Category Archives: design

Designing better user experience

Have you ever had a poor user experience and thought to yourself, that you can improve this?   I usually keep a log of bad user experiences and make notes on how to improve design.  Here is a very interesting blog post by design firm, Adaptive Path. This sort of design thinking can be done by anyone.

The posting discussed five user experiences from visiting nursing homes; buying a car; making parking garages more people friendly; receiving medical care and improving personal energy consumption.

If I were to think of an example, it would be to redesign human interactions between sales staff and service staff at an automotive dealership.  Much too often, there is a strong emphasis on customer service for new or pre-owned vehicle sales.  The sales person has a vested interest to ensure that the customer receives the best service as possible in order to make a sale and make some commission off the transaction.  What happens to the after sales experience?

Automotive dealerships make more profit margin off the servicing of a vehicle than the selling of one.  It would make sense that the after-sales experience for the customer be enhanced, right?

Does the service advisor and technician know you as the customer?  I feel there is a huge contrast between the customer service from the sales staff versus the service staff.  Ensuring that loyal customers are willing to stay with the brand is easier than trying to conquest new ones.  Personal relationships drive customer loyalty.

If a customer were to purchase a new or pre-owned vehicle, I would let the customer choose their Service Advisor and Service Technician.  Websites and communities such as, where users rate and provide user-generated feedback on various facets of Dealership service would be essential.  Those two people along with the Sales Consultant are accountable for all service related issues for the duration of the ownership of the vehicle.  Follow-ups and reminders would be done by the three, as well as contributing to any discussions in an owner support forum provided by the Dealership.  A relationship would be forged between the owner and the three people.

Do you have any experiences to share?  Please share them and discuss how to make them better.  Let’s get a discussion started.


Ethnography and its uses in business

As we are becoming more of a mass customization and transformation-based economy, more and more business are looking to use ethnography in designing better customer experiences. In this article, Procter and Gamble, Google, and others are doing it.

For Google, it involves observing and videotaping how people search online.  A success story was when they observed how difficult it was to search for keywords for Chinese consumers.  A tool called “Google Suggest” was created, when a user types a few characters, the search engine suggests alternate or possible completed key terms.

For Procter & Gamble, Managers and even Senior Managers engage in “immersion research,” in order to spend time with consumers in their natural habitat – their home.  They try to understand what their customers’ aspirations, desires and needs are, as well as what the role of their products are in the consumers’ daily lives.  An example was when P&G launched a laundry detergent and it failed because of a lack of empathy for its Mexican consumers.  Using ethnography, a key insight was derived when they discovered the importance of seeing the laundry detergent’s foam to Mexican consumers, which their product lacked.

The case for developing empathy for customers is clear.  What are some methods of developing empathy for them?  According to this article, using ethnography to better understand the consumer is key.

In conducting an ethnography, watch their behavior around their natural habitat. What artifacts do they use?  How do they go about their daily chores? Why would the customers engage with a particular experience? How they go about engaging in this?

Pay close attention to the language they use.  People speak in metaphors.  Metaphors reveal much about the person’s attitudes and mood.  For example, some customers may view retirement as the beginning of a journey, and viewing everyday is living life to the fullest versus viewing retirement as the ending of a journey.  When conducting ethnography, try to videotape, voice record or even take photos.

When conducting these studies, there will be multiple personas that can be classified demographically and psychographically.  These can be utilized by two purposes.  One is to present these to the client or marketing department, so that the client and the marketing department understand who their target consumers are.  The other is to humanize the customers.  Give these personas names, behaviors and motivations, demographic information, identification of what keeps the consumer up at night, and statement about the person’s personality in their voice (e.g. “I’m a detail-oriented person, who appreciates and loves intricate designs”)

Currently, I’m involved in an ethnographic study.  Because of the economic downturn, many people are being laid-off.  My study is about what motivates and inspires people that are unemployed or under-employed while job searching.

Augmented Reality

On Monday evening, I attended a speech by Tom Purves about Augmented Reality.  It was quite a thought-provoking talk.  Click above the video to view a demonstration of Augmented Reality.  I have written about mobile technology and how it will displace internet as a popular media.

media chart.001

What was interesting about Mr. Purves talk was that Augmented Reality would enhance awareness, tacit knowledge, wisdom and discovery through serendipity.  However, it would obsolesce the desktop web, newspapers, iPods, guidebooks, paper maps, introductions to people and privacy.   As shown clearly in the video, Augmented Reality flips into “Batman” vision when pushed to extreme.  While at the same time it returns the written word, gestures, lore and gossip to the forefront.

Augmented Reality on one hand can potentially enhance relationships as well as facilitate information flows, but on the other hand, are there certain groups it marginalizes or perhaps it empowers?  Mr. Purves had  posed at interesting thought, who benefits from augmented reality?

Brands vs Consumers, State Control vs Opposition, Police vs Criminals, Developed Countries vs Developing Countries, The Center vs The edge elements of society, Extroverts vs Introverts, Old vs Young and e-government vs e-Anarchy.

This new technology could be the evolution of web 2.0.  With augmented reality, it changes the advertising model completely.  Advertising will be used to enhance the user’s experience and to help the consumer with what they want.  Leland Maschmeyer, a prominent Account Planner, brilliantly used a metaphor that described the old versus the new advertising approach.

As the advertising model is flipped, there is much opportunity that can be done to better engage with consumers in this Augmented Reality.  I believe consumers will only increase their power versus the marketers because commercial content will have a more fierce competitor which will be user-generated content. This Augmented Reality will become a stronger filter than a TiVo or Ad Block Plus.  This filter not only applies to TV or Computers, but anywhere especially in the offline world.

More examples of Transformation Design

In an earlier posting, I had written about Transformation Design from a business to consumer perspective.  Today, I will discuss business to business examples.  Again, these companies are engaging in designing a system of activity that drives the positive change that the consumer desires to see in his/herself and his/hers community.

Intuit a software company that is well-known for their accounting and tax software, has developed an online forum that is dedicated to help small business owners.  This forum has become a community of users with a common purpose to share, collaborate and discuss ideas.

I had written in earlier posts about the commonality of crowdsourcing and the development of user contribution systems in many businesses.  On Intuit’s website,  there are online guides that facilitate small businesses with the learning and the implementing these tools to their business needs.

A success story for the implementation of a user contribution system is Starbucks as it has been active with crowdsourcing from users for new ideas and innovation to improve their customer experience.  They have an online forum where users can voice their concerns and suggestions.  Some innovations today such as the Starbucks Card, which is a loyalty incentive that enables customers to have a free refill and free two hours of daily Wi-Fi use were ideas from this online forum.

American Express has opened up an online resource for small businesses complete with articles and videos from experts to help and improve small business practices.  For examples, there are articles about the benefits of blogging, methods to improve presentation skills and a number of other self-help and business improvement tips.

American Express and Intuit are engaged in Transformation Design in the context of business to business marketing.  Both approaches (design) are different, but the intent (system) is similar in bringing about positive change in small businesses and its personnel.  For reasons similar to Transformation Design from a business to consumer context, the business to business context also provides goodwill, positive branding, and the positive change to the user and their community as benefits for companies that use and embrace Transformation Design.

Designing Innovation

There is an alarming number of preventable deaths in US hospitals each year according to this article from McKinsey Quarterly, and thus, there was an initiative by a non-profit organization called the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) that set a mandate to reduce the number of preventable deaths by 100,000 in one year.  It succeeded after one year, and it was able to enroll 75% of all US hospitals.   

As a non-profit, it neither wielded authority nor influence on hospital board of governors, it also faced the unyielding attitudes towards change, differing stakeholder goals, shortness of resources and time  and as such it already faced an uphill battle for this initiative to be implemented.  

How was IHI able to reach its target despite these enormous setbacks? It had to make its initiatives easy to understand and to remember for all stakeholders (nurses, doctors, etc.).   In peer-reviewed medical journals, there is a plethora of information that aids in the amelioration of hospital operations.  IHI took the time consuming part of disseminating this information and presenting and selecting six key criteria that can help with its mission.  

This program was flexible in that not all six criteria needed to be followed and adhered to.  Still, it was crucial some of it required stakeholders to be aware of and adhere to.  Goals were clearly defined with a set timeline and set metrics.  The long term goals (lofty) and short term goals (concrete) were in sync.  Accountability was taken into account by having weekly conference calls and mass emails.

Hospitals that were pioneers of this program, could support and help other hospitals that are starting to implement this initiative.  To encourage additional hospitals to participate, a national network of IHI participants was formed.   Actually, an additional benefit of this alliance, included the motivating the current network of hospitals towards excellence.

I think that both individuals and businesses can learn from this IHI case study.  By defining a clear problem, and defining a clear long-term and smaller and reachable short term goals, using a network of like-minded participants, and thinking in the shoes of the party that one wants to influence.  Anticipating the client’s needs and making their lives/jobs easier by completing the tasks that maybe resource and time intensive and be flexible and understand that not all implementation steps maybe followed.  By combining all of the above should yield solid and sustainable results.

Design is in the details

Yesterday, I had posted about a video from Charles Leadbetter about how users through crowdsourcing and open-innovation are contributing innovation of products/services through collaborative and interactive channels.  Today’s discussion is about design, and how the users are able to design products/services that do not necessarily need to solve big issues but may solve smaller ones, which are very important.

This talk was from Paul Bennett, creative director of IDEO.  He has given multiple examples throughout this talk about solving tiny solutions that delivered impact from hospitals to Ikea’s children storage unit to water pumps in Kenya. 

In the case of the hospital in Minnesota, solving tiny solutions was able to deliver a big impact.  The hospital was interested in the ameliorating the patients’ experience.  When IDEO investigated the users’ experiences, the changes that needed to be made were not big systemic ones, but smaller ones. Some ideas included attaching mirrors to the gurneys, to enable the patients’ to see the nurse or doctor when they were being transported around.  They involved hospital staff in their input to make the patient’s experience more enriching. A nurse suggested installing a whiteboard in the patient’s room so that notes, drawings, messages from the doctor/nurses/family/friends can be showcased and brighten an otherwise mundane room.  

Other examples of design innovations that incorporated thinking small and delivered a big impact came from the inventor of velcro.  He was walking through a field and was covered with burrs and that became his inspiration for velcro.

View objects peripherally to find opportunity. For example, notice on the street when there is a yellow line, people inadvertently follow it without any instructions.  Another example is if people put their empty cups (garbage) in one place, everyone else puts there cups there too.  Companies should pay attention to how people come up with their own design experiences and adapt their designs to improve this experience.

Start from scratch, the mind should be fresh. Throw out any pre-conceived notions.  When Ikea had to design a children’s bookcase, the designer understood that the idea of storage to children was quite different than grown-ups, children play on top and below big objects.  The designer was able to design a storage unit underneath tables, where children can place their toys. 

Pick battles big enough to matter, but small enough to win. For example, in Kenya, IDEO was sought to design a water pump that can be used by villagers.  It had to be compact enough to fit on a bicycle.  This pump had to be cost effective.  It incorporated both effective form and function mechanisms to enhance the lives of the villagers.

I believe that being able to think and feel from the user’s perspective is paramount to designing user-friendly products/services.  This certainly extends to so many different facets in life including communicating with people.  Much too often, the message and body language can be disparaging and derisive to the intended audience, and by empathizing with the intended audience, communication becomes much easier.