Mobilism 2013 – Peeling the onion

This is not a recap but a personal resumee of the conference and what it says about the state of the industry. For details of the talks (tons of useful practical advice there) visit the official page with slides and videos: Mobilism 2013 Coverage

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UX Intensive Berlin 2013

Maria Cordell talking about design research

Maria Cordell talking about design research

This is a personal recap of the four day workshop held by Adaptive Path in Berlin from April, 15th to 18h. Please be aware, that this summary is deliberately focused on topics of personal interest and in times deviates from the Adaptive Path lingo.

1st Day: Design Strategy (Patrick Quattelbaum)

In many companies (especially the traditional major ones) design still happens as an afterthought without clear connection to the overall business strategy. For design to be effective, it needs to be a product of the business goals, the customer needs and the organization’s capabilities (both in terms of technology and organizational fit). E.g. depending on whether a company is competing on cost or unique differentiators, an effective design of a product might greatly differ. Great companies are able to create a strategy where core elements are reinforced by a large number of supporting aspects – often enabling broad success of the strategy in the first place (e.g. low service price competing products relying heavily on excellent self service offers).

The extent to which design is allowed to be part of the overall business strategy can be expressed in terms of the role it plays in the company. Mr. Quattlebaum distinguishes several degrees of integration with the lowest regarding design as a necessary process step of product development without clear goals and no success metrics up to where design is a core competency supporting and informing the overall business strategy (of which a good example would be Apple Inc.).

Increasing the role of design in your company can only be achieved as a gradual process, as stakeholder buy-in is crucial for your success. Growing design from a cost function to a core competency with strong roots in the overall business strategy takes some serious change management. Focus on quick wins generating immediate business value and (hopefully) positive business attention. Moving beyond quick wins, effective communication of your vision is critical to gain traction with stakeholders from all parts of your organization and beyond.

(Much to my own experience,) companies often lack a clear alignment between customer and business value. Increasing your alignment to the needs of your customer can be a great business opportunity (albeit this might challenge part of your business goals). In order to assess what customer value means in the case of specific offerings, a company has to go beyond pure market research and strive for insights into the mental model of customers (their needs, feelings and behaviors). Such insights are generated by design (aka user) research methods like contextual interviews, diaries, user tests etc. (see second day of the workshop). Based on these insights a company can formulate experience principles that inform the design and facilitate a consistent user experience across products and channels. A potential pitfall for pitching cross channel service strategies is the absence of management responsible for promoting cross channel performance in traditionally organized companies.

Efficient creation of compelling products acknowledges the uncertainties of product development. A focus on validated learning and rigorous prioritization help to both minimize risk and accelerate time to market leading to the strategy of minimum viable products (minimum features) and services (minimum touchpoints). Another way of thinking of MVP/MSP is as a platform approach to product design enabling quick incremental evolution and at its best a continuous stream of customer delights (called “The Long Wow” by Adaptive Path’s Brandon Schauer).

While execution should be driven by short feedback cycles, maintaining a consistent strategy requires a long-term vision (characterized as a “North Star”) in the form of road maps and product evolution maps that resonate with the stakeholders and (hopefully) rally them behind a common goal.

Further Reading
  • “What is strategy?”, Michael Porter, PDF-Article
  • Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, Book
  • The Service Anticipation Gap, Brandon Schauer, Blog
  • Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences, Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati, Book
  • Lean Startup, Eric Ries, Book
  • Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath , Book

2nd Day: Design Research (Maria Cordell)

Design research (aka “User Research”) plays an important role in  all phases of the design (and implementation) process. Among other things, it informs the design strategy, identifies innovation opportunities, generates insights into contexts of usage and provides vital verification for concrete designs.
Design research is not the same as market research, since they differ both in focus and purpose of their research. That said, data from market research can support in planning design research efforts.

Careful stakeholder management is critical for the success of design research efforts. From pitching for the initial go ahead to presenting the final research results, a wide range of stakeholders has to be bought into the effort. Some crucial points are:

  • Understand the wider context of the research effort (including the role of important stakeholders and the goals of the project)
  • During all steps of the effort, keep the research objectives closely aligned with the actual project goals- Aim for true insights and understanding
  • refrain from attempting to validate preconceived notions
  • Identify and achieve buy-in of subject matter experts- Recruit key stakeholders as “witnesses” of the research effort; they will later serve as “champions” of your findings, if your methods or your results are doubted

Apart from basic advice about recruiting and research methodology, I found the following tips to be of particular interest to me:

  • “Triangulation”: Quantitative and qualitative research can be combined to strengthen identified insights
  • Guerrilla research in coffee shops – produce quick (preliminary) insights at your local barista: Three researchers work together with one interviewing, one taking notes and one asking people in the waiting queue to participate in the interviews offering free coffee and cake in return (remark: this only works with a Starbucks-style serving process).
  • Method “Process Sketching”: Let users draw and narrate the events of a recent experience on a swim lane diagram of the anticipated touch points; can later be further annotated with post-its; can be used as a basis for Journey (aka Experience) maps
  • Method “Picture Cards”: Let people select from a provided set of picture cards and words and let them arrange and annotate in a way they see fit to tell a story about the research topics. A sample introduction could be “We have some pictures and words here, which ones are resonating with your daily work routine?” This method is especially useful for gaining insight into the attitudes and feelings of people. It can inform the design and  help in creating Personas. Frequent usage can be facilitated by a core set of cards, which is customized for specific tasks.
  • Always test your interview plan with colleagues / friends before you go into the field.
  • The AEIOU framework is a good starting point for clustering your observations. Although you might want to extend it with additional aspects to allow for coding of – among others – emotions, goals and sequence of events (time).
Further Reading
  • Design research: What is it and why do it?, Panthea Lee, blog
  • Recruiting without fear, UIE, paper
  • Mental Models – Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behaviour, Indi Young, book
  • Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis, Jon Kolko, book
  • Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, Brenda Laurel, book
  • The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, Jesse James Garret, book
  • Observing the User Experience, Mike Kuniavsky and others, book
  • Storytelling for User Experience, Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks, book
  • Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas and Design Effective Solutions, Bruce Hannington and Bella Martin, book
  • Example for experience maps: Exploratorium: Mapping the Experience of Experiments, blog article by Adative Path’s Brandon Schauer, blog

3rd Day: Service Design (Jamin Hegeman)

Effective service design needs to start from a customer’s point of view (aka outside-in perspective) and has to take into account all aspects of the service experience. When (or if) taking the customer’s view, most organizations tend to focus their efforts on specific parts of the service journey (a single channel, product or touchpoint), while the customer experiences the service as the sum of all steps and circumstances of the experience. Thus, customers frequently are confused, affronted or even scared.

A well designed service is an orchestrated effort of all parts of the organization(s) providing a consistent and seamless service experience. Dealing with service experience requires a much broader view than the term “user experience” which is usually associated with a single touchpoint or product.

Because of its broad scope, effective design of complex services means a fundamental mind shift ultimately leading to strategic changes in the organization and processes of an enterprise. Quite a bit of careful change management might be in order to disrupt silos and alter established processes. In the end, it is the people who have to drive the change, so small gradual steps might be a better fit than an attempt at revolution.

Apart from improvements for the customer and the benefits this can have for the company in itself (increase in retention and sales volume), effective service design also leads to process harmonization (potentially eradicating inefficiencies) and to higher motivated and more productive staff. This is where traditional management consulting and service design need to go hand in hand to create a system which satisfies the needs of customer and staff as much as the goals of the business. Needless to say, such a system integrating previously unrelated parts of the company will constitute challenges for the IT department.

Mr. Hegeman introduced during the day some tools, he found helpful on his own service design work:

  • Territory Mapping collects and visualizes all elements of the (existing) service. Think of people, places, products, services, artifacts and technologies involved. This is a good starting point for your service design endeavor. It serves as first glimpse at the system’s complexity and can be used for discussion with team and stakeholders refining it along the way.
  • Service Storming – Another method which can be used upfront before detailed research takes place (or later during service prototyping) is service storming: During a workshop with stakeholders the participants are divided into small groups and asked to create the story of an ideal service journey they are to enact for the other groups. Defining a journey should take 10 minutes, allow another 20 minutes for rehearsing, then every group gets 2 minutes to act out (transitions from one touchpoint to another are “instant”). Presenting a service journey “on stage” is a much more personal experience than mere discussions. Emotions, creativity and bonding of the stakeholders will all be spurred by the exercise.
  • Journey (aka Experience) Maps document a service journey in its different stages (time & place) regarding all associated aspects (people, actions, emotions, needs, …).
  • Service Blueprint is a diagram method to represent a flow of service interactions not only on the customer facing side but also including all operational aspects of the interaction steps. They are used for verification, planning and implementation of services.
Further Reading
  • This is Service Design Thinking, Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider, book
  • Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, Book
  • Service storming and dragon lines, Jamine Hegeman, blog/slides
  • Examples of experience and journey maps by adaptive path:
  • The Anatomy of an Experience Map, blog
  • New Ways of Visualizing the Customer Journey Map, blog

On Pinterest search for Service Design to find a cornucopia of diagrams.

4th day: Interaction Design (Maria Cordell)

I also attended the 4th day of the workshop and found that it too was very worthwhile. But since interaction design is not my focus and for the sake of time management I decided to skip a detailed recap of this day.

Car sharing paper prototype for mobile

Scrollable paper prototype for mobile

Mobilism 2012: A personal summary

This article is summing up my personal impressions from Mobilism 2012 with a focus on overarching themes and ideas. Disclosure: I am currently working for a German carrier. I will leave out any topics directly related to carrier business and strategies. Carrier bashing was a frequent theme during the conference.

Post PC is here

Coming from the late visionary Steve Jobs this term might still sound like a fancy to some, but during the talks and discussions of Mobilism 2012, the common feeling was that it is here already. With smartphones and tablets, a new class of personal general purpose devices is on the rise, which is disrupting the way we use information technology (and devices in general). Traditional PCs might not go away but they cease to be the dominant device.

Scott Jenson at Mobilism 2012

Scott Jenson at Mobilism 2012

We are still adapting to this brutally quick development and nobody knows where exactly we are heading. Established pundits and incumbent market players are still getting to grips with the fundamental changes that are taking place. Many still follow strategies and mental models that have been clearly invalidated by recent development.

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A class diagram of the GWT MVP model [Update]

Since 2009 Google has advocated the MVP pattern as the preferred architecture for large scale GWT applications. With GWT 2.1 Google introduced the concept of “Activity” and “Place” (borrowing from the Android UI framework). Apart from providing a standard way for history management, it can be elegantly combined with GWT UI components to form an MVP architecture with easy device-dependent views making it a great starting point for mobile web development.

While I found the framework to be very powerful, it also has put quite a strain on my ability to memorize classes and their relationships. In the end – since I found no good rendition in the Internet – I ended up creating my own diagram of the MVP frameworks’s main classes around the concepts of “Activity”, “View” and “Place”.

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Which kind of AOP hater are you?

To me the AOP antagonists can be divided into three different groups:

1. The Careless and the Ignorant

These are the people who do not see the point in attempting to manage the complexity of crosscutting concerns. They value the costs and risks of bloated, repetitive code as non-critical for their project success. When you have a big team of not so top-notch developers and you need only to care about short-term performance (say getting out a first release), this is a perfectly viable strategy (with known downsides). Of course, many times you find yourself in such a situation, even if you do care.

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My personal coding utilities

Today, I finally published minuteTools. Apache Maven and my ever busy daylife job have done their share to prevent me from setting up the project website. It is a very meagre start with only a few classes. But as they say: “Release early, release often!” :-)

The submodule minuteTest does some handy things for unit test developers. minuteAspects presents the results of my personal ventures into AOP.

Have fun!

First Post

What to write in a first post? – You are posting just for the heck of it. You think of all the things still to be done. But this not the time (1:17 am) for the About page. So live (and hopefully sleep) to see another day. – Stay tuned!

And sweet dreams to you. :-)