Posts Tagged ‘Design Thinking’
Whenever we’d meet with prospects, we used to show samples of projects we’d worked on, describing the challenges and showing the solutions. Sometimes a curious thing happened. If what we showed was even slightly different from a prospect’s needs or who their audience was, they’d have a hard time connecting the dots between what we did for someone else and what we could do for them.
This both frustrated and intrigued me. After all, I reasoned, these are smart, articulate, successful people. How could they come up short in this one area? What’s happened to people’s imagination?
I bring this up because a client recently experienced a similar thing. I can’t discuss specifics here, but suffice it to say that his company produces systems which monitor patients in a hospital room environment, and they are developing a new product utilizing the same technology, but for the OR.
In order to gauge interest and better understand the specific needs of those using the product, they decided to exhibit this product at a recent trade show aimed at their target audience. In order to demonstrate the new system, they brought along the hospital bed they use to show how their current system works. But because the environment the audience at this trade show is familiar with is the OR, the hospital bed created confusion — was the product applicable to them or for those involved in post-surgery patient care? Even a large sign in the booth showing an OR and accompanied by a headline explaining the product’s purpose failed to clarify things.
Did these people lack the intelligence or imagination to make the leap? Hardly. I think the issue has more to do with how we search for information. In a world of information and sensory overload, we have learned to look for shorthand visual cues that signal whether or not something is of importance to us. The hospital bed represented a different, and irrelevant world to this audience.
The lesson here is that the more you look to simulate reality, the more accurate you need to be. Even small differences that can be significant. (After all, humans and chimps share 96% of the same DNA.) In a seeming paradox, going in the opposite direction (e.g. abstract, imaginative, or non-descript) can work better, especially if it’s hard to accurately imitate reality. If the prop or environment doesn’t offer any visually informational cues, people instinctively skip over it and look to whatever will provide the information they need. In the case of my client, had they used a non-descript black box in place of a hospital bed, people would not have even noticed it. Instead, they would have gone straight to the large sign for the information they were looking for, and any confusion would have been avoided.
As for me, I realized that the problem wasn’t with our prospects’ lack of imagination. We weren’t sending the right signals. Instead of hospital beds in an OR environment, ours centered around expectations. We were showing results while our prospects were looking for someone who could figure out how to solve their problem. And since the results we were showing didn’t match their needs, they had a hard time finding any relevance in them. So we stopped showing our portfolio and began demonstrating our thinking, since this is really what our clients need from us and where our expertise lies.
Corporate and product guidelines have been in place for a long time. But guidelines can be used for other purposes as well. Take the case of one of our clients — Z Corporation (now part of 3D Systems).
Z Corporation produces 3D printers that build three-dimensional models. These models are incredibly precise, allowing architects, engineers, designers, and other professionals to develop more ideas and innovation, and to communicate it better and faster. Recently, the marketing department created a slogan — Create more™ — to promote the power and benefits of their products. By adding words after Create more, this dynamic slogan becomes even more powerful: Create more innovation; Create more communication; Create more ideas. And so on.
The Create more slogan uses a specifc font colors. The marketing department took great care to consistently apply the slogan to a range of marketing materials. Employees outside the marketing department also began adding the slogan to materials, including PowerPoint presentations and emails. But without clear directions to guide them, the slogan was sometimes misapplied. The result was an inconsistent use of the slogan, which threatened to undermine the overall effectiveness of the campaign.
Before things got out of control, Z Corporation asked for our help. We developed a set of guidelines to:
• explain why the slogan was developed and how it ties into the company’s broader goals.
• provide a set of rules on how to correctly create the slogan and apply it to materials.
• provide examples of the slogan being used in a range of applications, from PowerPoint presentations to coffee mugs.
The final guidelines were created as an easy-to-distribute PDF in a horizontal, 8.5 x 11 inch format so it could be easily viewed on screen or printed if needed.
When creating guidelines, four important rules are:
• Explain the reasons behind the guidelines. Instead of simply giving people a set of rules to blindly follow, take the time to explain the rationale behind the guidelines. People are more willing to comply with rules if they understand the reasons behind them. In this case, we explained how the Create more slogan fits into the overall Z Corporation brand, how the slogan would be used, and why it was important to use it correctly.
• Make it easy to understand and use. The harder guidelines are to read, the less likely people will be inclined to use them. For Z Corporation, making it easy to understand and use as a quick reference tool was particularly important because unlike most sets of guidelines that are designed for use only by marketing and design professionals, these guidelines are intended to be used by all employees, most of who are unfamiliar with standards guides.
• Provide lots of samples. Samples help people visualize what they need to do to conform to standards. We included samples of the logo in PowerPoint slides, ads, and coffee mugs. We even included a sample of how it would appear at the end of an email and included specs so emails would look consistent throughout the company.
• Make it easy to implement. In addition to guidelines, provide tools that make it easier for people to implement whatever it is you want them to do. These tools can include logo files, templates (e.g. PowerPoint, Word, InDesign), and specific graphics or images. In
Z Corporation’s case, electronic files of the Create more logo in different formats were made accessible.
The government recently announced that the terrorist warning system is being revised. The old color-coded system, instituted shortly after 9/11 had five levels of threat: Green for Low (low risk of terrorist attack); Blue for Guarded (general risk of terrorist attach); Yellow for Elevated (significant risk of terrorist attack); Orange for High (high risk of terrorist attacks); Red for Severe (severe risk of terrorist attacks). The new system will only have two alerts: Elevated and Imminent.
I was speaking with a client of mine about the new system. In the course of our discussion, he asked what I thought of the old one. I told him I didn’t like it for a couple of reasons. First, it gave us a level of information — color-coding — that was unnecessary. The words alone told the story — succinctly. But I’m a communicator. My client liked the color coding. Maybe that’s because he’s a software engineer and the system had built-in redundancy. Engineers like that. But what’s good for communication on a computer network is not necessarily a good thing for the human network.
One of the problems with the color coding is that we never saw the system on a daily basis. Frequency builds understanding. Think of street signs. We could paint over the word “STOP” on every stop sign, but you would still know what to do when you came to an intersection that had one of these signs. If we saw the terror alert system every day on the news, appearing in the lower right corner along with the weather and time, we would have learned the significance of each color. I never saw the terrorist alert system anywhere in public. I heard it announced on radio or television a few times, and each time, the announcer said something like “The terrorist alert system was upgraded to Orange today, meaning high alert for terrorist attacks.” He could have skipped the color and I would have gotten the message that much faster.
There were also too many levels to the system. And each level didn’t indicate some corresponding action to be taken. I couldn’t think of what I would do different if we had a blue, green yellow or even orange alert code.
Sometimes words alone are enough. What’s most unfortunate of course, is that we need to use these words at all.
Not long ago, a colleague asked me “Who stole my profession?” He was bemoaning what had happened to the career we had chosen, one to which we have both devoted our entire lives. Graphic Design has changed as much, or more than just about any other role in business. In fact, it’s hard to know how to advise young graduates who come to us with their freshly downloaded degree in Graphic Design since the job is about so much more than it used to be. Almost ten years ago, I wrote about the changes I saw happening in an article titled: “The Strategic Designer Becomes a Key Part in Management Decision Making” – Boston Business Journal, May 24, 2002. The pace of change has only accelerated since then.
To understand the role of the designer today, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from.
Our profession has had an identity crisis for years. In the 60′s, it was called Commercial Art and its practitioners were Commercial Artists. It was an accurate description of the role, but to some, it seemed an oxymoron. “True artists” believed that art and commerce could not coexist and, in fact, Commercial Artists were nothing more than uninspired artists who had sold their creative souls to the corporate devil. By the time the 70s rolled around, Commercial Art had been replaced by a less offensive term, Graphic Design.
Nobody really knew what the term meant. “Graphic Design? You mean you design graphics? What kind of graphics?” But at least it was no longer called commercial art. As the 80′s progressed, companies developed an understanding of what graphic design was — the artful combination of words and images to communicate messages, primarily intended for reproduction by offset printing. Designers worked with many skilled tradesmen to accomplish their work, including typesetters, photographers, illustrators, photo retouchers, proofreaders, paste-up artists, printers and finishers.
With the advent of the personal computer, the world changed. With each successive software upgrade, tasks which once had required talented and practiced artisans were being performed on the computer by the designer. Entire trades disappeared, one after another — typesetters. photo retouchers. paste-up artists, pre-press persons (strippers). While the graphic designer took on more and more responsibilities, the term was at the same time being devalued. In an article written by Sandra Cirincione in “For Women First” magazine called “Best Jobs for the Nineties-No College Degree Required”, she recommended a career in Graphic Design because “it’s highly creative”. For training, readers could “Investigate night courses offered at local universities and technical schools.” She even added, “Training is available at many computer stores.” OUCH!!! As perceptions of Graphic Designers lowered, highly capable firms looked to separate themselves from the term. Needing to better communicate the breadth and value of the services they offered, they chose instead to call themselves a Marketing Communications Firm or a Communications Design Firm.
The changes brought about by the computer were nothing compared to the impact caused by the emergence of the World Wide Web (or the “information superhighway”, as Al Gore liked to call it). Designers had taken on more and more roles over the years and when it was determined that every company MUST have a Website, business again turned to designers. The perception of designers within the executive office was beginning to change. No longer were they seen merely as window dressing. Business leaders were starting to see that designers had skills they could use to benefit the bottom line. To call yourself a graphic designer would invite the question… “Oh, you design Websites?”
The decade gave birth to a second sea-change for business, almost as powerful as the advent of the Web — Branding. Branding was nothing new, but the practice had been more common in consumer marketing and larger B2B companies. The Web had leveled the playing field and now even small and mid-size companies were beginning to understand the importance of clear and consistent communication. Libraries filled with books about branding. Evangelists spoke to everyone who would listen about the value of a brand. Everyone and his brother was suddenly offering Branding as a service, and each developed their own convenient definition of the term. To corporate identity firms, branding was all about the logo. Printers would claim that branding meant consistent, high quality literature. To a writer, branding was an elevator pitch and a tagline. And Web firms seemed to believe that branding began at the home page and ended at the contact page. So much was changing — the demands of the new technology the expectations of the business world. As the ultimate generalist, designers were again the ones best postioned to take on the expanded role. No longer just Graphic Design, now it’s Strategic Design.
Advances in technology continued to change the communications industry, and continued to steamroll over the talented people who had served it. Photographers and illustrators sold their collections to stock photo agencies and nearly insured the demise of their trade. Printing presses came to a halt as companies had less and less need for large inventories of literature. The dot com meltdown and the resulting recession forced companies to find new and less expensive ways to communicate with their customers. Email marketing emerged an inexpensive alternative to expensive and time consuming direct mail. Search Engine Optimization became the rage and corporations brought more and more of their marcom needs in-house. Working with no marketing budgets, marketing specialists were asked to produce corporate literature and print them on their ink jet printers as concerns about quality and effectiveness became a thing of the past. The 2009 economic meltdown corresponded with a rapidly evolving Social Media to add to the culture of FREE. And again, smart designers evolved to become trusted advisors on how best to navigate this new world.
Graphic Designers who have weathered the rollercoaster of change in the past 30 years are the ones who understood their fundamental value to business — their ability to apply creative problem solving skills to a wide range of business problems. In fact, the creative process used to develop strategic solutions for business today is the same process that has been used by designers for years to solve a wide range of communications challenges. Now the process has a name — Design Thinking. (defined in Wikipedia as a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.) The term, coined by David Kelley of IDEO, is now part of business lexicon. The impact that Design Thinking can have on business is exactly what I wrote about in that 2002 Boston Business Journal article.
To my colleague who wondered what happened to Graphic Design, it’s not gone. It just goes by a new name — Design Thinking.
What is design thinking? Before I explain what it is, let me explain what it isn’t. It’s not something only designers do. Anyone can employ design thinking to achieve better results to any problem.
Design thinking utilizes analysis, empathy, and creativity in a problem-solving process to meet user needs and achieve improved future results.
What makes design thinking so powerful is that the three attributes it requires — analysis, empathy, and creativity — dovetail nicely with the attributes required by end users/consumers — analysis, experience, emotion —when deciding on which product or solution to go with. The same kind of analytical thinking that went into developing the solution is the same kind of rational thinking that consumers use to study the features and weigh the benefits of a product or service. The ability to empathize with the end user is to understand their experiences and how these experiences, both good and bad drive future decision-making. And last, creativity can take the consumer beyond simple understanding and lead them to a strong and memorable emotional connection to a product or solution. This is no minor feat, since research indicates that about 70% of the decision-making process is emotional.
The design thinking process involves the following steps:
1. Define the problem/audience. The better and more specifically the problem and audience is defined, the better the odds of arriving at the correct solution.
2. Do research. Get input from the people involved in the project, and understand what factors created the problem, and collect examples of other attempts to solve the same problem.
3. Generate ideas. Sift through the findings from step 2 and make sure it’s clear what the motivations and needs of the end user are. Starting from this point, generate as many ideas as possible to try to solve these needs — without debating or judging their merits.
4. Review your options. Discuss, combine, refine, modify or ultimately eliminate unworkable ideas. At the end, you should have a selection of ideas worthy of presenting for final consideration.
5. Choose one idea. Set aside any sense of ownership to an idea and select the most powerful idea. Avoid consensus thinking — too often, the most tepid, unmemorable ideas are selected this way.
6. Implement it. Execute the idea and present it to the world.
7. Learn. Gather feedback, measure the results and determine how effectively the solution solved the stated problem, and what, if anything can be done to improve the results.
8. Repeat. Use the lessons learned to refine the solution or to develop new ideas to solve the problem better.
Great solutions shouldn’t be the result of divine inspiration, and with design thinking, it won’t be. Instead, you’ll have a roadmap to better, and more predictable results.