Elevating the brand and visual strategy with the experience workshop

Defining and creating a memorable experience for your customers is no easy task. Product owners and development teams can easily rattle off ideas to designers about what features are necessary to stay competitive. But if you ask them to share their vision for the overall more subtle emotional aspects of the experience, they often get quiet or resort to the familiar old UI clichés of “simplicity, intuitiveness, etc.” This means that you often start your design work with less insight than you need to drive visual and interaction design.

Enter the experience workshop – a collaborative meeting and setup where clients can really talk about what a great experience can feel like among a sea of inspirational images, digital interfaces, products, services, brands, cars, textures, and more. Companies that build digital products and services are engaging in a new level of competition; it’s no longer good enough to deliver a usable product. Our designs must reach an aspirational vision that elevates the experience beyond mere usability, and a visual, collaborative workshop pushes people to explore and discuss the possibilities.

The workshop helps teams discuss what attributes are inherent in these other experiences that are meaningful to the experience they’re defining. After a process of prioritization and discussion, the end result is often a huge cloud of ideas and words that sit on a spectrum from a poor experience to an ideal experience. The examples aren’t what’s important for our output. We collect insight from the discussion, the words, that help us define the ideal experience.

The workshop brings teams together to learn and collaborate on the experience. What I love most about this activity is the connections made from people across different teams that can relate on a personal level because of their shared experiences. It’s not just a visioning exercise for the future; it’s a team-building event.

Check out the above video to see a glimpse of the workshop in action. And if you want to learn more about how to conduct a workshop and integrate this new approach into your company, you can sign up for an upcoming Cooper U Visual Interface Design course. In fact, we have just a few spots left in next week’s class (May 7-8), if this post left you inspired…

Playing with iBooks

At Cooper, we love to share what we learn in our consulting work. We’ve published and socialized techniques and tools for doing interaction design in our books, at conferences, and through Cooper U. Recently, Apple released the iBooks Author platform, and a few of us have been giving it a test run.

The platform itself has lots of potential. There is much to improve, but the possibilities are interesting and it’s too early to critique it too strongly. There’s been much talk already about the EULA and whether or not this will disrupt education. It’s too early to make that call, though. Our initial impression? It’s an accessible tool aimed at a user population that, up to this point, hasn’t been equipped to produce engaging and usable interactive educational content.


In our trial run, we produced a look book with some of recent work, including slideshows, imagery and video. It’s a little rough in some areas, but we’d love to see what you think. You can download it via the link below and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Download the Cooper iBook.

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Vote for the TaskRabbit iPhone app!

Last summer, Cooper partnered with TaskRabbit and Pivotal Labs to design their new iPhone app. The app works with their service to help people who need help with simple tasks—anything from walking the dog, standing in line at the DMV, or moving furniture—with “Rabbits,” a network of background-checked and pre-approved individuals who have the skills and time available to complete tasks.

The TaskRabbit iPhone app has been nominated for the 2011 Crunchies and the 2012 IxDA awards. This week, you can vote for the app in both awards and check out the other nominations.

The TaskRabbit project

Posting a Task is super easy

The TaskRabbit service is continuing to expand in new cities, including Austin, and we’re excited to see their service evolve and grow. Congratulations to Leah Busque for her nomination as Founder of the Year in the Crunchies also.

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The sCoop: week of Sept 26

Alan’s interview, Software Alchemy and the Arc of Technology, with Chris Shipley at the Commonwealth Club on September 13 can now be listened to on their website as a podcast.

The Cooper team was busy working on projects this week and playing in the 2011 Bay Area Design Dodgeball tournament. Special thanks to Smart Design for organizing and hosting this year’s event. Check out photos of the team in action below. To see more photos check out our Facebook page.

Early in the day the team talked strategy and checked out the field of play.

Karen and Greg looked fierce and played fierce.

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What marketing executives should know about user experience

Like it or not, the digital world has changed at a wicked pace, and more and more interactions between companies and their customers now happen via an interface. Software serves us everywhere, and the user experience now shapes these interactions every day. At the center of all this change sits the brand. TV and print advertising now regularly feature digital experiences from the likes of Apple, Google, Toyota, GE, and Amazon. The visual interface has become the new face of your brand. This means that the role of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) is now harder, and their influence must reach further into the organization than ever before.

Customer interaction cycle
More customer interactions are now digital, and the brand sits at the center

Expectations are now much higher. My wife, for example, has lost all patience with technology. She hates how TiVo doesn’t record her programs on time; her Dell laptop seems to break frequently; her iPhone is too slow. It’s not just my wife, though. I see it frequently in healthcare and financial services. Even employees in larger enterprises have lost patience and expect better.

At Cooper, I see clients struggle with traditional marketing practices to deliver software that lacks the deeper level of engagement that customers are looking for. Some of our clients have changed their approach to marketing and product design and are reaping the rewards with a place on Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies list.

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The visual interface is now your brand

At the recent Interaction 11 conference, I spoke of the growing importance of visual interface design to both brand and user experience in an increasingly digital world. In this new world, visual interaction designers face big challenges and bigger expectations, from both users and clients.

While designing visual interfaces for dense, complex products, designers can also influence brand perception by creating experiences that are both memorable and useful. In my session, I discuss how to design a unique visual interface that puts the needs of the users first; how to add surprise and delight to critical moments of the experience; and how to use craftsmanship and attention to detail to set your design apart in a visually complex medium. Finally, I talk about how visual designers can effectively frame conversations with stakeholders about brand and experience by using personas, experience attributes, and stories to convey design ideas. Enjoy!

Presentation on Slideshare

You can also view a crisper version of the slides on Slideshare: Slideshare.

Related Reading

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Open studios are social good!

We recently hosted an open studio, with presentations about using social media for social good from Jennifer Aaker, co-author of The Dragonfly Effect, and Robert Chatwani, social media innovator and Head of Global Citizenship at eBay. It brought together over 100 people in laughter, tears, and inspiration. Throughout the evening, designers and organizations came together to explore how they could use social media for a variety of initiatives, such as forest preservation, energy conservation, and education. We’ve posted a few photos here, and we wanted to express our gratitude to the speakers and all in the community who took part.

Cooper Open Studio
Designers, social advocates, entrepreneurs, and developers chatted and mingled early in the evening

Cooper Open Studio
Robert shared his story about Sameer Bhatia and Vinay Chakravarthy, two friends diagnosed with leukemia

Cooper Open Studio
Jennifer spoke about the meaning of happiness, social media, and storytelling

Cooper Open Studio
Robert highlighted ways corporations with authentic, core social values that can still be profitable.

Cooper Open Studio
The evening was a great success and left many energized and inspired

In case you missed the evening, Robert’s original talk at the Stanford Business School is available to watch on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are participating in several upcoming events and you can learn more about their book, The Dragonfly Effect, via their blog.

Our desired outcome for the event was not simply to inform but to encourage people to act. We highlighted a few opportunities for designers, developers and entrepreneurs to use their skills for social good but hope to share a broader scope of ways to get involved in the near future. If Robert’s talk about Teams Sameer and Vinay illustrated anything, it’s that each of us can have a large global impact given a clear, focused goal.

Thanks everyone for their interest and involvement in our open studio, and we’ll keep you posted on our events in 2011. Read More

Social media for social good: Cooper open studio on November 17

img_dragonfly_effect.png What’s been your proudest achievement in life? Think about this for a minute or two. The accomplishments that I hold most dear are those that have occurred mostly outside of my professional career. But are we missing opportunities as designers and developers to contribute directly to furthering social causes? Social psychologist Jennifer Aaker and social media innovator Robert Chatwani say that we are. Cooper is proud to host these two Bay Area thought leaders at an open studio event on Wednesday, November 17th, from 6 – 9 pm at our offices on 100 1st Street on the 26th floor.

Jennifer Aaker and marketing technologist, Andy Smith’s new book The Dragonfly Effect is a must-read for designers and developers. The book details how people using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube beat the odds, made a difference, and literally saved lives. It tells how a former nightclub owner made a way for some of the world’s poorest people to have clean water, how a girl’s lemonade stand inspired fundraising for breast cancer, and how Barack Obama connected with a younger generation to become the first African American president of the United States. It underscores the importance of connecting meaning with social media when trying to create infectious action.

The book begins with a very personal story: In 2007, a friend, Sameer Bhatia, was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). His one chance of survival was to find a bone marrow donor but his odds were slim: 1 in 25,000. Sameer’s friends, led by Robert Chatwani, used social technology to find a match for Sameer. And that’s just the beginning of the story!

Please join us at Cooper’s studio to meet Robert and Jennifer and to find out more about The Dragonfly Effect and the excellent design principles that were invaluable for affecting change. RSVP to rsvp@cooper.com.

Jennifer Aaker

img_jennifer_aaker.png A social psychologist and marketer, Jennifer Aaker is the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Her research spans time, money and happiness. She focuses on questions such as: “What actually makes people happy, as opposed to what they think makes them happy?” “How can small acts create infectious action, and how can such effects be fueled by social media?” She is widely published in the leading scholarly journals in psychology and marketing, and her work has been featured in a variety of media including The Economist, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Forbes, CBS Money Watch, NPR, Science, Inc, and Cosmopolitan.

A sought-after teacher in the field of marketing, Professor Aaker teaches in many of Stanford’s Executive Education programs as well as MBA electives including Designing Happiness, How to Tell a Story, Building Innovative Brands and The Power of Social Technology. She has also taught at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Columbia and is a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, Citibank Best Teacher Award, George Robbins Best Teacher Award and both the Spence and Fletcher Jones Faculty Scholar Awards.

Robert Chatwani

img_robert_chatwani.png Robert Chatwani leads Global Citizenship for eBay Inc., which covers a range of technology-driven social innovation across eBay and PayPal. Reporting to eBay’s CEO, he oversees the company’s global social impact and business goals across three areas: entrepreneurship, sustainable commerce, and communities. eBay’s platforms have enabled 25 million sellers around the world, powered the sale of over $100 billion in pre-owned goods, and raised more than $200 million for nonprofit organizations. Robert previously co-founded WorldofGood.com by eBay, the world’s largest marketplace for socially responsible shopping. Prior to eBay, Chatwani was the co-founder of MonkeyBin, an online consumer marketplace for trade and barter. Robert began his career with McKinsey & Company in Chicago and Washington DC, where he served a range of Fortune 500 clients and launched McKinsey’s Globalization practice. Chatwani received a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePaul University and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He was named to Time Magazine’s Top 100 Green Pioneers of 2009.

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Celebrating the World Cup Visualizations

We really enjoyed watching the World Cup over lunch here in the Cooper office. The games sparked many conversations about soccer, beloved sporting traditions, and why FIFA is so bloody minded about goal-line technology use (okay, maybe that last one was just from a bitter England fan).

It’s also been a time to admire the many new and unusual visualizations used for the tournament brackets, game-by-game breakdowns, and statistical replays. For the fans that wake up in the coming weeks with an empty feeling, perhaps this library of visualizations will provide a glimmer of comfort and distraction until the next tournament. (That is unless you’re an England fan.) There are many visualizations to look at here but if I could suggest one to look at closely it would be the Guardian twitter replay. The best of the bunch.

And of course, congratulations to Spain on winning the World Cup!

Game Schedules & Results

The classic visualization for the World Cup is the table breakdown and brackets. For any hardcore fan this is the most exciting visualization where supporters can see their team’s road to the final and victory.

MARCA World Cup calendar
One stadium visualization received plenty of attention for it’s beautiful form and elegant interaction but, for me, it failed to illustrate the future match-ups. I never could understand the rationale of the order of the teams either.
MARCA World Cup calendar

World Cup radial bracket poster
While just a poster, this visualization gives a very quick glimpse into potential future opponents. It also is beautifully designed with bright colors and typography. Sadly, it isn’t interactive.
World Cup radial bracket poster Read More

Beyond trust

At Cooper, we spend a considerable amount of time understanding the experience requirements of the products that we’re designing. Our client stakeholders often request a design that our users will react to as feeling simple, intuitive, innovative, and so on. In many cases the products we’re asked to design must display a sense of trust.

Why is trust good?

Trust can play an important role in the successful adoption of a product. For example, in data backup and management, if the software does not give a user, such as a backup administrator, the confidence that his data is safe and securely managed then he’s unlikely to want to use, or switch to, this software. Especially, when considering that his job is on the line in cases where servers go down and critical data could be lost. Likewise, for online banking websites, customers want to know that their personal information is securely housed and not at risk of being stolen.

How do we make software that appears trustworthy?

All aspects of design and technology contribute to improving a product’s trustworthiness whether it be through the visual presentation, the tone of content, the accurate and clear communication of data, or the brand awareness of a company or product. Ultimately, when considering visual design it’s our task to create a visual language that appears professional, high in quality, and appropriate to the user’s expectations. For content and data, it should be clear, concise, error-free and accurate. Finally, repeated interactions with brands can build trust over time if consistent, dependable, and memorable.

When trust can be bad

Right now you might be wondering, “Trust can be bad?” You’ve got a point. No client has ever asked me to design a software application, website, or device that’s intended to be untrustworthy. But, our continuing reliance on complex information systems could lead us down the path of blindly relying on data, even when we don’t fully understand that data. Trust must always be cultivated in users, but too much trust, like too much of anything, can be a bad thing.

Consider the financial meltdown. I don’t pretend to fully understand what has happened, who’s to blame, and how it could have been prevented. What seems clear is that many of those responsible were only looking out for themselves. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, discusses this issue that began decades ago in “The End of Wall Street’s Boom,”

The shareholders who financed the risks had no real understanding of what the risk takers were doing, and as the risk-taking grew ever more complex, their understanding diminished. The moment Salomon Brothers demonstrated the potential gains to be had by the investment bank as public corporation, the psychological foundations of Wall Street shifted from trust to blind faith.

In assuming that a system is correct, users assume that what they are doing is correct, ethical and in the best interests of everyone. In doing so, they (perhaps unconsciously) absolve themselves of accountability. It is incumbent on the system to ensure that users are fully aware of their accountability, so the system must leave no doubt about that fact.

In Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think, he discusses a surgical protocol for cardiac tamponade, a condition in which “fluid has accumulated around the heart and was compressing it.” In the story, Dr. James Lock retells of how a standard procedure, where a needle is used to remove the fluid, had been nearly fatal for a young patient,

“Why do you stick the needle under the xiphoid?” Lock asked. I paused. “Because that was how my teachers taught me in my training.”

“And why do you think your teachers taught you the way they did?” Lock asked.

“Because that’s how they were taught.”

By not fully understanding the procedure or its history, the medical staff ceased to improve the procedure and more critically put the patient at great risk.

When viewing complex systems, users should not only understand data but, when necessary, ascertain its origin. Consider the frequency with which patients receive the wrong medication in healthcare environments. Relying too much on a system could give a nurse the false sense that she has administered the correct medication when in actual fact, a pharmacist prescribed the wrong dosage in her computer.

So what’s the solution?

The solution is to dive deep into the research problem and fully understand the trust need from your stakeholders and users. Regarding the stated examples, users should be made to feel like the software they’re using is reliable and dependable. But most of all, users should understand the system, be accountable for managing it, and be empowered to change it.
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