The Designer’s Lifeblood

A portfolio is the designer’s lifeblood—both a record of accomplishments and an implicit promise of quality. It’s also a sales pitch, a way to help others imagine how our work could apply to their problem. We want prospective clients to look at our body of work and think: This is how great my product could be.

As we sat down to re-think how we talk about what we’ve done in the past, and what we can offer in the future, we came to the realization that the work isn’t only about us. Yes, we’re proud of what we deliver to clients, but the truth is that the work we do is just the beginning of a client’s journey. After the applause and the handshakes and the goodbyes, our clients still have a business to run and competitors to best and industries to reinvent. Their success is not guaranteed, but we aim to give them a fighting chance.

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Inside the Empathy Trap

It’s not uncommon to find yourself closely identifying with the users you are designing for, especially if you work in consumer products. You may even find yourself exposed to the exact experiences you’re tasked with designing, as I recently discovered when I went from researching hematologist-oncologists (HemOncs) and their clinics to receiving care from a HemOnc physician in his clinic. (Thankfully, all is now well with my health.)

This led to some revealing insights. Suddenly I was approaching my experience not just as a personal life event, but as both the designing observer, taking note of every detail, and the subject, or user, receiving the care. Instead of passively observing, I focused on engaging in a walk-a-mile exercise, literally walking in my own shoes, as my own user.

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of empathy in design, but this was an extreme. I was able to identify my personal persona, watch to confirm the validity of workflows, and direct multitudes of questions to the understanding staff members. This subsequent experience can be extremely positive, but reminded me of the dangers of biases and designing solely for one person.

For instance most of my caregivers enjoyed chatting, and one even stated how fun it was to have a patient who inquired about everything. That was my reminder that most patients are not like me, not having studied this exact space, and therefore having less comfort in asking questions. I had to remember this was something unique.

When we find ourselves in these situations, we need to remember that what happens to us may enhance our knowledge, but it cannot become the only conceivable experience in our minds. Too often we can walk dangerously close to designing for ourselves or for “the identifiable victim.” However, this can cause us to lose focus on improving outcomes for “the many” by single-mindedly pursuing an individual solution to a particularly negative outcome.

A New Yorker article called “Baby in the Well” builds a case against empathy, pointing out that this can cause us to misplace our efforts, missing the needs of “the many.” It is shown that the key to engaging empathy is the “identifiable victim effect,” which is the tendency for people to offer greater aid when a specific, identifiable person, or “victim” is observed under hardship, as compared to a large and vaguely defined group with the same need. The article states:

As the economist Thomas Schelling, writing forty-five years ago, mordantly observed, “Let a six-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped with nickels and dimes to save her. But let it be reported that without a sales tax the hospital facilities of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths—not many will drop a tear or reach for their checkbooks.

When we design, we pursue a broader type of empathy. As a colleague once said to me, designers need to identify with the whole user base. User-centricity is about the ability to recognize that there are a number of personas, each with different goals, desires, challenges, behaviors, and needs. We design for these personas, recognizing that each has different goals they’re trying to accomplish and with different behaviors in how they go about achieving them.

So what are the key takeaways from my experience?

  1. Situations that help us build empathy for our users are invaluable as it gives us deep knowledge, but we should recognize and feel empathy for many. Looking at our situations through the lenses of your multiple personas can help you avoid this trap.
  2. Remember that the empathy we look to build in design is not just about feelings, but rather about understanding goals, the reasons for these goals, and how they are or aren’t currently accomplished.
  3. Have some empathy for yourself—it’s hard to untangle our personal feelings from the work we do on a day-to-day basis. Remember, we’re all human, and we will fall into the trap of focusing on ourselves from time to time. Recognizing this and looking out for the places where it affects our work is the best we can do.

What about you—have you found yourself in similar situations? How have you approached it? Are there tricks you use or pitfalls you work to avoid? Please use the twitter hashtag #designresearch to share in the conversation.

Illustration by Cale LeRoy

Service Blueprints: Laying the Foundation

Cooper workshop service blueprintingThis article was co-written by Izac Ross, Lauren Chapman Ruiz, and Shahrzad Samadzadeh

Recently, we introduced you to the core concepts of service design, a powerful approach that examines complex interactions between people and their service experiences. With this post, we examine one of the primary tools of service design: the service blueprint.

Today’s products and services are delivered through systems of touchpoints that cross channels and blend both digital and human interactions. The service blueprint is a diagram that allows designers to look beyond the product and pixels to examine the systems that bring a customer’s experience to life.

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Cooper + Studio Dental: Shining a Spotlight On Service Design

How service design helped this startup learn to tackle their business step-by-step.

As part of our continuing mentorship program at Rock Health, Cooper teamed up with Studio Dental co-founders Dr. Sara Creighton and Lowell Caulder to help them disrupt the dental industry with their mobile dental service. The startup gained early support from a successful $40K Indiegogo campaign, and for Cooper, this project has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of service design.

If I were to put a finger on the biggest ah ha moment, it was probably, “Oh, services are designed!”

- Lowell Caulder, co-founder, Studio Dental

In this conversation, the co-founders share how and why Studio Dental was born, and they reveal an “ah ha” moment or two, including the discovery that the impact of service design is everywhere, and central to any industry’s success.

Dr Sara Creighton and Lowell Caulder, founders of Studio Dental

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Changing Healthcare Delivery Through Design

The SF Service Design Network + Cooper are teaming up to host a conversation about the impact that service design can have on healthcare.

When: Tuesday, August 19
Where: Cooper’s Studio, 85 2nd St, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $10
Moderators: Lauren Ruiz, Interaction and Service Designer at Cooper and Izac Ross, SF SDN Co-Chair, Interaction and Service Designer at Cooper

Tickets here – Space is very limited.

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Service Design 101

This article was co-written by Lauren Chapman Ruiz and Izac Ross

We all hear the words “service design” bandied about, but what exactly does it mean? Clients and designers often struggle to find a common language to define the art of coordinating services, and frequent questions arise. Often it emerges as necessary in the space of customer experience or complicated journey maps. In response, here is a brief FAQ primer to show the lay of the land in service design.

What are services?

Services are intangible economic goods—they lead to outcomes as opposed to physical things customers own. Outcomes are generated by value exchanges that occur through mediums called touchpoints. For example, when you use Zipcar, you don’t actually own the Zipcar, you buy temporary ownership. You use the car, then transfer it to someone else once it is returned. Every point in which you engage with Zipcar is a touchpoint.

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8 teams. 3 designers. 1 mission.

In established professional sports, technology often seems like an afterthought, applied like a band-aid, forgotten entirely, or employed in unimaginative ways. Early this April, a start-up league called the National Pro Grid League approached Cooper with a new challenge – to help them introduce a new sport that has integrated technology from the start. Cooper has been working closely with the NPGL to design the fan experience, through interactive tools, infographics and Jumbotron graphics.

Working with the NPGL gave us the opportunity to flex our design muscles on a project that involved crafting the physical and digital fan experience. We’ve just had our first major user testing opportunity and we’ve walked away with a few lessons. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Working on this project has helped me remember that Interaction Designers need lots of tools within reach.

- Brendan Kneram, Interaction Designer

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Planets Don’t Have Orbits

I heard an argument forwarded by Andrew Hinton way back in Dublin at the Inteaction12 conference. The short form goes like this: “Users don’t have goals.” (UDHG for short.) Being a big believer in Goal-Directed Design, I thought the argument to be self-evidently flawed, but since it came up again as a question from a student at my Cooper U class in Berlin, I feel I ought to address it.

Are there, in fact, goals?

Given just those four words, it seems like it might be about users actually not having goals. But of course, goals do exist. If they didn’t, why would anyone get out of bed in the morning? Or do work? Or make conference presentations? If we didn’t have goals, nothing would be happening in the world around us. But of course we do we do get out of bed. We do work. We write blog posts. All because we have reasons which—for clarity—we call goals. This example illustrates that what UDHG really means that most people don’t have explicit goals.

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No Cheap Seats: Designing the Fan Experience

Remember when you first began to learn the rules of a game? That’s when you began to join a new family, one that can span generations, languages, and distances. In some cases, this family defines part of who you are. You’re able to form instant bonds when you see someone with the same jersey and immediately question the judgement of someone who rooted for the rival. When that happens, you’ve committed. You’re a fan.

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