18 May 2013
We can’t see the future, yet we’re forced keep up with change at an ever-increasing rate. To guide their decisions, businesses develop visions about the world as it will be, or a theories of a believable future.
As Clayton Christensen reminds us in The Innovator’s Solution, theory is what helps us confront the future:
What brings predictability to any field is a body of well-research theory — contingent statements of what causes what and why. Executives often discount the value of management theory because it is associated with the word theoretical, which connotes impractical. But theory is consummately practical…It is the absence of conscious, trustworthy theories of cause and effect that makes success in building new businesses seem random (p. 12).
Corporate vision videos are a genre of film that express a company’s theory about tomorrow. These aren’t science fiction or fantasy, but instead grounded in reality. The videos show a systematic look at a possible future — a theory of cause and effect.
What’s more, vision videos are not specifications of a product or solution. Sure, technology is usually highlighted in the storyline. But vision videos ultimately show the impact of a new technology on people and their lives. They describe new customer value and how the world will be better.
Corporate vision videos date back to the 1940s. Companies in many industries have spent a great deal of time and money creating such videos. The intent is to demonstrate a concrete hypothesis of tomorrow that not only drives initiatives and investments, but also provides inspiration.
Vision videos provide a common view that teams can rally around. Writing about the value of having a common vision, UX expert Jared Spool says:
Visions act like a flag stuck into the sand somewhere on the horizon. The team can clearly see the flag, yet it’s far enough away that they won’t reach it any time soon. Because the flag is clearly visible, the team knows if every step they take brings them closer or farther away. If the flag weren’t visible, the team wouldn’t know and could wander off in an undesirable direction.
This is the real value of corporate vision videos: providing a path to follow.
Below is a collection of public vision videos, listed in chronological order from the oldest to the newest. The year indicates the date the video was filmed, not the year in the future it was projected to have taken place.
General Motors’ “To New Horizons” (1940)
Filmed in 1940, this video tells the story of the transport in the future of 1960. This film has a very long intro before getting to the “future vision” part at around 9:00 minute mark.
The Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
Philco-Ford “1999 A.D.” (1967)
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHlDmJn6u4E&feature=relmfu
Apple, ”The Knowledge Navigator” (1987)
SUN Microsystems, “Starfire” (1993)
Adaptive Path, “Aurora (Web browser) Concept Video”(2009)
Microsoft, “Productivity Vision Video” (2010)
TAT, “Future of Screen Technology” (2010)
Google Glass (2012)
26 March 2013
In the first chapter my book Designing Web Navigation, I pose the question, Why do we even need web navigation at all? Well, for one, navigation provides access to the content of a site. But more important, it’s the way that it provides access that makes navigation necessary. After all, site search also provides access to content. Why not just have site search and be done with the problem of designing and maintaining a complex navigation system?
Engagement is the answer — drawing users into your service and persuading them to take action. Here’s the example I give in my book, which includes a quote from Jared Spool:
[Web navigation] can be a more engaging information experience than, say, just a keyword search. Usability expert Jared Spool and his colleagues found that people tend to continue shopping more often when navigating than after doing a direct keyword search:
“…Apparently, the way you get to the target content affects whether you’ll continue looking or not. We found that if the users used Search to locate their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other content after they found the target content. But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with Search.” (Jared Spool, “Users Continue After Category Links” (December 2001)
When browsing a web site, people seem to learn about other available content. For ecommerce sites, this could equal more sales; for a non-profit organization, it could result in more support; or for a medical information site, it could provide a deeper understanding of a disease or cure, for instance. In other words, it’s the way in which navigation systems provide access to information that is important.
People prefer information that involves sequence. They like to browse. Navigation provides a narrative for people to follow on the web. It tells a story—the story of your site. In this respect there is something both familiar and comforting about web navigation. The widespread, seemingly-natural use of navigation to access content on the web reflects its strength as a narrative device.
Echoing this sentiment in a different way, MIT fellow Michael Schrage makes an explicit plea for making a distinction between engagement and user experience. He writes in his recent article “Don’t Confuse Engagement with User Experience“:
Designing a great device is not the same as designing a great user experience. Designing a great user experience is not the same as designing greater engagement. While it’s completely understandable why designers, product managers and marketers might conflate them, reality suggests that a great user experience doesn’t necessarily generate engagement any more than meaningful engagement inherently assures a great user experience.”
The example he offers is the difference in engagement between Apple’s iOS and Android. The latter has been outselling the former by a ratio of 5:1 in recent times. Yet Apple sees much more engagement in ecommerce from its users – disproportionately so. Adobe digital magazine downloads, for example, sold 3% via Android while 97% went to iOS.
The dynamics going on here seem to go beyond good (or bad) UI design or even providing a good user experience. Schrage concludes:
When engagement is treated like a UX feature or function instead of a defining sensibility, you get less of it. At risk of sounding “meta,” one of the great design challenges innovators increasingly confront in increasingly competitive markets is how to get their best people to engage around engagement. You need to devote as much creativity and ingenuity around designing for engagement as you do for the entire user experience.
UX Shape *
So, how do we approach this phenomenon within the context of UX design? I’d like to propose a term to describe a combination of multiple facets at play here: UX Shape.
When designing for engagement, it’s not just about a UI with good task efficiency or even providing an emotionally positive experience. We need to look at the whole picture, the entire shape of the user experience.
Storytelling is a good analogy to describe UX Shape, as I suggest in the quote from my book, above. Web navigation tells a different story than site search; iOS provides a different narrative to follow than Android. As a result, the type and level of engagement is different in each case.
Admittedly, my formulation of “UX Shape” is still rough. We can nonetheless consider some aspects that go into UX shape, extending beyond style, form and function. Like telling a good storytelling, I see UX Shape as a combination (but not limited to) these elements:
Just as the theme of a story is important to its narration, semantics play a role in UX shape. With web navigation, for instance, users have a wider semantic peripheral sense of what the site is about. Site search is more surgical – you’re in and out — and users are not as aware of the meaning of the whole thing. We can also think of meaning in a social sense. Apple products combine great industrial design and modern software in one experience. Compared to the open, device-independent Android OS, Apple products have a different status in contemporary culture. Designing for engagement entails the construction of meaning.
A gripping plot engages. Flow is about how the elements and events unfold and in which sequence. This recalls Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “hot” and “cold” media in which sequence plays a large role. Hot media, McLuhan suggested, provide complete involvement by the user, and they do so with linear ordering. Cold media result in lower involvement for the user, who often must comprehend multiple parts simultaneously. Web navigation and Apple iOS are hot; site search and Android are cold.
- Mode of Interaction
In experience design, the user is the protagonist. Her mode of interaction is relevant to the UX Shape. For instance, we can talk about “sit back” and “lean forward” modes of interaction, as well as “known searches” and “exploratory searching.” So, when looking for information or a product on a website, using the web navigation over search represents a different mode of interaction.
Emotions play a role in UX Shape. Uncertainty drives emotions in commerce situations. Therefore talking about uncertainty rather than emotions focuses on causality. Like conflict in a good story, uncertainty creates tension and release in UX Shape. Understanding uncertainty and how it affects emotions allows designers to craft the overall UX Shape with intent. For instance, site navigation provides confidence while looking for products online (assuming good information scent). And Apple has dumbed things down sufficiently to eliminate uncertainty in use and experience.
- Framing Factors
“Framing” is the difference in saying “75% fat free” rather than “contains 25% fat.” These two messages are framed differently. In our iOS v. Android example, price and spending play a role in framing Apple’s higher engagement. With Apple, people are already conditioned to have their credit cards ready for extras (like buying a VGA adaptor for $30), and they expect apps to cost something, even if minimal. With Google, our experience is framed by everything being free.
To reiterate, it’s important to consider these factors together, as a type of gestalt effect.
“Engagement” rather than “experience” re-frames how we design for customers. Bruce Nussbaum, professor and author on design and innovation, notes this shift in his article “How to Find and Amplify Creativity”. He writes:
User experience (UX) was a bold concept in its day and moved us away from merely meeting “needs”. But it is obsolete. People today participate with companies in the design and purchase of products. “Experience” is too passive a term to describe the relationship. User engagement (UE) is the new creative competence for the future. Think about aura — the things that beckon you and keep you interested — and design it into your products and services as Apple and Nike have done.
In designing a UX shape for engagement, then, the task is to identify the aspects that will articulate a given shape. These are likely to be unique for each situation but can be categorized by the above factors. Find the common patterns for the product or service you’re working in and support these in your design. It’s not only about meeting expectations, but also creating them.
* NOTE: I’ve borrowed and adapted the term “UX Shape” from Andrew Dillon & Misha Vaughan’s concept of “Information Shape.” I fully acknowledge their work in my book and in the context of this post. For more, see their article on information shape: Andrew Dillon & Misha Vaughan, “It’s the Journey and the Destination: Shape and the Emergent Property of Genre in Evaluating Digital Documents” New Review of Multimedia and Hypermedia 3 (1997): 91-106. http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~adillon/publications/journey&destination.pdf.
20 January 2013
I’m proud to be publishing a short article on alignment diagrams in Touchpoint: The Journal of Service Design (vol 4, no. 3, pp. 70-73) called “Balancing Value with Alignment Diagrams.”
Touchpoint isn’t available online, but you can download the PDF of my article here.
Here are some excerpts from the text:
We can view value creation as an equation with two halves: on the one side, there’s the business perspective, including service provision mechanisms and the benefits the organisation obtains; on the other, we find the customer perspective, including the customer’s experience
and the added value a service brings to a market. Accordingly, alignment diagrams also have two parts that mirror these perspectives. Where the activities of the two halves meet gives rise to touchpoints – where value lies, as illustrated in the diagram below.
Strategic and tactical projects within any organisation often witness conflicting perspectives. By focusing on value creation – the overlap between customer activity and business offerings – we potentially harmonise this conflict. This is first step in achieving co-creation
and positioning an organisation to collaborate with customers.
While no silver bullet, alignment diagrams instil a sense of balance back into corporate thinking. At a minimum, they start a conversation towards coherence, bringing actions, thoughts and people together while fostering consensus. More importantly, they focus on creating value – for both the customer and the business. Moving forward, businesses will need to look at value as a balanced the equation. Alignment diagrams are
diagnostic tools already in the design repertoire that let us do just that, bringing new relevance design work. By understanding the underlying principles of alignment, designers can leverage their skills in ways that better serve businesses and ultimately help redefine value creation.
6 January 2013
In the Connected Age users have real power. They cannot be viewed as a gregarious heard of consumers waiting to be milked for what they have. Instead, value must be co-created and shared. Remember: customers are a company’s most valuable asset.
The practice of UX design inherently seeks to strengthen the value provided to users. With methods such as ethnography, mental models, personas and scenarios, UX strives to view the world from the outside in, rather than the inside out. In doing so, companies can better provide solutions that solve real-world problems and that fit into users’ lives.
But the contemporary practice of UX design doesn’t go far enough. The field implicitly examines and models user behavior as it currently exists. What’s needed is a better way to envision users as they may act.
Enter “The Ask,” a single question outlined by MIT Professor Michael Schrage in his book Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?Successful innovations, Schrage contends, don’t merely ask users to do something different; they ask them to become someone different.
Here’s an example: George Eastman didn’t just invent inexpensive, automatic camera; he created photographers. His innovation allowed everyday people to do something only trained professionals could previously do with expensive equipment. The result: you, too, can be a photographer. That’s transformational.
Another example: Google’s innovation isn’t just a brilliant search algorithm; instead, Google let’s everyone become expert researchers and fact checkers. We’re now all reference librarians with the power of all known human knowledge at our finger tips. Powerful.
Now consider a would-be innovation that failed, such as the Segway. What does the Segway ask us to become? A mad helmeted scientist racing down the sidewalk? Or maybe an authority figure (e.g., policewoman) extending a few feet above other pedestrians? Or maybe just an odd ball on a weird scooter? During its commercial launch, the inventors of the Segway promised to revolutionize transportation and the way people get around cities. But instead it asked us to become somebody we didn’t want to become, and it failed.
Role of UX
User experience design plays a role in all of the above examples. For instance, Kodak claimed in its early ads: “You push the button, we’ll do the rest.” Their strategy clearly relied on an exceptional user experience, and they delivered on that promise. This resulted in the mass adoption of Eastman’s camera.
Peter Merholz et al. discuss this at length in their book UX strategy Subject To Change. They write:
“[Eastman] recognized that his roll film could lead to a revolution if he focused on the experience he wanted to deliver, and experience captured in his advertising slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”
We find a similar pattern with Google: a drop-dead simple user experience with high tolerance for “user error” (e.g., spell correction) makes the service efficient, effective and enjoyable to use. Schrage also highlights the importance of user experience design in his book. He writes:
“Innovations failing to provide good user experiences find difficulty succeeding, no matter what their price…The better the customer experience, the better the odds for innovation success.”
Practically speaking, The Ask doesn’t supersede or replace current tools and methods, rather extends them. It offers a unique perspective on our practices and how they fit into the bigger picture of things. And it can help better shape existing techniques.
Take personas. Often the number and type of personas created for a solution line are determined by traditional (even outdated) segmentation techniques of existing markets. By using The Ask, we can now consider creating personas around the transformational outcomes we envision. Who will our customers become in the future? We can then align our personas to the answers of that question and describe them in terms that address their transformation.
to The Ask.
For more on The Ask, I recommend Michael Schrage’s book. It’s clear and compact, and it’s wholly relevant to core UX work. Written by a leading business thinker, this book highlights the increasing overlap between business and design. The Ask is a simple, reflective query can alter the way we see our users and our
offerings. It increases our ability to create more value through user experience design.
I encourage you to continually ask yourself and the clients you serve, who do we want our customers to become?
1 January 2013
2012 was a relatively slow year for me in terms of quantity of new blog posts. But I was able to capture and share some of my best thoughts this year.
Here are quotes that summarize each of the top 5 posts by number of views in 2012, in reverse order of popularity:
Some business stakeholders are swinging for the fences in their innovation efforts:they want the big wins. And rightfully so: reaching for the stars keeps the company pushing forward, beyond what it can currently deliver. This inspires and motivates employees and management alike. But sometimes this quest for the next biggest and best thing overshadows everything else.
Companies need incremental innovation, breakthroughs and disruptions alike. To do this, there must be a comprehensive innovation program in place to channel attention and effort in the right direction.
The point is that incremental ideas shouldn’t be neglected: they are profitable and can fund your big idea projects. And they also provide a stepping stone toward game changers via the adjacent possible.
Specific techniques for research and diagramming are important, of course, but it’s really the principles of alignment diagrams that are essential. Once you grasp these, you’ll find there range of potential ways to go about diagraming, including mental models, customer journey maps, service blueprints and more. You may even introduce variations on these standard forms or come up with your own.
I’m proposing a 2-dimensional picture of innovation:
- The y-axis indicates the degree of technological progress an innovation brings with it. Moving from low to high along this line indicates improving existing capabilities, services and products.
- The x-axis shows the impact an innovation has on the market, also from low to high. This usually entails new business models or reaching underserved target groups.
This gives rise to four distinct zones of innovation:
- Incremental innovations involve modest changes to existing products and services. These are enhancements that keep a business competitive, such as new product features and service improvements.
- Breakthrough innovation refers to large technological advances that propel an existing product or service ahead of competitors. This is often the result of research and development labs (R&D), who are striving for the next patentable formula, device and technology.
- Disruptive innovation is a term coined by Clayton Christensen. In his best-selling book The Innovator’s Dilemma he shows that disruptive innovations “result is worse product performance, at least in the near-term. [They] bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously” (p. xviii).
- Game-changing innovation transform markets and even society. These innovations have a radical impact on how humans act, think and feel in some way.
I’m advocating the incorporation of channel-based distinctions and information, such as a Touchpoint Matrix, directly in alignment diagrams. By doing this, you get not only channel-specific information, but you can also see how this aligns with both customer goals and business goals. In this light, alignment diagrams are a suitable tool for cross channel mapping and design.
Defining a project in its earliest stages is like hitting a golf ball: if the face of your club is slightly tilted , you’ll end up slicing the ball as it travels down the green. Likewise, small miscalculations at the beginning of projects can have massive consequences later on.
Part of the problem is that the logic of a project definition is invisible. You can’t “see“ project goals or risks, for instance. Sure, you can write them down as text. But long documents – if they get read at all – tend to get lost in the shuffle as the project unfolds.
What’s more, a written description of project elements doesn’t expose relationships between them. The big picture can fade quickly as work and deadlines pile up.
Here is a tool to help you get a quick, but broad definition of a project in a single overview. It’s called the Project Canvas. You can download it here: Download the Project Canvas v1.0 (PDF)
13 December 2012
I previously introduced the Project Canvas, a tool to help define design projects. It was also presented as a poster session at the Euro IA 2012 conference in Rome. In preparation for that event, I created a filled-out version of the project canvas with example content for a fictitious project. You can download the example here.
Figure 1: an example of a filled-out Project Canvas
Keep in mind that a canvas of this nature is merely a tool. It helps frame and guide conversations around the project, and it can capture decisions in a common format. But filling it out is not a science. You can start with any box, for instance. Or, you can tweak it and expand it to fit your needs.
In the above example, the project I created consisted of two parts: a concept & design phase followed by a discrete testing phase. These activities were to be carried out by different teams, as well. So I took the liberty of separating the information under Activities, Deliverables and Scope into sub-lists. This is perfectly acceptable since it brings more clarity to the project definition.
On another note, a word of caution when filling out the Project Canvas: be careful of a project that sits within a broader program. The discussion of the larger can quickly take over the discussion of the smaller. Sure, there is a relationship between projects and programs, and you shouldn’t ingore that. It may be necessary to note program goals, for instance, along side of project goals in the canvas. The point is to keep the two — projects and programs — separate and to be clear about boundaries of each.