With the widespread adoption of Agile/Lean UX methods in software design, there’s been a steady, ceaseless drumbeat for “validation” of design outputs. It’s laudable and useful, although there is some nuance lost in this specific term, which I have previously discussed. Validation is important, no question, to help ensure creation of something of value for a credible, viable market of customers (i.e., not just for you).
However, before running “out of the building” to validate a prototype that may be “the winner”, your team must first assess the perceived & actual significance of what is being offered. By “significance” I mean the meaning and consequence of the proposed product, service, or system. Let’s break this apart…
Where does meaning come from? Philosophies and theories abound. Fundamentally, meaning is contextual & interpretive, arising from vectors of contact, or relationships, as described below:
** Person to person: How does the offering enable a positive sociable relationship, creation and projection of identity and trust?
** Person to environment: How does the offering support the physical surroundings and context for activities in a safe, responsible, positive manner, and/or contribute to attitudes promoting a healthy progressive environment?
** Person to object: How does the offering support the accumulation of things, possessions, artifacts, etc. that form the tangible personal layer of meaning found in their owned and used artifacts. What makes this possession personal meaningful?
** Person to culture/spirit: How does your offering enable participation and resonance with a set of ideals held by a collective of people (community, tribe, team, etc.) as well as at an individual level of aspiration and achievement? (related to Maslow’s hierarchy)
Not all these relationships are always applicable in creating meaning for every product or service offering. Yet, based upon these possible relationships (or any combinations thereof) you should ascertain what’s the significance of what you’re proposing to create and sell in terms of people, place, community, objects, and even cultural/spiritual values.
Also you must consider what’s the consequence of your service or product. This refers to the ever-expanding ripple effects in terms of production, distribution, materials, usage patterns, and disposal or renewal after the consumption. Also this refers to social and personal behaviors: etiquette, health, diet, communication, respect and tolerance, trust and privacy, etc. Is it responsible and humane and life enhancing? Yes, it’s unabashedly “green” “social” and “ecological”, relating to critical concerns for “the greater good” in a positive & profitable manner, as espoused by Paul Hawken (Natural Capitalism), William McDonough (Cradle to Cradle) and even Victor Papanek (Design for the Real World). Value creation should minimize any possible negative consequence, with clear foresight of ways to address them in a fair, responsible manner, not simply an afterthought slapped on.
Please note–this isn’t it some academic theory! Instead, it’s at the very heart of creation that matters, beyond mere “snake oil” profiteering. How is what you’re creating moving human progress forward, offering distinct meaning in one or more ways? How are the consequences of what you’re making leaving behind a positive footprint for others to follow? It’s not easy but working through this helps simultaneously a) broaden your window of problem framing and b) winnow down an appropriate solution set before soliciting customer feedback prematurely.
Ultimately, it is your team’s responsibility to define what’s truly significant, requiring deep thought & analysis, before plopping it in front of users for mere validation.No comments
In no particular order, here are some brief blurbs on design-related books that I’ve recently read and enjoyed (chronicling the past 3 months roughly)…
The Connected Company by Dave Gray & Thomas Vander Wal
An excellent overview of how to evolve towards a “connected company” that is fundamentally a complex, adaptive system embodying the values of a “learning organization” and “social network” dedicated to maximum customer experience value. Gray’s beautiful hand-drawn illustrations are a perfect complement to the theories and anecdotes. The book overall is quite consumable with short summaries and easily graspable chapters. Definitely a keeper!
Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by AG Lafley & Roger Martin
A rare good book on strategy (not the usual business fad stuff), reflecting the authors’ “design thinking” orientation with a keen eye towards maximizing business value. The core questions of “where to play” and “how to win” frame the brunt of the book, with ample case studies and detailed diagrams worth careful study. This serves as a useful playbook and seems like a good complement to Osterwalder’s “Business Model Generation” as well.
101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar
There seems to be quite a few of these “methods” books lately and this one adds to the mix nicely as a wonderful compendium of tools, models, methods, etc. based largely upon the Instititue of Design’s MDM program. Digestible brief overviews with color photographs and/or richly detailed process diagrams make this a compelling reference on any designer’s desk.
Designing Together by Dan M. Brown
Ah, creative professionals and their damn big egos and petty sensitivities! How to possibly teach them about managing tensions and conflicts back at the office, and evolve mature professional approaches dealing with difficult clients? This book provides a rather lengthy but useful overview of approaches and frameworks. While the intent is great, with great supporting content, I wonder if this could be distilled down to just a 50 page book, not 250 pages! Good reference for tough times, next to that bottle of bourbon.
Microinteractions by Dan Saffer
This is simply brilliant and required reading for every UI / interaction designer. Dan provides an excellent, digestible framework of “trigger + rule + feedback + loops” to serve as a lens for examining micro interactions in our projects and daily living as well. This is loaded with great examples and memorable anecdotes, as well as nice nods to history (like the origins of copy-paste). Another true keeper of a book, with long-term value.1 comment
Recently Apple introduced this rather emotionally poignant TV commercial, presumably as a salvo against intensifying pressure from competitors:
It is a summary of the core values of Apple as a company, brand, and hallmark of savvy consumer innovation expressed in vivid human storytelling of vignettes that capture the “love” for Apple as an embodiment of what’s next, yet what’s familiar and desirable, woven into daily lifestyle.
CEO Tim Cook cited this ad as a statement of Apple’s values (a visual manifesto, even) but also re-affirmation of their signature, “Designed by Apple in California.” (He left out the “Manufactured in China” part, but hey that’s another post for another day ;-) The ad is quite powerful and worth studying a bit. Yet again Apple fights “tech specs” with emotional appeal.
(Update: Apparently this particular ad has been rated as a “flop” with viewers. Hmm.)
Apple also released this beautifully expressive typographic motion piece conveying the same ideas with perhaps more design-centricity for a particular audience, UI design geeks ;-) This is definitely worth a few viewings and studying as well.No comments
As digital product designers, we’re thrown into complex, tense situations trying to make sense of it, including the audience, context of use, and core functionality. Via user-oriented methods we’re taught to not rely upon initial instincts but instead well-grounded “data”, to ward off the rapid fire attacks of suspicious engineers and skeptical executives anxious about their dollars’ applied toward something to guarantee a tangible ROI. Indeed, we must venture into this contest wearing a flak jacket of “data” to protect ourselves from random volleys of anxious emotions. But what does that mean, to have data?
The commonplace notion is “data” encompasses all those usability-lab tested numerical stats or click traffic or rigorous scientific formulae. Actually, there are other kinds of metrics—qualitative and quantitative—such as market share, audience growth, customer satisfaction, and NPS scores. Plus, with ethnography, affective research, and story-based methods, it’s clear that the boundaries of what constitutes data are broadening.
Indeed, just as valuable, is the data of one’s experience: the empirical, observational, and anecdotal types arising from watching and listening to people in their actual context, which adds richness in terms of the nuances of goals and subtleties of problems, beyond what web analytics can provide. Debra Dunn, of Stanford’s d.school (Hasso Platner Institute of Design), says that adhering to Web analytics “makes it very difficult to take bold leaps; it is more from engaging with users, watching what they do, understanding their pain points, that you get big leaps in design”.
Another type of data that shapes design decisions is the designer’s own evolved sense of judgment, perception, and informed intuition, after several years of working with clients/projects across diverse contexts. (Before you scoff, isn’t this true for veteran surgeons, lawyers, accountants, executives? Why not for designers?) For such seasoned, mature designers, this is a vital kind of data from actual field experience in leveraging past mistakes, lessons learned, patterns identified, and drawing upon that reservoir accordingly. The world’s best surgeons are no different in their practice and use of “self-reflective” experiential data to yield superb results. Instinct (in this sense) is simply refined, natural judgment.
Digging deeper, we see that underlying this bias toward “hard” quantifiable lab-based data is an assumption of proving isolated pieces of design solutions as truth, absolute and final.
This contrasts sharply with approaching design as a holistic demonstration of an idea for iteration and evolution in cyclical fashion, towards rapid learning. There needs to be greater appreciation of the fact that data is not truth, but is merely one point in the deliberation over what is appropriate for a context, shaped by healthy skepticism. A productive approach requires a liberal interpretation of data, acknowledging multiple flavors as valid and legitimate, for different phases of a project, given the various constraints and demands.
Ah, there’s the rub—interpretation. All data is subject to human interpretation, and humans, as we all know, are imperfect! As Jared Spool famously said at Interaction’09 conference awhile back, “Any piece of data can be whipped to confess to anything”. In the end, data is used either to support or repel one’s argument. Indeed, design is an intensely deliberative human activity, grounded in debate–even manipulation—toward some reconciling of viewpoints into an outcome. That’s the real battlefield of ideas contested in action among business, engineering, and user experience. Data helps enable and shape a conversation towards shared optimal resolution, not conclusively finalize it. It’s the peaceful coexistence with professional judgment and experience that makes such decision-making more effective and perhaps even right.