At Open we identify and examine customer issues. At DNA we deliver on that thinking.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

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Making ideas work

Making organisations human – Engaging customers in design.

In my previous post I shared some initial reflections from my years of creating products, services, and organisational systems as an ‘Experience Designer’. I described the effect of this work as: 'making organisations human', and said that I would flesh this out by looking at the effect of this work on the customers, employees and senior leaders of these organisations. In this post I'm going to start by focusing on what happens when customers are engaged in the design of products and services, rather than just the use of them. 

 

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Making organisations human

Every so often you get the chance to pull out of the trenches and reflect on what is happening in the fast-paced world of designing products, services and systems for organisations. I’ve pulled together some thoughts on the overall effect I am seeing we have on businesses as we conduct these design projects.

I get asked every so often what it is that I do as an 'experience designer'. With projects as varied as defining new consumer products to bring to market, through to developing digital platforms for bankers, the field of experience design covers a lot of territory. But one way of thinking about it that has stuck with me over the years is the idea of "reintroducing organisations to their customers".

Every new organisation starts by meeting some form of customer need. It then develops a way to consistently meet that need over time through the profitable delivery of a product or service. After getting established, the business usually sets about optimising the delivery of these products & services, making more products & services, and growing the customer base.

Over time however, the people working within their different parts of the growing organisation (marketing, engineering, sales, management, etc), become more and more unable to maintain a clear sense of the customer need the organisation was setup to meet. There are everyday demands in their roles: meetings, emails, angry customers, angry workmates, server crashes, job transitions and new workmates. These things take center stage in employee’s minds as they do their work. It becomes increasingly difficult to get their head around the complexity of their role, let alone the complexity of how the whole organisation works together to meet the needs of customers.

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Designs on the future

DNA’s most recent recruit – Junior Service and Experience Designer Rachel Knight – was asked to reflect on her recent journey out of the frying pan (university study and an internship) and in to the fire (service design in an agency). Rachel shares her experience on what helped her determine her career focus, and her views on what students and the design industry can do to smooth the ride and improve the clarity of purpose for budding designers. Rachel also comments on why designers and their clients should expose students to the value of design and growing disciplines such as service and experience design.

Last year as the end of my university days were looming – like a cliff I was blindly running towards with no idea if I’d fly or fall when I reached the edge – I didn’t know what opportunities, support, or communities existed, or how to become a part of them. As Lillian Grace (CEO of Wiki New Zealand) recently said, “communities are double-edged swords; they're great when you belong to one but can be intimidating from the outside”.

Nine months, two internships and a new job at DNA later, I've started to feel like a part of the working design community. It's been strange for me to now be on the inside and hear both public and private sector colleagues ask where to find good designers with specific skills that they need to either fill a gaps in their team(s), or help them deliver user-centered business solutions.

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Users first?

Organisations that seek to solve problems without fully considering user, and human, needs and values, risk miscuing the size, type and focus of the designed solution.

First up, it's important to note that balance is key – a technology or business led approach to solve problems and design solutions is going to be biased and imperfect, of that there is no doubt. Equally, prioritising users needs over all other considerations will create a risky imbalance.

The critical thing is to work hard, and yes it will likely be hard at first, to balance the various needs (business, technology, user and human) within problem solving and solution design. This is where user-centred design methodologies come into their own. When applied well, they help to hear and balance the many voices that contribute to the decision or project, to interrogate and synthesise what they are saying and to identify the commonality between them. It is here, on this common ground, that the opportunity to design the right solution resides.

Designing for users and humans may sound like one and the same thing, they aren’t. User centred design means taking inspiration from users values, behaviours and actions. It requires being mindful that interactions, reactions and decisions take place in natural contexts rather than controlled settings. Clever user-centred design takes the user on a journey from understanding what exists to discovering what is possible. It then extracts all that the business needs to know from users about the ‘possible’ journey.

 

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Content and access

Content is essential for successful customer experience. Whether you are attracting, transacting with or assisting your customers – the way they access and use your content has evolved – which has implications for businesses. We share a prediction for brands, and some advice for consumers...

Content, content, content, it is to brands what location is to property. It’s often been said, and its never been more true, but the way content is delivered and the needs of a customer at the time it is sought have seen major shifts in content strategy, generation, management and optimisation.

It's not just this that businesses need to get their heads around – it is the access that organisations now make available to customers. It's this proliferation of access channels and the multiple use of them by customers that is changing how content is created and deployed.

Add to this the flip side, that consumers have been given multiple ways to engage with you – and your products - and you need to not only consider customer needs and goals when writing content, but the access point in the journey they are taking as they engage with you. Across mobile, desktop, social, call centre and counter, not least the service or product itself – content needs to be on task, goal directed – only then it will be ‘on brand’ as your customers see it.

The proliferation of channel options brands now have to access consumers has merely become more ways to ‘push their content’. This is a trap many organisations fall in to as they tell their story, and seek to engage customers. Too many end up presenting their information in overly complicated ways, explain their offer in a competitor rather than customer oriented manner, and too many put their needs to the fore – even as they purport to care about customers and their needs. .

As a consumer it’s increasingly hard to escape brand-related content, but if it's bad, you are going to be more determined to avoid it than ever. You have goals, needs and jobs to do, content for you should help you get in, do whatever you seek to do and get out, quickly, easily, confidently and successfully. For you, content needs to be delivered effectively, and where and when you need it – that's all you want.

So where does this all lead, what do we see happening and what advice do we have for brands and consumers?

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Why R&D alone won't set New Zealand free

“Research and development funding is not the economic elixir it used to be and New Zealand needs urgently to move beyond that thinking.

This country is struggling to turn filed patents into commercial successes but throwing more R&D money into the problem – or pigheadedly trying to commercialise products that lack a supporting ecosystem – will get us nowhere fast.”

Associate Professor Suvi Nenonen and Professor Kaj Storbacka University of Auckland Business School's Graduate School of Management. New Zealand Herald 28 May 2014.

At DNA we heartily agree with this analysis. The departure of LanzaTech for the USA is just the latest in a long series of local R&D successes seeking better integration offshore, i.e. more potent and appropriate infrastructures than can exist in New Zealand.

“Customers buy those products that create value to them, and generally this value creation is completely dependent on the market ecosystem in which these products are being used.”

The sort of design we practice at DNA, starting with the customer and working back, is one of the things, beyond R&D, that New Zealand needs to deploy in order to change its fortunes. Interestingly the term used for one of the key disciplines of customer experience design (CXD) is ecosystem mapping. Until you understand the ecosystem, starting with the customer or end user, you can’t solve the problem. Design it and they will come is a mantra of an earlier age of design – as viable today as steam power. 

But let's get back to the case in point – LanzaTech’s gas fermentation process takes carbon-containing gases, typically industrial flue gases from steel mills and other processing plants, and uses its proprietary microbes to produce ethanol and hydrocarbon fuels as well as platform chemicals that are building blocks to products such as rubber, plastics and synthetic fibres. In other words it reduces greenhouse emissions whilst reducing the use of finite oil resources – a potentially wonderful and game changing innovation.

After several years of development in New Zealand, and substantial tax payer investment, LanzaTech has moved is developmental activities and head office to Chicago. Largely in order to fit more seamlessly into the international ecosystem of industrial processing, emissions control and green tech initiatives. Also, in all probability, the government infrastructural support available to them is greater than that on offer in New Zealand.

Losing LanzaTech and all its predecessors robs us of high value jobs and their contribution to our economic and societal wellbeing. But the problem is even greater. As things currently shape up, keeping the front-end and on-going development jobs a fully global LanzaTech could provide is the best New Zealand could hope for. The bulk of employment in such an organisation needs to be close to market i.e. not in New Zealand. To achieve global scale, R&D successes like LanzaTech have had to seek overseas ownership and capital. Initial commitments from overseas owners to keep the New Zealand R&D function central to the operation have often not lasted the distance.  

A radical reshaping of New Zealand’s fortunes requires us not just to keep hold of the developmental end of our scaled up enterprises, but to own the lot and so repatriate the profit streams and taxation flows from all the necessary offshore jobs and activities.

The lack of capital and expertise in New Zealand is often identified as the impenetrable barrier to this happening.  

In reality funding the growth of a raft of LanzaTechs’ to global scale from New Zealand would require government money. The widely touted mantra that governments cannot own successful enterprises is not supported by the facts here or overseas. Air New Zealand has been exceptionally successful under majority government ownership, and the success of the plethora of state funded Chinese and Singaporean corporations, for example, support this.  

Provided such organisations had appropriately skilled governance and management (from offshore if necessary) and the Government stakeholding’s vital interests were enshrined there is no reason why we could not build high value, highly innovative globally leading enterprises on the back of our R&D expertise -  That is provided we deploy the vital CX design processes to get the ecosystem right.

As we see it, design brings the ability to solve current problems and foresee emerging issues – two areas that have been fruitful in innovation up to this point. Design Thinking allows testing, prototyping, iteration, learning, collaboration and de-risking of products, services, business models and markets.

The companies and organisations that we see succeeding are the ones who have adopted and integrated design in to their practices – and this is not at the expense of technology or material advances. The companies that have sustainable futures are the ones that are designing resilience, agility and value in to everything they do. The companies that will unlock the most value and realise their full potential are the ones that put the ecosystem at the heart of their thinking and users first – using design to solve problems and assist in unlocking and delivering on innovation.

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Are we all designers?

Grenville Main November 2012

Over the years, as DNA has grown I have from time to time been taken to task by some of our designers. The standard accusation was "why are there now so many non-designers in the team?  It’s wrong!" Sure, we are a design-based organisation, but it was suggested that potentially our creativity was being subsumed or at least stifled by all this project management, budget setting and strategy.

Of course we cannot ignore the commercial drivers, the complexity, scale and multichannel integration of many of our projects, which have all grown over the years. This requires a greater diversity of inputs and skills, it requires a focus on project management and more rigor in reporting as we are now ever more accountable and focused on delivering a return on our clients’ investment.

But, what some of our designers had missed was the real trend at play, that designers are everywhere, and they are now coming in all shapes and forms, and that they have all manner of roles and titles in our company  - and in our clients organisations. 

We have a term at DNA, "We are all designers" which leads to a cultural pillar we have - that we need everyone at DNA to be a problem solver, and that we need to apply creativity to every situation we are confronted with – and this is not just in response to the briefs we receive. The fact is that now we have more designers than ever at DNA, only now they are strategists, researchers, IA's, interaction experts, retail delivery specialists, developers, and project managers. Every step of a project or challenge needs a design response and will benefit from 'design thinking', even if it is a project plan that is being designed. 

Design thinking is the ability to combine empathy (for the context of a problem), creativity (in the generation of insights and solutions), and rationality (to analyse and fit solutions to the context). It is evident in every successful interaction we have with clients - and in every successful interaction they have with their customers - and it has made us better when we design. 

For the record - this post was first published by Idealog - to see more of Grens ranting check out Idealog's design ruminations.

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Old – meet new

Sherryn Macdonald November 2012

De Bono meet theatre tools. Maslow meet The Business Model Canvas. 

Old models are old for a reason. They have stood the test of time. They made sense at the time and they continue to make sense. Much of this is due to their simplicity. Six hats, each representing a human mode of thinking. Five hierarchies, each representing a human need. Such simplicity means they still have life and value in them, you just have to look to apply them in new ways. More recently I threw De Bono's hats into the theatre ring.

I was introduced to the power of theatre by Adam St John Lawrence (@adamstjohn) of WorkPlayExperience in his workshop at the Service Design Global Conference 2011. The mantra, Doing Not Talking, means you have to get up and try stuff out. Learning comes from the doing and the experiencing. It's a process you have to lean into. The leaning does get easier.

Facilitating a spatial co-create session, I invited stakeholders, staff and customers to lean into the theatre process with me. First off, we broke open the usually hidden dusty dark corners of the Black Hat (the Devil's advocate who judges why something won't work). Creating a new technique now named 'Chuck A Chicken', everyone got to throw a squeaky rubber chicken at the wall while asserting their issues of the project. Rubber chickens are a ubiquitous theatre tool. Check out #rubberchicken on Twitter.

An essential theatre technique in service design is playing out a likely service scenario and progressively iterating it. In the space to be designed, staff played out customers, stakeholders played out staff and the rest of the group played the crowd. Playing out different roles enables participants to put on the Red Hat (emotion) and truely feel what its like to be that person in that situation. Empathy is a powerful emotion.

Being in the crowd enables participants to absorb the macro view of the service scenario. Putting on the Green Hat (creativity), they can yell "cut" at any point, interjecting with an idea to improve the experience. In the spirit of Doing Not Talking, you show your idea by moving the props, adding props, introducing a new role, taking over an existing role. Moving people about means everyone gets to wear different hats.

De Bono's hats are a way of organising thinking. Theatre is a way of experiencing our thinking. A perfect meeting I will be repeating.

As for Maslow and The Business Model Canvas, that's another post.

 

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Design Sprints: Not just solving problems faster.

The pace of change has been increasing every year for most businesses and the criticality of making those changes has equally increased. In fact, there is bound to be some algorithm that perfectly represents the rate of that change — but who has time to work it out. Right?

Being in the business of helping organisations address some of these change related problems and opportunities, we have seen the organisation grapple with the significant impact on time, resource and budgets that change related projects bring.  Often times the projects aren't just fast and big, they are also very complex.

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Customer 3.1 outtakes

In May I presented at Customer 3.1 in Auckland. I was asked to talk about trends in customer experience, which I did by combining highly visible global trends with things we are seeing locally at DNA and a few personal insights - as I had the pleasure of a captive audience.

Since the presentation I have received some great feedback, but also identified three key themes that different people have asked me to explore further.

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Aucklandia – our future?

Developing New Zealand’s regions does not seem to be high on our political agenda but a systems design analysis suggests it’s both important and urgent.

New Zealand is dominated by Auckland to a considerable degree. Current policy settings will see that dominance accelerate. There is a compelling case for Auckland growth. Creating a vibrant, internationally connected city that drives prosperity through the flow of people, capital and ideas is rational. But the current rate of growth comes at a high price – a price paid by Aucklanders and non Aucklanders alike.

Auckland contains a third of the New Zealand population and generates more than a third of total GDP. By 2043 NZ is predicted to grow by 1.1 million people. 60% of those (nearly 700,000) will live in Auckland, edging Auckland’s population beyond 2 million. Then Auckland will have nearly 40% of the population.  54% of all New Zealanders will live in Auckland, Waikato or Bay of Plenty.

There is momentum behind Auckland’s growth – a spiralling chain effect of – people following jobs following people – which is perhaps unstoppable. Auckland’s gain is not necessarily the rest of New Zealand’s loss. But if we allow the provincial regions and the secondary cities to decline New Zealand as a whole will suffer. As economist Shamubeel Eaqub puts it “the regional economies are of course complimentary economies that fit together to make the national economy. Supply chains are often stretched across many regions. The regions are strongly interconnected through flows of trade, capital and people.” 

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Advice for start-ups

It's better to have a smaller piece of something big, than a bigger piece of something small… that is an old adage, but a great one.

Advice for startups… everyone seems to have it, and well, sure, what do we know? Not everything, but we’ve developed a couple of products, invested in and advised a bunch of startups over the years – and heck, even started one of our own back in the day.

What we’ve seen is the same old same old – a few traps that many still fall in to – here is our take:

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Getting things sorted

Martin Grant April 2013

Six learnings for successful experience design

We have just completed a very successful experience design assignment with AA Insurance (AAI). Success in this instance is measured by both hard and soft business outcomes. In terms of hard numbers, the measures are customer response and sales. The soft outcomes are staff engagement throughout the organisation, transformed workspaces, transformed customer experiences and engaged business partners.

AAI is a business spreading its wings that has a story to be told and that needed some changes to set it for the future. As part of the AA family, the general insurance business is steadily making its mark in its market. The business leaders realised that their success will be rooted in both being part of the AA family and also being an insurance company in its own right. Both of these would provide for the needs of the two shareholders (AAI is a strategic joint venture between the AA and Suncorp).

So, what are the learnings that are above the specific project that anyone doing a similar project can look to?

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Collaboration, not capitulation

Grenville Main November 2012

Historically, creative organisations have largely been terrified by the thought of having clients too close on a project. Having them working with you on a project, contributing their thoughts and ideas at will, opens the door for them undermining the creative process at best and at worst it could mean having to capitulate and execute their naff ideas.

But, the times they may be a changing. More and more agencies and clients are collaborating – but is it true collaboration? To us, true collaboration means bringing together a mix of people and organisations, and pitting their strategic and creative skills against a common goal; it means everyone contributing equally and transparently. In short it is joint ownership of both the process and the outcome. Is that what collaboration looked like across your recent experiences?

Unless agencies and client organisations both develop the right skills, processes and attitudes to support true collaboration they are likely to find collaborative projects remain fraught and at times fruitless, and particularly for agencies this may well leave them stuck, and falling behind in a time where collaboration and co-creation is king - or where they cannot deliver on the breadth of thinking and expertise so often now required in a large campaign or programme of work.

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The world is awash with money – and false hope.

Aaron Carson June 2010

There are plenty of supposedly “successful” business’s that go bust. In Auckland the Ponsonby Road restaurant with the million-dollar fit-out that gets featured in all the social pages, is the place to be and is packed to the gunnels for three months — and then the doors close. How about the leading fashion publication that is the indicator of style and can do no wrong, but who pulls the pin because they couldn’t pay the printer. And then there’s the fast food chain run by the really “zany” ex ad guys. It’s the talk of the town but goes tits up when they get bored and it all gets a bit hard.

Just because the cash registers are ringing, doesn’t mean there’s money in the bank. So what’s the difference between a great idea and a successful business with staying power? If finding theMaking answer was easy everyone would be doing it, but that doesn’t mean you stop asking the question. It’s also about defining what to invest in — no matter what the short term cost may be.

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