Posts about Methods


Concept Mapping for Designers of the Future

Photo by André M. Pennycook

Recently, Cooper and the Speculative Futures group teamed up to conduct a joint workshop introducing designers to Concept Mapping Together, a collaboration protocol based on the work of Joseph D. Novak (see The Origin and Development of Concept Maps) and his fellow cognitive and educational researchers. The protocol is an adaptation of their methods oriented to design facilitation practice. Cooperista Kaycee Collins, Phil Balagtas, and I led the workshop with ten expert design facilitators to teach attendees the protocol and explore it’s powerful application to futures design. 

Why Concept Mapping?

Designing for future scenarios is especially challenging given what designers must consider while speculating about what the world is today and may become tomorrow. Designers can best address this challenge by using a rich set of research and design practices. One such practice is concept mapping, which helps to organize and structure knowledge, thereby extending a designer’s ability to understand and be understood.

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Recently, Cooper and the Speculative Futures group teamed up to conduct a joint workshop introducing designers to Concept Mapping Together, a collaboration protocol based on the work of Joseph D. Novak (see The Origin and Development of Concept Maps) and his fellow cognitive and educational researchers. 

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Bringing together personas, jobs to be done, and customer journey maps

Is this something you've been wanting to do? Here's how these three tools fit together, in one diagram (and some supporting paragraphs of text). 

I've tried to keep this as jargon-free as possible.

What's the difference?

Personas provide humanizing context. What kind of emotional experiences does the person want? What is their social and physical environment? 

Job to be done provides the functional steps toward the desired outcome, and how you know if the user has achieved their desired end goal. 

A journey map provides the framework that holds it all together, and allows you to view the human context and the functional desires over the timeline of your choice. 

As a reminder, all of these tools should be based firmly in qualitative (and, if you have it, quantitative) research. 

Do you need jobs, personas, AND journeys? 

It depends. 

Without personas, jobs bury emotional and social needs under a thick layer of functional analysis. Jobs quickly become cold, clinical, and divorced from the kind of humanity that inspires creativity. 

Without an anchor in the desired outcomes of jobs, personas can sway easily into the troubling realms of unrealistically specific, overly vague, biased, or just completely prejudiced. 

Without journeys, it's easy to get lost in details and lose sight of both the scope of experience you're focusing on, and the scope of experience you may have intentionally or unintentionally set aside.  

There are many other factors to consider, and this post is in no way exhaustive. 

So what?

As with all of design, there's no one true answer. Choose your poison carefully, and let us know how it goes! If you need help, we offer both public and private training on personas and journey mapping.

We hear a lot of confusion about "personas vs. jobs to be done" or "jobs to be done vs. journey maps." In this post, a potentially clarifying framework. 

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How much interface does your analytics product need?

Original article posted on Medium.

While working on a project earlier this year, an interesting tidbit emerged from research: users tended to have just a few simple needs when it came to accessing data. Given that the tool we were working on is pretty robust, the lightweight nature of the most common use cases was a surprise… there is more “tool” available than what is necessarily needed. 

This reflects a broader trend among analytics providers: there’s a popular interface-first reflex when it comes to building data products. We opt for flexibility over convenience, often attempting to satisfy all plausible use cases rather than optimizing for the most frequent ones. Here’s an outline of some analytics use-cases, addressed in a one-size-fits-all way:

The approach is, in a way, straightforward. Give the user access to the data. If they have a question, they can go to the interface and “tell” it what they need. They then digest the information, isolating some meaningful insight (hopefully) before disseminating the information to their peers, supervisors, or other stakeholders. 

The interface-first approach is capable of satisfying many use cases for end users. Analytics tools can be used for all sorts of purposes — from status updates to fact-finding to open-ended exploration — but it’s not unusual to see a user base rally around a few lightweight ones (hint: open-ended exploration is usually not among them). Let’s think through a simple use case: a gym owner wants to know if member attendance has changed this week, as weather has been especially nice. Here’s how that scenario looks for an interface-first analytics tool:

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Taking a look at different approaches to analytics products: interface as a "tool" vs technology as an "assistant." Inspired by research done in the field. 

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Reflection: The Pause That Gives Insight, Part Two

In part one of this article, we introduced two common maladies of teams at the juncture between research, sense-making, and concept: diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis. And based on our own experience in projects and workshops, we suggested that making time for reflection can be a powerful antidote to these difficulties. 

“Take time to listen to our intuitive mind: that part of us that has been paying attention all along, but which cannot be heard in our usual business pace. …That side of ourselves is great at noticing patterns, but it doesn’t have language. And it is much closer to our values, our beliefs, our sense of the big important stories. We simply need ways to help it connect what it feels to what it sees, and give it a chance to express itself.” 

Four ways, all sharing similar steps

To find new approaches and methods, we’ve looked in places outside corporate design, where people include reflection in their work as a matter of course. We’ve borrowed from the arts, theatre, and writing, as well as wisdom traditions. There is a huge catalog of ways people do this, but we can offer four here that are easy to do in a corporate setting, easy to learn, and wonderfully effective. 

 All four share the same initial steps: 

  1. Set aside uninterrupted time (no colleagues, cell phones or cockatoos) 
  2. Get still (you can read more about getting still here
  3. Consider your situation and ask yourself (or your group) a question. We find questions like these to be at once specific and vague enough to let the good stuff out: “What is true here?” “What is really going on?” “What is possible?”

Then use some means to give expression to what shows up for you, like one of the following.  

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In part one of this article, we introduced two common maladies of teams at the juncture between research, sense-making, and concept: diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis. And based on our own experience in projects and workshops, we suggested that making time for reflection can be a powerful antidote to these difficulties. 

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The Secret to Giving Away Secrets

There’s a baker in San Francisco named Josey. He owns a popular bakery and coffee shop called The Mill. Josey’s bread is really good, but it’s also not cheap. Loaves sell for $7 and up. And they sell toast — with toppings like almond butter, cream cheese or house-made jam—for $4 a slice. This is a lot of money for toast, but it’s so good that people line up down the block to buy it. It is that good. 

Josey also wrote a cookbook teaching people new to breadmaking about how to make bread. He writes in an approachable, un-intimidating style. Joseys’ basic message:making bread is easy.  

In the same way Josey sells bread, and teaches people how to make bread—we do the same thing at the design consultancy where I work, Cooper. We sell our design services to clients. And as part of those projects, we also teach clients about design and our design process.

That sounds crazy.  

Why teach people how to design (or bake bread)? If you teach everyone how to design (or bake bread), then no one will buy your design services (or your bread). Well, the opposite actually is true.

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How design consulting is becoming more about teaching design (especially to non-designers)

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Invest in brains

There's a special kind of fear-mongering you see in certain circles that always gets my goat. It goes something like this: "[some new behavior that people are suspicious of] has been shown to make detectable changes to the brain!" The implication of this is that the new behavior must be bad because it alters the brain from some perceived pure or natural state.

Is there other language we can use when talking about experience leading to changes in the brain? Yes, yes there is. It's very simple. It's called learning. (Next time you read one of those fear-mongering statements, replace "changes to the brain" with "learning" and see if it sounds so scary.)

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If you are serious about user-centered design, then you should be investing in the brains of your product team by giving them the experience of talking directly to your end users.

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Sound Design: From the Ears of a Motion Designer

...How do you communicate with a user when their eyes aren’t glued to their screen? As a motion designer, I firmly believe that motion design is a critical consideration in the world of experience design. As I’m learning more about sound design, I’m realizing that it is equally critical to a user’s experience.

A few months ago, I was inspired by Adi Robertson’s article, “Sound Decision” in which she covers the audio branding created by Skype. Sound is something I pay particular attention to; maybe it’s my love of music that influences my interest or that I am intrigued by experiences that touch on multiple senses. I really believe that sound is an area that should be explored and considered when creating unique experiences for people who are constantly bugged to look at their screens.

I’m not talking about pops and pings that demand your attention to the screen, I want blips and bloops that reinforce interactions I have made without picking up my phone to see that I “got it right.”

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A few months ago, I was inspired by Adi Robertson’s article, “Sound Decision” in which she covers the audio branding created by Skype. Sound is something I pay particular attention to; maybe it’s my love of music that influences my interest or that I am intrigued by experiences that touch on multiple senses. I really believe that sound is an area that should be explored and considered when creating unique experiences for people who are constantly bugged to look at their screens.  

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The Roles Trilogy

Modern product teams consist of three key groups working together—Design, Development, and Product Management. It’s surprising how many companies struggle, simply because they don’t recognize the need for all three to work on equal footing but with clear lines of responsibility. Putting expectations in place makes all three groups more effective, allows each to do the job they’re best at, and ultimately results in a thoughtful, well-constructed, kick-ass product. 

So let me tell you about your job.

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Modern product teams consist of three groups working together: Design, Development, and Product Management. Let me tell you how to do your job.

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Transforming Customer Experience with Journey Mapping

A customer journey map is a versatile tool that can serve many purposes: mapping how a current customer experience unfolds over time, planning the orchestration of a future experience across touchpoints, or uncovering business opportunities in the form of unmet customer needs. We’ve developed a new journey mapping canvas that can handle all three of the goals above, and we’d love to invite you (yes you!) to try it out. 

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A customer journey map is a versatile tool that can serve many purposes: mapping how a current customer experience unfolds over time, planning the orchestration of a future experience across touchpoints, or uncovering business opportunities in the form of unmet customer needs. We’ve developed a new journey mapping canvas that can handle all three of the goals above, and we’d love to invite you (yes you!) to try it out.

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Designer’s Toolkit: Motion Design Storytelling

Many think motion design is just about creating delight, but it's so much more than that. User experience is an ongoing story, and motion design helps create the flow of that story. Motion design is an essential tool in the designer's toolkit that extends the visual language and evokes the emotion of the brand. 

When selling an idea to your client, static screens don’t always communicate your vision clearly, but incorporating well-designed motion helps show the bigger picture and the experience users are having.

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Motion design helps your users’ brains orient themselves within any given screen and guides them to the actions they need to make.

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