In business today, “user experience” (or UX) has come to represent all of the qualities of a product or service that make it relevant or meaningful to an end-user -- everything from its look and feel design to how it responds when users interact with it, to the way it fits into people’s daily lives. You even people talking about UX as the way in which a consumer connects to a business -- all the touch-points from marketing to product development to distribution channels.
It’s the “new black,” to borrow from a fashion phrase—as well as a reference to its influence on profitability.
The value of UX as a corporate asset is no longer in question. Just look at the $1 billion price tag paid by Facebook for Instagram, whose primary asset is not technology, but the best photo sharing UX in the business (and some of the best UX talent as well). Look at the recent Apple vs. Samsung judgment: 93% of the damages were related to design patents that define the iOS user experience. The growing appreciation of the value of UX is not restricted to consumer-facing tech companies, like Google with their new focus on unified design or Microsoft Windows 8 with its sleek new “Metro” design language. At frog, we hear the same things from executives in financial services, healthcare, and infrastructure. Companies like GE and Bloomberg are recruiting leading designers to build UX capabilities at a corporate level. We even hear it from our clients in the international market, such as regional telecommunications companies, who see a “unified user experience strategy” like Apple’s as a sign of status.
The recognition of UX’s importance seems to be slowly sinking into corporate culture the way "brand" did a decade ago. Today, it is not uncommon to hear an executive talk about managing a $30 billion brand. But that was a foreign idea not so long ago. As brand thinking has been institutionalized, management has figured out ways to assign value to this "asset." So, if you are an enlightened executive in the post-Steve Jobs era, how do you grow and manage this emerging corporate asset? Some companies believe that outsourcing to design firms is becoming less attractive as the value of UX as a core business asset increases. frog and our peers in the design consulting world have become more adept in recent years at helping companies build this capacity internally. But even as big business looks to bring UX and design talent in-house, few companies are willing to embed designers on every product development team (and, frankly, there is not enough talent to go around even if they wanted to). So in-house UX groups generally focus on a few high-impact product releases a year, leaving much of the business – and most of your offering – untouched. So what is management to do? How can large organizations deploy this capability on an enterprise scale?
Five years ago, frog launched Project Masiluleke, an attempt to tackle the HIV epidemic in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, with a mobile-technology solution (in this case, a simple text message that encouraged people to reach out for information on HIV testing and treatment). It was our first meaningful social impact collaboration, and the beginning of frog’s mandate to create a series of initiatives that deploy mobile services in a humanitarian context and build support for scalable solutions that can have a positive social and economic impact.
Back in 2007, we had zero funding for Project Masiluleke and no idea how we might make any sort of dent in the AIDS crisis in South Africa. All we had was the fairly tenuous belief that we could be a catalyst for the role of design and technology in the social sector—that we could help bring together a diverse group of cross-sector partners and address one of the most challenging public health problems in the world. One way or another we felt fairly sure that this endeavor would teach us new things about the role of design and renew our appreciation regarding the privilege of being a designer.
In the last 12 months we have seen our commitment to deep learning through social-sector collaboration reach a new scale both within frog and across a broad ecosystem of industries and fields, from health to energy, finance, gender empowerment, and disaster response. We have engaged teams from almost every frog studio, from Shanghai to Kiev to Austin, Texas, in this work. And we have seen deep partnerships with organizations such as UNICEF reach substantial scale. We are working on a variety of solutions that include, but expand beyond, mobile technology. We have also been able to attract a much more diverse set of funding from corporate foundations (Nike Foundation, GE Foundation, Johnson & Johnson) to philanthropic organizations (Robert Woods Johnson) to NGOs (World Health Organization and UNICEF).
On World AIDS Day, frog would like to thank all of the amazing partners we have had the privilege of working with in the global fight against HIV in places like South Africa and Zambia. It has been an incredible, and humbling, journey over the five years since we started working on Project Masiluleke and, more recently, on Project Mwana with the UNICEF innovation team. During that time we have been challenged and inspired by our partnerships with iTeach, Praekelt Foundation, PopTech, UNICEF, Johnson & Johnson, the mHealth Alliance, and The Well Project. We have seen first-hand how this horrible disease can bring out the best in people: compassion, determination, and innovation.
We live (and work) in a world that is saturated with design and innovation, and not just on the shelves of the Apple store. The language of design and innovation is increasingly standard business parlance. Many designers are justifiably concerned with this over-saturation, as design seems to be losing its distinct meaning as a catalyst for creativity, provocation, and change. In the process, designers are at risk of becoming just another flavor of consultant.
That is why we jumped at the opportunity to place a team of frog designers in an environment in which design has no meaning at all, a collaboration with the Girl Effect to improve the lives of adolescent girls.
This collaboration revealed a new purpose for design as an essential set of skills to help communities to solve their own problems—and the Collective Action Toolkit was born. What follows is the path we took from our collaboration to creating and releasing this toolkit, which is available to download for free from frog.
Like many of you, I was delighted to find an Amazon Kindle Fire sitting on my desk a few weeks ago, when it was first released. My delight was heightened by the fact that I hadn't actually bought it. The Fire belonged to another Robert in frog's New York studio, Robert Curtis, who was more than happy to unbox the product with me so that we could both get a sense of the quality of that crucial "first" user experience with the product. Lest there be any doubt as to whose Fire it was, the screen immediately displayed a personal message: "Hello Robert Curtis. Welcome to Kindle Fire" (even though it was not yet connected to our Wi-Fi network).
Five years ago, I led frog on a journey to the hardest-hit region in the HIV crisis--South Africa. I am not talking about the South Africa of safaris and vineyards. I am not even talking about the celebrated townships like Soweto. This journey started in KwaZulu-Natal, where HIV prevalence is estimated at 30–40% of the population. What did we think we could contribute to this crisis from our studios in New York and Milan? It was a classic case of design hubris.
Bruce Nussbaum was right to close the book on Design Thinking. It is time to move on. Business never really got the message. What businesses continue to care about is innovation. While designers may think that innovation requires Design Thinking, that was an idea that never really stuck in the executive suite. Is “creativity” any different? Most executives will acknowledge that innovation requires some form of creativity. But creativity brings its own baggage.
Social networks can be fun and good for you at the same time. Coinciding with the launch of MTV’s new mini docu-series on overweight teens trying to manage their health, frog launched Tempt’d. Tempt’d is a new application from frog to help people resist everyday temptations with the support of their online social networks.
It's easy to forget the commitments you shared with family and friends in the fading hours of 2010. That's the trick with New Year's resolutions: They rarely stick for very long. We can often chalk these failures up to faults in our hard-wiring; as scientists have shown, our best intentions rarely rule the day. But over the last 12 months I've been interested in looking at how social networks might tip the balance in your favor.
Is the local model the only way to meaningfully engage in social-impact initatives?