Raw conference notes: Nicolas Leduc, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)
What to do in a time of crisis
We are an agency of 20 employees based on Paris; we work for a large industrial countries, EDF for example. We work on different professional issues, and we work on critical interfaces, professional based interfaces. We have a cluster for transports, and signals; this is our core business. We now work on signals like what you have in Paris, the biggest transport hub. It’s being renovated. I joined Attoma last year and I am the senior UX designer, and my background is in information architecture. I’m used to structuring information, and that’s how I joined the company, and my title changed over the years. My new title mirrors the moment at which we stand today. I was a “roadmaster”, and I became an information architect and designer, and today I’m a ux designer. We can observe the trend of customer design, so this mirrors the context of our jobs and our profession.
I would like to talk about customers; which crisis are we talking about? Energy, financial, ecology. Our customers, we can see that there are major trends coming. Companies are more and more mature about the value that comes about through design. We understand that managers and board of directors think of hiring designers in small teams, and they want these competencies sin the companies. This is a major trend we are observing today, and we support the teams. It’s hard for these teams to be recognized internally. Companies have vaguely understood “what is design”, but what we do with that remains to be seen. I talk about the black sheep and doubtful guest; he goes to see people, sleeps in their chimneys, and destroys their books. He’s in people’s homes, and no one has invited him, and he stays for a long time.
That’s the kind of character we are talking about; how do you talk to this character? This is what we observe. As an agency, companies want to use the competencies of design, but what is design/ in a large company today, design is the added value.
Secondly, I would like to talk about another issue, the complexities that companies have to face, massive complexities. It’s especially an organizational complexity. Today, companies have issues to get the structured, to be consistent in their strategies. It’s a really complicated issue with 20,000 employees in the company. People tend to have no vision of their own structure, they don’t’ understand how the strategies are implemented or decided, and so the teams we work with have to act in different directions; they have contradictory priorities. This happens quite often. And they have a strong pressure to identify new markets. As designers, corporate or external, we all have to face this huge complexities of organizations. In an agency, or in a company, understanding how companies work is hard. It’s once you understand how companies work that you can identify different levels and deliver the highest possible added value.
Our environment is digital, and it generates a lot of complexity. I have a few examples to illustrate the complexity. This is a C-17, freight plane. We had to add seven tons of added weight, so it can fly without any persons in it; we wanted it to take off, but it wouldn’t take off. When we talk about the military, they are supposed to be well organized; they have huge resources, and they have internal designers. But today, when you design this kind of transport device, it’s complicated; you have to add weight or change the software. You have to add ballasts. Then, consider the F-22 american planes, which have a problem with oxygen. It’s a common system that works on other planes, but not on the bombaries; they can’t take off. The pilots had to speak on TV to explain why it doesn’t work. They have 4 million lines of codes in these planes. Despite the brains of the engineers, there’s such a density of code, it’s so much complexity, you have a hard time identifying the problem. The future military plane will have 20 million lines of code, and the complexity of this kind of plane is that we wonder if we can really create it. This is a good example of always believing in technology. We can solve any problem with technology. But the problems are so complex that you don’t have any solution.
Yesterday, we talked about artificial intelligence as something that would come in the new future. AI and IT were born at the same time. I don’t know if you heard or read this article, from Forbes and the New York Times; it’s about Target. It’s an American retailer, and they sent vouchers to a young woman to get free baby clothes, and the father went to see the manager. He asked “why did you send these to my daughter, she’s not pregnant?” And the manager apologized, and he called a week later and the father said to him, I’m sorry, there were things happening in my home and I didn’t know about it. Target had hired a statistics expert for this very specific market. Out consumption habits are very organized; there’s only a few times in your life where you might change your habits – like when you have a child. You might shop in new shops. And the marketing people asked the expert to provide some drivers about this, and he analyzed the data, and he understood that out of 20 products, he could identify probability of when women would become pregnant. The young woman received the vouchers automatically, and it was inline with the system, and the system worked well, and today, our technological environment indicates that it works: AI works, we have the tools for it. What can customers do with it?
What is interesting is to say, the turing test: indeed, if a robot is steered by a human being, you think the robot is a human being. When the machine does it by itself, the results are a disaster. The customer will say, the machine talked to me – it’s a cold being that knows everything about me. It’s scary, because our patterns and behaviors can be analyzed. This is scary. And so they included random advertisements inside of the vouchers, in order to hide the machine idea.
Today, as an agency, we have this wonderful technology; what do we do with it? There are major issues related to predictability, forecasting. Many questions can be raised.
We understand that customers have internal issues with their environments, and we understand that markets are changing. We have huge events that might impact the entire market, all of the markets. So it’s high time we face these major changes.
So I don’t know if you heard of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and the black swan; it’s quite interesting to have this relationship between the black swan and its symbolism. What it says about unpredictability; for those of you who don’t know this story, up until the 13th century, we were damn sure that the swans were white. Suddenly, we discovered Australia, and we found black swans. And so this really questioned the entire idea of observation-based science; suddenly, you see things you can’t predict. It’s a huge metaphor. It’s about, the sub-title, is “when the impossible things actually happen” – things you didn’t predict. When I was at university, I had a geography teacher and he really liked the weather forcast. So we were talking about storms, and there’s alignment problems; it’s hard to predict storms, because you have to have different parameters, and when they are aligned, you have the storm. Black swan is the same idea.
As an example of the black swan, here’s an idea that you are very familiar with. iPhone is a black swan story, because you have an impressive alignment of parameters, it’s all very much aligned, and it’s a black swan for the market. It was launched in 2007, at the end of the year, and only really worked in 2008, and it’s 9% of all sales in 2011. But it captured 75% of the value of the market; all the manufacturers of telephones were all dismissed in the next years. This is something very striking, very important, that meant all stakeholders in the market changed and changed how they think. What do you do in a time of crisis? They also captured 40% of the general turnover of the market.
In order to explain how to react to this, here’s a small video. Ballmer, “I like our strategy, I like it a lot.” The idea is not to despise Microsoft; it’s to see their reaction. The market would not believe in iPhone. Ballmer isn’t dependent on the market, he’s saying it’s too expensive, and it’s for business people, and they need keyboards. They say, we are confident in our strategy. This is what we should understand: he has a strategic answer, but now we know, he wasn’t right.
But it’s interesting to see how they reacted after that, because they were really confident in 2007, and in 2009 they radically changed their strategy. They went out of their classical code base, and now they have an interface called Metro. It includes desktop, mobile, tablet. This is the goal, at least.
We are interested in, what did they do to implement this new strategy and interface? They hired a graphic designer. They hired someone who was well known, recognized in his job. He was mostly doing print design, print and media design. He would know very well the visual side of the job, and understand the brand strategy. He’s in charge of the brand. He decided on the first elements, providing the visual framework of the product. Also, the framework in terms of language, the sounds, and anything dealing with interaction. He started this project, and Remi yesterday was talking about the basic principles of the brand. Genuine, spirited, supportive, balanced. As a designer, if we do this work, this is the base we have, an agency of well defined principles. They are identical; you won’t have a brand that says, I want to be ugly, and non practical. It’s always like this, fine. How do you express it? That’s where the designer comes in, to implement this, you need to talk to developers, and you need to include marketing, strategy, business units, producers, and it’s interesting to see the strategic reaction: to hire a designer, very early.
The next question – is it going to work? They have a very strong vision here. It’s hard to handle this, but there’s a key that aligns it. The vision is cascaded down, like Apple, to the shop floors. And the more the strategy is consistent, you have to have this consistency in the products. This is an opinion: you need to work on this alignment., and in that case, you can tackle issues of organizational complexity. You can align the different people involved and in the case, you can deliver added value.
So, talking about value, this is quite important for us. Design is about expressing a vision; we aren’t, in the case of an agency, with the vision – I want to make a transition about not being a part of companies, just making your own business; I agree with that, because we have all the tools to implement the vision, and the best way to implement a vision is to implement your own vision. However, when we are unfortunate enough to work for a large company, you don’t implement your own vision, but instead, your customers vision. Usually, the vision you have to deal with are not very comprehensive; you have to trigger or provoke things to have this alignment. But we do have a lot of tools to make sure this vision becomes material, expressed materially. Usually these visions are expressed by a few words. We have to make them tangible, things about our own organizations. Ways of doing things.
The next questions for us in an agency, or in a team, is what is the added value for me to create this design? We have this huge Apple example, but what else? And how do we measure if it worked? We can look at and formulate this in another way; the price that a company paid to a design agency should create value. When we deliver something, and in between the time we deliver it and the time it hits the market, a lot of time has passed. It takes a long time to measure impact. What we found is that people from marketing departments, technical managers, business managers, who are able to structure a vision, will usually change their positions within the company. We’ve seen that among different customers, this is about the visibility of the company. You have a small design team, using only a few people in the team, and if supported or not by management is not as important as to say “does it have internal visibility” – do people know what they do?
It’s not obvious; organizations are so complex, you can’t know what everyone else is doing. If you want to have a successful innovation approach and strategy, if you want a tangible strategy, this does create visibility inside of a company. We understand that designers have different position in companies, and we can assess this concretely. We can look at the hierarchy of the company, we can see ourselves move up in the hierarchy after doing our work.
The fact that we connect different people within the company is important. We have people in the company, dealing with cables, people around the same table with other people and they understand the vision, and understand that it’s aligned with products, customers, production issues, and so-on – it creates quality, nobody would sign a paper at the end of the meeting saying “yes, I didn’t understand what my colleague is doing or does.” This is a good qualitative criteria assessment. My work was used as a link, and we come back tot his problem of in-house champions. It’s hard to get marketing and business units interacting; the marketing department has a commercially oriented focus, while the people in the business units have developers, they do what they want and take ten years to do a project and have no idea what they are doing.
It’s hard to ensure an interaction. The design approach helps bring the teams together and work together. And so we talk about commercial success of the company; it’s long-term goals.
Once we’ve said this, we have several tools and we know what to do exactly. We can crystalize this vision that we’ve spoken about, as designers, companies, agencies, each company has its logic: we kind of tend to be concentrated. The value that’s being provided is linked to the tool that we use. If I take the example of a software manufacturer, he will always think that it’s the number of lines of code, or the number of hours spent by the developer provides added value, but this is rarely the case. The time spent on a process does not mean you are delivering more value. We have to keep this in mind – we have to be careful, and remember that just because we spent more time doesn’t mean we provide more value.
We’ve seen that, even though we spent a lot of time, it’s an extremely well designed object; the frame is just a frame for the client, and it’s nothing more. He doesn’t give much attention to it. Probably he could look in the database and everything, but developers say that we really need to be focused, and keep in mind that just because you spend time on the software doesn’t mean you are providing added value. You could be working on projects for 7 months and not have the appropriate tools and people. The value might still not be delivered.
Remy talked yesterday about keyboards that don’t work – I have a keyboard like that. It’s a very good keyboard, actually – it’s the dream board. Everything was pre-designed to type, so you have the keys vertically arranged, it’s more ergonomic; the most commonly used keys are in the middle – its practical – and the order of the alphabet is dependent on the language. It’s brilliant. But this is meaningless, because getting used to this is very hard. To learn this in six months is pointless. It’s the dream for a geek, people looking to optimize, but not for the layman. He talked about usage. I keep this in the office, and we tend to focus on objects that are a roaring success in terms of success , but they have no meaning from a users perspective. This is a risk that you always encounter.
So there are certain risks, and we still have to use a few tools. What are the tools that work today? I was just saying that our jobs have changed, and even the way we work is changing. We have certain stakes regarding the way we work today. In terms of business lines, black swan lasted for a very short time. You need three years to set up a project; the logistics, three years flies by. So we have a problem of time. Everything is so fast, we aren’t understanding everything. The key is to have shortcuts. I don’t know if you are doing the ux club in paris, but there was a conference on remote users, and what’s interesting is: they don’t do reports, no one is going to read a fifty page report. The solution is to have remote user tests with the client, and that’s an extremely good way to resolve problems related to time. You have to align quickly, bringing together the decision makers. The designer will identify the problems, and supervise the problems.
We always need to actually wonder: are we talking about value or not? So we need ot set up priorities, and there must be value delivered to the client. There’s no way to read the report. They can see things directly and it saves a lot of time. We provide service design, and this helps you align. This is the key to our success. This is how we go about it.
As a source of inspiration, it’s a book of Richard Scarry. What do people do all day? It’s a children’s book that explains how a post office works. It’s strong in understanding the stakeholders. It’s meaningful. The question is on aligning: aligning the stakeholders, the problems; we talk about the end user, and we talk about how the service is provided. We need to ensure that each project is well positioned. We are in sprint mode; we don’t do work upstream. We aren’t forgetting it; we don’t have the time. We’re skimming the steps, the upstream. We have to ask the right questions, and represent the stakes visually. We can see here that, if we show this to a client, the client is just asking for the tip of the iceberg. We have to work on everything below the iceberg, too. We need design tools to help us work throughout the process.
Another state is mapping. How can we ensure we’re keeping with the timelines? The roles of the stakeholders? The expected results? We talked about alignment, and business unit alignment.
More generally, we observe that companies, at least the various takeholders of companies, are not aware of what others are doing, and they don’t know what processes are being implemented. Most are verbalized. There’s no written protocol, even sophisticated processes; everything is an aural tradition. Even for engineers and developers, it’s spoken. Engineers are strong in processes, but it’s the same in marketing; it’s tradition and its verbal. It’s mostly information that keeps companies running. We have all of these pieces of information floating around, and we have to capture them from everywhere. It’s about crystalizing it in concrete form, a written form. It’s complicated. In an ideal world, the client can communicate the vision. In reality, this never happens.
All service design is role play. Empathy is of the essence when it comes to design, because it means you understand the needs of the end user, and you realize what are the stakes and the values. And it’s also empathy for other players. If the developer has to walk a mile in the shoes of a marketing manager, he will understand what’s involved. They will rally around a common goal. It could be a logo, an interface, anything. It’s a functional approach. We aren’t talking about cumbersome processes, but flexible methodologies.
Once this is achieved, we can model user scenarios. We can model scenarios of end users, the entire problem of stakeholders when you design a service or an object; the developer is also a system user. Once you’ve mapped out the role play, you can do the scenarios very easily. There are so many ways to have an insight of the users. You can go out in the field, and its intuitive knowledge. There is knowledge in companies, knowledge of their clients. Once you can give them the tools to crystalize it in writing, things get a lot easier. A simple tool – a whiteboard. To model the user’s trajectory. It’s the same logic that’s behind all of this: working together and putting everything in writing.
So you can work on several levels. It’s four words for the brand, high abstraction level. It requires a lot of work. A concept model works on the same principle. It can provide very powerful and good results. It’s all about rallying around a common goal.
On more concrete terms, we can talk of more designed objects. Here are a few examples. The alignment diagrams, and they speak for themselves. We have a lot of problems involved in modeling and visualizing. You need to understand immediately. That’s what a good diagram does; they should have a quick understanding of what we’re talking about. We have to ensure that we can identify the value, and allocate resources. The modeling should make this work concrete and tangible.
You talked about frames, and we were designing wireframes. But the value was expressed, the client came to know that there was a lot of value in the object, even though no personal value for him. When were talking about internal promotion, and giving him the tools to make a presentation, it addresses this question of providing value to the job and to the object. There are risks involved, too much information; perhaps you don’t understand the problem. You have a graph, and category two is complexity modeling, and we have some work done in processing this. One is more readable, but the other is not. That means the objects are very well, but we can’t understand anything – the complexity has been modeled, but it’s still incomprehensible.
A high level service blueprint formalizes, to a greater extend; the various players are linked to one another, and we aren’t disassociating the various players. We’re aligning them.
A very detailed blueprint, you can see the relationship between the actors, and the mapping is in phase between what happens in the company and the end users problem, and the idea is to ensure that the value levers are highlighted. The needs of the user are highlighted. Probably identify the problems, and review your organization, in order to optimize it, and leverage the value provided to the client. It’s a complex service blueprint; it’s complex diagrams. When you proceed to such complexity, they become unreadable. That doesn’t mean they aren’t unuseful; they just aren’t readable. These documents are for decision makers who don’t have time to study the diagram, and so you have to call the decision maker half an hour before the meeting, provide a simple version of the diagram.
And so the interface becomes a point of contact with the users involved, with stakeholders, with the end users. If Microsoft decides to change their interface, all Microsoft interfaces will be outdated. People will be in tight spots if they sell these interfaces. This is the portal to the strategy. So the question is, what is functional branding? It catalyzes the issues; the development issues. And this becomes increasingly complicated, because it’s not a question of user experience; it’s a question of brand. So the question is, how can we try to negotiate the problems of brand in the interface? Sometimes, it’s about laying things, and it’s not obvious to people. It helps them get an enhanced visibility. How can you tell the marketing team that the user interface is not where we put the logo? If you put the logo in the gui, the users are confused. This is the kind of request we get, the object communicates the brand; the interface has to be invisible and light. And so such objects align the stakeholders. If these new features won’t be of use it would be a question to carry out mapping. The visual part could be here, and the developing part could be here, and people speak the same language. So you can also fragment and relax the entire load; they want us to have an interface, and all of this, it’s not formulated, and so you need to reposition the artifacts. Be careful of the brand, the major stake is in the interaction. Will it work well? Do the people understand?
The brand isn’t the most important thing. But we are in a visual society and this is what the end user will see, and so we need to relax and be consistent. Prototyping, another example: this is time saving, this is about designing something that doesn’t yet exist, and it’s for research. It’s what we did for a client, when exploring, prototyping can be a good approach. If you have a prototype, you avoid the specification unit of 150 pages, no one reads that. But the production is different than the prototype, even though it’s tempting to make them the same. We have a problem because now a prototype is very close to the final product, this is what the iphone methodology is about. The prototype could be duplicated, so many millions of copies – it’s the final product, and not a prototype. Complexity is totally different, tactics.