A Journey into the Flyover States

This article was written by Aaron Ganci, who recently received his Master of Fine Arts in Design Development from The Ohio State University’s Department of Design.
Alan Cooper and Kendra Shimmell recently took a trip to the Midwest and stopped by The Ohio State University for a visit. This trip served double-duty as both a chance for Kendra to spread the word about Cooper’s new Midwest-centric activities and for Alan to give the keynote address at Ohio State’s Center for Enterprise Transformation and Innovation (CETI) Industry Day. More importantly, both Kendra and Alan spent a lot of time throughout the week engaging in discussions with the students and faculty at Ohio State, and with professionals in the local community.

A few highlights from the week:

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Alan and Kendra chatting with a small group of educators and local business leaders.

Cooper’s UX Bootcamp

Kendra, a native Midwesterner, arrived in Ohio a few days early to lay the groundwork for Cooper’s upcoming UX Bootcamp. Throughout their visit, Kendra reiterated that Cooper plans to spend a lot more time and energy in the Midwest. “I really think that big changes are going to happen in this part of the country in the next couple of years,” she explained.
Cooper is partnering with the American Red Cross of Columbus for their UX Bootcamp, where training in user experience design, digital product definition, and research will take place. Participants will learn the process and thinking behind designing products and services that have that spark of magic, all while doing something good for their community. The output of the bootcamp will be given to the American Red Cross of Columbus disaster preparedness and intervention initiatives.

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Kendra, dry-erase marker in hand, discusses (and sketches) the values of the UX Bootcamp.
Next, the Cooperistas joined a group of students for a long, thoughtful discussion. The group was comprised of graduate students in various design and engineering fields. The students were given a rare opportunity to sit down with Alan and Kendra to discuss what was on their minds.
“I do not believe that making money should be your primary goal,” Alan postulated. “The people who set out to make money are not nice people, they are not our friends. The people who set out to do great things in this world…that’s who we should respect. They’ll make money while doing good.”

Student Advising Session

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A small group of graduate students and faculty from design, engineering, and business chat about the benefits and challenges of working together.
Ohio State, a large university with an enrollment of over 60,000, should be an ideal environment for collaboration to take place. But students said they often found it hard to get collaborative projects up and running. They turned to Kendra and Alan for some advice.
This opened up a lot of discussion about how to build and maintain collaborative teams. Alan told the students that collaboration is a “socialization issue,” and that you have to build a corporate culture of respect in order to get true collaboration.
Kendra agreed, and went into more detail, explaining that good teams are really “using design as a facilitation tool. Everyone on a team is really individually designing in some way…but you have to get everyone to start caring about the end product or service; then you have a group that starts to feel a sense of responsibility for the whole instead of just their piece.”
With this in mind, they discussed some ways to keep the team focused on the bigger picture. An important aspect, Alan said, is to “not focus on deadlines as your key motivator. Nothing demotivates like telling someone that this needs to be completed by such and such date for a shareholder meeting. Instead set everyone on a course toward achieving a meaningful goal and the deadline will becoming meaningful too.” Both Alan and Kendra then went on to emphasize the importance of working together in lightweight mediums, like whiteboards. They explained that working in this way would help the team stay focused on the big picture and not get bogged down in the details of production.

CETI Keynote

“Embrace diversity…the team has to bring all of the skills needed for success. The key is that the team needs to align to the same purpose. Not everyone has to be a rock star, but everyone does have to feel a sense of accountability to (the mission).”
-Alan Cooper
The next day, Alan gave his keynote address to standing-room only crowd of CETI students, faculty and professionals. CETI is a group at Ohio State that combines the expertise of several academic departments to work on Industry-driven, “real world” technology-based projects. Alan took the opportunity to share some very provocative insights on Post-Industrial state of software development. He talked in great depth about both collaborative team building and fostering innovation, two important aspects of CETI.
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The CETI event drew a multidisciplinary audience.
Alan charged the audience to not focus so much on the bottom line. “It isn’t wasteful to invest in ideas that may be stupid,” he said, trying to hit home the idea that teams have to be given the freedom to explore new solutions. He went on to explain that being free to fail during the design process is important when trying to innovate. Along the same lines, he stressed the power of building trust and communication amongst teammates. “Good ideas sometimes look like bad ideas,” he said, “together, you have to learn to separate them.” But being successful in separating them can only come when you trust in the competence of your teammates.
The students in attendance also got some wonderful advice to use moving forward as practitioners: young Designers need to “get out of building” and practice empathy (spend time with people and learn about their aspirations and needs), young Programmers need to “seek diversity” and embrace teamwork, and young Managers, who have “a much more difficult job” need to make sure that everyone on the team keeps focused on the big picture.
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Alan giving his keynote address.
Cooper’s journey in the Midwest was a productive and thought provoking experience. Kendra and Alan’s trip definitely laid the great foundation for a lot more involvement in the misnomered flyover states. Stay tuned Midwest!
Please join us for Cooper’s UX Bootcamp on March 26-29, 2011!

This article was written by Aaron Ganci. Aaron recently received his Master of Fine Arts in Design Development from The Ohio State University’s Department of Design. Lately, he has been designing digital user experiences for educational and library discovery tools.

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