From hunch to research direction to design concept

The hand

The most common issue service design students face is project paralysis in the face of infinite possibilities and the synthesis of a mass of research material. Services are often complex and the interconnectedness of problems can soon appear too difficult to tackle. Taking the leap to tentatively develop an idea, and letting go of the need for it to be the best idea possible is often a real challenge, especially when the concept remains an abstract and complex.

I wrote a post over on Medium titled Getting From Here to There about moving from a hunch to research direction to concept. It looks at what the service design equivalent is of an architect’s rough sketches of a large project as opposed to the detail of a single touchpoint. It started as a mail to my service design students, but I thought others might find it useful in teaching, learning or practice too.

I’d love to hear your feedback in the margin comments on Medium.

IFTTT vs ifttt

You may have noticed some very short posts recently. Today actually. Except they are from a while ago. I have a recipe on If This Then That that posts the description field of my Pinboard bookmarks tagged with “blog” to Playpen. I used it to link blog more frequently, but got out of the habit of it because I couldn’t remember the format. Obviously I wasn’t doing it frequently enough.

Today I wanted to write the post about the Millennials using this method, so I checked the recipe. Apparently the IFTTT recipes are case sensitive and it was looking for the tag “blog”, not “Blog”. When I changed the recipe, it found several bookmarks of blogs that I had tagged, not surprisingly, “Blog” and auto-posted them. I initially deleted the posts again, but since they’ll show up in the RSS feed and are interesting links anyway, I have restored them. They are quite old discoveries though.

In retrospect, using the tag “blog” as a trigger was pretty dumb. I’ve changed it to something else now. Maybe it will increase the frequency of my link posts—a format that Twitter has largely killed off.

Protection Racket

On Thursday, Google launches a new service called Contributor that Gigaom bills as “a crowdfunding platform for publishers.” According to Gigaom, the program is “designed to allow web users to pay sites that they visit a monthly fee, and in return see no Google ads when they visit those sites.”

Google still takes a cut of that revenue, so now they get their money either way. In other words, the lack of click throughs become irrelevant. Readers see a thank you message or, possibly, no ads at all.

In what way is this “crowdfunding”? It’s simply a subscription model, only worse. Google are heavily responsible for the web being filled with the cruft of their poorly designed ads. Now publishers have an incentive to fill their pages with more of them, just so users will pay to turn them off.

Think of the reverse-UX behind that for a moment: “We know these ads are annoying, but instead of making them less annoying, we see an opportunity to charge people for ignoring them.” Of course, they’ll get some useful data out of that too.

It’s a protection racket. “Nice webpage you’re reading here, pal. It would be a shame if someone filled it with ads.”

Help Launchlabs crowdfund their creative co-working space

launchlabsplan

“At home you feel lonely and at the office you get nothing done.”

True words from my friend and frequent collaborator, Andreas Erbe, from Launchlabs in Basel, although in my case, “at home you get nothing done and at the office you feel lonely,” is also true.

Andreas and his colleague Tiziana Meletta have launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Swiss crowdfunding platform, wemakeit.com. They are building a co-working, co-creation and innovation space at Gundeldinger Feld in Basel and need some help reaching their final goal.

They are creating a “place where you can choose either to work alone, with a colleague, co-create in a team or host an event.” Pledges range from a 10 CHF trip on their crane right up to 5,000 CHF for a lifetime workspace. That’s pretty good when you consider you would spend that on about three months’ office rent in Switzerland.

Please consider backing them, you can either head directly to the funding page or use the embedded version below. The video is in German, but subtitled in English (Andreas is half English, half Swiss, so feel free to fire off questions in either language).

Service design combined with smart resource usage

My older brother Matt works as Lead Researcher, The Circular Economy at British Telecommunications (yes, he is older than me, although I get the bald head and grey beard). He recently gave a talk at Nesta’s Smart Resources event about his role on a project to redesign and rethink BT’s HomeHub router. Although the initial focus was on reducing resource consumption, you will hear him talk a lot about service design and customer experience benefits too (he is speaking around 2:24). He also talks about how this is also about a cultural change as much as any engineering or design challenges.

Social engineering may just be the most important skill service designers need to learn.

There’s also an interview snippet it with him at 3:00 here, again talking about how important the service design aspect is:

Capital One’s acquisition of Adaptive Path shouldn’t be news

Last week’s announcement by Adaptive Path that they have been acquired by Capital One sent, if not shockwaves, certainly large ripples through the tech press. Wired said it was the “death rattle of the Web 2.0 era”, Techcrunch linked it to Capital One’s launch of their new mobile wallet app. Kerry Bodine wrote that “her head just exploded”, but then went on to write some very smart thoughts about it. Who knew exploding heads could be so thoughtful?

The general gist of the reactions echoed Jesse James Garrett’s own in their announcement post: “I know, weird, right?” But the acquisition is no weirder than Marc Newson joining Apple.

Banks are, of course, in the money business, but their retail sector is the experience business. When was the last time you actually bothered to read, let alone respond to, one of those formal letters from your bank informing you of a change of interest rate or a change to their terms and conditions? I’m guessing it’s probably about as often as you thoroughly read through the iTunes Store terms and conditions the last time you updated. Even if you did read it, your ability to react to a rise in interest rates or higher fees is minimal.

Now think about the last time you were annoyed by poor customer service, a lousy app, a clunky website, unfair fees, a huge queue in your local branch. I’m betting is was more recently and is much more burnt into your soul than the interest rates.

You can’t hold your bank account in your hand and examine its build quality like an iPhone or a suit before you buy it. The quality of the bank’s service to you is made up of all your experiences and interactions with different touchpoints and, crucially, whether they all seamlessly fit together or not. Those experiences form a relationship that builds up over time. Like any relationship, the odd bad experience might be forgiven, but a continuous stream of bad experiences eventually leads to the point where the pain of leaving is less than the pain of staying.

Now imagine if a bank spent as much time crafting the joins between customer experiences as Jony Ive does ensuring the seam between the iPhone touchscreen glass and the milled aluminium housing is as invisible as possible. Isn’t it obvious that this is exactly what all banks should be attempting to do? Acquiring Adaptive Path is only weird in that it has only happened now and not 10 years ago.

The banking press got in on the act with American Banker (rhymes with…) going for the thoughtless headline, “Capital One Seeks Creative Spark with Purchase of Design Firm”. That article quoted Jacob Jegher, a research director at Celent with this:

“When the paint starts to peel on the walls of the branch and the carpet starts to fray and the glass is scratched, what happens? It gets renovated. Same can be said for digital banking.”

True to financial analyst form, this exactly misses the point.

UX & service designers aren’t painters and decorators there to make things look glossy while the money guys get on with the serious business of turning some numbers into bigger numbers. Focusing on the experience, means thinking hard about how best to deliver that experience. If it were easy, customers would love their banks like they love their iPhones. Instead they love their banks like they love multiple root canals. The process of re-thinking the experience will and should lead to re-thinking Capital One’s internal organisation and culture. (Though, by the sound of Jesse’s post, they already have a culture ready for this).

My heartfelt congratulations to Adaptive Path. I don’t begrudge anyone who has spent years building up a successful business selling what they have created and taking on a new direction. As Lou Rosenfeld said, “If you want to risk selling out, run a conventional agency.”

My hope is that with Adaptive Path on board at Capital One, their ambition is to do to the banking sector what Apple did to the mobile phone.

[Update: Russ Unger pointed out to me that this is really big news and everyone should know about it, which it is of course. The title is a little clickbait-esque)]

Learning from Raiders of the Lost Ark

I’m in the research phase for a book project that looks at how and what designers and organisations—particularly those involved in service design or complex projects—can learn from filmmakers.

In the words of Peter Sellers Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that I studied film as an undergraduate and carried on until my final year until I was fully sidetracked by interactive media. But the filmmaking process has always played a big role in the way I think about how multi-disciplinary groups of people can best work together creatively.

More on that in the future, but right now the area I am researching is storyboarding. I frequently teach groups of self-proclaimed non-drawers how to storyboard in workshops so that they can pitch their service propositions and ideas. Working visually with a sequence of images on sticky-notes on the wall is a much quicker and better way of walking through what a service experience might look and feel like than just using text. As you move your eyes across the touchpoint sketches, you build your own mini mental storyboard of the user/customer journey.

To combat the “I can’t draw” panic that many people have, I regularly use Pixar Story Artist Emma Coates’ great technique of drawing from films. You take a film, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and freeze-frame every time the shot changes. Then you sketch a thumbnail of the shot as quickly as possible. I give my workshop participants about 10-20 seconds.

2014 09 11 4 32 32

At that speed, everyone draws equally bad (or good, depending on your point of view). I have done this with mixed groups, often with illustrators in the mix, and the previous skill level has little to do with the final result. In fact, sometimes those trained to draw well have a problem letting go and drawing rough. The key skill is being able to see which elements are important and which are not. That’s a skill that is useful in many other contexts.

As it is for Emma, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic youth memory of mine and remains one of my favourite films in terms of structure and staging. Thanks to its heritage from melodramatic Sunday afternoon matinee movies, the staging and framing are really clear to sketch.

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh recently posted an exercise also using Raiders as an example to look at staging:

I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me.

Raiders bw

Cool, that Soderbergh posts about this, but even cooler is that he made a black and white version with the soundtrack stripped out of it for the exercise. It’s great, go take a look.

For some extra goodies, check out these:

Customer service experienced in bits

Dr Drang tells two stories of failed customer service. The first one involves him trying to assist his mother getting to the gate at the airport. I use flying a lot as an example of services involving silos that barely communicate with each other and generate terrible customer experiences as a result. Dr Drang’s experience is typical:

You will not be surprised to hear that the people at the ticket desk—both our initial agent and his superior—had no idea how to issue me a gate pass. Curiously, the agent did ask for my photo ID, even though he had no idea what to do with it. Force of habit, I guess. Eventually, the supervisor hit upon the idea of sending us to the Special Services desk, where we would become someone else’s problem.

The agent at the Special Services desk knew everything about gate passes and told me right away that I wouldn’t be able to get one. “They’re being very tight with those.”

When I explained to the agent that I’d been told by the airline that I could get a gate pass, she told me with great confidence that the people manning the airline’s 800 number didn’t know anything. But she took my driver’s license, typed my information into her computer, and my gate pass printed out immediately.

“Do you know which gate you’re going to?” she asked sharply as she handed it over.

“No, I haven’t checked yet. I wasn’t sure until just now that I was going to get in.”

“Well, it’s F6A. It’s right on the pass.” There was a note of triumph in her voice, as it was clear she had bested me.

None of these poor experiential moments is tragic on its own, but the aggregate experience is an awful one—something I often refer to as an experience crevasse that customers fall into. When you are at the bottom of one of those, nobody can hear you screaming for help.

When I work with teams to bring service design methods into their workflow, one of the common responses is, “but to do this properly we really need to change or organisation’s structure.” Culture and cultural change within an organisation is key to changing the end experiences of a service. If staff feel frustrated, bored or under pressure to act in a way detrimental to the customer experience, it should be no surprise that this experience is awful. Yet this is regularly demanded of staff under the guise of efficiency. Companies need to switch their focus from the industrial mode of efficiency to a service mindset of being effective. They’re not mutually exclusive, but the emphasis and process are very different.

Without that, customers end up treating the interaction as a battle. As Dr Drang writes at the end of his post:

Now I see my interactions with customer service as a sort of strategy game: can I plan my way around the obstacles the game will put in my way? Today I came out on top. Tomorrow is another round.

Apple, Beats and wearable tech

All the speculation about Apple designing and iWatch and the noise about their acquisition of Beats got me wondering why we do not pay more attention to the tech we are already wearing and why some of it is socially acceptable and some not.

There is a kind of inverse correlation between assistive technologies and wearable tech. It is socially acceptable, cool even, to wear glasses—a medical aid that sits front and centre on your face—but hearing aids are seen to be uncool, even though they are less visible. This is quite unfair, but despite the efforts of artists and designers like David Hockney and Susan Cohn to make hearing aids a feature and not hide them, they remain socially stigmatised.

Conversely, wearing Google Glass turns you into a glasshole, whilst wearing a pair of Beats headphones makes you cool. Well, the coolness factor is debatable with Beats headphones. One Amazon reviewer describes a pair of Sennheiser Momentum headphones as “much more of a premium look and feel than the plastic ridden beats. These are something that an adult can be seen in public in without looking like a complete tool.” Nevertheless, plenty of people do find Beats cool, despite them being the worst noise polluters I ever have to sit next to on the train. Besides, it is hard to argue with $3 billion. In short, headphones and glasses are hipster, hearing aids and Google Glass are not. Bluetooth earpieces appear to have taken on the stigma of hearing aids, plus the toolness of Glass. Wearers shouting into thin air and mostly being annoying salesmen probably does not help their case.

Obviously, wearable technology has a future, but it is easy to forget that how much of the future is already here. I carry my iPhone around in my jeans or jacket pocket. Am I wearing it? Kind of. It depends on your definition of “wearing”. If I stick it in my front shirt pocket like Joaquin Phoenix in Her, is that wearing my phone or just carrying it around more publicly? What about sticking it on my arm while jogging? That probably counts as wearing it.

The irony of all the bullshit calls for Apple to produce an iWatch is that people are wearing watches less often because they have a smartphone in their pocket that they use instead of a watch. To make an iWatch would be for Apple to make a device that replaces a device the iPhone already made redundant.

The other trend for wrist-worn tech either look like a bloated Livestrong wristband or a flexible ruler from the 80s. All of these require lots of persuading people they are cool enough to wear, which usually requires lots of marketing money. Pre-iPhone it was hard to imagine a phone that had no buttons and was just a panel of glass. Although Apple did spend plenty of money on marketing, the key factor was that it was the phone everyone had been waiting for because manufacturers had made such a hash of phone design up until then. Nobody thought they were going to be ridiculed for using one in public. It was designing for an unarticulated need more than marketing that achieved that. The iPhone went with the flow of public desire for such a simple, yet powerful, device.

If you are designing a piece of wearable tech today, perhaps one that is not so miniature—the size of a matchbox, say, so that it has some decent processing power—then you have two choices. You either come up with something that is new and confronting, like Google Glass and try and persuade people that, no, honestly, they really are cool. Or you look at the big chunks of tech people are already wearing, like those half-buns perched on your ears. That’s where I would consider building some new, amazing, wearable technology. You can jam a lot in that space an people still think you are wearing a cool pair of headphones instead of looking like a tool. That is far easier to sell and eventually the technology will get smaller and fit into earbuds, which is what every iPhone comes with anyway and everyone is used to wearing. The production designers of Her got that part very right.

Tim, Jony, Mr Dre (because I’m fairly certain you are not really a doctor), you know what to do.