Monday, 18 October 2010

Is Crowdsourcing firing Designers?

Recently when customers rejected the new redesigned GAP logo, GAP decided to crowdsource the redesign exercise to help define their brand.
The entire GAP redesign exercise emphasized that if designers do not do their job well and management do not make wise decisions, the customers reject it (after all the customer is the king). And they will also suggest a redesign of the brand for you!

There may be many reasons why the design exercise could have gone wrong - like management making all the design decisions or underestimating design or their customers (thinking they would blindly accept their chosen logo). The management have realized that their decisions are not final, even when it comes to logo redesign. And the outpouring on the social media on this topic suggests customers do care for products they have been buying over the years.

As the blame is now on the design firm who came up with this logo and GAP having decided to crowdsource instead, how do the rest of us (designers) ensure we do not fall into such situations? And how do we ensure crowdsourcing does not fire us and instead we work hand in hand. Moreover, what will our role be henceforth?

If you look back, from the time digital media entered the lives of designers (in 90's), designers needed to had these basic skills:
  • Idea generator, Creative, at times think out of the box
  • Understands problems, users and provides appropriate solutions
  • Produce aesthetically pleasing designs – have good knowledge in color theory, typography, layout, etc.
  • Apply usability/ ergonomic principles
  • Be proficient in all design softwares (esp. Adobe products)
  • Work with team

With the explosion of the internet since late 90s, where anyone can access basic tutorials on Graphic design and opensource tools like GIMP, consumers are now taking a shot in designing, just like photography. And companies are trying to capitalize on this through ‘crowdsourcing’, just like what GAP is doing now, as it turns out much cheaper than hiring a design firm! Added to this, the design is created directly by the end user and their needs are being stated through design.

An amateur designer can have all the points mentioned earlier to a certain extent. S/he may be creative, have ideas, execute solutions in an amateur manner using the design tools. There will be more tools in future which will auto-suggest color combination, layout (just like what templates have already begin to do now)

However, crowdsourcing will also generate enormous individualistic data and management will still need to pick the right design which will reflect everyone's perception of the brand or idea. This is where we designers can capitalize.

Our roles in future will mainly be to –

Engage users
We will need to draw ideas from everyone, while allowing everyone to express themselves, which in turn makes customers feel they are being engaged in the entire exercise. We collect their inputs (data) for our design process and to further validate our design to the client with the populist data. We can also revalidate our design again through crowdsourcing and when the design is finally out in the market, the users will be proud of the outcome!

Analyze and draw insights
We will need to use crowdsourcing for design research to get insights to our design. The data collected from users through crowdsourcing (eg: pictures of their daily routine, etc.) will ultimately help create better products.

Induce design thinking
A designer will need to induce design thinking in the organization or team, and drive the design exercise, with team members, stakeholders and customers, getting their hands dirty in design implementation. A designer’s role will be to facilitate and bring out the best ideas from everyone and manage the entire design exercise! And use ‘Crowdsourcing’ as one of the methods from user research to design implementation.

And how do we designers achieve this - We will however need to focus more on design strategy and behavioral aspects. The technical aspects like layout, typography, usability heuristics will be automated in future. We will need to think cross-disciplinary rather than specialize in individual fields like graphic, fashion or industrial design in future.

The client/ management will also need to understand the importance of design, branding and be more involved in the design exercise while giving powers to the designer to make strategic decisions.

Thanks to Vinay and Anshuman for their inputs on the role of a designer in future.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

'Change by Experience Design' Approach

All disciplines change continuously, be it management, engineering, medical science, or design. Change is critical and, at the same time, dynamic. It needs to be managed gradually by people in practice. Quality that was once a differentiating factor and a competitive advantage is now a factor of hygiene and is rather expected by default. Similarly, practices such as TQM and Six Sigma that were once central to businesses are still of value but are unable to provide the next big boost.

Businesses have the tendency to think inside-out even when they consider external forces such as market demand and competition. The focus is more on ‘How’ can we better what we are doing in current business practices. Mostly this ‘how’ thinking leads to small refinements and incremental changes only.

We as designers (user experience designers in this case) argue that design is fundamentally different, both by thinking and execution. A design approach needs to impact the ‘how’ thinking of businesses. Design needs to become the centripetal force of an organization to make it think more of ‘What?’ than ‘How’.

Focus on customer needs, not products – Instead of getting into the race to bring new product features to market, companies need to refocus on the needs of their customers. Some of them may want fewer features and yet simple and intelligent stuff.

Understand people and context, not just 'users’ – When we talk about customers, they are more than just 'users’ of a system – users that are defined by segment, roles, knowledge, skills, demographics, etc. We need to see beyond their learned behaviors, mental models, mindset, tasks orientation, etc. and must start looking at other dimensions that can provide a complete picture of a person. This means we must understand that our customers are people with natural behavior and desires affected by beliefs, attitude, expectations, personality, prior knowledge, experiences, and emotions, and more.

Look beyond tasks and explore ‘activities’ – Activities can be task or goal agnostic. For example, entertainment-oriented experience such as watching television is a passive way of consuming content without really a goal-focused task. Unilever ice cream truck can be another such example. This means, designers need to understand the motivations behind activities rather than looking only at the tasks performed. The motivations behind an activity could be social, monetary, emotional, and/or ideological.

Reinforce brand with every interaction, not just by communication – Traditional brand messaging is losing its power to influence consumers and therefore there is a need to expand branding efforts beyond marketing communications, to define how customers should be treated and engaged. This is the reason why some of the traditional creative and branding agencies are either transforming into digital agencies or are losing ground. Brands need to continuously innovate and find newer ways to translate their brand attributes and promises into interactive experiences for their customers.

Customer experience design and delivery is a competence, not a function – Designing great experiences is ain't a designer’s job alone – strategists, technology geeks, subject matter experts, and customers are equally responsible and participative in the entire process. Similarly, delivering great customer experiences cannot be achieved only by a small group of people, rather everyone in the organization needs to be fully engaged in the effort as the impact needs to be made at all levels in an organization, including its core value system.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Playful children and creative thinking

Children are a great source of creativity when it comes to games and entertainment. Children are interesting to be learned and studied. Kids seem to be ignorant, but they are very creative than most adults are. They can turn anything into a game. Here you can see the pictures of children playing. I found them pretty interesting, I observed them playing some sort of a game for a while and it gave me insights on the creativity of design.

Setting up the rules                 
They played this game for about an hour or so. To my amazement, I found that they were following some protocols or rules for this game. It seemed to me that players played the game with predefined game rules. This game consisted of two teams, one on one side and two boys and on the other side. And a baby girl was accompanying them, but did not participate in the game. As I think, the girl is about 18 or 19 months old and probably can’t participate. The players are trying to hit the other player with the sack as seen in the picture. And there was some kind of point system based on the hitting other team. They have made boxes for each team; a team member is not allowed to step outside the square. And if you step outside of the square, if so you lose some points.

If I were to design the game, I will probably relate to the pillow fight that I had with my brother in my childhood. Well, I do not know, how these children made this entertaining game for them. What kind of strategic planning they did? Did they relate to some other game? What is the metaphor they used here? Are there any similar games available? Are they following some framework? Many questions cross my mind.

Creativity with fewer resources
These children are not receiving healthy food, medical facility, not even having proper sanitation facilities, and not having proper shelter. I would doubt that they would have ever played with a toy. They lack the resources that we have in our daily lives. But they do not lack in creativity. I felt that they are amazing designers. They made a game with fewer resources they got.

We also work with fewer resources such as time and money. Our client creates our world wherein we are set to deliver them enjoyment based on the resources they have provided. A designer’s puts on creative hat to provide innovative solutions. We perform strategic planning to determine how we go about doing our activities. We further set rules on how a system should look, what kind of functionality it should possess, how it should behave, we try to determine user goals, usability goals and many more. We provide creative designs to our customer and provide them greater satisfaction and better experience.

Children may not be thinking any of these things that we think about. All that they want is to enjoy the time that they have. As these children, we should thrive to produce creative product in a new way, or invent something that does not exist or reapply an existing process or product into a new or different domain. Hence, creating better experience and happiness to our customers as well for us.

Thanks to Vinay for the reviewing of this post.