Monday, 27 July 2015

Experience the Project

By designing the experience of the project for your employees we can create an environment conducive to a great product development.

When you hear a programmer say they ‘put themselves into their code’, or an artist say ‘a piece of their soul is in the final art’, you can only expect that if they love the experience of creating it will be reflected in the final product. And conversely if they are not enjoying the experience you will see it. How many great apps were the result of the founders loving everything about what they were creating? And how many then fell apart in version 2 when they spent all their time raising money, dealing with investors and looming over programmers who were just there for the supposed culture and a good pay cheque.

Designing your customer experience has to begin with designing your employees experience… If your employees don’t love working for your company then why should your customers or their users like it at all?

The design thinking process, when used to manage, allows for greater control over the organically changing environment of a project. Tim Brown of IDEO has stated, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Because of this core competency a designer as a project manager, is uniquely experienced. By treating the projects management as a design exercise, it is inevitable your employees are represented in the project dynamics.

We are also able to gain metrics which can be used to show the value of great project experience directly on business productivity. In the same way we measure value on a customer facing experience, we can measure the value of employee experience on a project.

This experience is tracked and adjusted throughout the project in order to best provide the employees with a work environment that they love.

When you can design the project experience, you create a project that gets done on time and create one whose result reflects the positive demeanour of those involved.

So where do we go from here? Once you decide to explore project management in this way, you start the design thinking process. Someone with design thinking experience can assemble the required information, bring together the team, and manage the process of designing the experience. But, the same person also manages the actual project through to delivery, adjusting the work experience, and the work, as the project evolves towards its conclusion.

Companies talk about culture and great atmosphere, but if you are not spending half as much time as you spend adjusting your customer experience, adjusting your employee experience, you are missing the next big thing in what makes a great company. And what makes a great company create great products.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Design Thinking and Big Data

"What can we do ‘to’ Big Data with Design Thinking?"

First you need to have a little more background on the way design approaches a problem.

Designers come from a place of collaborative style with recognition that it’s about dialogue.

Dialogue with the client, with the user and with each other and in that approach we always maintain the attitude of “let’s try it, let’s prototype it and improve it.” We use intuitive thinking, a knowing without reasoning.

One of the biggest things designers have going for them is the ability to be comfortable with moving forward when they are only reaching out to to a solution that “might be”.

One that they can’t prove that it is or will be, but only that it may be.

This dominant attitude of “nothing can’t be done” is the only thing we can say we know for sure in a design studio.

We give status to those who solve the toughest design problems, tackle tough mysteries we don’t understand and come up with elegant solutions.

I believe the whole analytics and big data space is going to get turned inside out by Design Thinking. Design Thinking will be primarily attached and engaged with the science around "prescriptive analytics." It will be less about the data itself. Why not descriptive or predictive analytics when it comes to the most powerful partnership with design thinking? Because they are rooted in the past and design works best reaching for the future.Which brings us to: "Prescriptive Analytics". I think this combination of Design Thinking and analytics will tell us what action will be taken, and then help us to take it. The real innovation I think is going to come from small shops, untethered by legacy, and who see how real-time data (Big, but not the grand-unified IT perspective of big data) will be generating the kinds of innovation that design thinking can help open up. I believe that the power of Big Data is that it is information about people's behavior instead of information about their beliefs. It's about the behavior of customers, employees, and prospects for your new business. It's not about the things you post on Facebook, and it's not about your searches on Google, which is what most people think about, and it's not data from internal company processes and RFIDs. This sort of Big Data comes from things like location data off of your cell phone or credit card, it's the little data breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you move around in the world.

What those breadcrumbs tell is the story of your life. It tells what you've chosen to do. That's very different than what you put on Facebook. What you put on Facebook is what you would like to tell people, edited according to the standards of the day.

After we have worked out what something means, then we can do design. For me, the significant connection then between design thinking and Big Data, is that Big Data reveals human behaviour. And that has always been a significant raw material for design.

Design relies heavily on Empathy, and Design Thinking helps to move this into strategy and make intent real.

There are few examples of large companies that use Design Thinking at the top level and are defined by it. Companies that have it etched into their vision statement and are not just paying lip service to it. 

P&G where ” a dedication to common and well-understood data displays shows what is possible when senior managers are able to stop spending so much time discussing whose data is correct, what data should really be used, and how it should best be displayed. They can spend that much more time devising ways to address the problems and opportunities. It's the creativity that is exercised on those fronts that really drives the success of businesses.”

Eastman through its  Innovation Lab website which I strongly suggest you spend a bit of time. Two more that come to mind are;

Target and McLaren. The first where great design ‘simplifies your life, makes you feel great and is affordable to all’ and the second where the CEO is annoyed about a cracked floor tile that when replaced won’t match the rest and to him it reflects directly on every aspect of the company.

I know about half of you are dying for me to say Apple.

I’m going to speculate here for a few minutes but this is what is looks like to me.Apple used to be innovative, used to lead, used to inspire people and companies... and used to have a visionary at the helm. It doesn’t any more and I for one am going to wait and see if it’s next cycle brings about the same level of innovation as we have seen in the past.Their analytics haven’t changed. But from where I stand, the way  they interpret them seems to have.

With the latest iteration of their phone, someone at the top seems to have interpreted the analytics as “People seem to be moving towards bigger screens...”, so what did they do?

They made an iPhone with a screen that had room for an extra row of icons…

Since writing this Apple has come out with the iPhone 6… well, they made a bigger phone…

The old apple, the apple with a Design Thinker at the helm would have said “WHY?” Why do people want bigger screens? Why are they doing what they are doing on their phone? and What are they really trying to accomplish by doing it that way?... How would they do it if we started with a blank slate? The old apple would have created a new paradigm. Created a new interface, but the new Apple added more icon room.

But, I am going to wait and see what they do with the iWatch or iGlasses, if they go that route, then I will say whether or not they innovate or use Design Thinking in interpretation of their analytics.

They have also just come out with the iWatch… I for one am watching this with great interest because after a very strong lead up and launch it has, after about 2 months, completely fallen off the front page radar.

Big data and design thinking are valuable allies if they are used to pull out the "exceptions" and not the largest denominators which most seek.

Big data reveals the marginal changes at the edge which are "very small but recurring, and these are potential trends (positive and negative) as a segment that is emerging".
It  can reveal "small dips in majority segments".
One of the things Design Thinking does is ask you to frame the "right questions";
and not consider big data to be the one to answer questions.

As an example, there is lots of talk about 3D printers right now. One day you will be able to print your running shoes... Or a hand gun. Which too has come to pass recently. Right now companies are looking at the viability of the market for them to manufacture 3d printers.

Design thinking makes you ask what difference does it make to us?

So lets quickly follow a train of thought.

3D printers now are akin to the crappy dot matrix printers with the perforated paper from days of yore…

But like those printers the quality will get better exponentially.

Like those printers, they will have an effect on another industry... In the case of printers, photo developers got the short end of the stick…

With 3d printers, I think manufacturers will... So you will now have a 3d printer that can do multiple materials and colours so what? Well if you are a manufacturer of lets say clock radios you no longer have to manufacture the case... you just design it and sell the internals…

Let the customer print their own case, in whatever material they can afford, or colour they want... If they want the Tom Dixon or Phillip Stark designed cases that fit your components, they can just purchase the file and print one of those instead... you manufacture internals... not cases... 

Fringe trend? Perhaps, but it is framing a question that no one is currently asking.

"What is a solution to protect ourselves by being proactive in designing the vernacular we are heading towards?"

Big Data in the future will come to us. Design thinking will invert the typical "search" approach and instead, "design thinking tools", somewhat organic and alive, will bring the right data to us, when we need it. Those nuggets of information will come out of the vast Big Data ether we call the cloud, through a new class of prescriptive systems. We will not search for it, it will come to us, preemptively. We are already seeing this on mobile devices where the 4 parts of contextual search; location, relevance, push and security/privacy, are starting to make a big difference in search results.

I think that Big Data is static without analytics, and Design Thinking as a tool will help make it dynamic, as well as enable us to invert the "look behind us" approach to Big Data, and develop tools that drive big data to us, in real time.

Design thinking  brings a balance of analytical thinking and intuitive thinking through generative reasoning. It offers a respect for exploitation and exploration and the ability to integrate the future with the past while designing what should be. This helps to provide the requisite reliability and validity that maintains a competitive advantage.

This brings us to the question, “What are all the support functions we need to design to help Big Data become something of use to the way organisations think about and design products and services for their customers?”

At the beginning of my article I stated "What can we do ‘to’ big data with Design Thinking?"

Design Thinking will invert this paradigm. We will think about "What can big data do 'for' us, with Design Thinking."

Friday, 20 February 2015

The new design

I have always been a proponent of the integration of user experience across all touch points of a solution and push the idea that product design is transcending the physicality of the item and being required to provide experiential functionality which extends and augments the products reason for being.

So what exactly does that mean?

Lets look at a simple example... A salt shaker design. Great, so we start with the salt. Salt comes in different varieties, granulated, course, sea salt which is slightly larger than regular and fancy. So we first see what the market and client says about which one we will design for. Here is a bit of research, a bit of talking, a bit of questioning, a bit of going out to stores to see what is out there already, a bit of web searching for visuals. Once we decide which salt... Screw that... It isn't about the salt.

It is about the user... So lets look at the user... What does salt mean to them? How do they interact with salt during their day? What is important to them when it comes to salt? Is Angela Jolie going to do a sequel?

Lets assume we research the user and the target market &c. for a second... Then lets look at my first statement again. Go ahead, read it one more time...

Right. So now the salt shaker needs to track how much salt each person is using during the day, compare it to their dietary needs and requirements and personal settings and then meter out the salt appropriately in order to help the user come to healthier life choices as well as provide them with data to track their salt intake...

Let me tell you a short story that goes from cigarettes to sugar.

When I left Japan I promised my wife I would quit smoking. I had smoked near a pack a day since I was 15 and getting on 35 it was time to give it up. I tell you, it is hard to quit when everyone around you smokes, and near everyone in Japan does, everywhere... and at $2 a pack it is really hard to let go. So about a year before I was going to leave I set a schedule to quit and slowly cut back on the strength of cigarette I was smoking. I didn't pay attention to how many though. I just weaned myself off the nicotine gradually until I couldn't get a lighter cigarette. Then I set a schedule to reduce the number I smoked a day until i had gradually changed my habit where I was down to about 3 a day. I got on a plane and 21 hours later without a cigarette and lots of water I never looked back.

So the sugar thing. I used to put an ass load of sugar in my tea... Like 3 heaping spoons in a large mug... So I started slowly reducing how much went into each cup... I'm down to about 1 and a half spoons now and have slowly changed my taste buds to become accustomed to the lower sugar concentration.

Lots of people don't notice, don't care or don't have the will power to make these changes. But lets say we design a complete user experience salt shaker that not only dispenses salt, but tracks and has the ability to meter it out. That isn't all though for a complete experience. There has to be more because really that is just a technical problem.

When it comes down to it, the presentation of the data that the salt shaker can collect, both that which it has no control over and that which it does, has the ability to provide experiential functionality which extends and augments the salt shakers reason for being.

So now we end up using sensors on the salt shaker, the packaging becomes e-ink in order to display the users salt consumption, it knows who is using the salt and adjusts the data presented for that user, it talks to the bulk salt box in the cupboard to see if you need to buy more salt, and reminds you the next time you are in the grocery store with an sms to your phone, which then gives you a coupon... No personal information was harmed in the making of this simplification of your life choices.

At the end of the day, it is one little thing you don't have to think about but add up all the grains and you have a decent pile of salt.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Building a bookshelf door aka Put the candle back!

It all started out when my wife said, hey we could do that, as we watched Young Frankenstein.

Like a good designer, I put the concept into a sketch and spent countless hours detailing it, measuring, re-measuring, and measuring again. The first thing to do was to get the wall up with an opening in it big enough for the bookcase.

I decided to make the bookcase the same width as the hallway it would open up into so that if we left it open it would tuck into the end of the hall and look like it was supposed to be there.

The case had to hold blue-ray cases and DVD's so the shelf height and depth was dictated by that. I left 3 inches at the bottom for a kick plate and put in as many shelves as i cold to fill the height of the opening. Since there is duct work above the hallway, I was restricted to 78" total. Each shelf ended up being 9 inches high and 6 inches deep. Since it was a door that would have to be closed, I had to leave a bit of depth for a lip on each shelf so the cases wouldn't fly off the shelves if the door got closed too hard.

The width of the case was dictated by the overall length of the wall it was on and the spacing of the sconces etc. I knew that I had to have a speaker for the surround in a certain position based on the seating distance so that dictated the centre of either a wall space or a pillar. I also had a bunch of photos I wanted up so by time I worked everything out the bookcase ended up being 40 inches finished which was the same as the wall sections and gave me a 15 inch pillar for sconces and one half that right up on the stage.

Once all the measurements were done, I had to build the bookcase. Since it was going to be hinged on one corner by a piano hinge, it had to be beefy. I decided to use 3/8" plywood and double it up with stepped corners. The parts were, 2 sides, top and bottom, shelves, shelf spacers, outer top and outer bottom, kicks on the front and back and a 1/8" backing board. Facing wood to clean up the shelf edges and stopper lips to keep the cases on the shelves.

I made a cut plan and got everything out of 1 and a bit full sheets. Everything got glued and pin nailed together. Now just a hint here. I framed it up square but twisted on purpose. The reason for that is when the door is closing the top leading edge touches about 2 inches before the bottom leading edge where the door latch is. That way the case is under tension when it is latched closed. When you pull the candle holder to release the door, it pops open a bit. Had it been perfectly flat it would require some mechanism to open it up, or you would have to push it open while holding the candle holder. I wanted it to pop open on it's own.

Once I got it framed up and ready to install, I put it in place, positioned it forward where I wanted it and put a 1/8 inch set of shims on the top then shimmed the bottom until the gap was tight. I lined up the front hinge side exactly where I wanted it and marked the hinge then screwed it into the wall.

The door jamb on the striker side had to be angled so that when the door sweeps open it clears the jamb. If you make the jamb square the leading edge of the door will bind on it. The facing jamb where the front of the case touches when it is closed was just drywall with a corner bead and mud finish. Flat, square and clean. The top trim that hides the upper gap is a piece of walnut. It is at the same height as the top of the sound absorption frames which will go in at a later date. 

The latching mechanism is a simple lever door handle and latch that was mounted inside the jam instead of the door and has a cable on it so when you pull the candle holder it activates the latch. I had to put an extra spring on it as the friction and the weight of the candle holder was too much for the internal spring return mechanism. In the future I will just replace the whole mechanical mechanism with a servo and a small switch in the candle holder so all you have to do is take the candle out of the holder and the door will pop open.

All finished up and you can't tell that it is a door. I left the case a bit long so that when the carpet went in I would have to trim it up to slide over the carpet. I'd say it is about 1/8" into the pile that way when it is closed it looks like the carpet goes under it as if the case kick plate was put on the carpet like a base board.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Building a Star Field Ceiling

This is the end result of about 3 weeks solid work on the theatre room by my self. I'm going to focus on the star ceiling build process for this post.

I decided on a 328 strand star ceiling kit that had a dimming feature and a twinkle wheel. There was also 3 different sizes of fibre so I was able to pick out some of the brighter stars and use larger optic for those. At the end of it all you really can't see the difference between the .5 and the 1.5mm fibre when it is lit up. I wouldn't bother with the different sizing if I were doing it again. 

The first thing I had to do was to cut my 5/8" mdf panels to size and prep them so there would be a gap between the sub ceiling and the panels. I went with some helpful tips I found on the internet and made a few changes to make it better. The actual width was just under 8 feet and the front end had a curve.

Each end panel would have a 2 inch wide border on three sides while the centre panel would have the border on the sides only. The remaining ends of the panels would have a type of tongue and holder affair so one panel would bolt to the ceiling and the next one would rest on that one and wouldn't require any screws through the facing.

Suffice to say 328 stars was the right number for a 10' by 8 foot ceiling. I also decided pretty early on to be true to the constellations and actually have them laid out so when you look up you can pick out a bunch. I can't remember where I got the star map from, but it was big and had everything I could need to lay out my pattern. Shoot me a line if you want a full size copy of it reversed for drilling. It took 128 sheets of 8-1/2" by 14" legal paper to print out the whole star map.

I used a countersink bit to drill the holes from the back side as I knew that I would have to use hot glue to hold the fibres in place and this way there would be a cup to fill so to speak.

Once the panels were drilled and painted in black on the down side, I used spray adhesive to stick a fake suede material to them. This is where an electric stapler comes in handy as there was an ass-load of staples used all around the perimeters of the panels to hold the fabric in place.

As it turns out the hot glue was too hot and kept melting the fibre. I had to come up with a way of letting the glue cool a bit which ended up being pumping it out above the fibre and using a stick to push it into the hole around each fibre. I also had to use an awl to pre punch each hole as the fibres wouldn't go through the fabric without it being pierced.

I ran 4 inch deck screws diagonally through the soffit down panels up through the star ceiling borders and right into the sub ceiling. With 4 screws on each edge this was not going anywhere.

I used a drywall panel lift for installing the fibres as well as holding the panels up until I could screw them in place. If you don't have one... get one.

You can see here the first panel in place with all the fibres running out of the 5/8" gap. I had to do one panel at a time as the fibres are only 12 feet long and the longest run was just under that.

All said and done it took me 3 full days to build the star ceiling from start to flipping the switch. The whole thing material wise cost about $600 cdn plus all my time. Now, the value when we sit in the theatre room with the lights dimmed down and the stars twinkling above our heads... priceless.

The black suede material disappears in the dark and the ceiling looks as if it is a huge skylight opening out to a pitch black night with only stars in the sky.