"experience design" entries

IBM is banking on design’s ROI

Phil Gilbert on IBM’s deep design roots, change management, and hiring for culture fit.

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Companies of all sizes are recognizing that by taking a design-first approach to product development, they can improve profit. I recently sat down with Phil Gilbert, GM of design at IBM, to discuss how he is helping to lead the transformation to a design-first company within IBM. Adopting design as a key corporate asset may seem like a no-brainer, but for a company of more than 350,000 employees, it’s a massive undertaking. IBM hasn’t been quiet about its plans to hire 1,000 designers over the course of five years and embed design in product teams throughout the organization.

IBM’s long history of design

What I was surprised to find when reading about IBM’s latest design plans, is that the giant tech company has design roots dating back to the 1950s. Gilbert shares in more detail:

We started our first design program — and we were one of the first to really apply design holistically at scale — in 1956. In the 1950s and the 1960s and into the early 1970s, we had a constellation of designers around IBM that, quite frankly, has never been equaled.

Elliott Noyes was our first head of design. Thomas Watson Jr. hired him in 1956. He assembled people like Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Paul Rand. He assembled this team of people, and, essentially, I think the reason it happened then is because humanity was addressing a fundamentally different relationship between ourselves and technology. There was a lot of turmoil and angst as a result. We used design at that time to communicate and engage in a conversation with humanity about that relationship and about our role with technology. We viewed it as a very holistic statement — we communicated it through our products, our communications, our buildings, and we did it through our exhibits at places like the World’s Fair.

Since then, I don’t think there has been as fundamental a change in the relationship between human beings and technology. The move from mainframe to mini-computer, the move from mini-computer to personal computer, the move to client-server computing — all of these things were actually fairly incremental. But I think in 2007, with the release of the iPhone and with the ubiquitous access via mobile devices, I actually think that we’re, again, in a time of real turmoil and change around this relationship of where does technology sit with human beings.

This is a real change, and I think that human-centered design and design thinking as a method to achieve human-centered design is why it’s become so important. Because our relationship with technology is, it may not be as frightening as it was in the 50s and 60s, but it certainly is fundamental. I don’t think we quite yet understand it. I think design is the primary lever that we have to understand that relationship and then to communicate that relationship.

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Emerging technologies are disrupting product design life cycles

Jonathan Follett on creative class workers, product life cycles, and enhancing company-customer relationships.

Richmond_Folk_Festival_Mobilus_In_Mobili_FlickrI recently sat down with Jonathan Follett, principal of Involution Studios and editor and author of the recently released O’Reilly book Designing for Emerging Technologies. We talked about the ways in which emerging technologies are disrupting the product life cycle and considerations for companies looking at new ways of approaching product design and development.

The age of the creative class

Follett noted the cyclical nature of the design life cycle, drawing parallels between today’s emerging technology and that which arose during the Industrial Revolution. He outlined a few ways we’re seeing technology disrupt the product design life cycle today:

When I talk about emerging technologies, sometimes I refer back to the second Industrial Revolution, where you had a whole bunch of emerging technologies of the time coming together. You had your automobile, your lightbulb, your electric power, your telephone all coming to the fore at the same time. That created the modern world we’re living in today.

When we’re talking about product design and new products coming to the fore today, we can see the same thing happening, whether you’re talking about the Internet of Things, or robotics, or synthetic biology and genomics, or any of those other exciting elements that are all mixing together. That’s one way. … [We’re] creating whole new lines of products that we’ve never even thought of.

The other way we’re seeing disruption in the product design life cycle is that we’re finding different ways to work together as creative class workers. What I mean by that is knowledge workers, scientists, designers, engineers. You’ve got all of the leverage of open source. You’ve got open source mechanical designs, open source CAD drawings, open source electrical designs that a product designer can leverage to create their new products. [We’re] doing what Isaac Newton said — he stood on the shoulders of giants; that way, he could see farther. We’re having an opportunity in real time to find a crowdsourced IP and bring it into a product design, and push the design out the door so much faster than before.

As a creative class, we’re finding new ways to work together that are not restricted to Industrial Age thinking. Open source and crowdsourcing are just two examples of that.

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6 best practices for giving a product critique

Productive critique can strengthen relationships and collaboration, improve productivity, and lead to better designs.

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Download a free copy of Designing for the Internet of Things, a curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. This post is an excerpt from Discussing Design, by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, one of the books included in the curated collection.

There are two sides, or roles, in any critique:

Recipient: The individual(s) receiving the critique (i.e. the creator or presenter of whatever is being analyzed) who will take the perspectives and information raised during the critique, process it, and act upon it in some way.

Giver: The individual(s) giving the critique, who are being asked to think critically about the creation and provide their thoughts and perspectives.

Within both of these roles, there is the discrete aspect of intention: why are we asking for/receiving/giving feedback. Intent is the initiator of the conversation and is often what separates successful critiques and feedback discussions from problematic ones.

For the best discussions, the intent of each participant, regardless of whether they are receiving or giving critique, needs to be appropriate. If we aren’t careful, critique with the wrong, or inappropriate, intent on either side can lead to problems not only in our designs, but also in our ability to work with our teammates. Read more…

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Experience design gives you the competitive edge

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Andy Budd on the rising value of design, the bright future of agencies, and designers on the brink.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

This week on the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chats with Andy Budd, a partner and UX designer at Clearleft. Their wide-ranging conversation circles around lessons learned at Clearleft, understanding who your user really is, and why design agencies have a bright future. Budd also offers some insight into the people and projects he’s keeping an eye on, or rather, as he explains, keeping a look out for — the next big things probably aren’t yet on our radar, he says.

As Clearleft, a user-experience design consultancy, has matured over its 10 or so years, Budd says they’ve gotten a lot more interested in the psychology and philosophy behind design, how designers’ actions affect the world and society in general. The value of design, Budd notes, has been increasing over the past few years, becoming equal to — or even beginning to surpass — the prominence technology has traditionally enjoyed:

When I used to go to technology conferences, six, seven, eight years ago, the general narrative was around actual technology. It was around the developers as heroes around the technical stack being the main differentiator. Design was often lost in the conversation. Now, I think that’s changed. I think in the last three or four years, actually the technology stack, and the technology in general, has become a lot more commoditized, with the rise of rapid prototyping tools, with the rises of libraries and frameworks, and also just the general maturation of products. I think it’s very rare nowadays that a startup or product company will have, particularly in the Web space, will have a massive competitive advantage, just through technology alone. Read more…

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In design, what we really need is critical thinking

More than reaction or direction, critique is the key to understanding the impact of design decisions.

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Download a free copy of Designing for the Internet of Things, a curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. This post is an excerpt from Discussing Design, by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, one of the books included in the curated collection.

One of the most common ways design discussions are initiated is for a team member to ask for feedback on something they’ve created or an idea they have. They might just grab someone at a nearby desk because they want to take a break from putting something together and think about what they’ve done so far. Or it could be part of a planned milestone or date in the project’s timeline, often called Design Reviews.

It’s not that either of these is a bad time to get other’s thoughts. Rather, the first real problem we encounter is from the word “feedback” itself. It’s a word that’s become engrained in our vocabulary. We use it all the time, a la “I’d love to get your feedback on something…”

What is feedback?

The issue with the term “feedback” lies in its broadness. Feedback itself is nothing more than a reaction or response. Designers talk about feedback and feedback loops all the time in their work. The user of a system or product interacts with it in some way, perhaps by clicking a button, and the system changes in one way or another. It could be that an animated loading bar appears while some new data is fetched and displayed, or maybe some elements in the interface move their position.

That reaction by the system is the feedback. It is the system’s response to what the user has done. Feedback is a reaction that occurs as a result of us doing something. In human-to-human interactions, such as the conversations we have in our projects, feedback can be nothing more than a gut reaction to whatever is being presented. And to be quite honest, even though we might not want to admit it, that’s often all it is.
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The next big thing sits between tech’s push and consumers’ pull

Pilgrim Beart on AlertMe, and IoT’s challenges and promise.

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Register for Experience Design for the Internet of Things, an online conference from O’Reilly being held on May 20, 2015, where Pilgrim Beart will present a session, Getting to simple: Deploying IoT at scale.

I recently sat down with Pilgrim Beart, co-founder of AlertMe, which he recently sold to British Gas for $100 million. Beart is a computer engineer and founder of several startups, including his latest venture 1248.

Identifying the gap between technology and consumers: How AlertMe was founded

I asked Beart about the early thinking that led him and his co founder, Adrian Critchlow, to create AlertMe. The focus seems simple — identify user need. Beart explained:

I co-founded AlertMe with Adrian Critchlow. He was from more of a Web services background … My background was more embedded technology. Over a series of lunches in Cambridge where we both lived at the time, we just got to discussing two things, really. One was the way that technology was going. Technology push — what changes were happening that made certain things inevitable, and also consumer pull. What were the gaps that technology wasn’t really addressing?

To some extent we were discussing at quite a high level the intersection of those two, perhaps not quite in that rational way, but as we talked about things we were interested in, that’s essentially what we were doing. We were triangulating between the technology push and the consumer pull, and trying to spot things that essentially would be inevitable because of those two things. Then that led us to thinking about the connected home platform and what could the killer apps for the connected home be, and isn’t it strange how, if you compare the home to the car for example, cars have a large number of computers in them, and the computers all work together seamlessly and invisibly to keep you safe, keep you secure, save you energy, and so on.

In the home, you have a similar number of computers, but they’re not talking to each other, and as a result, it’s really far from ideal. You have no idea what’s going on in your home most of the time, and it’s not energy efficient, it’s not secure, etc. We saw a huge opportunity there, and we saw the potential for some technological advances to help address those problems.

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – April 3, 2015

Designing for discomfort, redesigning death, and a civic-human interface.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

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Designed for discomfort

An elevator delivers you one floor below the floor you requested. A keyholder drops your bike lock key to the ground when you grab your car keys. A lampshade gradually closes unless you to touch it to retain illumination. These are not design flaws; they’re just a few examples of products designed to encourage behavior change.

elevator_Gideon_Tsang_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Gideon Tsang on Flickr

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – March 27, 2015

John Maeda's top 5, Josh Clark's wise words, and Tim O'Reilly on the underestimated impact of the IoT.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


John Maeda’s top 5

When former RISD president John Maeda, now design partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins, was asked to name 5 things he can’t live without, his list didn’t include many “things.” Declaring himself a “post-possessionista,” he explains why some of his favorite things are more concept than object.

5-4-3-2-1_Neon_Countdown_Steven_Depolo_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Steven Depolo on Flickr
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Design’s role is to bridge context gaps

Andrew Hinton on making context understandable, smart devices, and programming literacy.

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I sat down with Andrew Hinton, an information architect at The Understanding Group and author of the recently released O’Reilly book Understanding Context. Our conversation included a discussion of information architecture’s role in the context of the IoT, the complexities of context, and the well-debated “everyone should learn to code” argument.

Context, information architecture, and experience design

Information architecture (IA) has always been a critical part of creating great products and services, and many would argue that, until now, it hasn’t been given the attention or respect it deserves. The need for thoughtful IA is increasing as we enter the multimodal world of IoT. Whether you call yourself an Information Architect or Designer, you need to care about context. Hinton offers up this hidden motivation for writing Understanding Context:

“I’ll confess, the book is a bit of a Trojan horse to kind of get people to think about information architecture differently than maybe the way they assume they should think about it.”

I followed up with Hinton via email for a bit more on how we need to view IA:

“People tend to assume IA is mainly about arranging objects, the way we arrange cans in a cupboard or books in a library. That’s part of it, but the Internet has made it so that we co-exist in places made of semantic and digital information. So when we create or change the labels, relationships, and rules of those places, we change their environment. Not just on screens, but now outside of screens as well. And, to me, the central challenge of that work is making context understandable.”

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Empathy is a stepping stone to a more important place: understanding

Understanding is what designers should be striving for as the backdrop for products.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on Medium; this lightly edited version is republished here with permission.

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About 10 years ago, I worked on a project for a new system for people with diabetes. We talked with many people who had diabetes or who helped educate diabetics. I even wore an insulin pump around for several days. In short, we were building up subject matter knowledge and empathy for the people we were designing for. During this user research phase, many of us (myself included) started to have actual nightmares that we had diabetes. I remember once looking at my toes, wondering if the tingling I was feeling was the onset of diabetes. (It wasn’t — probably just my foot was asleep.) We’d empathized to the point where we really identified with diabetics and their problems, which are considerable. We had so much empathy for them, in fact, that for several weeks, we couldn’t solve the problem. It seemed intractable, given what we knew about the condition and the state of technology at the time.

It wasn’t until we were able to step away from the diabetics’ perspective and become less empathetic that we were able to come up with a product concept. We needed distance — a psychic removal — in order to really assess the problem and take action to change it. In other words, we had to act like designers, which meant we had to be more objective, to sit outside and to the left of the problem space. As this experience taught me, too much empathy can be as crippling as too little.

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