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Category Archives: Strategy

Innovation, Provocation and Service Blueprints (plus a short rant)

Over the course of the last four weeks I have been learning about the principles and tools of service design in our Q2 theory course. Service design is a subset of interaction design that involves the coordination of actions and artifacts to provide value for another. This past week I was assigned to read Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation by Mary Jo Bitner, et al. In this article Bitner introduces a technique called Service Blueprinting and argues for its use to drive innovation at both the tactical and strategic level. According to Bitner service blueprinting is, “a customer-focused approach for service innovation and service improvement.” It is method of diagramming what the customer sees, does and interacts with as part of a service experience and what the customer does not see but is also necessary to support the experience. Here is an example service blueprint for a generic hotel stay from Bitner’s article.Example Service Blueprint

The five elements that Bitner calls out to include in a service blueprint are Customer Actions, Onstage/Visible Contact Employee Actions, Backstage/Invisible Contact Employee Actions, Support Processes and Physical Evidence. These elements run down the left hand column and provide the structure for the blueprint.

I have two thoughts about this article I’d like to share with you. First, is a criticism.  Bitner emphasizes again and again that much of the value that comes from service blueprints is because they communicate visually. She says that service blueprints, “allow all members of the organization to visualize an entire service and its underlying support processes,” that they are “more precise than verbal definitions,” that service blueprints are an example of the old adage that, “a picture is worth a 1000 words,” and that “service blueprinting can help […] overcome the limitations inherent in asking customers to describe such a service by using words alone.” Why belabor this point? Because throughout the article Bitner congratulates herself and her team for using this wonderful visual method, yet produces a 25 page article that has 2 images, and really one those is a detail of the other. She provides the example of the service blueprint for the generic hotel stay (above) and then goes through five case studies of companies that supposedly transformed their businesses using service blueprints and doesn’t show any of them. (End rant).

Second, I’d like to explore how service blueprinting might be a hinderance or an aid to innovation. I can imagine how service blueprints are valuable for identifying breakdowns in existing service structures and for planning and managing the complex interactions involved in a new service. But I wonder if they also become self fulfilling prophesies once the basic armature of the customer actions are created. Do people feel constrained to imagine solutions that fit neatly into one of the cells created by blueprint structure? Seeing the service blueprints from Bitner’s case studies would be helpful in addressing these questions.

Throughout this year we have talked a lot about provocation as tool for focusing creativity around a particular problem, without being weighed down by existing solutions. Provocations usually involved forced mash-ups of seemingly unlike things or prospective shifts. The ideas generated from these provocations can lead to innovation by breaking free from the expected. How could a service blueprint be a tool of provocation? Using the generic hotel example provided by Bitner I have rearranged the data to provoke new design ideas.

I reordered the customer actions at random. Much of what results is absurd. But think of a disruptive service like Uber. The idea that you would pay for a cab ride, and give the driver your destination before getting into the car was absurd, until wasn’t. I have not tried to rationalize a complete system around any of these ideas. I have just used the new relationships created by the customer actions and seemly mismatched employee actions and artifacts as a jumping off point for new ideas.

Here is my modified version of Bitner’s blueprint, in which the yellow boxes containing customer actions have been reordered.

blueprintActionsProvocation

Resulting Design Ideas:

  • Customer includes flight information for arrival on website and bellhop collects the guest’s bags at the airport.
  • Guest orders dinner before traveling to hotel. Hotel monitors travel delays and makes sure dinner is hot and ready when guest arrives.
  • Hotel parking lot becomes like a Sonic Drive-In and food is delivered to guests while still in their cars.
  • Hotel rooms are like parking spots in a lot. Signage indicates which floors have available rooms and guests wonder around and look at open rooms, when a suitable room is found the guest checks in from the room.
  • Distribute a printout with room services specials for that day/night attached to guests’ bags.
  • Make it easier for businesses to control employee travel expenses. Reserve room and check out and pay at the same time. Hotel amenities could be like minutes on a prepaid phone card, you only get as much as initially paid for.
  • Store guests’ luggage outside of room, deliver just what the guest needs at the appropriate moment. Toiletries at night, exercise clothing before guest goes to gym, etc.
  • Room service brings up a mobile buffet table or Benihana style table. Guest looks at what is available and then orders.

Other methods for provocation would be to reorder the physical evidence, switch what is visible and what is invisible to the customer, or overlay the service blueprint for a totally different type of service. In both the case of incremental improvements and wide ranging provocations, what is valuable about the service blueprint is that it brings together many disparate and complex components so they can be understood and manipulated.

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Creating Innovation from Convergent System Differentiators

In the Richardson Book Innovation X, Chapter 4 begins leading the reader through the complex yet fragile system of Convergence. Convergence in the past has been used, yet not heavily defined, by the action of such areas of combining media. Repurposing media for TV, Web, and mobile phones. Richardson uses the example of individuals contributing self-made videos that become a bigger part or a larger advertising campaign.

Here however, Richardson defines convergence as the means of integrating “multiple products (hardware, software, and services) and customer touchpoints to provide functionality, benefits, and customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.”

In this case an entire ecosystem is needed to house all the components of the system with well-defined touchpoints that create a seamless and delightful user experience. An ecosystem defined by being a collection of products, technologies, and other specific components that together create the functionality of the offering. Touchpoints then are described as being all the points where “customer and company intersect over time, from a customer being aware of the company’s products, to buying and using them.”

Below is a Concept Model describing my depiction of a general generic model for a convergent system.

Convergent_System-01

However… through all the examples and definitions of seamlessly convergent companies able to operate and integrate multiple elements of technology and product on page 106 of Chapter 4 in the book, Richardson introduces us to the first divergent opportunity for something new and innovative that could potentially break a companies well defined convergent system. The concept of sustainability.

He states that “sustainability is increasingly a competitive differentiator, as well as becoming necessary for regulatory compliance. Knowledge of how to achieve sustainability in a given industry will be a prized capability.

In order to achieve sustainability a company may have to go through a massive series of ecosystem changes, affecting customer touchpoints, and perhaps adding, in the beginning, more work and an actual monetary loss from the company in order to meet the new standards the company may choose to institute to be considered “sustainable”.

So in an effort to derive new an innovative ideas from Richardson’s concept of convergence, sustainability as a game changer immediately gathered my full attention. The first thing to come into mind was the electric car combined with the convergent system of a company like Car2Go. However upon further research Car2Go actually has become aware of this deviation and offers in very few places the infrastructure changes necessary to support a fleet of electric vehicles to support these vehicles both on the consumer and company side.

So what about upping the ante? What about now using Richardson’s suggestion of sustainability often resulting in the combination of multiple companies to create a broader product offering? What about Car2Go and Tesla?

The introduction of a fleet of electric vehicles that are not simply electric vehicles for utility, but now a fleet of high performance on demand vehicles people may just use for a night on the town? Or to get the chance to “test drive a Tesla”. Granted this idea completely changes the entire ecosystem that would even be placed on the current electric car offerings that Car2Go offers.

I unfortunately do not have a definitive solution for how to create a new perfect Ecosystem for something like this to happen but I can imagine that it would begin with first: Convincing the Tesla company that a car share program is not only great for both companies but will boost the image of Car2Go from necessity to luxury, and Tesla to brand evangelicalism by offering a potential not yet customer to absolutely have to have one of these cars one day.

The companies would have to integrate the Tesla recharging station model, as well as offer specialized maintenance, and a higher premium resulting in a completely new customer billing structure. I imagine much of the existing infrastructure of “checking out” your Car2Go would remain in place, but much would change. I would love to see this happen.

Below is a chart of my idea of what could happen when a company like Car2Go decides to change its infrastructure and go “Super Electric”. As you will see the company first begins smaller in its current comfortable state of convergence. But then the idea of becoming sustainable by being more environmentally friendly is introduced and the fragile tower (here expressed as a Jenga game) begins to tumble as things fall away and established touchpoints break as the ecosystem changes.

If and when the company can re-establish a new set of systems, a new convergence, that works with sustainability (and Tesla) they not only lower environmental impact, but expand product offerings, parter with new and exciting technologies and gain a real competitive edge. Click the image for the full resolution and details.

Graphics & Diagrams by Crystal Watson and William Shouse

convergent-to-sustainable

 

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Oh Capital Metro App… mapping the pain

In our first assignment for Q2 in the Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class, we were tasked to deconstruct and analyze the current state of the Austin Capital Metro mobile app. The goal of this project is to find the obvious inefficiencies in the system structure, and map them out in a visual “Concept Map” of touch points, or areas of interaction with the app that we personally deemed important to the end goal the user is attempting to create. After mapping our version of the current state of the app’s system design, we then created a new, first iteration, of what we thought would be a good starting point for the optimal system flow for completing the task of 1. planning a trip, and 2. purchasing a ticket to be able to take the trip you need.

Below is my Concept Map of the current system flow of the Capital Metro app on a relatively high level. ConceptMapAsIs-01

The main issues I found with the current app was not only the general confusion in the interface, but the redundancy of information, when things could easily be consolidated for ease of use.

Below is my first iteration of the basic system flow for a re-design of the app. The first screen being an actual geo-located map of where you are in the Austin area, and what bus stops are surrounding you visually represented by clickable icons that give you more info about the bus, the schedule, and the route.

ConceptMapIdeal-01

I also believed it was important to be able to store information about your most valued routes, and easily purchase tickets within the app, both in the constant navigation bar as well as during the establishment of your route choice.

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WICKED WEBS & DESIGN PROBLEMS

Wicked Webs & Design Problems By: Crystal Watson & William Shouse

 “The easy problems have been solved.  Designing systems today is difficult because there is no consensus on what the problems are, let alone how to resolve them.”

Each author in this segment argues for design thinking or creativity’s importance in the larger world. The authors’ positions seem to build on each other. Rittel talks about where it came from, Buchanan talks about what it looks like in the world. Paccione, DeBono and Cross take things inside, and noodle on how and where it resides in the brain. They also ponder the whys, whethers and hows about sharing it. Finally, Wyatt takes a ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach and gives us the lowdown on how to share design thinking – but with a mercenary hook.

Rittel identified and named wicked problems, that little thing we all came to AC4D to work on this year. He asks us not to consider what is the “right” thing to do, but the good thing to do.

Buchanan takes Rittel’s lead and talks about what “design thinking” looks like. He gives us a framework, the four orders of design, that push us to consider where and how to apply design thinking. He gives a nod to visual and material design, but also reminds us to consider service design and complex system design as suitable targets for creativity. He evangelizes design thinking as an apt approach to any subject matter, also reminding us that design is inherently cross disciplinary, and indicates that it draws on many kinds of intelligence and knowledge.
Pacione makes a case for design literacy – not just design thinking, telling us that design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and is put back into the hands of everyone. However he states that there are those that are already familiar with the methods of what he considers to be a higher state of design thinking in which he categorizes design and design thinkers into the “Master” or “Iterator of others ideas” and the “Virtuoso” the true design innovator. His methods are laid out in a series of situational diagrams that he uses to back up this theory.

DeBono takes creativity seriously enough that he developed entire systems to alter our thinking patterns, provoke movement, and evaluate their effectiveness. Interestingly enough, one of the huge examples he uses is that of humor to incite creativity, to use the pattern of lateral thinking as the actual process. He insinuates that traditional modes of thinking are artificial, learned, and so distinct that they can literally be put on and taken off as easily as a hat, with his 6 colored hat system of idea organization. Insisting that these tactics can used by anyone he regals us with tales of success from a large telephone corporation and the organizer of the 1984 Olympics. Also sure to remind us he sold them all many of his books.

Cross tells it’s not just inherent, there are ways to polish it up, improve literacy, develop fluency, to put ideas on paper, sketch and iterate to form re-solutions to any problem. For Cross, it’s a mode of thinking, something holistic and vast, not a set of be-hatted party tricks to pull out in front of Japanese businessman (DeBono, p.15).
Design is too important to be left to designers, it should be a discipline in itself, a cultivable skill, possessed to some extent by everyone.

Wyatt is less concerned with the ineffable nature of design thinking than the output, and what it will achieve for her and her business. While she encourages all to utilize design thinking, (even publishing a free download!) she seems to believe that the important work is best left to the designers. She’s strategic in choosing how deeply she steeps regular people in design thinking, and is a bit of a tease. She wants to give customers just enough information so they have a category to understand her greatness, but not enough to be able to do what she does without her.

IDSE102_Assignment_04_Watson_Shouse-01
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Visualizing Process

Two weeks ago in our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class, we learned about five types of work models we can create to visually represent processes and physical artifacts from research. Put another way, our team (Crystal Watson, Laura Galos, and Lindsay Josal) was able to take the qualitative data from our research around teenagers and their food choices and map them out for everybody to see.

The five types of models we created are:

-Flow: A diagram of actions between people and physical areas, without regard to time.
-Cultural: A diagram of “invisible forces,” or cultural influences that act on and between people.
-Artifacts: Drawings of tangible objects our participants interacted with.
-Physical: A bird’s-eye view map of the space in which we conducted our Contextual Inquiry.
-Sequence: A written list of actions in the order in which they occurred.

Additionally, we have a list of Breakdowns and Design Ideas: A written list of problems observed in all of the other models, along with quick, high-level design ideas that could address these issues.

Although the Breakdowns and Design Ideas list brings together all the problems we observed into a single visualization, we marked each of the models with a little lightning-bolt icon at the place each issue occurred. In total, the models give a different perspective on the actions and interactions that happened during our research. Not only did this give us a new focus on the processes by which things happen, but it also manifested a much richer level of detail than can transcripts alone. Though it felt like we were creating models relatively late in the design process, we feel that modeling would be an excellent tool in early stages of research.

Remembering back to when we conducted our Contextual Inquiries, each member of our group would sit together and recap what happened after every interview and inquiry. Mostly the sessions were casual but helpful for information retention and hearing what the group members picked up on as interesting or found confusing. Going into our next design project, which will last the remaining 32 weeks of our program, we plan to incorporate modeling into our recap sessions to delve into those rich details earlier in the project to better inform synthesis and ideation phases.

 

 

 

artifiacts-01

Included here are our Flow and Artifact models from one interview session with two teenage participants.

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Coupling between thinking and actuation

As part of the creative problem solving process – designers research to understand a problem space, apply their own subjective point of view or intuition and create provocations to make sense of incomplete information.

In Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking, Karl Weick states, Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right.  Instead, it is about continued refracting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data, and is more resilient in the face of criticism. 

In Discovering Design Ability, Nigel Cross states, some of the relevant information [in a design problem] can be found only by generating and testing solutions; some information, or ‘missing ingredient’ has to be provided by the designers himself ... this extra ingredient is often an ‘ordering principle’. These ‘ordering principles’ give people access to new information on the whole and can take on various activities, such as the diagram below for example: 

In Theory of Interaction Design, we read 10 articles and discussed the relationship between creativity, knowledge, perception and strategy. The diagram above is an overview of each author’s summary along with my own position.

Thoughts? Make sense?  Your perception of it?  Can we design for an individual’s perception? Stavros Mahlke, in Visual Aesthetics and the User Experience, thinks we can and should by integrating ‘non-instrumental qualites’ like aesthetic, symbolic aspects and emotional user reactions with traditional user experience interaction design.   

In summary, it is in our thinking and activity where solutions are created and make sense.

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New Quarter, New Queery, New Hubris

As Chelsea and I continue our quest to bring Queery to life, we had to start extracting a singular thread of reality from the mystical cloud-of-what-could-be.

In many ways I think this has been the most challenging aspect of our work thus far. Every decision is a hard-fought battle between individual expression of hopes and desires which is constantly tempered against what is appropriate for the community we are trying to serve. These decisions usually are a compromise in one measure or another and they ultimately pick a singular reality at the expense of all others.

That’s not to say that we can’t go back and try other solutions, but if you have ever been in any software development shop for any period of time you know how expensive and rare that is.

While we have been slowly building our app, it is clear that our ambitions were considerably beyond our talents.

We reflected on this, stressed out a bit, and considerably scaled back the fidelity of our pilot. We now have a Google form to handle what the schedule flow would have covered and we will be hand-matching individuals as they sign up.

Chelsea also created this nice sign to remind us to keep it real.

I’ve kept an eye on that sign to remind myself to work within the now instead of the what-could-be and to see if either of us had the courage to bump the day counter up.

It’s been over a week and that number hasn’t changed.

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The True Value of this Entrepreneurial Assignment

Pet Prints has kept me quite busy these last few weeks. In this update, I want to share few takeaways I have realized through my iterations of this project.

TAKEAWAY 1
Don’t assume you know what your target market wants. Gather information in person.

It is easy to fall back on social networking sites like Facebook and Reddit as a way to gauge interest about a new idea, however, it is one thing to say you would buy something from behind the screen of a computer, and another to follow through with a real purchase. This information also tends often viewed through a positive bias as it is clear how many people responded with interest but it is unclear what ratio those people represent in terms of how many people saw it but did not feel strongly about the idea presented.

This is precisely what happened to me when I posted my custom prints idea on Reddit and received 30 upvotes. Without context of how many people saw the post, 30 votes of agreement don’t indicate whether my idea is liked by many or very few, but I read into it as a well-like concept and pushed on without a second thought.

Next time my approach will change to seek out my target market in context to observe them and more ask pointed questions so I can better critique my concept.

TAKEAWAY 2
View your business from the customer’s standpoint.

As I mentioned in my second post, the ordering process I originally set-forth on my facebook page was difficult to navigate and relied heavily on the customer to reach out to me through email to place an order. This leaves too much ambiguity for the customer to sort through and could easily cause them to lose interest. By looking at this process from the view of my customer, it became clear that I needed a platform where products could be viewed and purchased on the same website. The increase in sales seem to indicate that this change to a new website was a positive one.

TAKEAWAY 3
Ask your target market what they would pay for your product. Adjust quality and time spent accordingly.

Price point is important. If you set the price point too high, you lose a share of your potential target market who now can’t afford the product or view it as not being worth the amount of money. By gathering information straight from your target audience, you can better structure your business to meet the demand. In my case, I decided to offer digital downloads of my pet prints for less money. Customers can purchase the file itself and do whatever they see fit with image, whether that be printing it themselves or using it as their computer background. This product type ends up being more affordable to customers on a budget as well as less work for me.

TAKEAWAY 4
Build time in for mistakes.

You are going to fail a few times before you get it right. I was so afraid to make decisions about this project early on, because I didn’t want to make a mistake. Looking back on it, I have realized that the best thing you can do when given a project out of your comfort zone is to just jump in knowing you will make at least a few mistakes along the way, but that the mistakes are part of the process. An efficient use of time and using the right tactics to solve a problem are critical to any business, but both of these skills come with experience. I need to be confident that any experience will shape my strategy positively, even if the experience itself could have been approached better. By building in time for mistakes, it takes the pressure off.

Reflecting on it now, the lessons I have learned from this project are exponentially more valuable than the money earned through my business. I’m guessing that is what Matt, Pat, and Jon hoped we would glean from this experience.

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Thinking about Value

For my quarter 1 startup business challenge, I’ve been working with Anna Krachey on a professional headshot and photography business called PictureDay ATX.

One of the challenges we faced was gaining enough customers. One of our original strategies was marketing towards co-working spaces in the Austin, TX area. The idea was this: we would partner with a co-working space, and market to their members via in-office flyers and internal email lists. We would then come to the co-working space for an afternoon, take headshots one after the other of their members, and make a bunch of money!

As a former member of the co-working space WorkBar in Boston, MA, I saw a photographer use this very model quite successfully. *HOWEVER* things didn’t work so smoothly for us. It turned out many co-working spaces either had photographer members who provided these services to the other members for free or discount, or the space provided headshots as a perk.

Thinking about value, we realized that we couldn’t provide much value if any to co-working members. How can you compete with free?

So we focused on the personal value we provided to our customers. Being able to see yourself in the best possible light – both literally and figuratively – provides tremendous value. Additionally, many people don’t like having their picture taken. So, being able to provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for our customers while getting their picture taken, also added a great amount of value to our service.

While we did fewer headshot sessions than we would have with co-working members, and spent a long amount of time with each client, we were still able to make a significant amount in sales. We also found that the positive experience we provided clients resulted in our customer spending an average of about 63% more than they originally planned – they had a great time and loved the photos Anna shot, that they wanted to purchase more photos or additional retouching services. While customers might have ended up spending more, compared to established competitors who do this full time, we were still a bargain. We ended up providing value – both in the product we delivered and the experience we provided – to our customers, and both Anna and I came out enjoying it at the end!

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Viewing “Pet Prints by Meghan” Through the Lens of the Customer

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I had been underwhelmed with the amount of orders I was receiving for pet prints.

The main vision I have had for my business is for the prints to be highly personal and thus meaningful for my customer. Since I had some free time between orders, I realized I should also offer generic prints (not custom) for a little less money since a custom print has many variables that appear to make it more time intensive and a bigger risk if customers don’t like the end product. So I created prints of some dogs and cats and posted them for sale. The results were surprising.

While only a few of these “generic” prints have been sold, I have since received more custom orders with requests along the lines of “I love the look of the Lucy print. Could I order a print of this picture in that style?” This correlation has made me realize that adding more examples of my work increases my credibility and allows people to better visualize what a custom print of their pet could look like. While this need to see the product seems obvious to me now, I was too caught up in what I hoped my business would sell to see my business from the customer’s viewpoint. Through this lens, I was better able to critique what was working and what needed improvement.

I have spent some time analyzing the disconnected nature of my ordering process. I don’t want to make my customers feel like they will have to jump through hoops to order a custom product. On my Facebook product page, there were many instances of “email me to place a custom order and get a price quote.” When I considered this prompt from the viewpoint of a customer, I realized how off-putting this would be. I was forcing my customer to make the first move with little information. I certainly would not jump to place an order if I was put into a similar situation.

Pet Prints Facebook Page

I realized I was putting the impetus on the customer to email me.

With this realization I have since firmed up my prices for a more limited set of product and print sizes. I have also worked with Cory to create a new, one stop Pet Prints website which highlights the ease of ordering.

New Pet Prints Website

Customers can pick from a limited variety of products available instead of becoming overwhelmed with an endless amount of choices. When selecting a custom print option, they provide their email and it is my responsibility to follow up with them to get the pet picture and start the conversation about what style and colors they are picturing. This takes the ball out of their court and makes the whole experience feel more personal.

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