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!

Designer’s Toolkit: A Primer On Using Video In Research

In our last post, we explored a variety of methods for capturing user research. Yet a question lingered—how can you effectively use video in your research without influencing the participants?

Here are some tips and tricks to minimize the impact of using video in research engagements. Keep in mind, these tips are focused on conducting research in North America—the rules of engagement will vary based on where you are around the world.

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Designer’s Toolkit: A Primer On Capturing Research

You’ve been preparing for your research—recruiting, screening participants, devising schedules, testing discussion guides—and now you are deciding the best way to capture your research. But how? If you’re busy scribbling down notes, you might miss a sound byte. If you film the interview, you might unknowingly influence the conversation. These are all serious considerations. Properly capturing and documenting each research encounter prevents spending time and money on data that sits solely in the memory of the researcher.

How you choose to conduct and capture your research will greatly impact your outcomes, and ultimately your client outcomes. I’m going to highlight a variety of research capturing tools, and then we’ll have a future post about how to effectively videotape research. Both the type of research you’re conducting and its purpose will help you decide which capture method is best.

Before we begin, I wouldn’t recommend going into research alone—you will struggle to document while maintaining a conversation. A good structure is to have a moderator and a note taker, that way one practitioner can focus on conversing with the participant, while the other focuses on capturing what is occurring.

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What you’ll like for dinner

Or: How persuasive design saved my lunch

While I was on route to Amsterdam for IXDA14, something struck me about the way the dinner options were presented to passengers. Here’s what was happening. The flight attendant delivered the menu in the same way to each row:

“Would you like barbeque chicken, beef strip, or vegetarian?”

I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty years now, and I’m a little sensitive to these moments. At first, my identity hackles were raised. “Hey!” I thought, “Why wouldn’t it be ‘Chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice?’ We eat food, not a category of food! Those options should be presented as equals because we’re equals…Blah blah blah…ramble ramble…”

Fortunately, as is my habit, I caught myself mid rant, and tried to consider what was good about it. And sure enough, on reflection it’s the exact right way to present these options. Cooper’s been paying more attention to persuasive design of late, so let me explain, because that’s exactly what’s going on. The flight attendants are using choice architecture to keep vegetarians fed.

You see, one of the problems that vegetarians encounter when eating buffet-style with omnivores is that when there is a veggie option present, if it’s too good, there’s a risk that the omnivores will eat all the veggie stuff before we get to the front of the line, leaving us poor suckers with empty plates and sad-trombone bellies.

If the attendant presented “chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice,” that’s exactly what’s at risk. An omnivore hearing that might think, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of spicy red beans and rice! Cajun spice is awesome. Bam! Let’s kick it up a notch!”

But when hearing a menu consisting of two easy-to-visualize options and the category of “vegetarian,” omnivores are more likely to be turned off by that third option. “Vegetarian? Screw that. I’m not a vegetarian. I like my meat heaping and with a side of meat. Meat me up, attendant, with the finest, meatiest meatings you have!” They’re less likely to ask after the actual contents of the vegetarian option, as they’re busy thinking about whether they’d like chicken or beef.

Meanwhile the vegetarians (even if their delicate identities are a bit bruised) are relieved when they hear that their needs have been considered. The unlucky ones in the very back of the plane (who failed to arrange a special meal in advance) might even get to eat.

descriptive option categorical option
omnivores Might choose :) Less likely to choose, still :)
vegetarians Less to eat :( More to eat :)

It’s not foolproof, of course, but I’ll bet if we could do a plane-by-plane comparison of “vegetarian” vs. “red beans and rice”, the categorical option would result in much more of everyone being happy. And that’s one of the powers of well-done choice architecture.

CascadeSF UX Night: Planning for Responsive Layouts

Recently at Cooper, we updated our website with a focus on responsive web design. Working with Cooper’s other great developer, Elisha Cook, I learned a lot in the project, though at times it seemed my head would explode trying to figure out solutions to various problems presented by responsive web design, so when I heard that CascadeSF was hosting a presentation on this very topic, I was eager to attend and see what I could learn.

CascadeSF is a collective of San Francisco-based web designers and developers who meet periodically to keep up-to-date on design trends, standards, and techniques. On July 24th, the presenter was Pauly Ting, a Lead UX Designer at Tigerspike SF, founder of Feedia, and co-founder of TwoCents. The MeetUp was hosted in the offices of the residential real estate site, Trulia, just a block away from the Cooper studio.

Digital Evolution: From Fixed to Responsive Layouts

The focus of Pauly’s presentation was on planning content for responsive layouts. Responsive layouts present new challenges for organization and delivery of content. We are accustomed to the page-based approach to organizing content, largely because that is how content has always been organized and delivered. For example, the printing press has a fixed width and height based on the page size. The Gutenberg Press revolutionized content delivery in the 15th century by organizing content as hand-set letters and graphics arranged in rigidly determined rows that could then be mass produced. It was a new paradigm, taking book production from the hands of scribes locked up in monasteries, and distributing books more widely, making education of the masses possible for the first time, which of course changed the world.

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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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Siteglass: A Developer’s Quest for Better Performance

Hi, my name is Elisha, and I’m a developer. I know that most of you aren’t, but I want to talk about a fairly technical problem related to website optimization, and a new tool I developed to solve it — called Siteglass. Why would I want to do that? Because performance is an essential ingredient in good UX. But before I delve into that relationship, it might help to first know a little about what I do here at Cooper.

I’m a User Interface Developer. That means I take designs and turn them into interactive interfaces. As with all translations, there is a lot of room for interpretation. So, aside from the technical side of things, I consider it my main task to try to convey the intention of the design through the chosen platform (iOS, web, etc.). Sometimes there are creative choices, like defining the exact characteristics of an animation, but ultimately the goal is not to make the design my own but rather to not get in its way. This means doing whatever is possible to avoid degrading the design vision due to technical artifacts of the translation process.

Now let’s descend from the lofty height of that last paragraph and talk about websites. A lot of what I build these days are websites and they pose unique challenges, as each platform does. Browser inconsistencies, lack of typographical control and wide variations in screen size are some of the hurdles to creating a solid experience for users. Today I want to talk about an issue that is easily overlooked during design and development but can have a huge impact on user experience: page load performance.

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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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Explore New Interaction Paradigms at UX Boot Camp: Wikimedia

Advance and apply your UX design skills to a meaningful real-world problem in this intensive, hands-on workshop

BootCamp_WEB

This September, join Wikimedia, Cooper, and design-thinkers from around the world as we find new ways to spread knowledge through mobile Wikipedia. In this four-day workshop, you’ll use new UX skills to make mobile content contribution more approachable, intuitive, and less reliant on traditional input methods like typing. If you’ve wanted an excuse to explore new interaction paradigms and stay ahead of the design pack, this is your chance. Best of all, you get to do all of that in the creative classroom setting of Alan and Sue Cooper’s 50-acre ranch in Petaluma, CA.

Register now: UX Boot Camp: WikimediaSeptember 17-20, Petaluma, CA

What’s in it for you?

  • Learn new interaction techniques and approaches under the guidance of industry leaders, including Alan Cooper
  • Learn how to think through a problem from both a design and business perspective, rather than blindly applying methods by rote.
  • Energize your practice and make new connections by working on a real-world challenge with peers from around the world.
  • Beef up your portfolio with a smart, new design concept
  • Pick up leadership and collaboration skills that will help you better navigate your work environment.

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UX Boot Camp Goes to Europe

Guest post by Francesca Di Mari at Sketchin, a Swiss user experience design firm based in Lugano.

At  Sketchin we strongly believe that design can improve lives and foster social good. We first heard of Cooper’s UX Boot Camp when we visited Cooper in September, 2012, and we fell in love with their idea of using design to educate and foster social good by bridging design students with non-profits. This idea was conceived of and developed by Kendra Shimmell, the Managing Director at Cooper U, and it launched our determination to be part of a design revolution for social good.

Our first step was to create our own UX Boot Camp modeled after what we experienced at Cooper. So in May of 2013, together with Talent Garden Milano and Frontiers of Interaction, we organized the first Italian UX Boot Camp in Milan, modeled after the Cooper UX Boot Camp. Here is a look back at what we created and discovered in the process.

UX Bootcamp Milano 15

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