IDEO Expands Its Sphere Of Influence

He may not be as well known as IDEO CEO Tim Brown, but If any one person truly represents what IDEO is about that might be David Kelley, one of the principal leaders of the world famous design firm. You might know Kelley from The Deep Dive or his TED talk. He is an enthusiastic believer in the power of design thinking to transform people, products and organizations. Fast Company profiled Kelley in a January, 2009 issue. If you haven’t seen The Deep Dive video you can get a sense of what some of the themes are in this interview. It is mostly about Kelley’s recent battle with cancer, but I found the article enjoyable because it gave me some new insights into the IDEO organization and its origins. I learned that it was Kelley, in a meeting with Tim Brown, who suggested that IDEO should stop calling what IDEO does design and instead start calling it design thinking. That meant shifting their paradigm from “designing a new chair or car” to being “expert at a methodology”.

Kelley points out that what makes IDEO different from traditional management consulting firms is their design thinking process – understanding, observation, brainstorming, prototyping. He recalls the story of a client who just wanted IDEO to skip right to the brainstorming. But Kelley maintains that the big ideas – where the real value of what IDEO does – is in the first two parts of the process. If you want to work with IDEO you need to go through the entire process with them. As Kelley tells his design students:

You’re sitting here today because we moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. What we, as design thinkers, have, is this creative confidence that, when given a difficult problem, we have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before

The article contains examples that demonstrate how IDEO has moved from a firm that uses design thinking to improve products and services, to one that is truly having an influence on the future of business. This article profiles major companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kaiser Permanente that have hired IDEO to help them transform into design thinking organizations. IDEO’s methods are also being taught at major design and MBA programs around the world, such as the Stanford Design School and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In this way IDEO is expanding its sphere of influence far beyond their Palo Alto headquarters. Will IDEO’s sphere of influence expand all the way to libraries? I would certainly hope so. But Kelley points out that “design thinging represents a serious challenge to the status quo at traditional companies”. The decision thinking process, I believe, can make libraries better – but first we need to be open to its possibilities.

Does UX Still Matter In Tough Economic Times

A good user experience should encourage people to buy a product or use a service. Because it is both different and memorable, a well designed user experience  should motivate people to choose one product or service over potential competitors. Why then, doesn’t it seem to be working for Starbucks right now? If what made Starbucks great was its delivery of a great user experience then why is Starbucks struggling? Has the company gotten away from offering its coffee experience or is it just the economy? The answer may be a combination of factors.

An article about Starbucks suggests that both the rise and downfall had much more to do with economic factors than the design of a better coffee experience. The article goes so far as to say that Starbucks is a leading indicator for the broader economy. Here’s the short story. Go back to 2006 when Starbucks stock was at its peak and its expansion seemed unstoppable. The real estate market was on fire. The stock market was on the rise and a 14,000 Dow was not unthinkable. With more money in their pockets and a positive economic outlook people looked forward to Starbuck’s affordable luxury. Fast forward to 2008 and Starbucks is a much different company. Fewer stores, fewer variation in the product line and fewer customers. McDonalds is picking up business with their cheap – no UX – coffee. When it comes to the difference that UX can make, are all bets off during a recession? Does cheap trump experience when times are tough?

Not according to Jonathan Picoult, a UX design consultant. In an article in which he asks if “the experience economy is contracting towards irrelevance”, Picoult also asks how it is that Starbucks, a model for the experience economy (a reference to the 1999 Pines and Gilmore book), is operating far below expectations, and asks if this signals that the UX concept is not impervious to economic downturns. The answer to the question of relevance, for Picoult, is a definite no. While he acknowledges that experience-focused organizations are susceptible to the same economic cycles as industrial and service firms, he advocates that now is the time to stay focused on experience building.

Here are three reasons. First, while it may be necessary to scale back on an ambitious UX plan during a recession, there’s no reason not to expand efforts to enhance the personalization of services. This may be the best time to connect with customers. Now that they’re not getting their gratification from acquiring material objects, good experiences don’t necessarily cost them anything and they’ll appreciate it. Second, bad customer experiences actually end up costing the organization more because they waste time and require extra work to make up for foul-ups and problems. Moving the organization towards a total customer experience may actually improve the bottom line while keeping the user community happy. Third, user experiences and the design of them is a low-tech proposition. This is hardly the time when organizations will be investing in costly new technology. Creating great user experiences will be far less costly than adopting new hardware or software systems.

So even though Starbucks, the poster child for the user experience, is performing below expectations during the global economic meltdown, it doesn’t mean that the entire experience economy concept is a failed idea. It does tell us that user experience design is susceptible to setbacks. And other analysts have pointed to a rash of problems, such as moving away from the idea of differentiation when they made moves to compete with Dunkin Donuts by adding breakfast sandwiches and lower priced coffee options, that have effected Starbucks bottom line. It is possible that the best Starbucks’ strategy is to stick with the experience model, and to retain their core of loyal customers. Starbucks may actually be exploring new directions by trying to create an entirely new and different instant coffee experience, which CEO Schultz described as “not your mother’s instant coffee”. I agree with Picoult that promoting the user experience is still a good strategy – even in recessionary times. And for libraries that will be forced to trim book collections, eliminate an expensive database or two, possibly reduce staff or hours or implement other retrenchment measures, enhancing the user experience seems a logical and not too risky or costly way to stay connected to the user community.

A User Experience Is Like A First Date

My last post focused on understanding what UX is and isn’t, and offered several resources for further reading. This post follows up on that with a link to another resource worth exploring if you would like to expand your understanding of UX and in particular the importance of design in creating a great user experience. Jesse James Garrett, president and co-founder of the design firm Adaptive Path, recorded an interview about UX that is available at the blog Tea With Teresa. The podcast lasts about 20 minutes and is well worth listening to. Garrett is one of the leading experts in the field of UX design.

He describes himself as an information architect, and he shares how he became interested in user experience design. We all engage in experiences throughout our lives – every day. An experience occurs when we interact with a product, technology or service. It’s all around us. But do the products, technologies and services work for us in a way the improves the quality of the experience? That’s what most interests Garrett. He says that UX is about designing products and services in a way that takes into account the psychological and behavioral needs of the end-user. If we aren’t paying attention to this the experience we offer can be a dismal one. We need to, Garrett tells us, put the human elements first in the design process.

I certainly enjoyed his use of the first date analogy. It’s something we need to pay attention to in our libraries, and perhaps we should ask ourselves if our students and community members would have a second date with our libraries. On the first date individuals have a set of expectations for what they want to get out of the date and the experience. They expect someone will treat them well, take an interest in what they have to say and treat them respectfully. If these expectations are not met the chances for a second date are slim or non-existant. Our users have a similar relationship with our services, and building a good one requires a design that incorporates an understanding of the person with who we want to have that second date.

Garrett is entertaining and easy to listen to, so even if you usually avoid podcasts I think you’ll find this one of value. What I take away from it is the importance of constantly working and reminding myself that I need to get out of my own paradigm for how the world operates and the way things should work, and that I need to pay attention to my user community so that I can comprehend their expectations and perspectives on the library experience we must offer. Thanks to Garrett and his insights I just might get that second date.

Getting At What UX Is And Isn’t

Since November of 2008 I’ve done a few presentations in which user experience (UX) was featured in some way. I hope that some of those who attended them are now following this blog. In addition, I was pleased that Blake Carver included DBL in his “List of Blogs to Read in 2009” (thanks Blake!). The only downside to the potential for new readers is that I haven’t been posting much. Between other blogs, finishing up a scholarly-type article, starting my LIS course (online – and grading 26 assignments a week – now in week 5) and heading off to ALA midwinter, writing time has been at a premium.

Over the last few weeks while I haven’t been posting much here I did manage to catch up with a few articles/posts that I’ve been wanting to share or comment on. For those newer to DBL, we occasionally offer links to readings that can help all of us better understand design thinking and user experience – and how we can apply these ideas and practices in our libraries.

A good starting point is always a definition. In his post over at FatDUX, Eric Reiss offers a post titled “A Definition of “User Experience””. Reiss summarizes it as UX = the sum of a series of interactions. A more commonly found definition of UX is “the quality of experience a person has while interacting with a specific design”. I appreciate how Reiss expands on this with three types of interactions and three types of activities that add sophistication to the simple definition. People interact with either other people, devices or events, but the interactions can be “active” (taking some action like asking a reference question), “passive” (scanning the library building for signage) or “secondary” (the user finds it easy to get to the right database because of good design but it’s secondary to the ultimate experience). Designing a user experience requires the act of combining the three types of activities. The first type are controllable and the must be “coordinated” (deciding who works at reference and making sure they have the right skills and training), the second type are the thing beyond our control so we acknowledge the interactions (inclement weather brings so many extra students into the library that finding a computer is difficult) and reducing negative interactions (having backup laptops to loan when desktops are all taken). According to Reiss a good UX designer takes into account both the interaction and activities in creating a user experience that works.

A post that got a good amount of attention focuses more on UX design, but helps us better understand what it is by telling us what it isn’t. In her post at Whitney Hess writes about the “10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design”. For example, user experience design isn’t user interface design. Interface design is important, but it just one piece of a larger user experience. UX design is doesn’t end when a product rolls out; it an evolving process shaped by learning more about users. User experience isn’t about technology either. It can be about any part of a user’s interaction with a product, process or service. No computer technology is needed. User experience design isn’t easy. It is even harder in a library environment. The experience just doesn’t happen; it has to be designed. And good design doesn’t come easy. User experience isn’t the role of one person or department. This is especially true in libraries when there is often an expectation that one person will create change. Shifting to a UX culture will require an idea champion, but every staff member must help design and implement a successful experience. Hess has other “what it’s not” points to make, and each one includes good insights from industry experts.

The final reading I commend to you is by an author you probably recognize, Peter Morvill. In his post about “User Experience Deliverables” he covers 20 different deliverables that can be used to build good user experiences. This one resonated with me because Morville states that he is influenced by two books, Made to Stick and Back of the Napkin. I have also been influenced by both of these books, and have been working to incorporate their messages into my communication (for example, see my latest presentation). This is an easy post to read, and it is perhaps more valuable for the links to good resources than the actual content. For example, Morvill includes in his list such items as storyboards, prototypes, concept maps, analytics and stories. For each he provides links to top sites. Does it all hold together? Not every deliverable will be of value to each reader, but it offers a good starting point for exploring different types of ways in which a user experience could be delivered.

That seems to be enough for now. I hope new readers will also read some earlier posts and a few in between then and this one. I still have an interesting set of articles to share about fidelity. What does it have to do with UX? More on that later.