Lisa Kay Solomon has a great post entitled The New MBA: A Masters in Business Ambiguity:
Long gone are the days of “Mastering Business ‘Administration.” (What are we administering anymore?) Today, the model we should be teaching is more appropriately titled: “Mastering Business Ambiguity.”
It’s a great piece—I’d recommend checking it out.
But it also sparked for me some thinking about the role that we (at Zumio, but also designers more generally) play, and I think that a critical part of our value to our clients is in working through ambiguity—the so-called fuzzy front end of business and product development.
Zumio co-conspirators Penny Hagan and Natalie Rowland have just published an excellent introduction to co-design methods over at Johnny Holland: Enabling Codesign.
While I could quote some excellent points from across the whole piece, I’ll start with this introduction:
Involvement of ‘users’ early in the research and ideation phases of the design process is often equated to “asking users what they want”. (A certain quote oft attributed to Ford comes to mind). Codesign however, goes well beyond this. The premise is that ‘users’ become partners. Rather than being viewed as a source of information to be input into the design process, those impacted by the design are invited to work actively with designers to shape the definition and direction of the project. Participation can include sharing personal experiences and perspectives, contributing to the generation of new design concepts, the evolution of those concepts, analysis, interpretation, decision making, evaluation and more.
When taking a codesign approach it is our role as designers to facilitate that participation. At the beginning of the design process we work with users to understand the design project in relation to their everyday lives including their habits, rituals, dreams, attitudes and experiences. These then become resources for inspiring design concepts and direction. In order for people to actively and effectively participate in the design process they must be able to imagine, access, and express their experiences and expectations. Simply asking people questions is not enough to facilitate this process. This is because people are not explicit sources of information. As humans we are limited in what we can express by our existing frames of reference, we can only talk in the language that we know.
This (perhaps unsurprisingly) reflects Zumio’s approach, and our process is strongly geared towards enabling this type of participation. Penny’s and Natalie’s article does a great job at providing some insight into the thinking behind some of the methods we employ to achieve this goal. Congrats (and thanks) to Penny and Natalie for producing yet another great resource for the UX/service design community…