Design thinking and UX: Two sides of the same coin | ACM Interactions

29 May

While both design thinking and UX as we think of them today began in academia, they surfaced as first-order business concerns within a decade of each another. UX came first, cresting in an enduring way with Donald Norman’s use of the term as part of his title, user experience architect, at Apple Computer in 1993. From there it took root in Silicon Valley and led to a revolution of design and UX during the 1990s. While it took some more time for the term to spread across the country and permeate businesses across industries, by the early 2000s the discipline was firmly entrenched in the better software companies in Silicon Valley.

Design thinking’s impact came about a decade later, in the early 2000s, the rubric being strongly promoted as an outgrowth of IDEO’s latest thought-leadership sally. Wrapped together with a broader “innovation” message, design thinking caught fire. Progressive and heady designers joined together with the new breed of liberal arts problem solvers, particularly ethnographers and anthropologists, to help design thinking spread like wildfire. Whereas UX developed systematically in the bubble of Silicon Valley, design thinking rode the trend of innovation and Web 2.0 to make its way into boardroom conversations straightaway.

Curiosity and Design Thinking

25 Feb

Ah the weekend. A good time for reflections and blogging. I am curious if the rest of the world feels the same. And finds the weekend a good time to blog. Maybe only casual bloggers like me – not doing it for a living – just writing to put my thoughts out there in the digiverse.

Catching up the design thinking debate once again and being curious – curious why design thinking gets flag. Looking at our design thinking projects so far, what have I personally learnt from it?

Converging Challenge. In design thinking, we converge on ideas that are feasible, sustainable and humanly desirable. These are relatively abstract. What is feasible from one perspective may not be feasible from another. The same goes for the other two criterion.

Implementation Constrains. In one of our web redesign projects, we conceptualised a widget that would be awesome for users and increase the chances of solving the problems uncovered. There were some concerns coming from the implementation team. Sounds familiar? Yeap, it happens all the time.

Reacting to Constrains. Do we refine the concept/idea so it can be implemented? Do we try and understand what the constrain is? Do we come up with new concepts altogether to achieve the same objective? Maybe it is more a communication issue and we can communicate better?

Staying Open is Not Easy. We are all human. We might react with “WTF”. We may do mental eyerolls to the tune of “Here we go again with constrains”. And we certainly may go “I am so tired of this SH#!”.

Self-Mastery is Daunting.  To stop ourselves from reacting in a way that doesn’t help the situation requires us to be willing to master ourselves. It can be done. We’ve seen people all around do it. But it’s not always the path we choose because you know what – it feels better to blame someone or something.

Blame is Seductive. It’s always easier to find someone or something to blame. We can analyse the situation and go “aha! if only so-and-so would not be so negative”. Or blame ourselves for not having the persuasion powers to get them to buy-in.  And the more we do blaming, the better we get at it🙂

Caving to Constrains. Sometimes we might also react too quickly. And change what we have proposed because of the constrains so we are part of the solution and not the problem. But it isn’t always necessary or advisable. Sometimes we just need to ask the right questions.

These are just some of the things I have found that make design thinking such a challenge. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s not like you follow the process to a “T” and you’ll get results. There are plenty of soft skills involved that begin with self-awareness.

The one I am working on is “When Mad, Get Curious” – a little nugget of wisdom from founder Paul Saginaw, Zingermans. I think it’s really good advice to anyone working on design thinking projects.

When I feel that frustration, I know my feelings trying to tell me something. Getting mad, lashing out, blaming though  ain’t going get me anywhere. So instead I get curious.

Curious about why I am reacting this way. And each time I get a bit closer to understanding myself, I feel a calm. And somehow my perspective automatically evolves and the path ahead becomes a lot clearer.

Questions like “SHOULD I do this?” or “SHOULD I do that?” go away. The anxiety to do something go away. And that is always the moment when it comes to me pretty clear what to do next.




Design Thinking Debate

29 Jan

Ah! It’s time for me to scour the web and read up the latest on design thinking. In case you weren’t following, at some point, someone pronounced design thinking dead!

And I did get some phone calls, emails and questions from skeptics asking me why our company picked this methodology for reinventing intranets, websites and mobile apps.

“It works for us” is all I could say. And I am pretty glad we have stayed in here. Success takes time (and plenty of hard work). And I’m happy to see design thinking is alive and well.


Reports Of Design Thinking’s Death Were an Exaggeration

It’s just been overhyped. And misunderstood. New stuff gets a lot of flag. And when we deal with the unfamiliar, our human desire to return to the familiar is strong.

We want instant results. We want to feel good. And design thinking (and often anything worth doing) doesn’t give that sense of comfort!

Culture of Appreciation in Design Thinking

28 Jan

Last night we were having drinks at the rooftop of an old conservation property at club street. It could be the amazing views of the temple intermingling with the Italian wine that got us talking about Tony Schultz’s article on culture of appreciation.

Since the beginning of this year, we started adding appreciations to our checkins and awesome meetings. It was awkward at first. Extremely so. Over time, it’s become more natural.

As a founder, I am extremely lucky to have a team that’s willing to try these things. In the past, I had read conceptually about positive culture. But never really quite knew how to implement it systematically.

My trip to Zingermans late last year changed everything. I saw appreciations at work and we have been putting it into practice since the beginning of the year. With some pride, I do think to myself “damn our small little business in Singapore is so progressive”.

I can’t wait to put this practice into our design thinking web redesign process. We have so far been approaching it intellectually during our meetings. And sometimes, we run into some challenges. Head butting views can cause undue tension without an underlying culture of appreciation.

Design thinking is extremely collaborative. It requires everyone on the team and the clients to work together as we navigate through uncertainty. Not everyone has the same tolerance for uncertainty. And some are categorically more keen to converge earlier for certainty.

Soon! Just like our awesome meetings, we will have a recipe that brings appreciations into our design thinking meetings with clients! Can’t wait!

Vision Carriers, Why Revamps Require Them

22 Jan

The other day, sitting with my friends having lunch, I learnt about the term vision carrier. I had no idea what this term was about but I sure became curious, so I did what any person would do – Google. What I found was that it was pretty spiritual and I liked it.

Whether it is an intranet or a internet revamp, a vision can ignite the human spirit.

Else the whole process can get pretty painful. Yes, even with design thinking (I think design thinking almost guarantees some form of pain, chuckle).

The vision carrier:

1. Paints a clear picture of what success looks like

What’s the success we are after? Those visiting our website going away with the impression that we are an awesome organisation? Those using the intranet feeling really proud they work for such an awesome organisation?

2. Reminds everyone of the vision

The vision carrier constantly talks about the vision. That is the purpose of the revamp. We are here for this purpose and no other purpose. Let’s put our heads together and figure out how we can do this.

3. Provides the WHY, WHAT, WHO

Why are we doing this (provide awesome service)? Who are we that are doing this (awesome people)? What are we doing (making awesome intranet)? For whom are we doing it for (our team)?

Having a vision is energising

It takes away that feeling “oh my, just another task and a daunting one”. It fuels the human spirit. We are making info easier to find on our website so that our audience (those we are trying to help/serve) can get what they want easily and walk away with “these people are awesome”.

We are remaking our intranet because it’s ours and it should make our work better, faster. It should be more fun to log in everyday! And it should be a place that we own. It’s part of us! And I not only want to have a say, but I am willing to learn new things, stay open-minded to make it work for us.

Just having a vision is not enough. Many more ingredients need to come together.

Skills and  knowledge is one of them. Even if we know the vision, believe in it, we’ll be frustrated if we don’t have the skills and knowledge to execute on the vision. This frustration, unattended, can turn into anxiety. “Maybe I just can’t do this job?!” or “Maybe it’s too hard”.

You can pick up the skills and knowledge yourself. But if you need it in a hurry, this is where consultants (like us) can really help. Having worked on many websites and intranets, consultants can bring in previous experiences.

Collaboration is part of the design thinking process.

The more it’s a collaborative effort with the consultants, the better the outcome. Collaboration isn’t easy given that we are schooled to think “consultants = vendors” therefore they should have all the answers. But me thinks, the results will be a lot better, don’t you?





A forum will not save your intranet

2 Jan

Happy New Year! This is the first post of the new year. Having a little time out during the holidays is great. And I do enjoy writing my thoughts and posting them.

We’ve also been using design thinking to revamp intranets too. Often, management wants “more participation” and “more engagement”. Delve deeper in stakeholder pow wows (that’s what we call our sessions with senior and top management), and you’ll find at the very heart of it, what the top wants is a sense of openness and freedom.

The solution? Implement a forum. 

Logical? Absolutely. At the very minimum, it’s signalling that there is a space for conversation. But will people participate?

Well what we discovered is that there is a group that will participate. Yeap, that’s right. There are some who like it and use it. There is another group. A group that goes there to “relax” and just check out what’s happening.

But does that mean there is “more participation” and “more engagement”. Maybe, maybe not.

By applying the design thinking methodology, we get a real sense of whether having a “forum” really leads to more engagement and participation. What have we discovered?

1. Forum can be a signal

Especially if the forum is unmoderated or only lightly moderated. It can signal that the organisation encourages conversation that’s not necessarily about work. And we provide a space for this conversation to take place.

2. Forum may be dominated by a few

More often than not, it’s dominated by a few voices. Those who already have an affinity towards using forums, especially outside of the work environment. And those that may need a space to air their views.

3. Having a forum feature may not lead to engagement

While it signals openness, it might not directly lead to more engagement or participation. People engage when they want to engage. When they have something to say. When they feel safe to express their views. When they have time!

4. A lifeless forum may be more damaging

Having a forum with no or little participation can signal the opposite. Once it starts to become a wasteland, it might actually mean that no one wants to participate or feels safe to participate.

With design thinking, we were able to find “sweet spots”. In one study, we discovered the people in the organisation were not interested in casual small talk. What they want is a space for purposeful conversation. They wanted to contribute views on a particular subject and felt exceptional comfortable to engage when it was in their area of expertise. Others were also interested in their views because this particular organisation thrives on knowledge.

1. Reconsider the forum “label”

Send the right signal. It’s not a forum. It’s a space for purposeful discussion. Call it something that signals this to those in your organisation.

2. Shape the Conversation

Post topics that are meaningful to discuss especially organisation or subject-matter issues which you know people have an opinion about.

3. Facilitate the Discussion

It’s easy for such conversations to become academic debates and argumentative. Acknowledge all viewpoints. Actively facilitate. Get everyone talking about the common shared future. Once they are excited, they’ll get into “figuring out how to make it happen”.

4. Enroll everyone

Get everyone to see this as a “tool” for better, deeper thinking. And definitely a tool that they can use to create a future for themselves, their work and the organisation.

A forum is a tool. Your organisation might not need one!

Merry Christmas!

26 Dec

It’s Christmas! Time flies and no time to blog is one  of the sorriest ass excuses for not updating this blog. Still it’s absolutely true. No time to blog🙂

It’s been a rather crazy year for us – applying design thinking methodology to revamping websites, designing intranets, making mobile apps.

From the AHA! moment, it’s been one confusing rocky road. And hopefully we are now emerging from it more confident than before.

Santa came down my chimney (imaginary of course, i live in Singapore, we have no chimneys I know of) with a big present wrapped in a bow.

No it’s not some handsome hunk or gorgeous chick in a big bow. Just a little note that said “Stay in there”.

And that we intend to do. Not all our projects have been successful. Phew! Without resistance there is no need for change. So for that I am grateful.

I have to say though, it’s been a great year of experimentation with applying this method to web stuvves.

A few projects we’re extremely proud of. And will be available for public viewing soon!

Stay tuned! and have best kind of crazy Christmas you can! I am definitely have one.