I just got back from Vancouver IxDA. Had a great time but seem to have kicked up a bit of a controversy by declaring that, as interaction designers, our medium is not technology – it's behavior. I must admit to a certain amount of surprise at the strong response, and I appreciate the immediate back up from my cohort, Jon Kolko (you can see my slides - mostly visuals - here). It is very interesting to me that this statement would seem controversial, even novel in this community. And I think it says a lot about the state of our discipline.
There is universal acceptance of a holistic approach to human centered design within this community – generally referred to as 'experience design' (not my preferred term). This approach considers all of the contexts surrounding use and then tries to build a unified interaction model to support user needs over time, across these contexts. It focuses not just on expressed needs but on those that are unexpressed: the emotions, motivations, and desires that shape user engagement over time. In fact, more and more of our clients are looking for our help in identifying these latent, unmet needs. So, it is interesting to find designers who are very comfortable, in fact insistent, on this holistic approach and yet spooked by the idea that we are in the 'behavior business'.
I strongly believe that interaction design is central to solving the major issues facing our society today (this is probably no surprise coming from an Interaction Designer). Large scale challenges like the environment and healthcare can only be addressed if we can positively influence personal behavior on a large scale in a sustainable way. Our work on Project Masiluleke, for example, is focused on motivating young men in South Africa to test earlier for HIV, before they are symptomatic. According to a recent article in the NYTimes a new mathematical model developed by the WHO suggests that the AIDS virus could be virtually eliminated if people tested earlier (before they have symptoms) and are immediately put on ARV's: "Whether this could work in practice is problematic. It is not clear how one could persuade people who are not feeling sick to get tested every year."
Behavior change is at the core of good interaction design, particularly when you design for social impact (this has also been referred to as 'Decision Architecture'). If I was starting an Interaction Design program (like Liz Danzico at SVA) or taking one over (like David Malouf at SCAD) the one academic subject I would be sure to cover is Behavioral Economics.
I had lunch with my kids at our local Middle Eastern restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, yesterday. It has been there for a long time in a neighborhood that has exploded with cool cafes. The smell of warm pitas, fresh from the oven, practically brought my kids to tears. This place is getting more and more attractive to me these days. They provide good, cheap, fresh food – I can stuff the whole family for less than $30. But that's not all: at the end of the meal they always bring out some free honey semolina cake along with the check (they divide one standard portion into four little cubes for us). What a wonderful bonus...or maybe not. I would argue in this economy that cake is a critical element of their survival strategy. My neighborhood is flush with tasty restaurants competing for my shrinking budget. They all better be thinking of new ways to delight me.
In this economy the most pressing business imperative is customer loyalty. You better be thinking hard about how you are going to retain your customers over the next two years (even if you lose some real money doing it). I am paying close attention to the businesses that get this. The ones that are working extra hard to recognize regular visitors like me, even if I rarely buy (and never at full price). My presence in the store alone has rising business value these days.
Perhaps the most remarkable talent that Jan Chipchase showcased in his talk last week (I promise this is my last post on the subject) was his ability to create powerful community-based organizations on the fly in some of the least likely environments - urban slums in Ghana for example. While this started out as a SWAT activity to support rapid immersion and research, with Open Studios he is making his pop-up organizations much more visible in the community (which raising some interesting branding questions which I will cover in a later post).
If you havent checked out Open Studios, the basic idea is that Chipchase and team turn their SWAT ethnography into a design lab - reaching out to the community in a very visible way to gather ideas as part of a competition. The samples he showed last week centered around a competition to design your dream mobile handset. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the topic. Seemed like they got alot of cheesy hardware design. Jan was clear the real value was not the designs themselves, but the needs and desires implicit in those designs. But I think he may be missing an even bigger opportunity to create value.
There is a long list of specific insights that Jan shared about how he 'designs' his research expeditions. These have been covered elsewhere in bits and pieces. I thought I would highlight some of my favorites:
1. Integrate Local Teams:
Most of his research involves a combination of a few nokia colleagues and a local team - that need to cross HUGE cultural and economic barriers. He placed special emphasis on the need to rapidly integrate these teams. A lot of this is motivational. He sets huge store in establishing a sense of equality from the start - everyone eats, sleeps travels in the same manner. He likes to rent houses or small hotels that the team can take over within the community. This has posed some risks on occasion, such as a recent trip to favelas in brazil. But in most cases this model seems very strong and worth applying even if you are not traveling so far. See if you can find an alternative to the embassy suites next time you are doing a set of in-homes in Omaha. Some place with some common space.
This week I had the pleasure to host Jan Chipchase, FuturePerfect, renowned Nokia research guru, at a frog and IxDA sponsored event in NY. I first met Jan at DUX in 2005 where he did a brilliant presentation on a research study around what people carry in their purse. His premise being that this is the ultimate value threshold that we should use to measure the success of a personal device like a mobile phone. What emerged were insights around how the phone could better integrate with the other things we carry (keys, wallet...). His talk was fun and fascinating. His style was very casual. what I didnt realize, and found out on wednesday, was that this project launched his research practice over at Nokia, establishing the value of his methods as an efficient way to inform product design decisions.
I had a chance to grab dinner with Jan after the talk and we reflected a bit on the trajectory of that practice. It was very clear to me from that early experience that his goal back then was to effect product design decisions at the feature level – to help Nokia understand how to create products that were stickier, better suited to our personal needs and emerging social behaviors. I am sure that is still an essential part of his work but he has come along way (in no small part due to his personal influence). He is now finding that his most meaningful collaborations are with strategy groups within Nokia. He has been invited into much larger conversations about new markets and product strategies. Pretty cool, and no small feat in a company as large as Nokia. Particularly for an outsider like Jan (he is the only research / design employee based in Japan).