Redesigning Chase Bank Mobile App: Make it smart!

This is the very last blog post about my journey of creating Mobile Bank application. Eight weeks of the Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving flу by so fast!

From conceptualization and concept mapping to the very first prototypes and to… integration another product into existed wireframes! What a journey!

Last week, when we were about to finish working on our designs and present the final version to the class, we got a new challenge – our bank has acquired a financial modeling product, the intelligent features of which would be valuable for our consumers to have.

The goal was to integrate the following features into the application:
1. Provide a snapshot of your finances and their trends.
2. Allow you to analyze any specific transaction in any account to see if it is historically anomalous in the context of all of your spending.
3. Provide a drop-dead simple “what if” modeling system based on “playing with” your recurring payment amounts, so you can see how changes in monthly spending impact your account.
4. Help you figure out what amount of money is she to spend at any given time.

We had 10 days to come up with ideas, draw dozens of sketches, do usability testing, iterate, iterate, user test, and iterate again, and finally present the result to the classmates and get their feedback.

The implementation of these features made me come up with the new architecture of the app. So, to provide a snapshot of your finances and their trends, I’ve decided to create a new top-level section named “Smart Money” in the main menu. In this case, “Smart Money” is assumed to be a trademark, and a catchy brand name that Chase would market as a differentiating point from the competitors; with “Safe-to-Spend” being another trademark (originally registered by Simple, but, for the purpose of this exercise, also available for Chase to use as a part of the newest intelligent features).

User feedback has called out the need of the “Smart” features to have a “why” and “how” explanation – so that some trust is built between it and the user. Throughout the application, the user is given a fair amount of detail on anything that is a result of financial modeling and analysis algorithms; including the Safe-to-Spend formula, which is outlined explicitly (and is actually not that complex).

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It was interesting to learn that many users do their budgeting in very, very different ways, so the bank application interface has to be agnostic to a certain budgeting approach as much as possible. We don’t want to force the user to do planning in a certain way; instead, we want to give a number tools to have at their disposal. “Safe-to-Spend”, being one of the most helpful tools here, has to be customizable through Settings, in case the user is expecting it to work in a different way.

Another feature, “Smart Money Notifications”, was getting only positive feedback: people thought they would find it very useful if it was giving insights into their spending patterns and help them save money.

It would be awesome if it could tell me: “Wow! You spent so much money in bars or restaurants! Did you mean to do that?” <…> Oh, it does tell me that!

The “Future Transactions” section that already has existed, fits very nicely with the concept of Projected transactions. Now, “Future Transactions” contains both (1) scheduled transactions, that are actually scheduled to be processed via the Move Money section and (2) Planned and Forecasted transactions, used for financial modeling, where “Planned” transactions are the ones that user has set up, and “Forecasted” are the ones that the intelligent system creates for the user based on the behavior of the user over a length of time. The user is given options to turn a “Forecasted” transaction into a “Planned” one, by confirming it; or they can delete it easily. The user is also provided with some information on why a certain “Forecasted” transaction was created in the first place, and what was the data that was used to create it.

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One of the big challenges was to find the language which everybody would understand. Especially hard was to find right words for the types of “Future Transaction”. During a collaborative workshop with a potential user we came up with “Projected”, “Planned” and “Forecasted” transaction.

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The existing framework has fit the “What If” projections feature very well and nicely as a part of Planned Transaction creation flow, giving users a way to see how their balance trend changes if a certain transaction is taking place, regularly or in a single occurrence.

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Lastly, with the ability to analyze anomalies extensively, a very important and useful security feature comes into play: fraud detection. Along with the regular channels (confirmation through a cell phone, text or email), the user would receive a push notification that would lead them into the transaction that seems suspicious to the Smart Money system; allowing the user to easily dismiss the alert, or file a fraud report.

Importantly, the user is given some detail on why the transaction is considered suspicious (in this case, the user has never had history spending money in casinos, and is also not currently situated in Las Vegas).

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The Navigation Concept Map has transformed quite a bit since the very first iterations of the product, yet is still very simple and straightforward.

New Navigation Concept Map

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During this course I’ve learned and improved my skillset in the following areas:

  • Rapid ideation and prototyping. From paper to a digital format, to hands of potential users.
  • User testing. Getting the product in hands of users, setting up the right expectations and context, with the goal of extracting the valuable feedback in an efficient way. That was a game-changer!
  • Details matter. Details in the prototype is what helps users immerse and feel like they’re really using a real product.
  • Peer-to-peer critique sessions with the other students at the school. Taking control of the sessions, so that 15 minutes of it would result in dozens of actionable ideas.
  • Taking feedback in general. Defensiveness doesn’t help; empathy does. If someone gives feedback, even some that I might not necessarily like or agree with, they do it because they genuinely believe in it, and it comes from their experience and certain view to things; when my applications get in hands of millions of users, that view would inevitably represent a large cohort of people.
  • Iterating. Taking feedback and making the product better, then taking feedback again.
  • Being efficient in making decisions out of a seemingly infinite amount of possible options. Deciding on things that I, as the design professional, believe would be the most valuable and usable for the consumers.

Continuous Refinements of the Chase Bank Application

The past several days, since the last presentation of the work, went under the sign of refinement and reviewing all kinds of feedback received throughout the past iterations.

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A lot of feedback was received around the Accounts and Activity sections. First, many people were getting confused on what “Activity” means and what can be done there. While it’s designed to be a place where you just consume information – review the past transactions, and get a glance at future, scheduled transactions – many thought that it’s a place where you can actually perform some kind of Action.

Then, you could see the activity of an individual account by going into Accounts and opening an account in there.

3.A Account Main - Recent
(old version of the Account Activity screen displayed)

However, when you go in the Activity section, you can see all of the activity within all the accounts – giving a full overview. Which is exactly what most people actually want!

“I like being able to see flow of all money”

Why do people look at their account activity? They want to see the balance, then take a glance at their expenses, understand, how they’re doing in terms of their budgeting (and everyone has their own, unique way of budgeting), and also make sure everything looks correct, there’s no fraud or any erroneous transactions out there.

In order to accomplish these goals, do users really desire to open up a specific account and see activity (transaction history) on that specific account? Well, they certainly are forced to by pretty much all the banking application out there.

But what really matters to most is having the full picture of things that are happening, in the end of the day for all activity across all their accounts. An average person might have a checking, a savings account and a credit card; so why force them to look through each account’s activity individually, when we can provide a way to have a glance at all activity?

5.A Transactions Main - Recent
(old version of the Activity screen displayed)

That was the reasoning behind the separate Activity tab, and I found it successful throughout user testing.

“I like seeing transactions from all accounts in one place together”

Now, while Accounts, and the 2nd-level screens in the Accounts section, and the Activity section are so similar, why not take a shot at combining them?

So I came up with the concept where those two sections are combined into one… called simply a “Home” screen, and displayed below. By default it shows the flow of all money in all of your accounts, but also gives an option to filter things out by account by tapping on the specific account. For example, after tapping on Checking account, all transactions that don’t relate to the Checking account disappear. Additionally, when selecting an account, it gives some account-specific options, like “See statements” for all kinds of accounts, “Deposit a check” for checking accounts, or “Pay bill” for credit card accounts.

Accounts+Activity Screen

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The other area of focus for me was the “Move Money” section of the application. Here’s the original version: with the horizontally-scrollable areas and a “See All” button that shows those same items, but vertically in a list. The three areas available in that concept were: “Favorites”, “Transfer Money” and “Pay Bills”.

4.A Move Money

(old version of the Move Money screen displayed)

First, the language used is “Move Money”, and is something that Chase has originally used in some of their interfaces, although they’ve never really consolidated everything under a single umbrella. I’ve decided to take advantage of that phrase, since it directly reflects the actions you can take in that section: anything that involved moving money, from one place to another. From one account to another, from the user to someone else, from someone else’s checking account to user’s (via depositing a check), and so on.

“Why isn’t just “Bill Pay”? [about wording Move Money]”

It’s way more than simply bill pay, and I find that keeping everything money-related in one place is beneficial and makes it easier for people to get used to, instead of dealing with several highest-level navigation menu options.

“I like that it’s all here, and you don’t have to hunt these things down.”

One of the very consistent feedback received is that people weren’t sure why the “See All” button is even needed.

“Why is this page necessary when I can scroll it there?”

“The difference isn’t much. Just horizontal or vertical.”

I got rid of the “See All” function, since there wasn’t that many option that would warrant a separate screen with a vertically scrollable list there.

Two other consistent themes of feedback: the “Transfer Money” section wording being odd for some of the options within it (like Deposit a check), and the fact that Pay Bills area is its own things with many sub-items available for choice, but is separate from the “Transfer Money” section.

“Shouldn’t “Pay Bills” be a part of moving money or transfering money?”

“I do not think of depositing a check as a transfer”

So, I’ve put Pay Bills under the “Transfer Money” header in one of my options displayed below, but then removed the “Transfer Money” header altogether to avoid any confusion. It all nicely stacks as 6 items that logically seem to have a lot of sense.

Ideating on how to combine it with the Favorites feature – which is the list of transfer that you know you might be doing more than 1 time (some bank applications call it “Templates”, which is not too user-friendly, in my opinion) – I came up with some options on displaying that screen, and will gather fellow students’ feedback, as well as user feedback to choose one over the other and see if there are any flaws in it. Option 1 (Variation B) has so far been the leader.

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One of the things that I found people wondering about was the “Chat” option in the tab bar.

Why don’t just call the bank, like people have been doing for years?

I’m sure that will never stop being an option. The phone number on the back of the credit card is always up to receive your phone call.

However, with the millennials forming bigger and bigger part of the US workforce every year, banks find plenty of reasons to acquire millennials as customers. That demographic becomes the one most important, and relatively profitable category of people banks want to do business with.

It’s wide known that most millennials very much prefer to communicate via text messages, chats and social networks than via calls. Many just hate phone calls! As a bank, you don’t want someone to leave just because they don’t feel like calling… When calling is the only way of communication.

More and more companies find it helpful to communicate with customers via text, and many take advantage of social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. Banks, however, seem to be relatively behind; most don’t provide a quick way to communicate with a bank representative while on the go to resolve some kind of issue or answer a question.

I took a stab at one possible scenario that a user may want to use Chat feature for: losing a credit card. The beauty of the chat is the customizable visual tools that come with it and can help in communication, in my example, the representative is able to give the user a choice of the user’s cards to easily select the one that they lost access to.

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That is just one of the many, many possible scenarios, some of which might even be executed by a bot behind the scenes. However, it should never get in a situation where it gives a response that would not make sense to the user (then those same millennials will have a very bad impression and unhappy about the service that was supposed to be convenient), and until the technology gets perfect, human eyes on the conversation are going to be very important.

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The following weeks are going to be all about finalizing every flow, and creating every single state for every screen in the application. Which is very important: that 1% of people who will run into some kind of issue or irregularity would already be unhappy about it; we need to make sure the experience that they have dealing with those issues is as good as possible, and they’re not faced with weird generic error that don’t make sense and don’t have an action associated with it.

All screens created so far are available for downloading here or by clicking on the image below.

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Further Expansion of the Bank App

At Rapid Ideation And Creative Problem Solving Class we are working on designing Mobile Bank Application. After getting critique on my previous app iteration, I continued further expand the application, covering the features and functionality that either wasn’t covered previously at all, or wasn’t covered fully.

Together with that, I’ve been performing a major clean-up of the assets.

Previously, every block would be its own element, or set of elements, on every artboard within my Sketch file. Need to make a slight adjustment to an element that repeats on many screens? Sure – go through every of these screens and apply it. This week, I’ve finally learned Sketch Symbols and have rebuilt most of the artboards using mainly Symbols, taking advantage of overwrites and even nested Symbols and nested overwrites. It’s been a huge help and I am expecting it to speed up my work significantly going forward.

The image below illustrates the number of screens designed; the image shouldn’t be used to examine individual screens. More detailed screen shots are shown throughout the blog post.

Full Page

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A feedback from previous classes was that all screens should be purely black-and-white (shades of grey). During the cleanup, I’ve turned most of the interfaces into greyscale colors, accommodating the other supplemental feedback received. However, elements like “Back” buttons, system dialogs, and the main navigation tab bar still contain blue color. The reason is that I try to rely on iOS interface templates – which guarantee that the users will find the UI more familiar since it’s similarly used in many, many other apps. Turning the tab bar into greyscale colors, unfortunately, had a negative effect – it was really hard for the users to see which tab is currently active; whereas Apple by default marks the active tab with blue color. An option was finding an alternative visual treatment to the tab bar – making an icon bigger and the text bold, for example. I’ve decided to let the blue color stay to ensure consistency of using native iOS elements to ensure easiest adoption.

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All “Move Money” screens got populated with actual icons that make sense and I am expecting that to simplify the experience of using those screens.

Horizontal sliders in the “Move Money” sections are mainly for quick access; you can get to any item using them, or you can click “See All” and get a list of all possible options within the section.

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I’ve developed more screens for 3 tab navigation items (Accounts, Activity, Move Money), added “Add to Favorite” switch to all Move Money flow and developed screens that manage your “Favorite” transfers.

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I’ve implemented a feature that hasn’t existed before in the Chase app; to my knowledge, none of mobile bank application have that feature. I call this feature “anticipated transactions”. If you have monthly (or weekly, or bi-weekly) subscriptions or autopay set up, most likely your transactions form a certain pattern that is very easy to follow. Every month, there’s a transaction from Cable/Internet, from Cell Phone Service provider, from iTunes, from Spotify, and so on. Usually, it ends up on about the same day of every month.

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So why can’t we show it in the “scheduled transactions” section? Although those aren’t really “scheduled” – as in, you didn’t schedule them in the Chase application – they are most likely to continue happening, and the estimated amount of the transfer is known beforehand. I’ve added it to my designs. On the designs above, T-Mobile’s $80.99 is the “anticipated” transaction with an estimated amount.

It’s hard to notice; I’m exploring the ways of making it more apparent to the user that certain “scheduled” transactions are just “anticipated” transactions, – what should be the visual treatment or language around it? That’s a feedback that I’m asking at the class.

 

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I performed user testing with 5 users, and this time they were tasked to accomplish the two goals:

  • Check transactions scheduled to go out of their Checking Account in January;
  • Pay your American Express bill. Add that payment into “Favorites” for easy access in future.

As always, people were completely unfamiliar with my design of the application; all of them were also first-time users of prototyping software like Invision.

Everybody has completed the first task easily and didn’t have any issues.

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However, to my surprise, the process on the second assignment wasn’t as straight-forward as I thought, and one user has spent an excessively long amount of time accomplishing the task (although, as he mentioned afterwards, his wife does all the bills for him and he doesn’t ever use mobile bank apps).

Some of the areas of the app that users had the most problems with were actually prototype issues, and not necessarily design issues:

  • Most users tried to swipe the lists in the Move Money sections. Which is correct behavior, but is not realized in current Invision prototype, and to my understanding it’s not possible to realize that feature in a prototype at all.

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The following problems were actually design issues:

  • It was hard for most people to realize that See All is a functional button that they can click to see all options available (in lieu of swiping, which as mentioned earlier is not supported in Invision)
  • Some people have clicked “Chase Bills” right away, although that option is only supposed to cover internal Chase bills (for example, Chase credit cards or loans); and an American Express credit card would be found under Credit Cards option. Everybody was able to get there but in a different amount of time and effort.

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Testing the app with real people shows we how critical it is to have all buttons clickable on every screen because sometimes people’s behavior is unpredictable. One user tried to go through all buttons on the tab bar first because he wanted to familiarize himself with the app before he starts to complete any tasks.

This week I’m going to concentrate on Chat – a function that does not exist in current Chase Bank App. And of course, continue to do user testing to get inspiration for further improvements!

 

Revising The App. Users Are The Best Judges.

During the past week, I performed user testing with 6 users significantly varying in age and background. Based on the feedback, I’ve updated the wireframes that I created previously, and also updated the navigation concept map I initially created 2 weeks ago.

User Testing

My user testing included 6 people, in age ranging from 13 to 48. I was lucky to get a teenager — who is a very confident user of a smartphone, but he has never deal with a bank application. It showed me how a person with no previous experience in the industry and with no expectations like “in my usual mobile bank application this function is here and acts that way” deals with the system.

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Why 6 users? The research has shown that 5 to 10 users is enough to discover most usability problems; I’m going to be sticking to ~6-8 people at a time to apply the limited amount of time we have in our hands most efficiently, extracting the most value out of it.

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As a result of User Testing, I’ve discovered three main problems:

Problem #1.

When people were tasked to deposit a check into a CPC Checking Account, first thing they do is they try to tap on that Checking Account from the main screen of the application (which is the “Accounts” tab) – all 6 people did that. One other person has also tried to open Activities to do that.

“I think that normally I can go in there because that’s how… my Wells Fargo works.”

I felt like I was testing the tool and the approach and not necessarily the flow or the scenario of the app usage. People might have considered the task as a hint, and hearing the word “CPC Checking Account” and seeing it on the screen, they immediately tried to tap on it without looking much at anything, even though the task was in depositing a check, and the name of the checking account didn’t really matter.

Either way, I saw that it’s some valuable observation and I decided to have a way to “Move Money” through an Account page. The only difference going to be that the opened account is going to be pre-chosen in the proper fields (“From” for transfers, “To” for check deposit, etc).

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It’s worth noting that people were learning really, really fast. On the second assignment, they all knew they needed to tap “Move Money” tab and go from there. For the next User Testing I’ll change the order of tasks and will add other options that are outside of the “Move Money” tab to see if the learning has lasting effect. While I plan on testing it on new users, it might be interesting to see if the same users have remembered what they’re supposed to do.

Many applications are non obvious these days. Snapchat is an extreme example. Applications like Instagram and Facebook has a bottom tab bar (similar to my application) that, from the first try, is not really obvious – you can’t tell what’s behind the options. However, first time you try it, it becomes obvious and not a problem for further use. I feel like it’s the same with the banking app that you use often. I try to stick to iOS conventions to make sure application looks familiar to iOS users, and if there’s something non-obvious, it should not be something that is non-obvious every time. Users should be able to learn it very, very easily.

Getting back to the problem, it can also be simply a visual design problem. The buttons on the bottom aren’t sticking out enough. They are of a regular size for iOS tab bar and are similarly used in hundreds of popular applications, however there can be a way to emphasize it with color and icons, maybe using Chase color styling. Regardless, as mentioned above, having access to “Move Money” from the Account page is still very useful because that’s also how many people think – instead of starting a thought process from the actions, they start thinking from the account they want to perform the action on.

Problem #2.

After completing a task, users saw an overlay with “Your transaction is successfully complete” which was, in my prototype, an “exit” back to the homepage (Accounts page). However, it was not obvious for users that they need to tap it. They tried to tap outside of the overlay in free space or on one of the tabs at the bottom or on the “Transfer Money” button again, but not on the overlay as I planned.

“I don’t understand how to get off of this screen… I know I need to go there but how? Yeah, see, that’s obviously… these buttons should always work basically, you should always be able to get through”

Even though some people mentioned that they very like big blue overlay telling them that transaction is successfully complete and found it’s easy to read this overlay as “exit” sign, for most of my participants it wasn’t so obvious. In this iteration I’ll tried to make it is more clear by having a button that simply says “OK”.

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Problem #3.

On the Calendar screen where you are supposed to click on a date, today’s date is highlighted with blue (and is chosen by default), people still click on it (sometimes multiple times) even though there is no action to be taken and you can just move forward.

“I would expect something like “Today” button here or something like that.”

“That is another thing. I hate when it’s always this “Done” option. Once you clicked a date or clicked under it should just go.”

I realized that “TODAY” is actually such a popular “Date” for any kind of transaction you want to do that it makes sense to just have it default on the transaction information screen, so that people don’t even have to click on it to get to the Calendar screen in the first place. And if they do want to change it then (want to set another date), clicking on dates outside of Today is what they will do and it will be actionable.

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Regarding the note that you have to click Done after choosing a date, I think it is still important to have it the way it is, because users may want to “tap around” on the page and having it jump back to the Transfer info page with every tap would be very annoying. I will keep an eye on it in next user testings.

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Even though I said there are 3 problems, there are a couple of problems with the testing tool and approach that I used, and not with the application design itself:

Problem #4.

When users were going through depositing a check, they did not know what to do. In the prototype, they just needed to click on the Image area that it would just automatically get filled out without really taking a picture (Invision prototyping does not allow taking pictures anyway). But users were wondering: “I don’t have a check, what should I take a picture of?”.

“We just don’t have a physical check that’s why I’m not doing it.”

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This seemed like a testing approach problem and an immersion problem. Next user testing, I’ll make sure to have a check prepared with me so that users feel confident they can go through the flow.

Problem #5.

I only prototyped the “perfect plan” screen flow. But all screens should ideally be accessible so that users can surf around, get lost, try everything they want to try.

“I know where I need to go I just can’t get there.”

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With all preparation and technical issues for all 3 tasks the testing were lasting from 3:04 to 7:29 with an average time of 4:55.

The System Usability Scale (SUS) score has calculated to the following numbers:

  • Average: 72.10
  • Median: 81.25

One user was exceptionally unhappy with the fact that you couldn’t just surf around like in the real application and the prototype was restricted to the “perfect plan” (and that overall it was a prototype, and not a real functioning application) – my guess is that it was the user who gave an overall very low score, which lowered the Average score significantly. I will work on finding ways to communicate what you can and cannot do with the Invision prototype so that there are no wrong expectations.

Next time I will try include people older than 65 into the user testing to find out how easy the application is for people who aren’t afraid of banking in general, but might not be comfortable specifically with technologies and smartphones.

Lastly, below is the updated concept map that reflects the current application structure, and also includes further expansion and features that are not fully designed yet.

New Navigation Concept Map

Click to enlarge. Save the photo on your computer to see in full detail.

Iterations!

Wireframing a better mobile bank experience. Sorry, Chase!

 

After spending hours creating a Concept Map of new, better Chase Bank App I was ready to make next step and wireframe the App.

Wireframes are a wonderful visual tools to communicate the intended designed user flows in a mobile application or website. They do not have a goal to show how the final version of the app is going to look like, but they lay the foundation of the potential designed system.

Doing wireframes I was targeting next problems I discovered on a stage on Concept Mapping.

1. As almost every other Bank App Chase makes its client learn bank language. To successfully use it the client needs to know the difference between functions like “Transfer money”, “Pay Bills”, “Wire Transfer”, “QuickPay”, “Zelle”. Even if it looks so obvious for some people, for others it looks like nightmare to the point that they reject trying to use it at all.

To keep myself aware of this problem, I created a scenario where main persona has just these struggles.

Her name is Brenda. She is from Texas. Brenda is a retired piano teacher. She loves to walk with her dog and drink mimosa on Sunday morning. Twice a year she visits her sister and her 3 nieces in Oklahoma. She mostly use cash and checks, and she is looking for a way to send some money for her nieces’ Birthdays and other milestones sometimes. Now Brenda deals with the Chase App trying to do that, but since it is not her routine, she needs to learn it again every time she needs it. She doesn’t know anything about how banks work and doesn’t really want to know. She just want to transfer some money to her sister once in awhile.

I tried to redesign the app to make it more needs-driven than services-driven. Now web app will make this job on defining a type of need for itself. Customer just need to know what he wants to accomplish.

2. If some problems are caused by the industry, some of them are definitely caused by poor design decisions. As I already mentioned in my previous article – Chase App seems to be purposefully complicated and swollen. 30% of links in main menu bring you outside of the App (half of them are really “ads” but you don’t know it until you try). To be able to do some core functions like Wire Transfer and Pay Bills you need to enroll on the website (but you don’t know that you can do it until you learn it on the website – it just won’t display in the mobile app until you do that). And to add a new Payee for a wire transfer you need to add them on website as well and can not do it in the mobile app. It may be very frustrating for some people. For example, for Ness.

This is Ness. He is an electrician and lives in New Jersey. Ness just got divorced and now he needs to fully take care of himself. He recently moved in in his new apartment. He already bought an iron and burnt 2 shirts. He knows that his wife always paid for utilities using her phone, so he decided to try as well. He downloaded Chase App, but he can not find a way to pay them. He is very frustrated. He doesn’t want to call his ex-wife and show that he is so helpless without her.

I included Pay Bills and Wire Transfer as default functions on the App. I also made a brave decision to exclude all promotions from main screen to simplify the app, but I have some ideas how to promote the bank services in less annoying way (follow the blog for next iterations).

3. Even though Chase App is very functional it still doesn’t have a proper level of consistency between all the functions (that are similar, but for some reason act so differently). And it’s overwhelming. Working on it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How is it possible that huge company with the best professionals have products which is like an undercooked soup – somebody just through vegetables in a pot with cold water. And even if it looks like a soup, it doesn’t taste good. Meet Matt. He knows what I’m talking about.

This is Matt. He is a very successful project manager in a large company. He eats healthy food, runs every morning and networks every night. He is very busy. He likes to complete all routine daily tasks on a run. He uses his phone to pay his bills, pay to his lawn-mower, manage his multiple accounts, and sometimes even making international wire transfers. He uses Chase Checking, Savings accounts and Credit Cards, and likes to keep track of all of his transactions. He mostly uses his phone up to make sure there is not a single transactions he is not aware of.

My goal was to create more consistent, coherence application: one of the major overhauls I did is making all kinds of Transfer options have the flow be as similar to each other as possible, so that the experience isn’t that drastically different from one to another.

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This week I’ll test the first iteration of redesigned Chase App with real people. But before I’ll dive into usability testing, I’ll make sure all screens are present and make sense. I’m very excited to revise the screens and flow based on critique and testing. Stay tuned!

Big Bank = Big App? Diving into the sea of mobile app flows and screens

It’s great to be back!

The second quarter has started. New classes and new challenges. In the past week for our first assignment in Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class, we were working on Concepts Maps trying to make sense of the complex world of Banking and redesigning a mobile banking application.

To deeply understand Bank Industry, we were assigned to create a Relationship Concept Map of Banking.

We started this journey from collaborative work on making a list of words we associate with Banking. We got more than 200 words! After final review of this list I ended up with 32 words I believe are the most representative of the industry, mainly from the perspective of customers – individuals and businesses. Initially, I thought of diving deeper into the side of banking that we don’t see, and ways banks interact with each other and other financial institutions, including Federal Reserve, but then decided that it isn’t something we’re supposed to be focusing on for the purpose of our class and the exercise.

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After creating a matrix of those words, finding relations (in fact, LOTS of relations! The screen is almost all yellow – but what mattered is finding the strongest relations out of all at first) and then defining core words I was able to form the core statement, and then create a full concept map of banking from that perspective. The core statement reads as follows: “BANK is a financial institution that handles MONEY on customers’ ACCOUNTS and processes TRANSACTIONS related to them”.

Banking Relationship Concept Map

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After making sense of the industry I was ready to dive into one real example of today’s banking world – the mobile app of Chase Bank, one of the giants in the industry…

I’ve been a client of Chase for more than 2 years and have personal and business account with them. And even though I was familiar with their mobile application and was using it for years I found so many unexpected moments in it when I did an inventory of all pages of the app! A lot of surprises were waiting for me in the App Concept Map I’ve created.
Navigation Concept Map

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My goal now is to create an easier and a more intuitive way to navigate the complicated world of consumer banking.

Before I started to work on this project I believed that Chase App is one of the best on bank apps market and felt some concerns that it won’t have much to improve. However close look surfaced some major inconveniences in it.

It feels like creators of the app purposefully tried to make it look big and complex by blowing up primary sidebar navigation element with external links (that seemed somewhat irrelevant and not needed in main navigation), deepening navigation category structures with only 1 or 2 subitems inside and including not functional information on the same level with functional and important.

I personally believe that sending customer out of the application is the worst practice. And it is even worse when you do it on the third line of main menu: the whole Explore Products section is purely an ad experience where Chase is trying to sell you extra products, and it’s taking a major part of the main sidebar navigation!

Another part of the app – communication with the bank and their representatives – seems to be hidden very far away. It’s easy to find an option to call the bank, but what about Chat, such a popular and important feature nowadays in applications that strive for best user experience? Chat would provide a way for users to ask questions and receive answers in the real time, in their own convenience and without having to take time of a person in a call center.

What Chase has is called Secure Message Center, and it turned out to be a total disaster. It is supposedly a way for customers to communicate with Chase online, without having to call in. In the app you can see past messages, remove them… All in an awkward UI that doesn’t look like native mobile UI. What’s worse, from the Mobile app you can’t compose a new message! It’s a feature that is only possible on the Website! And even there, it’s so painful to use… And you only get a response in 24 hours or so.

Overall it seems like separate parts of the application were designed and developed by completely separate departments; the application lacks consistency and features, that are very similar, behave in very different ways and have completely different UIs (for example, QuickPay, Wire Transfers, Bill Pay, and Money Transfers), altogether only causing confusion.

Some of the features were not even accessible through the mobile app… Until you activate them on the website! Both Bill Pay and Wire Transfers are examples. You don’t even know they exist until you enroll on the website; why not make it possible to enroll in the mobile app? And why do you even have to enroll?

Also, just the fact that there are so many different ways to transfer money might confuse users a lot. Should I make it a QuickPay transaction or a Money Transfer? Maybe a Wire Transfer?

Redesigning Chase Bank Mobile Application

I believe that application design should start from user’s needs, and not from the way bank accounts are structures and operate internally.

Coming up with some of the most common tasks users do with their mobile apps, I created the list:

  • I want to see overall activity across all my accounts
  • I want to access and manage my accounts individually (see activity, fund checking account, pay using checking account, pay off credit card)
  • I want to pay for something or to someone

The user doesn’t have to know what wire transfer is, and how it is different from money transfer or QuickPay or Zelle. All they want to do is to pay for something (utility bill, auto loan, school tuition, sharing a pizza with classmates), or to make a transfer (between own accounts in current bank, to own account in another bank, to someone else’s account, to an organization, to a family member in another country). What’s interesting is these two terms are different but they overlap, paying for something may or may not mean making a transfer (in banking terms). And so the application needs to learn from the user WHAT they’re trying to do, and then come up with a way HOW it can be done in the most user friendly way, without forcing user to know HOW it should be done in the first place. On my navigation concept map, the “type of payment” or “type of transfer” step should use the category chosen as context, and suggest the right way to do the payment or transfer to the user.

I truly believe that companies need to invest in instant help channels, such as social media (twitter, facebook messenger) and instant chat (on the website, in the mobile app). Some banks do it on the website. Chase does not do it at all. I included Chat in my map as an easily accessible feature, placed in the tab bar. While it will not be used often (Accounts, Activity and Pay will be used most often), user can be reassured their bank won’t let them down, by knowing they can ask a question or resolve a problem at any time, instantly, without having to call when it’s not convenient.

While Miscellaneous section is the last one, I believe it should be designed in a way that surfaces most important rarely used functionality. Just like all other sections, it should use information from research to understand what are the things that users are not using every day, but need a quick access to when they have the need. ATM & Branch Location is one of those things that you rarely need, but when you need it, you need it quick.

This is the first draft and doesn’t contain some critical features; the purpose of this draft was to show idea behind the core functionality of the application in the way that it helps consumers solve problems. This low-fidelity concept will require a lot of research, a lot of insights gathered, and a lot of iterations to become something that can become a real product.
New Navigation Concept Map

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Creativity and Design Thinking in the Age of Robots

In the past weeks, we’ve been learning more about the role of creativity and design thinking in our world, and the ways to increase the amount of creativeness and designers around us. The more design thinking is happening around us, the easier it is to attach wicked problems.

Please see the video made for this assignmend here.

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This story happened in 2097 in LaCountry. Group of scientist invented robots, who were able to do everything or almost everything. There was no need to work for anybody else and the government of LaCountry paid equal amount of money to all its citizens. The President of LaCountry by the way decided to keep his position and not give it away to the robots.

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Citizens of LaCountry were very happy for several years. They enjoyed clean streets, delicious dinners and new houses. There was no homelessness anymore.

The life was perfect… Until they forgot what they live for. Without jobs, without any work to do people lost sense of their lives. The amount of suicides went up so drastically.

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The President of LaCountry gathered the best scientist who worked on robotization and asked them to find a solution to saving people from losing their minds in the new reality. Scientist were coming up with more and more logical ideas, but nothing really worked. The country was dying.

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One day, Mr. President was sitting in a park thinking about what he did wrong and how to save the country. He saw someone familiar walking around – it was Edward de Bono, the psychologist who worked with him a while ago but moved out of LaCountry before the robots took all the jobs.

They were so happy to meet each other. Edward told that his is just visiting his old friends in the country. Edward immediately noticed sadness in Mr. President’s eyes and asked if he wants to talk about it.

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Mr. President told about all problems the country has got because of robots and that scientists with their novelty ideas make everything only worse. Edward said:

Oh, Mr. President. If everything was so easy. Novelty is not enough, idea must make sense and work. Your people try to be more logical, but really they should be more creative. Sometimes people can come up with great, creative ideas from ignorance, but not often – so don’t hope on it. You need truly creative people. And creativity is unnatural. Creativity is a skill that can be learned, not the result of serendipity or logic. But cutting across patterns is not natural behavior. However, since creative ideas always seem logical in hindsight, people tend to think that you could come up with them just by being ever more logical. To come up with creative ideas, you should not use logical thinking, but lateral thinking (Cutting across patterns is what I have called lateral thinking); you should provoke your mind out of its existing pattern by forcing yourself to come up with weird alternatives to the status quo. Then you should take those weird alternatives seriously and play out their implications. This allows you to approach problems in an innovative way. Really, Mr. President, with all due respect to your team, logical scientists and engineers won’t make it work; you need to hire designers to work on this type of problems.

Mr. President wasn’t sure what to make of it.

But what type of problems is it? What is so special about it?

Edward said:

I have a friend who can tell you better than I do. Let’s facetime him. His name is Horst Rittel.

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Edward called his friend who lived in another country (and whose job wasn’t taken by robots). He described him the situation and how Mr. President is trying to deal with it by giving all the power to hands of scientists.

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You are definitely having a wicked problem there. Edward is right: Making solutions to social problems cannot just be left to a faceless group of professionals because social problems are not like Math or Science: there is no universally agreed upon formulation of any one social problem, and even if there were, there would be no set of steps that could be used in every case to solve that problem. Every social problem is unique. Neither, however, should we abandon the social arena to chaos.

You should let people in your country to participate in finding the decision of this problem. Co-design with the people affected by this wicked problem. But what does “wicked” even mean? Wicked problems cannot ever be totally solved because they are too complicated and they are caused by humans, who keep changing. Furthermore, wicked problems never have just one right solution; there are always many solutions, and they can only be judged as good or bad. Judging a solution, though, is sticky in and of itself because there is no value-free way of assessing whether a solution is good, and solutions have such far-reaching consequences that it would be practically impossible to figure out their value in the short run. Also, wicked problems are all mixed up together.

But let me aware you: don’t hope to find a solution which will work forever and for the whole country. Social problems can’t be solved – only resolved over and over again. Humans change, and they are complicated. So there can’t be a simple solution. Wicked problems are never done. You will resolve one and immediately get another one. There is no objective measure of whether solutions to wicked problems are right – only good or bad. No way to know if you have identified all possible solutions to a wicked problem. Every wicked problem is unique – no matter how similar a problem looks, can’t be certain ahead of time that the same solution will work again.

President:

Oh, it all sounds very depressing, but I think this is my only hope! But where I can find designers to work on it if nobody is willing to work?

Edward:

Designers are always working, even when they don’t have to. I’ll help you to gather the team of the best professionals.

They met each other again in a week in the White House. There were The President, Edward de Buno, Horst Rittel, Nigel Cross, Chris Pacione and Tim Brown.

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Nigel Cross gave his advice first:

Mr. President, let me tell you what you should expect from us, because we are going to work very differently from your team of scientists. An engineer wants to test and measure, this is not something we are looking for in our process right now. We need to be creative because “the solution” is not always a straightforward answer to “the problem”. We need to use sketches, drawings, and models of all kinds as a way to exploring problems and solution together, and making some progress when faced with complexity of design. Yes, that’s right, I urge us to go and work with people outside of White House on resolving this wicked problem.

Design ability is inherent in everyone, we need to dig it up and show the people their natural power! Design ability is a multifaceted cognitive skill, possessed in some degree by everyone. If we help people to get it back – they will be happy again!

Mr. President responded:

And so, what is your job is going to be? Are you going to make people’s ideas look beautiful? Tell me more about it.

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Mr. Brown and Mrs. Wyatt helped Nigel respond to that:

Design in fact extends beyond making things pretty, it comes into a series of techniques we call design thinking. Design thinking is a way to work at the strategic level that involves techniques such as ethnographic research, ideation, rapid prototyping. Designers also have the ability to be intuitive, recognize patterns, express themselves in graphic media, and persuade others using storytelling. Everyone has these capacities to some extent.

I believe that we should teach people to do it first to work efficiently together.

Our approach is based on some foundational things:

Design thinking process is inspiration, ideation, implementation.

For inspiration, don’t just listen to what people have to say – look at their behavior to see opportunity areas. In ideation, come up with as many ideas as you can; great ideas will rise to the top. Then implement, prototype, use storytelling to communicate solution to all stakeholders.

And so, collaboratively the designers has created a research plan, and went into the world to talk and co-design with the people.

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Shortly after, they stopped trying: they were in complete shock. The vast majority people around them has completely lost their creativity! That skills has gone away because there was nowhere to apply it.

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More than anybody was touched Chris Pacione.

Folks, design is a new human literacy. Today we must all be designers. Design is too important to be left to designers. Design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and it is put back into the hands of everyone.  Design should be one of the basic skills we teach to everyone, like writing or math, because the Information Age, with all its complexity, automation, etc., demands that. So much more of our lives than ever before is designed, so it’s important for everyone to have some familiarity with inquiry, ideation, sketching, and prototyping so that they can engage in strategic thinking and evaluate the designed elements around themselves. So, people will be able to solve their own problems and call us when they meet really big challenge. Professional designers, then, would be left to tackle the truly difficult design problems, engaged in strategic thinking.

But how we can do that? How we can bring creativity into people’s heads? Mr. Cross and Mr. de Bono will agree with me that creativity is not a magical process but a learned skill that can lead to innovation and real problem solving.

Edward de Bono had a real suggestion to helping people become more creative.

Let’s integrate the 6 hat system – a mental tool that I have created to allows people shift their perspective whenever needed. There 6 metaphorical hats, and when you “put” them on, each of them encourages the person to use a different type of thinking. Here are all 6 types: data gathering mode; intuition & emotion; logical negative, judgements and caution; logical positive and benefits; provocation, alternatives and creativity; and, finally, overview and process control. I’ve helped people in large corporations get used to wear a specific hat at a time, and change hats when a change of perspective is needed, and noticed a significant rise in productivity, idea generation, and overall creativity.

So, let’s choose a town or a village and teach this technique to the people in that place, and see whether it changes anything.

They went on and over 12 months applied the concept to every citizen in LaVillage, a small village that had an increasingly high rate of suicides, and an extremely low rate of creativity.

And it was a great success! Suicide rate went down; people found the meaning to their lives, even when they didn’t have to work and robots were doing everything for them; they were applying their creativity and design thinking to improving their life in a variety different and unexpected ways that were not destructive, overall making LaVillage one of the best places to live in LaCountry.

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Richard Buchanan has moved into LaCountry from overseas and saw the progress made so far. He had a suggestion that took it to the next level.

I think that design should be considered the new liberal art to suit the modern age, there’s no denying. I believe that everyone should be educated the basic skill set of design when they’re very young, and all the way to the higher education. The improvement in human’s thinking process will make the lives of everyone around better and better.

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And together, they made it work. Now every child has their own 6 hats and practice design thinking every day, bringing the value into people’s lives, and making everyone more happy.

A Neighborhood in Los Tangeles

In the past several days, we’ve been learning about one of the most challenging topics: poverty. There’s no easy and fast solution to it, and every country, every city in the world tries to find their own way of dealing with it. It’s a part of our society, it needs definition, and it needs to be addressed. Another topic in the readings – social entrepreneurship – comes in handy when discussing the topic of poverty and homelessness.

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Ten years ago a group of scientists were coming back from a big conference about Social Entrepreneurship and Poverty in the city of Los Tangeles. Very famous people happened to be in the same bus: C. K. Prahalad, Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards, Dean Spears, Roger L. Martin and Muhammad Yunus.

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They were on their way to the airport to fly home when their bus got broken. It stalled and wouldn’t start. The battery seems to be dead!

Scientists tried to use their phones to ask for help, but there was no connection.

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“How is it possible? We are within the city limits – and no connection?” – they asked the only local person there – the driver.

He answered: “Oh, yes, this is the poorest part of the town. 2 years ago the only wireless network operator left this area – because nobody could afford to pay phone bills, and this is not the area other people can happened to be on purpose. Nobody comes here, because everybody is scared of poor and homeless. But we need to find a way to fix our bus, so we have to ask for their help.”

Scientists looked around them. It was clear that the area is very poor and nearly abandoned.

Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards didn’t want to go and talk with the people directly, they offered to try to find some kind of social organization to talk through them, but nobody listened to them, everybody wanted to just catch their flights and get home.

They were walking around for 15 minutes trying to find people to ask for help, and finally came to the local market with lots of people. Right, it’s Sunday – the market day. Everybody was looking at them, because they looked very different from locals.

It was clear that people here are actually hard workers, but are still were very poor. In the group, there was the scientist who did research on this interesting phenomenon. His name was Dean Spears. He shared his insights with everybody:

Can you imagine how many hard decisions people have to do here, shopping on this market? They don’t have much money, but they need to feed their families.

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Poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people. Poverty causes difficult decisions, which deplete behavioral control.

Poverty is depleting because it changes the consequences of decision-making. The theory of ego depletion proposes that willpower is limited, and is consumed by resisting temptation or inhibiting behavior.

Economic decision-making had negative effects on performance or behavior when participants were poorer. This may be because for poorer participants, decisions required more difficult trade-offs, and were more depleting of cognitive resources.

If, as the lab experiment suggests, even routine food decisions are costly and difficult for the very poor, then their depleting effect is more inescapable.

“Bad” decision-making by poor people may undermine support for anti-poverty programs and policies for two reasons: deservingness and effectiveness. Understanding how poverty influences decision-making and behavior is important for both of these reasons.

Many offers of tempting purchases that are easily affordable for richer people require a poorer person to use willpower and save their money instead. If willpower is limited, and if a poorer person can afford less indulgence, then poverty will deplete self-control when the poor face expensive temptation.

Even a poorer person with the same amount of willpower as a richer person must resist temptation more often.

it is cognitive control — which is the process producing both inhibitory willpower and attention — that is the key limiting constraint.

Everybody agreed that this theory sounded right.

Right in the moment Mr. Spears finished his story they had reached the table where the owner of the Market sat. Scientists introduced themselves and asked for help. The owner made a sign to everybody. The whole market stopped doing what they were doing and agreed to help.

They came back to the bus and pushed it, and so the driver was able to start the bus and get everybody in.

Scientists thanked the local people and jumped into the bus. All the way back home they thought about this accident, and they were very grateful to the people from this very poor neighborhood. Soon after getting back home, they jumped on an online call to discuss how they could help those people get out of poverty.

Christopher A. Le Dantec started:

Thanks everybody for sharing the desire to help those people with us. I am sure that it all needs to start with research. We have already done the research of the role of technologies in homeless people’s lives, and it’s huge and more important than one could imagine! Poor and homeless often struggle with technology, but they really need it.

Let me tell you a bit about our research. We were performing research on homeless population, but it still can be very insightful even if we don’t talk about homelessness exclusively.

We discovered a social phenomenon of information poverty — a dearth of access to useful information resources. But at the same time there is another problem – overwhelming by information.

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One of the main goals of using technology is staying connected to family members and friends. And mobile phone is the best way to do it. The cell phone is also a valuable identity management tool for the social value it provided. They talked about the desire to not appear homeless, about access to information, social networks. Can you imagine their lives without mobile connection?

We believe that thoughtful technological interventions can be deployed as a part of the larger effort to reduce homelessness and help the most at-risk members of our society.

However, every area, every community is very unique, and we can’t just extrapolate our knowledge. Let’s go there and see whether they’re having these struggles!

Keith Edwards continued the conversation:

We believe that co-design is the method we should use in this case as well. We also believe that we should bring interactive experience and technologies to a wider public for participation, expanding the boundaries of inclusion, and answering the siren song of technology as instigator and mediator of social and political revolution. Democratizing technology however, goes beyond simply increasing the role of technology users and involves bringing different social groups into discourse about technology, its place in society, and its potential for enabling actions, facilitating connection, and providing access to information. We believe that they need technology – but we need to think carefully how to create something they can easily integrate in their lives. To do that we need to design “with” them not “for” them.

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We should create for small homeless or poor communities and not for all the homeless in the world. Homeless DO understand mobile phones as a technology!

For example, one we have created a product for a homeless shelter – CRM (Community Resource Messenger) for better communication between 2 groups of people – homeless and care providers – and it was a great success.

Everybody supported the idea. Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards and a group of other scientists came back to that same neighborhood in the city of Los Tangeles. They spent 2 months ideating and co-creating with the people of the neighborhood, and came back with the insights that they were able to confirm:

Yes, that’s true, they haven’t had cellular connection for more than 2 years! However, almost everybody has a phone there, even if it’s very old, but you can’t really do anything with it. They are familiar with the technology! It’s the wireless network operator who left; they were very traditional and couldn’t figure out a way to make a profit in this area.

  • Sure! – said Mr. Prahalad, he was very excited. He continued:

Guys, I know you all are very charity-oriented here and my idea will not be popular, but I have to say: stop regarding the poor people as victims and start eyeing them as consumers. For decades, corporate executives at the world’s largest companies have thought of poor people as powerless and desperately in need of handouts. But turning the poor into customers and consumers is a far more effective way of reducing poverty.

There are 2000 people in that area, it’s incredibly hard for them to interact with the global economy without their phones being able to connect them with others.

Perhaps the greatest misperception of all is that selling to the poor is not profitable or, worse yet, exploitative. Selling to the world’s poorest people can be very lucrative and a key source of Growth for global companies,even while this interaction benefits and empowers poor consumers.

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We need a way to sell them mobile connection for an affordable price for them! It requires some work, but I’m sure there is a way to make it still profitable. B-Mobile will cry!

Mr. Muhammad Yunus, the most experienced person in social entrepreneurship had something to say here:

I do have another plan. I believe this is an amazing area for social entrepreneurship, not for typical entrepreneurship. Research has shown that, if managed strategically, CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects can indeed pay off, both socially and financially. And I think we can make it work in this case.

Think about the social business concept: a self-sustaining company that sells goods or services and repays its owners’ investments, but whose primary purpose is to serve society and improve the lot of the poor. In organizational structure, this new form of business is basically the same as profit-maximizing businesses: it is not a charity, but a business in every sense.

There are some similarities with conventional business model innovation:

  1. Challenging conventional wisdom and basic assumptions
  2. Finding complementary partners
  3. Undertaking a continuous experimentation process.

And some specificities of social business models:

  1. Favoring social profit-oriented shareholders
  2. Clearly specifying the social profit objective

I would not be so enthusiastic about possibility to hope on typical entrepreneurship in this strategical question. With our rich experience of social entrepreneurship we can do it by ourselves.

We should ask the opinion of our theoretical expert in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and social activism, Mr. Roger L. Martin.

Mr. Roger L. Martin has shared his thoughts:

I agree with Mr. Muhammad Yunus, I think we should find a way for it to be social entrepreneurship. From 3 options we have: entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship or social activism – this is the best one in this particular case. Where entrepreneurs have money and extra-profits as a goal, social entrepreneurs are driven by altruism, while still keeping it profitable.

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We define social entrepreneurship as having the following three components: (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own; (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude, thereby challenging the stable state’s hegemony; and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.

The social entrepreneur should be understood as someone who targets an unfortunate but stable equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity, courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and society at large.

So we should find another, better way to bring the phone connection back to this area and make it in our unique way.

The scientists worked together and came up with an idea that had the poor population in the neighborhood in mind, but was still sustainable and didn’t need to rely on donations.

They used new technology – a self-sustainable hot air balloon that flows in the air and picks up the connection from the closest cellular tower, expanding the connection further, enough to cover the neighborhood.

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The hot air balloon didn’t cost too much and wasn’t hard to maintain, and the costs were easily covered by an extremely modest monthly payment that every person could easily afford.

They then tried this brilliant idea in other neighborhoods and towns that have little or no cellular connection, and it worked well! Then scaled it up to cover hundreds of cities, bringing this social entrepreneurship project to success.

Design Research: Getting Inspired and Immersed

Our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class has given us an opportunity to research a very interesting field – something that we usually don’t think that much about – Animal Food Value Chain. The amount and quality of data we’ve gathered has been keeping us torn between different directions; we finally decided to focus on learning which factors influence consumers’ purchasing and eating of different cuts of meat. In asking consumers to describe how they make choices surrounding their selection, preparation, consumption, and disposal of meat products, we hope to find out how consumers make decisions about which parts of animals they eat, what can influence them to redefine which parts of animals are desirable as food, and what happens to those pieces they purchase but decide not to eat.

This topic touches the majority of people on this planet. It is something that most of the people have experienced, and deal with very often. It is also a source of huge amount of waste and damage to our environment. It is important, and the questions that pop up within this field isn’t something that can easily be answered just out of your own perception of the world. Getting information from other people, and turning it into insights, is critical in order to understand how non-singular this is, how much of a difference there might be in behavior and reasoning of different people. It is fascinating.

The amount of inspiration we get while interacting with people is incredible. We talk to people, we go grocery shopping with them, we cook meals together, we even cut meat together in a butcher shop!

We’ve applied the 5 different types and approaches of gathering information and getting inspiration from people, the 5 types we were taught in the class – and found them all useful:

  • Contextual Interview;
  • Contextual Inquiry;
  • Immersion;
  • Subject Matter Interview;
  • Participatory Research.

Research activities bring us into situations and environments that we wouldn’t otherwise get into. Last week, we were invited into a home of a young family of three to talk about their experience of purchasing and consuming animal-based foods. Our host Anna was home with her 9 months old son. And while an infant would often be considered a distraction in a situation like that, for us it was an incredibly rich source of information about what this woman’s days look like.

We did conduct interviews with people with kids before, and they mentioned how big of a deal, and how much of a struggle grocery shopping or cooking might be when the kids are around; but only after spending 2 hours in an environment like that we’ve truly understood our interviewee: context around her, with her baby being the largest part of it, changed the way she approaches grocery shopping, including the way she selects the meats in a grocery store.

All these words: fast, simple, no thinking, no decision making, straightforward – now it all started to make total sense.

There is a lot of room to grow, a lot of room to improve for us as researchers.

If I was to go through this experience again, I would surely:

  • Make sure the group defines the focus of research as early in the process as possible. What we went through has proved that not having a concise and proper goal, that we all would be on the same page about, is a huge distraction from moving forward effectively. On the flipside, it allowed us to keep a somewhat open mind around the topic of our research.
  • Try to gain more empathy with our interviewees and people we interact with. Maybe even become “friends” with them, in a way, during the interview; and not necessarily trying to keep the whole interaction very “professional” and distanced.
  • Not be afraid to ask questions that I think are dumb – they, in fact, can bring some of the best and unexpected insights.

I am excited to continue this journey with our group, and can’t wait to get to Design Synthesis and generate Insights from all the information we’ve gathered.

 

With Or For? Design Research And Value

This is a story about a cosmetics company called Cosmetics Co.

Cosmetics Co is an old company; they were on the market for more than a hundred years and created a lot of revolutionary products, most notably the first compact lipstick that women could carry with them and comfortably apply. It changed every single woman’s lives forever! It was a long time ago. Recently their sales started to fall drastically. Customers were leaving negative reviews on their products and many people weren’t too happy.

The board of directors has decided to hire a new CEO – Leila, – who has to figure out how to make Cosmetics Co popular again and make sure it doesn’t just disappear in the history.

Leila was incredibly smart and experienced, but she knew she is not going to figure it out alone. She invited 5 experts who had different ideas and views on how Cosmetics Co needs to change their approach. They all sat in one room and gave their advice to Leila.

Leila greeted everybody and started the conversation.

The first person she spoke with was Jon Kolko.

  • Leila: Jon, I was going to do a market research about the lipsticks we produce, but then I found that our team has already done it a hundred times, and didn’t get an answer on what the best next step is. It seems like we should try something new; I know that you’re doing another kind of research, a quantitative type. Please, tell me more about it.
  • Jon: Leila, you’re right. What I’m doing is Design Research. The philosophy of design research is to learn from people and to emphasize people, rather than technology or business. Design research is very different from marketing research. The goal of design research is to find inspiration for design, whereas the goal of marketing research is to predict the behavior of a larger group. I think that inspiration is exactly what you need now. Qualitative research combined with creative thinking can lead to new and interesting ideas for products, services, and systems. But you still can use the results of your Market Researches – questionnaire data can indicate a set of statistically relevant predictions about what a larger population might do. Just remember that this data will not describe what to make, how to make it, or what the interactions and experiences should feel like. Remember, after you did Design Research, the next important step should be done: Design Synthesis. Design Synthesis is the link between the type of behavioral research — the potential for the future state — and the creation of something new.
  • Jon: Cosmetics Co once created an innovative product – lipstick, and it wasn’t just new, it was new and successful on the market. It got in hands of every woman on the planet. Now, together with your customers, you can make it even better. One way your team could accomplish it is hiring a Chief Design Officer, someone, who would be actively involved in your innovation processes and apply Design Thinking to solve problems and make strategic decisions.

Next expert who came to help was famous Don Norman.

  • Don: Leila, Cosmetics Co once created a new product – lipstick, – and did even more, as Jon Kolko has already mentioned, – the company was able to make it a successful product on the market, which happens pretty rare with new products! It’s incredibly difficult to invent a new concept that truly fits people’s lives and needs, but the company made it! 150 years ago people didn’t know about lipsticks and didn’t know they need it, but now every woman in the world has at least one! All thanks to the technologists who found a way to “pack” it into a case that makes it easy to use and carry it. Now, your design team can concentrate on small, incremental innovations to keep succeeding and be ahead of competitors.

Bill Gaver has spoken up next:

  • Bill: I think now there is no question about the necessity of Design Research for your company. But let me tell you more about the type of research you can do. When you are designing for pleasure demands (and you do) it is better when it’s done from within. “Cultural Probes” is a design-led approach to understanding users that stressed empathy and engagement. Probes are evocative tasks that allow people to elicit inspirational responses. Don’t try to rationalize the probes, don’t hope to get a result that is easy to analyze. And I can’t agree with Jon Kolko on a point of being able to predict customer’s behavior based on qualitative data: The Probe returns will allow you to predict with confidence which lipstick your client might prefer, just as you might predict which item in a shop your friends might like.

Paul Dourish couldn’t keep quiet either:

  • Paul: My colleagues have brought up some interesting ideas about how you can approach creating or improving your product. I’d like to bring one more word into the discussion. The word is context. Nothing exists out of context, and context mattersNow, you can approach it in two ways. You can see it as a form of information. It is delineable, stable. When you design a product, you define what pieces of information you’d like to consider as context. Now, the activity – what the customers do with the product that you’ve created – is separate and doesn’t directly relate to the context. It is the positivist view on context.
  • Leila: Interesting: I believe that’s exactly how our technologists have always approached creating new cosmetic products. That seems to be very straightforward, “mathematical” in a way.
  • Paul: The other way of thinking is called phenomenological view: context is a relational property that holds between objects and activities. It can’t be delineated beforehand and is constantly being redefined. Each activity, each action, each particle of an action, – everything has its own context; context arises from the activity.
  • Leila: Right, that makes sense. Lipstick is such a widespread product now, but every single woman uses it differently, with a different purpose, in a different situation; it’s always a different activity, each and every time. It might be hard to find two people, who would create exactly the same context around their relationship with lipstick at any moment in time.
  • Paul: It’s a great thing to think about – each of these approaches might change your processes drastically – and one of them might be something that brings the most value.

Liz Sanders has weighed in, focusing on the importance of co-creation with customers.

  • Liz: Bill Gaver has mentioned one of the interesting methods of Design Research. I want to bring in another one that I find very successful, called Co-Creation. People are seeking outlets for their creativity. Let them do it! Bring them to your company and work with them to create new products, a new lipstick! Be thoughtful about the value of Co-Creation: monetary, use/experience, and social. If your company’s work is all about earning money, or maybe just about creating products to better meet your customer’s needs – what are you trying to achieve in this world? The social value of co-creation is fueled by aspirations for a longer term, humanistic, and more sustainable ways of living. I believe that the social type of value provides a real opportunity for significant change. Are your cosmetic products bringing in something of a social value?
  • Leila: Lots of helpful information and food for thought – and surely many ideas to bring the company back to its success.

Thank you, friends!

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