Innovation Games for your Agile UX Toolbox

A few months ago, Luke Hohmann visited Cooper to teach a special session of his Innovation Games class. Alan Cooper, Steve Calde, Tim McCoy, Jeff Patton and I and spent two days with Luke learning about the games and practicing how to apply them in different situations. Since the class, I’ve often found myself reflecting on what I learned. I’d like to share with you how I’ve adapted some of the techniques in my User Experience consulting practice:

  • I look for opportunities to make all my meetings more engaging and participatory. A collaborative process generates a different kind of results than a meeting run by a single facilitator. When people work together to create an artifact (as you do in “Spider Web,” “Start Your Day”, and several other games) they are more engaged in the conversation and it’s easier to get participation from the entire group. You also have a useful record of what you talked about for future reference. My meeting room “kit” now contains large newsprint pads, sticky notes and thick black markers so we can jump into an Innovation Game at any time it becomes relevant.

  • At our ChiFoo workshop, Jeff Patton and I used a variation of “Speedboat” to guide a group discussion about blending Agile and User Experience (UX) techniques. We asked people to tell us what “anchors drag them down” and what “winds support them.” You can see a picture of the results on flickr. We budgeted about 45 minutes for the exercise, and people wanted to keep going well into lunch. The process of sharing our thoughts visually and verbally created a sense of community and shared direction in the room that surprised and pleased me.
  • I found the Innovation Game role of “observer” and the process of recording one observation per index card useful in another context. While teaching interviewing skills at Atomic Object. We grouped the interviewers in pairs (main interviewer, backup interviewer) and had the rest of the people sit behind the interview subject and act as observers, taking notes on index cards, one observation per card. After the interview, we did a group debrief of the observations and found that we had excellent coverage of what we’d learned. Even though none of the student interviewers caught all the details, as a group they covered everything. Another benefit; we quickly reached a shared understanding of the key insights from the interviews. I can imagine this would be equally as useful during usability testing, either behind glass or with silent observers.
  • And, for my personal and professional planning, I’ve found “Remember the Future” valuable to help me clearly articulate my long term objectives, and the specific measurable steps I need to follow to accomplish them.
  • Thanks again, Luke, for a memorable class, and some useful additions to my UX toolkit! For more information about the Innovation Games event, please see the Cooper Journal post about the event, and the full set of photos on flickr.
    Read More

    Blending Agile and UCD at CHIFOO

    The Computer-Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) hosted Lane Halley and Jeff Patton for a talk and workshop on blending agile practices and user-centered design. On Wednesday night, May 6th, Lane and Jeff presented a talk titled “Making Sense of User-Centered Design and Agile.” Thursday, May 7th, Lane and Jeff taught a full-day workshop titled “All Together Now: Blending Interaction Design and Agile Development Techniques.”


    The slides from the May 6th talk are available on SlideShare. Pictures of the May 7th workshop are available on Flickr. Read More

    Alan Cooper video: “Similarities Between Interaction Designers and Agile Programmers”


    During the Agile 2008 conference, Amr Elssamadisy interviewed Alan Cooper on the topic “Similarities Between Interaction Designers and Agile Programmers.” During their conversation, Alan provides additional context for his talk, “The Wisdom of Experience” and explains why he believes the adoption of Agile methods by developers is a positive development for interaction designers.
    Read More

    Cooper hosts Innovation Games class

    Luke Hohmann, author of Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play will be here at Cooper to teach an intensive, two-day class about Innovation Games, March 30-31, 2009.

    When: March 30th-31st, 2009
    Where: Cooper, 100 First Street, 26th Floor, San Francisco
    Price: $995 per person, $895 per person for two or more attendees
    To register:
    visit the registration site. For group discounts, send email to

    I was intrigued by the Enthiosys display at the Agile 2008 conference. Every time I passed by, the booth was filled with folks filling out colorful stickies and pasting them on posters containing grids and trees. Once I overheard a group of people engaged in passionate discussion about the relative benefits of different kinds of sunglasses. I asked what was going on, and learned that this was an Innovation Game called “Buy a Feature.”

    Because I am somewhat skeptical about feature-collection as a product design mechanism, I asked Rich Mironov to explain this to me. Did he really believe that you could ask people what features should be in a product and use that information with any confidence? Rich explained that you didn’t listen just to what people said they wanted, you need to encourage discussion about why those features would be valuable, and how they would be used if they were available. At last, I suspected I’d found an ally in the product management world who understood that you needed to get behind feature requests to the human needs those features serve.

    After I read Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play, I began to see potential for new ways to engage with my clients in a more fun and collaborative way. Several of the techniques described are similar to the techniques I use in my research: Me and my Shadow, The Apprentice and Show and Tell. Another set seemed to be new ways to collect some of the information I collected through direct research, but in a new way: Start your day, Spider web, Remember the future, Give them a hot tub.

    As an experiment in trying new things, and to build better understanding between the Agile Product Management community and the Interaction Design community, Cooper has invited Luke Hohmann to come teach a session of his Innovation Games workshop at Cooper. We hope you can come join us!
    Read More

    Cooper’s Q&A “Integrating User Experience and Agile” on video


    Alan Cooper, David Fore, Lane Halley and Tim McCoy were invited by Pivotal Labs to present a tech talk on Agile and User Experience Design on December 10, 2008. Rather than present a prepared presentation, we took questions from the audience and engaged in an hour of interesting conversation about the challenges of integrating User Experience Design and Agile.

    The video is available here. Read More

    Agile ’09 Call for Submissions


    Cooper is a proud co-producer of the User Experience stage at Agile 2009, the annual Agile Alliance conference. We look forward to hearing your stories about how User Experience techniques enhance Agile projects. Visit the User Experience section to learn more, and to submit a proposal. The deadline is March 3rd, 2009.

    The conference will be in Chicago, August 24 to 28, 2009. We hope to see you there!
    Read More

    Cross Country featured in Google Maps case study

    Cross Country, a longtime Cooper client, was recently featured in a Google Maps Success Story. Cross Country Healthcare (CCH) is one of the largest providers of healthcare staffing services in the United States.

    In the article, Google reports that “Using the Google Maps for Enterprise API, Cooper collaborated with developers at Cross Country to devise a powerful, visually enriched application that meshed seamlessly with Cross Country’s CRM system. The resulting web portal supplies nurses, allied health professionals, and recruiters with graphically rich location, facility, and housing data. For example, a nurse seeking a position in the Chicago area can specify a 10-mile radius, drill down into the map’s data points for street and vicinity information, and identify nearby assignments.”

    CCTC’s Job Search for travelers was one of the first enterprise-level Google Maps mash-ups. It has powerful yet simple searching, filtering and flagging capabilities. With the new traveler web portal, customers have:

    • Immediate access to rich job information and job application services unlike any other staffing company
    • Anytime/anyplace access to the system’s web-based tools for seeking jobs and maintaining credentials, which provide ease-of-use and control to travelers while reducing recruiter workload
    • Ability to envision the realities of each new locale (such as housing and transportation), thus improving travelers’ self-service capabilities
    • Personalization based on the traveler’s past searches, nursing specialties, and lifestyle preferences

    This project resulted in tangible benefits for Cross Country. According to Google, “After its first eight months, the nursing web portal realized a 77 percent increase in job-search activity. Job seekers are networking to make more informed decisions about upcoming assignments, resulting in greater job satisfaction. Additionally, a recruiter looking to place a candidate in a hospital now has sophisticated mapping technology to better match applicants with lifestyle preferences. From an administrative perspective, users can access updated payroll, insurance, and job-certification information – saving countless hours of paperwork, telephone time, and overhead expenses for everyone concerned.”

    For more information about this project, please also see Cooper’s case study. Read More

    Agile interaction design for startups: A conversation with Cameron Koczon, Co-founder, Border Stylo

    Recently I’ve been trying to figure out how interaction design can be blended with Agile development techniques. William Pietri and I have been working closely with Border Stylo, a web-based startup located in Beverly Hills. Through a series of short workshops, we’ve been helping them find the appropriate blend of Agile and interaction design techniques for their team, and evolve those methods as their needs change.

    Cameron Koczon and Eduardo Prats were at Cooper October 27-29, 2008 for a series of collaborative design sessions. I took the opportunity to chat with Cameron about his experiences working with a design consultancy as his small startup interleaves product definition, development and interaction design in a nimble fashion, without losing ownership if the vision and end results. Lane: Please introduce us to your company, Border Stylo.

    Cameron: Border Stylo is about five months old. Our founding team is a group of very good friends from way back. Myself, Diego and Oscar went to high school together, Eduardo is Diego’s little brother, and Evan and I were college roommates. We raised a little money to build a proof of concept of a Firefox extension. Based on our proof of concept, we raised some series A funding and that took us to where we are now, constructing our Alpha release.

    Lane: What is the composition of your team? How many people and what are their skill sets?

    Cameron: We all wear a lot of hats. Diego, our CEO does investor relations and makes sure we stay the course in terms of our vision. We’re going to do a lot of data mining and analysis and his educational background will help us with that.

    Oscar, our COO, is in charge of developing and implementing our marketing strategy. Because many of our investors are international, we plan on conducting an international release of our product. He also does a lot of the work that has to get done at a startup but is not very glamorous. He makes sure the rent and bills are paid. He handles legal, accounting and is involved in hiring. I actually don’t know how he keeps track of it all.

    Eduardo and I do visual design, UI design, product definition and some of the implementation associated with that. That’s not sustainable, so we have to bring on some more people to do that.

    We have a development team of three people. One, our CTO Ian, is a badass Rails developer and does a great job of keeping our team on track. Another, Evan, does all our front-end/plug in development. The third guy, Thomas is focused on the back end, making our product scalable. Again, we are in the process of expanding the team to a more sustainable size, but for now that is the full dev team. Read More

    User Research Friday

    I ventured out of the office last Friday, to join Bolt Peters and friends for User Research Friday at Mighty in San Francisco. Billed as “Emergent User Research Methods. And Drinks” URF08 was attended by about 150 professionals and students interested in the topic of user research. During his opening remarks, Nate Bolt talked about the benefits of user research, and remarked that “good ideas don’t just come from the guys in the black turtlenecks.” Nate’s comment got me thinking, what are the strengths and frustrations of the user research community, and how can interaction designers get the most benefit from user research techniques?

    The userati: Dan Saffer, Indi Young, Cyd Harrell and Nate Bolt Read More

    The missing piece: How interaction design can add to Agile

    Since Alan and I attended Agile 08 last August, I’ve had conversations with a lot of people about their impressions of Agile. I’ve talked with people working in a variety of settings, from scrappy startups who are iteratively defining their product and market to large companies with complex business problems working with internationally distributed teams. In each of these settings, some folks are strong advocates of Agile, some are still skeptics. It’s a broad field, and I’m still very much formulating my opinions, but I’d like to share some thoughts and observations I’ve had along the way. I also have a few ideas about how Agile and interaction design might be able to work in concert. Read More