunting task right now, as for the last 10 years I have trained and worked as an immunologist. However, I am excited as this course is not your usual industrial design degree, but is one which recognizes the potential for design thinking to promote change and sustainability. You can find information about my program at UArts here. My ultimate hope is that my scientific brain will be open to the changing perspectives and methodology of a designer, and perhaps, my unique point of view will bring something new to conventional design thinking.....I'll keep you posted.

Also, I have loads of other interests to share including music, soccer, graphics and what it's like to be a Scotsman in Philadelphia, so there will be extras