bayCHI notes: design thinking & unified experience

Last night I attended the monthly bayCHI talk, featuring two speakers: Larry Leifer of Stanford’s Center for Design Research and Kim Goodwin, VP of Design at Cooper in SF.

Larry Leifer spoke of “design thinking” as framed by some Stanford projects, and in particular his notion of “dancing with ambiguity” which he described as preserving that ongoing state of exploration of alternatives, in the “divergent” mode of thought, going wide and generating tons of options, with maximum bravery/freedom to prototype and fail, thus constantly learning and expanding options. He really emphasized the divergent half of the divergent-convergent equation of innovation for much of his talk. Here’s what really struck me:

— He didn’t give the usual “design will solve everything” spiel from the fanboys of “design thinking” (ahem, like Bruce Nussbaum)
— He stated upfront that the Stanford “has nothing to do with training designers…its for training the rest of us to empathize with designers”. WOW! And Leifer went further saying that the is “not designed to teach [the students] to be designers”. I was shocked and pleased to hear such honesty! Applause.
— Advocated prototyping as a fast, easy way to learning through failure and iteration. I like that! You learn by prototyping.
— Leifer said it’s not about teaching design methodologies but instead you create (in the projects) your own method for a situation, and show how it works (or fails)
— Another axiom: all designing is just re-designing. There’s really nothing blazing new under the sun, all is just re-iterating on prior concepts for new situations and criteria.
— Mentioned that negotiation and “tailoring your talk” are also part of the creative act of design.
— Another axiom: design is about questions, not just decisions and solutions. This comes from the “design attitude” vs. “decision attitude” described in Boland/Collopy’s Managing as Designing.

Kim Goodwin spoke about the value of multidisciplinary design, blending expertise from interaction, visual, and yes even industrial design fields, especially as more product encounters involve a blend of software and hardware (or convergent experiences, as frogdesign would say). Kim referred to this as designing for a “unified experience” using her vernacular from Cooper. Excellent informative overview of the process and where/how experts from these fields need to collaborate effectively (and necessarily) towards achieving a truly good unified experience for a product. As she wryly pointed out, if a customer has a problem with the voicemail feature of a phone she’s typically gonna hate on the whole phone, not just that one isolated feature. (are you listening Motorola??) There needs to be as much parallel engagement as possible throughout the product development, whether it’s waterfall or Agile or whatever. For me personally, I knew much of this already and resonated with what she said, so nothing mind-blowing for me, but it always great to hear a smooth, mellow articulation from such a good speaker! A few major takeaways:

— There’s a difference between “end goals” (focused on specific task accomplishment) and “experience goals” (focused on emotional response)…thus Kim has expanded upon the traditional Cooper persona definition to include emotive goals–how does the user hope to feel upon using this product or interface?
— Scenarios expanded from prior definitions to be really technology-agnostic “what-if” scenarios to provoke deep questioning of motives, goals, purposes…what the possibilities could be beyond the initial 100 page tech reqs doc (which of course has a listed requirement “13.5.2 Must be easy to use” hehe!)
— She mentioned the need for sketching at a lo-fi level, as well later having interaction designers get into pixel level definition to have proper articulation and communication of visuals to users AND to ensure “can you really fit all that data into there?”.
— Never ever ever justify a visual design because “it’s cool”. There will be “blood on the walls” :-) Kim offered other more specific, concrete language to justify a visual design direction or style, based upon the client’s brand: confident, secure, exceptional, etc. She showed some word maps/clouds as a tool for establishing the brand attributes and thus visual language qualities to target.
— Mainly emphasized that collaboration must be constant, keep pinging those engineers and work with them, sometimes need detailed specs or just good close relationships to ensure constant communication of criteria, restrictions, iterations, etc.

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