Business 2.0, Design, Social media & networking, Sustainability

Participatory Design Conference 2010

As I hope is obvious from our work and the posts on this site, we’re very passionate about engaging people in the process of design, so we were  delighted to be able to contribute a small something to the participatory design community as a sponsor of the Participatory Design Conference for 2010, being held in Sydney (in part co-ordinated by our friend and colleague @pennyhagen).

The “prototype” programme is now up, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a great set of sessions.  And the industry day seems like a great opportunity for those of us in the design field to connect with the academic world of participatory design.  I know that I’ve certainly benefited tremendously from the academic literature on the topic (esp. during the preparation of my recent paper), so am looking forward to more cross-pollination of ideas at the conference…

Business 2.0, Social media & networking

Design we can all live with

I caught this video from Worrell Design (via @metarand) last week and I wanted to post it here because I think it is a great overview of the value of user research and collaborative design, with a specific focus on health care.

A lot of what’s covered in the video applies in a multitude of sectors and circumstances. While some of the video hints at some great technology ideas, these are only made possible by understanding the social aspects of the provision of health care — that is the relationship between practitioner and patient, and the other challenges, motivations, needs and wants that revolve around managing health.

I also think it highlights the challenges that many organisations and sectors face as the people formerly known as “consumers” are wresting back control using social and personal technologies, becoming active participants in the process.

In any case, well worth a watch…

Business 2.0, Sustainability

The social side of sustainability

I’ve been thinking about how the techniques we use at Zumio suit organisations looking to become more sustainable. Sustainability, of course, is a social challenge as much as a technical one – while eco-efficiency (making products using more sustainable materials and processes) is a critical aspect, many of the barriers to more sustainable practice have social aspects.

Today I’ve been thinking about two areas in particular that can benefit from research and social design methods – they are Product Service Systems (PSS) and organisational capabilities building and communication.


While PSS in and of itself is not a panacea, the concept will no doubt play an important role in our shift towards a sustainable economy.

Qualitative research methods are very well suited to understanding the broader context of user needs and motivations, an essential component of defining and identifying opportunities for PSS.

Many of the benefits from service design principles (including prototyping and user testing) can then be applied to the development of the PSS to help increase uptake, among other things. An example of this can be seen in live|work’s work with Streetcar.

Organisational capacity building and communications

BSR and IDEO’s Aligned for Sustainability (PDF) report outlines a number of factors required for building sustainable thinking within an organisation. The report suggests that cross-functional communications, sharing learnings, and collaborative problem solving with people throughout an organisation are all important facets of building such capacity.

Social technologies, or “Enterprise 2.0” approaches, can clearly play an important role here. But design approaches such as stakeholder workshops, personas, customer journey mapping, prototyping – especially when collaboratively generated – can all help with both building capacity (through better sharing of learnings and incorporating more diverse input in the design process) and communicating concepts and learning.

So it seems to me that the same tools that we can apply to generate opportunities for innovation can also be applied to achieve sustainable outcomes. In this model, far from sustainability being an “added cost” over an above standard operations, we can instead frame sustainability thinking as a lever for innovation. To me, this is a very exciting prospect, and something I’m looking forward to exploring further…

Business 2.0

Apple’s cult(ure) of design

I was thinking this morning about all of the hype surrounding the release of the iPad in the US and iPhone OS 4.0 beta from Apple. I agree with many commentators that it’s over the top, and that it would be great if some of that energy was channeled to more positive outcomes.

I’m not sure why this is, but I’m impressed by how Apple inspires so much creativity in others. This is despite Apple playing catch-up (with the iPhone OS 4.0) to many other mobile manufacturers. And how disproportionate the emphasis from developers is on developing sites and applications for the platform (given marketshare), despite the well documented issues with the walled garden approach from Apple.

I think this is a reflection of the “experience-driven organisation”, as Jesse James Garrett calls it, that Apple has cultivated. This culture of design inside the organisation expands beyond it’s boundaries, inspiring those outside the organisation to contribute to it. And it’s not just developers – I think this resonates with many customers. They too want to be part of this culture.

It’s a positive feedback loop. And this, I think, is one of the key drivers of Apple’s success, and some degree of the hype…


Design’s cultural impact

There seems to be a bit of a furor over Jon Kolko’s piece in Johnny Holland: Our misguided focus on brand and user experience.

Personally, I didn’t take offense to the apparent slight against UX practitioners’ “focus on a prescriptive customer experience” – his description didn’t match my experience of the subject, so I assumed he wasn’t talking about me ;)

While the piece does take some twist and turns, what I heard was more of a sustainability message than anything else. Jon says:

We are, quite literally, building the culture around us; arguably, our effect is larger and more immediate than even policy decisions of our government. We are responsible for both the positive and negative repercussions of our design decisions, and these decisions have monumental repercussions.

Thinking about the cultural impacts of what we create immediately widens the frame and presents questions and dilemmas that perhaps aren’t getting enough attention – certainly not in the designs that I see in daily life, be they products, services or systems.

He extends this thought further:

For most designers, this responsibility is hidden by the celebratory claims of designing experiences. This claim almost abdicates the long-term responsibility, as “an experience” has an end, at which time the designers’ role seemingly ends. The work is meaningful only on an immediate level of craft and creation, and while designers often take pride in a product once it has launched, they do not frequently make the connection between their creations and the culture that surrounds them.

Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I don’t think it’s too much to extend this statement to encompass the environmental impact of our work – not only as a longer-term/bigger impact but also as a shaper of culture (climate change and the shift towards a sustainable economy will play a significant role in shaping culture in the coming years, as it has already begun to show).

Behavioural change is also critical to a sustainable future, as are more sustainably produced, used and re-used products and services – all aspects of design that seem to still be sadly lacking.

To me this connects to the themes in the Usability in a sustainable future talk I did at World Usability Day last month – so perhaps I’m reading into things?

In any case, I do hope that this core message of cultural impact and behaviour change is not lost in the concerns about Jon’s specific framing of UX…

Update 07 Dec 2009: Steve Baty pointed to a great response by Brian Phipps to Jon’s article:

… a brand must make the customer “better off” than if the customer purchased a mere commodity. Otherwise, what good is the brand? What value does it deliver? “Better off” means that the customer is further empowered, able to be more proactive, and further advanced along his/her desired path via the brand.