Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Conversation With Alan Cooper (Part 2)

We continue our conversation with Alan Cooper at Sue and Alan’s warm and welcoming ranch in Petaluma, CA, which, in addition to themselves, is home to sheep and chickens, a cat named Monkey, and a farmer who works the land.

Part 2 brings us up to present-day, and discussions around the applications and fundamentals of Goal-Directed Design that support its success at Cooper and beyond.

From Theory to Practice­­

CK: Okay, so having established the foundation of Goal-Directed Design in Part 1 of our conversation, let’s fast forward now to after you started your company, Cooper Software. How has GDD figured in?

AC: Basically you find one person, understand their vision and their final desired end state, and then make them ecstatically happy about reaching their end state. That is the essence of Goal-Directed Design. And what you need are two things: 1) Find (or synthesize) the right person and 2) Design for that person. At a place like Apple, Steve Jobs was already that right person, and they needed look no further. For us at Cooper, a team of trained designers needs to synthesize the representative user, called a persona.

CK: Can you say a little more about Personas and their context in the process?

AC: Personas are the end result of going out in the field and researching the users and patterns that indicate what their desired end state is. Then we create the archetypical persona and walk that archetype through a scenario, like a test flight simulator using a proposed solution. And when your persona’s needs are satisfied in multiple scenarios, you know you are on the right track.

Designers at Cooper can go into healthcare, tech, or jet engine design, wrap their head around it and articulate the representative user’s desired end state, and from there identify the right problem to solve. Then synthesizing form just becomes the work, not magic at that point.

CK: I’ve heard you talk about pair design being part of the success of this goal-directed process. Can you touch on that a bit?

AC: Yes, at Cooper Goal-Directed Design is enhanced by our practice of pair design. Rather than wrestling with a problem alone, externalizing the problem with a partner usually yields the most success. And building on that, it turns out pairs work most effectively in particular combinations of skills. We found that designers tend to naturally fall into two camps, and we ended up calling these designers Generators and Synthesizers. You could think of the Generator as the driver and the Synthesizer as the navigator. You need both of them to get where you’re going, and it’s not that the Generator can’t navigate or the Synthesizer can’t drive, it’s just that if you try to navigate while you’re driving you might crash into something, and you’ll go slower, and you might miss turns. And if you try to drive while you’re navigating, you’re going to end up not taking the most optimal route, and you might forget to stop for gas when you should, and you might end up backtracking.

In the early days when we were inventing these roles, we were a little more prescriptive about them, with the Generators always at the whiteboard and the Synthesizers taking notes, but as this became successful we realized we didn’t have to be so doctrinaire about it, they could switch roles and become much more fluid and even more effective. But in principle, the Generator is usually saying, “we could do this! and we could do that!” – coming up with ideas, and Synthesizers have the analytical role to question each idea and build and shape it.

CK: For a lot of designers the places where they work are not so receptive to pair design because they don’t think it’s efficient.

AC: That’s true. And what those places are missing is that in this post-industrial age, efficiency is less useful than effectiveness. Apple, for example, is ridiculously inefficient. They spend money to work and re-work a problem and other companies would say they are wasting it. But Apple knows that saving money doesn’t lead to success, making their customers ecstatically happy leads to success. And of course success leads to money. But getting internal buy-in and support is certainly an issue for many. At Cooper we offer training in Design Leadership that helps with this.

CK: I have a feeling questions around that post-industrial business model could spark a whole conversation in itself. As we wind up here, I’m wondering if you know of a good case study that demonstrates Goal-Directed Design in action?

AC: I do! SketchUp is a great example. It’s an architectural sketching tool, and it’s complicated and powerful, and it has a learning curve, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but I love the program because the design is brilliant – at the macro level and the micro level. I used SketchUp to design the new chicken coop here at Monkey Ranch.

At the macro level they understood exactly the problem they were trying to solve. Other modeling programs like AutoCAD are painfully counter-intuitive, with a learning cliff, much less a learning curve. You have to be a professional to want to bother to use one of those tools — there is nothing coherent, you just have to memorize about 80 tools.

With SketchUp, I know from their website and video and blogs that they used Goal-Directed Design. Their vision was not to displace AutoCAD, instead they had in mind this idea of an architect who has just presented the initial design of a building to the client, and the client says, “I love it! Could you make this stairway a little wider?” And in the AutoCAD world, it goes like this: “yes, we’ll have the drawings back to you in three days.” But in the SketchUp world, the architect says, “sure,” and clicks the extrusion tool on the side face of the stairway, stretches it out another foot, the staircase is wider, and everything in the model instantly adjusts to fit. That was their persona, their scenario, and that was the goal direction. So that’s from a macro point view – they understood that they weren’t trying to create an architectural drafting program that competed with set piece giant architectural drawings.

Also, at the micro level, they designed their controlling interface as a coherent system. Throughout the interface everything is consistent, all of the interactions have the same fundamental grammar. If you understand how one tool work works you understand all of the tools. And they anticipate the exacting needs of architectural planners, understanding just when you need to type in numbers or simply move the lines. This profound understanding of how you can build an interface permeates everything they do, and that’s a great example of successful Goal-Directed Design.

CK: That’s an inspiring example.

AC: It is. In the decades since Cooper conceived of Goal-Directed Design, the benefits of this practice have really been lasting and measurable. Project teams are able to start out with a shared understanding of goals and achieve early consensus on the design problem. And because designers develop empathy for the people who will use the product, they are able to focus on the right priorities. In the end, training and support and development costs are significantly reduced, and consumers experience ease and delight in the products.

CK: I think that’s the perfect note to end on. Thanks, Alan, for kicking off Cooper’s Masters In Conversation series, it’s been great to talk with you!

Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Two-Part Conversation With Alan Cooper

Go behind the scenes in this two-part Masters In Conversation series with Alan Cooper, exploring the origins and applications of Goal-Directed Design (GDD). In Part 1 we rewind to the early 1970s when Alan was just starting out and the climate of programming and design was changing rapidly, forging the insights that led to the techniques of GDD. Part 2 brings us up to date with GDD as Cooper designers and teachers apply it today.

Part 1: In the Beginning…

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Leading By Design

In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from great design leaders. The best stand out as creative, thoughtful listeners, able to persuade with grace and speak hard truths, while uniting the team around a focused vision.

Through my involvement in Cooper U’s Design Leadership course, I’ve learned techniques to repeat the success of these leaders. Recently, I had the privilege of co-teaching with two of Cooper’s design leaders, Jenea Hayes and course creator Kendra Shimmell. In the class, these bright ladies presented tools that help the rest of us become leaders who can sell a vision, unite a team, and achieve organizational consent. The following overview captures a small slice of the course content from general principles to practical applications that are simple yet powerfully effective ideas for all of us.

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A 15-minute investment in creativity

Despite the allure of the Newton’s apple story (Apple falls, and presto, change-o: an idea is born), creativity doesn’t fall from trees. On the contrary, the kind of creative thinking that drives true innovation takes nurturing. And by nurturing, I mean an honest and consistent commitment to exploration and out-of-the-box thinking in the form of time, resources, and space.

Because, here’s the thing: as product-design company Zurb aptly puts it, “People struggle to be creative when it’s not part of the culture.” Companies may tout “Innovation!” as their driving goal, but that proclamation means nothing if there isn’t infrastructure to support true creative thinking day-to-day.

Which leads me back to Zurb and a simple little practice called Friday 15. On Fridays, their team dedicates, you guessed it, 15 minutes, to some kind of creative exercise. They do this for team-building, fun, and to inspire a creative culture. Here’s a taste of the brain-ticklers they’ve explored together:

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Engaging Millennials – the UX Boot Camp: Wikipedia

As mobile devices become widely adopted, organizations are increasingly focused on designing engaging experiences across multiple platforms. At Cooper’s UX Boot Camp with Wikimedia, the non-profit took this a step further, challenging the class of designers to create a solution that facilitated content input and encouraged a new group of editors, specifically Millennial women, to contribute through mobile devices.

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Raising Funds and Raising the Bar: Hats Off to Practice Fusion

When Practice Fusion recently announced it’s spectacular $70M financing round, cheers went up not only throughout the healthcare sector, where the company is one of the fastest growing health tech pioneers, but also within the halls of Cooper, where the design and prototype for Practice Fusion’s 2013 IxDA award-winning ipad app was born.

Stefan Klocek, former Cooperista and now Practice Fusion’s Senior Director of Design, had a critical role in the development of that iPad application while at Cooper, and now that he has joined Practice Fusion, he took a moment to get on the phone with us and share his unique inside perspective on the impact design can have on businesses.

“It’s not been hard to trace how Cooper’s original design for Practice Fusion’s mobile platform became a seminal turning point in how our business makes products today,” Klocek said, after we exchanged verbal high-fives. “Following the Cooper engagement I’ve been able to see firsthand how the organization shifted its perspective from design being something added on later, to actually driving decisions around branding and product development.”

And Practice Fusion’s investment in design is growing. “Our design team went from 5 to 17 people in six months,”Klocek added. “The original mobile app project that Practice Fusion worked on with Cooper really demonstrated to everyone here the value of design, ultimately driving decisions to rebrand our website and redesign our flagship product.”

To which we say, huzzah!

Big congratulations to Practice Fusion for continuing to raise the bar and the standard of data management for healthcare.

Designing Culture: New Ways to Think About Work

How might we…

  • invest in relational chemistry?
  • encourage personal leadership?
  • integrate new team members?
  • gain alignment around vision?

These are just a few of the questions we explored in our last Cooper Parlor, Designing Culture. The evening was focused on ways to be intentional about creating a creative culture and work environment. Attendees from design, digital technology, city government, engineering firms, art museums and more shared their desires, challenges, and experiences in shaping the culture of their workplaces.

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Designer’s Toolkit: Road Testing Prototype Tools

We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to be a way to create prototypes at a similar level of fidelity with a lighter weight tool.

After test driving some alternative prototyping tools I discovered that there are indeed other good options. Here is an overview of what I found, followed by assessments of each tool, with hopes it will help fellow designers in the prototyping trenches.

Choosing the tools

After researching existing prototyping tools, I narrowed a long list of about 40 to a small set of 10 that looked the most interesting. Some factors that influenced which tools I selected include:

  • Hearing about the tool from fellow Cooperistas or other colleagues.
  • The popularity of the tool based on what I read in other blogs.
  • Whether it looked cool or exciting from my first impression of the design and features.

This is not a comprehensive set of tools, but includes the ones that I was interested in checking out.

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UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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