Dave Thomsen wrote for wired about why human-centred design matters, but the more interesting part of the article is how to make it easy to do. Read on…
Ask the right questions
If you’re struggling to generate ideas or stuck in a product rut, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. For example, at IDEO I worked with a traditional telco that shaped its strategy by asking questions like, “How can we raise our customer’s average monthly bill by 10 percent?” and, “How can we minimize our customer service call times?” Needless to say, business was stagnant at best.
When we re-framed the problem in human-centered terms by asking questions like, “How can we help busy families to stay connected?” and “How can we reward our most loyal customers?” suddenly our formerly reticent client team was bursting with ideas and infused with a newfound sense of optimism.
Get out From Behind Your Desk
To stay innovative you need to stay inspired. Despite the plethora of information available behind the comfortable confines of your computer screen, you risk mental stagnation when you fall into predictable routines. Get out into the world and into the contexts that people are using your product – you’ll be surprised how quickly unexpected opportunities are revealed.
To encourage the team at Wanderful to build a deeper understanding of our users, we gave everyone $10 and organized a competition to see who could stretch their money the furthest using Find&Save. Two days later, each person shared their purchases and walked the team through their shopping experience. This simple exercise injected product conversations with a new level of awareness and uncovered half a dozen previously unexplored opportunities — all for just $150.
Make User Feedback Routine
When you’re working at breakneck speeds with tight deadlines, taking time out to gather feedback from users can feel like a luxury that’s easy to put off. But there’s no substitute for the nuance and depth of insight that can come from an in-person conversation. And with a couple of well-crafted Craigslist ads, a couple hundred dollars to pay your participants and an afternoon, you can quickly check key assumptions, uncover opportunities for improvement and gather inspiration for new ideas.
It doesn’t have to be formal or lengthy. In fact, rough prototypes often spark richer conversations than fully realized designs because participants are less likely to be concerned about offending the people in the room. Interactive prototypes allow for less directed feedback. Ask participants to verbalize their thought process as they use it. Try not to correct the participant or defend your prototype and answer their questions with questions. “What does this button do?” “Well, what would you like it to do?”
You can also use competitors’ products as a way to quickly understand what people value. For example, when working at IDEO on a project to design a low-cost video camera, our team had participants place a half dozen different existing cameras along various spectrums — most to least fun, most to least useful, most to least expensive. As they went through the exercise, we had them articulate their rationale, providing actionable insights into how we could prioritize features and functionality.
Think of Design as a Team Sport
George Kembel, one of my advisors at Stanford’s d.school, taught me the value of what he called an extroverted design process. By forcing yourself to articulate your ideas to someone else in words or sketches, you are inadvertently advancing your thinking. Meanwhile, your collaborators inevitably bring different frames of reference — and fresh thinking — to the problem, which will ultimately elevate the work. To quote the late Stanford design professor Matt Kahn, “You have to feed forward if you want feedback.”
To encourage this behavior, it’s important to cultivate a shared ownership of ideas. When a new idea arises, it’s the team’s idea, not an individual’s. The inverse scenario can lead to idea hoarding, which is like kryptonite to innovation. Often simple shifts in language can go a long way here — use inclusive language like “we” and “our” rather then “my” and “mine.” Instead of saying, “my idea,” try, “our idea” or “the team’s idea.” It’s not about claiming credit; no good idea comes from just one person. It’s about the quality of the idea and success of the team.
Build Minimum Viable Prototypes
The concept of the minimum viable product (MVP) has become near doctrine in the startup world, thanks in part to Eric Reis and his book The Lean Startup. Along with an iterative, agile development process, this build-to-learn philosophy meshes seamlessly with a design-driven, human-centered approach.
Before you even launch your MVP, think about what prototypes you can create cheaply to address your biggest product assumptions. Then test, iterate, test again and repeat. We’ve been using Keynote for rapid prototyping at Wanderful Media. You can quickly assemble alternative flows, easily create a range of screen designs and even introduce motion in to your prototype. There are some great digital tools available to gather quick feedback like usertesting.com, Verify, Crazy Egg and Get Satisfaction.
Like W.K. Kellogg did more than a century ago, involving your users early, prototyping to learn and applying a design-driven approach to every touch point along your product journey — not just your cereal box — can lead to breakthrough product experiences. Give it a try and you might just come up with some tasty results.