Experience Design on a Budget: Approaches to Delivering a Future State Proposal on Limited Time

Experience Design on a Budget: Approaches to Delivering a Future State Proposal on Limited Time

Recently, working with a team of designers to re-imagine the car loan experience for a client pitch, I came upon a feeling I'm no stranger to:  Unease.  I believe feeling uncomfortable is necessary for personal and professional growth, and putting yourself "out there" in unfamiliar situations is conducive to feeling this way.  But this time was a bit different.  I couldn't help but think that there was something more to my unease - I had doubts on the legitimacy of our process.  To be more specific, my discomfort was rooted in our approach for creating personas and journey maps, key experience design elements that are the starting point and foundation for all future state innovation proposals.  At times I was overtaken with doubt and I found myself second guessing our narratives.

Now before this starts to sound negative or hyper critical, let me elaborate further on the team's rationale which is rooted in a strategic approach based on handling limitations and meeting a key objective: Inspiring action.

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MVP Product Performance Analysis: Setting A Plan

MVP Product Performance Analysis: Setting A Plan

I can't overstate the importance of implementing a product analysis plan. To do so involves strategy and collaboration.

SET AN ANALYSIS PLAN

Of absolute critical importance is setting a plan to analyze your product...BEFORE your release.  It's important to get buy-in and input from your sponsors who can provide valuable influence to ensure you secure the resources you need post release when teams disband (And yes, this most likely means additional investment.).  

Product analysis is not a one time exercise - Create a steady state plan which is repeatable and has consistent ownership.  A plan may typically include:  Performance metrics to capture, cadences (how often analysis is to be performed), reporting strategy and, as a bonus, I also like to begin to ideate on responses to assumptions (I mean, come on, you're gonna have some non-data driven hunches on how things are going down!).

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MVP Product Performance Analysis: Why?

MVP Product Performance Analysis: Why?

(Culled from my experiences developing products for an organization)

As I've mentioned in a previous post, releasing a product is simply the first step (albeit a huge one) in a successful product lifecycle.  An MVP, is just that:  In theory viable, but certainly minimal and it is necessary to plan for and DEDICATE resources to analyze your work post release to ensure the product is realizing its exciting potential (Note: I'm packing a LOT of meaning into "potential").  Designing and implementing an analysis plan will ensure that you and your team make visible and create a common understanding of the product's health.

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So You've Built an App...Now What?

So You've Built an App...Now What?

You've spent the last few months with your team, hard at work iteratively developing an app which is slated to deliver serious value for your company and its clients.  A significant amount of effort and budget investment has gone into your work...  Following your last development sprint and the subsequent app store approval, you've done it!  You've released your app!  Cue the balloons and hero's welcome.  Your app is now available for use - it's out there!  Urm...Now what?

What follows is my personal experience, observations and thoughts on setting a product up for success in the immediate time following release, in this case, in an organizational environment (Although certainly applicable to a majority of other market scenarios.). 

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"M" Stands for Minimum

"M" Stands for Minimum

I've recently lead a product build for an app, now available on the iPad store, my organization is using to support the distribution and consumption of a relatively new service offering.  This was an MVP build.   If you are familiar with agile development or other user-centric iterative processes, you will know that "MVP" stands for "Minimal Viable Product."  

The "MVP"...

 

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Design Insights From Getting a Tooth Implant

I've been fortunate that I have not had to make too many visits to the doctor over the years, at least for anything significant.  But the dentist, that's a bit of a different story.  I've had a pretty colorful history when it comes to tooth #9...that's the front tooth, the left one.  I injured the tooth during a silly 16th birthday "hazing" gone awry, and years after the incident, I've had some pretty interesting visits to the dentist to repair, cosmetically alter, and in general, make fit for eating sandwiches.  For the most part, the majority of the costs of these procedures were covered by my insurance plans...until recently.  

Hoping to end emergency dentist visits and limited biting/chewing capability once and for all, I chose to go with an implant procedure.  I was informed that my provider would cover only a small portion of the total cost, and like many medical procedures, was certainly not insignificant.  Why would a procedure to limit "severe infection" from eating away at what was left of my root be covered so poorly?  More than enough to get me questioning the process and the reality of the patient-doctor-insurance provider relationship, I sat down with my Periodontist, my assumptions were validated and the absurd reality of my experience reinforced what we all know and can attest to:  Medical insurance certainly is not designed with a focus on the patient (user) but favorably skewed in the direction of the provider (A surprise to NO ONE.).  So I asked myself:

What if insurance providers took a more user-centered approach to coverage?

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You've Got Nothing without a Vision

You've Got Nothing without a Vision

So you have a cool idea for a product that solves some problem or answers a need...Now what?  How does this become more than an idea and transform into a tangible solution?  Well, certainly a complex question, and one which I'll surely riff on future posts, but for now I'd like to state some possibly pretty obvious stuff, but surely not to be taken for granted.  Great solutions must be made visible, colored in and communicated in order to have any shot of being born and released into the wild...to grow legs, as they say in the business.

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Don’t Ask. Do.

Don’t Ask.  Do.

Every work environment has its own levels of complexity regarding decision-making.  People will always have a stake in how decisions are made and more importantly, how the outcomes of those decisions affect their interests.  So as you can imagine, thinking differently to promote change and progress may come in direct opposition to interests at hand.  But is this really so?  A good idea which ultimately directly moves your organization forward is just that- a good idea.

There is no better way to kill a good idea before it even begins to materialize than asking for permission to proceed.  Here’s why:

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Inspire, Diverge, Converge

I recently co-led a workshop for another design group within my company where we aimed to determine the best way to partner with and synergize our groups’ talents to expand a new service line. To kick things off, and before jumping into any workshop specifics, (9:00 am on a Monday morning), a leader of my group began with a couple videos.    The content, very much a future state but relative to the work we do, was exciting and inspiring - exactly what we needed at 9:00 am on a Monday morning.  Actually, wait…we should be inspired not just early on a Monday morning...we need to do this more.

As we came to the end of the video and jumped into our session, it was clear that everyone was energized and ready to learn and work towards a solution.  It was obvious that we all had at the top of our minds the possible.

I work in a design group and we design and build app prototypes aimed to excite and display the “possible.”  A part of our job is to do exactly what this 9 am video set out to do with the clients we work with.

But what is inspiration if it doesn’t lead to a tangible result?  How do we harness this creative momentum and create impact?

A formula I see as powerful in range of situations goes as such:  Inspire.  Think divergently. Converge.

Inspiration is simply showing what is possible while creating excitement in the process.  This excitement can be harvested into what is called “divergent thinking,” an exercise where a prompt is given and we generate many ideas from this starting point (Diverging from a source of information- you may be familiar with the antiquated term “brainstorm?”).  The next step is critical- we now we have a bunch of ideas but no application.  We should measure and assess these ideas for solutions against some criteria or standards.  This is the “convergent thinking” piece (As we measure each output of our divergent thinking, we converge on a single or narrowed down list of solutions that make sense given the problem's attributes.). 

It’s exciting and fun to inspire and speak to the possible, but without taking some next steps it’s really only just that, fun.  Actually wait; it’s more than that…It can be a serious problem for a project.  If we only inspire, we run the very serious risk of potentially misleading.  Clients get excited and may assume promises are being made. 

We want to excite, show the possible and then have a conversation as to what the most appropriate solution may be given the client’s needs and constraints.  Maybe we go for everything…but at what cost?  Maybe we prioritize some of this blue sky thinking which will have the most impact (a more realistic scenario).

If you read only this:  Harness the power of inspiration, but follow with some next steps and ensure that everyone is as excited with the outcome as they were when the conversations began.

 

“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

Here are a few thoughts on last night’s NYC Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup.  The topic was certainly relevant to some of the work I do and was helpful to re-iterate some best practices I need to employ and keep in mind for my project work.

I work with teams to build prototype applications (typically for iPad) aimed to inspire clients and showcase how we take industry/niche insights and apply those to a client need/problem by building a functional prototype.

In order to do this, we work to understand what the client problem is, identify what type of tool may work best (dashboard, calculator,  workflow, diagnostic…), rapidly iterate on a design and develop the application - All in the timespan of 1-4 weeks, depending on the level of  app robustness the client may require.  To accomplish all of this, our teams work in an agile environment.

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Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Last night, brandh@ckers put together a panel to discuss, albeit at a very high level, the design thinking methodology.  It’s a rich topic with a lot of opportunity to delve into its many aspects much further- I suggest a Meetup dedicated solely to the methodology (in NYC) – But definitely a good top level discussion.  The panel included representatives from the likes of Parsons and Stanford’s d.school (where all of this came about).

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Good to See You - My Introduction to Data Visualization

Good to See You - My Introduction to Data Visualization

I recently had the pleasure to attend a couple of Andy Kirk’s talks (one being at the Data Visualization In New York Meetup) on the topic of, well, Data Visualization.  I’ve known about the field for some time but I hadn’t had much of an introduction up until this point.  After spending a day in data vis. information sessions and presentations, I’m interested in further exploring the field.  This post will serve as my initial high-level understanding of data vis. but I plan to dive deeper in future posts.  Also, I am not a designer or developer so my writing will come more from a theory-type angle. 

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“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

Right off the heels of the Lean Startup Machine NYC weekend, I participated in last night’s Agile Experience Design Meetup where the topic/workshop involved running through how to test an ACTAUL user problem through forming a super low functioning, but TESTABLE MVP.  LSM began its focus at point 0 in the process where we needed to validate who the customer is, if the customer actually has a problem and what the actual problem is.  Last night we came into it assuming that there is a user that does have a problem.  Unique to a lot of Meetups I’ve been to, we spent some time running through the high level process in workshop form to get us thinking along the build, measure, learn feedback loop.  Some of the thinking is counterintuitive to how people may want to think (jumping into solutions without thoroughly measuring and learning…) so the exercise was helpful.

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: Part 2 - My Experience

Day 1

Everyone met at the Alley NYCa coworking space in Times Square, Friday evening over pizza and conversation.  Soon after, people who brought product ideas had 50 seconds each to pitch to everyone in the room.  After the pitches, everyone had 3 votes and the top 10-15 ideas were chosen – people then formed teams.  I didn’t get an exact count, but I estimate that there were 12-14 teams in total.

I decided to join a team working on a product to create a program for 4th year undergrad students entering the professional workforce to join a recognized and visible industry rotational program.

Immediately we began to explore the idea by subjecting it to the Validation Board.  We first identified our customer hypothesis (4th year undergrads) and problem hypothesis (students are ill-prepared to find the right job fit).  We recorded our assumptions, chose which assumption we believed to be the riskiest and then our team agreed upon validation criteria for our assumption.  As it was late in the evening, we decided to save the in-person interviews for Saturday but sent out a survey, leveraging twitter (#college).

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine is a movement aimed to educate entrepreneurs and industry professionals alike on how to build products that people actually want.  Using Lean Startup methodology, LSM is a 3-day workshop where 50 people gather, pitch ideas for a product and teams form around those pitches.  At the end of the weekend, winning teams are chosen based on how well each team adhered to the process and how they were able to handle change throughout the journey.  Teams are not judged on how marketable or creative a product idea is.   Although many people who attend the workshop were entrepreneurs, I participated interested in the methodology and how it can be applied in enterprise situations.  Also, LSM is NOT a hackathon.  I was actually surprised to see that a majority of the participants were not developers but come from another discipline within tech or even different industries.

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Working with a Product Related Disagreement: The Product Group @ the Viacom Building, NYC 04/04/13

Last night I attended my first Product Group Meetup where people in the field of product development get together to discuss best practices and knowledge share.  The discussion is split into two parts: Part one focuses on a discussion topic and the second part of the evening is dedicated to a product showcase where a representative (usually a founder) talks about roadblocks, best practices and successes in creating the product.

The discussion last night focused on product related disagreements – What are common root causes and how do people manage disagreement?  Although billed under the “product” umbrella, many of the points discussed are applicable to most work situations, but let’s keep the focus on the product development process.

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Designed Collaboration

Designed Collaboration

One of the grievances I had with my last role (as a grants manager at a large Pharmaceutical company) was the physical space in which I worked.  We were lucky not to work in cubicles, but had our own offices each with their own door.  The hallway that I worked was comprised of a lengthy row of these closed off spaces where people tended to shut themselves in for most of the day…Sometimes I wouldn’t see my coworkers unless it was in a public space.  We mostly all worked on our own projects, and with teams literally in buildings across the street.  There are many things wrong with this scene but here I’d like to focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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Design Agency vs. Startup Panel Discussion, The Alley NYC: 03/28/13

Interesting panel discussion last night that aimed to discuss various aspects of business as seen through the eyes of an established agency (R/GA) and a startup (Fitocracy).  The topic questions were centered around R/GA’s involvement and experience working on FuelBand and Fitocracy’s app.  It’s interesting to note the obvious differences between the two- R/GA partnered with Nike and Fitocracy of course worked for themselves…bootstrap central.  Also worth noting is the fact that many agencies and enterprises are taking note of startup methodology which is quick and lean.

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Exciting Web Design Trend

snowfall-header.gif

Web design has clearly come a long way and the standard experience is certainly more attractive and useful than in previous years.  We’re in an exciting period now where some design centered groups are pushing the boundaries of what a reading experience should be, taking into account the multitude of ways people consume information online in 2013 (smartphone, tablet…desktop…).  In regards to a reading experience, I’ve noticed two sites I frequent quite a bit (one more than the other) experimenting with heightening the consumption experience incorporating multimedia seamlessly within the narrative flow…and they are doing it beautifully.

The New York Times, known for their push for forward thinking, published a piece last December on the Tunnel Creek avalanche.  The piece incorporates excellent multimedia elements (which are USEFUL) and blend them into the flow seamlessly, instead of in parallel or as a distraction.  This effort took an initial agreement from all teams involved with the design and collaborative approach.  All facets from overall concept, flow and design needed to be coordinated during production. The NYT plans to roll this type of design out in an iterative fashion and I can only assume we’ll see more of this in the future as they roll it out to include the main site, ebooks and entirely new mediums.  It will be interesting to see how they incorporate adverting.

NYT: Snow Fall

Pitchfork (yes, this is the site I frequent the most of the two) is doing similar work with some of their artist profiles- check out the Ty Segall and Bat for Lashes pieces.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of this trend soon.

User Research for Agile Teams: Agile Experience Design Meetup, Pivotal Labs – 03/18/13

Last night, the NYC Agile Experience Design Meetup hosted a panel with 3 companies speaking on how they incorporate UX in an agile environment.  I found AppNexus’ talk particularly interesting in that they brought up the point that there seems to not be a good standard to this point for incorporating research in an agile (scrum) setting.  They believe that it is the designer’s role to incorporate the research into scrum (makes sense) and they typically follow a process broken up into four distinct phases:

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