ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for December, 2010

Design and Innovation in the Context of Life’s Problems

Posted by Plish on December 31, 2010

“Jacob,” asked Mr. Gold whose days dangled by a thread, “where do you find the strength to carry on in life?”

“Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it,” said Jacob. “But I do find strength in the ashes.”

“In the ashes?” asked Mr. Gold.

“Yes,” said Jacob with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance.

“You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And each of us is on a journey.

“In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth, and food.

“But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another’s fire, what we often find are the ashes.

“And in these ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony.

“Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else has carried on.

“And that can be enough sometimes, that can be enough.”

-Jacob the Baker, by Noah benShea

The above story, taken from the delightful book, Jacob the Baker, was written by the author to help him and his dying father through the night. The words are profound and meaningful, especially for those people who are going through difficult times.

Ahhh, difficult times…

I am only now, finally getting my new computer and business systems running again.  If not for some annoyances that pop up every now and then, I can hardly tell that a little over a week ago my CPU/motherboard melted down in the midst of deadlines and the holidays.  Before that…

Fast rewind with me for a year and, like other people,  along the way you’ll  experience family illness, accidents, pain, even death…

This laptop debacle pales in comparison to the other things that happened over the course of a year.  Yet, this technological glitch was a frustrating event that meant schedule manipulation, late, sleepless nights, and more intense days. It did nothing to foster a more peaceful approach to the holidays.

Why do I bring this all up?

People’s lives can get extraordinarily messy.  In the midst of chaos, humans naturally seek some semblance of order. During those times, more than in others,  people expect things to work – especially the little things.  When the little things don’t work, it can push our patience to the limit.  We’ve all been there.

Interestingly enough, seldom do the design of products and services take this larger context of chaos into account.  Oh, sure, products are (hopefully!) designed to be easy to use, intuitive, and  pleasing.  Designers strive for empathy with people to make sure that they really understand what people are going through in their daily lives.  But it’s difficult to design for the effect that time and stress can have on people and how they go about living day to day.

Designing a sterile package that’s easy to open in an Emergency Room is not the same as making a package easy to open in an ER where a family of  six is coming in from a head-on collision – 14 hours into a shift in which more people have been lost than saved; the head nurse’s husband asked her for a divorce that morning; another’s child got sick in daycare so he had to call his brother to pick the child up; one ER doc’s car broke down and still isn’t repaired, another nurse is home with the flu; the only food anyone consumed has been a bag of Halloween candy, multiple soft drinks, 2 energy bars, and a bag of chips; and the ER is going to be audited the next day. That’s just the last 24 hours for this crew…

“Easy to open” takes on different meanings depending upon  the extent to which people have been stressed prior to opening the package.

 Now granted, not every person is going to be swamped 24/7.  There is respite in even the most hectic lives.    But I think we’ve all seen people become blubbering messes over something that just a week earlier was accomplished without any thought or emotion.  

Think, no, dream of what our lives would be like if things were designed so that even in our most frazzled states, the use of a product or service caused us to crack a smile, or pause, breathe and savor a flickering moment of peace.   What if, designing innovation meant that during those frantic times of searching through the ashes, someone made sure that we actually found a hot, glowing ember?

May you not only find encouragement in the ashes,

may you also find glowing embers – enough for you and enough to share.

I wish all of you a safe, healthy, wonder-filled 2011 and beyond!

Posted in Authenticity, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, innovation, Life Stages, love, Social Responsibility, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Designers Don’t Really Pay Attention to the Customer – A Case Study of a Humidifier

Posted by Plish on December 15, 2010

I recently bought a Sunbeam room humidifier.  Over all I like it’s look and the various displays.  Then I went to fill up the tank… 

I exaggerated slightly to make my point, but  I think you can see what the problem is.  The fill hole for the tank is placed away from the edges.  As a result, I can’t set the tank down in the tub as it’s filling.  (I can, but 50+% of the water splashes off and goes down the drain.) Instead, I have to hold the tank at an uncomfortable angle while it’s filling and getting heavier.  On top of that, it’s hard to know if I’ve filled it enough since everything is tipped.

Before I got too angry, I looked at the instruction booklet to see what they recommended and  it clearly said the tank could be refilled in  the sink or tub.    Now, to be fair, I did check to see if it fit in my kitchen sink and it did – barely.    But, sinks often have things in them and they don’t deliver a good volume of water – it takes forever to fill up a tank.  

 Tubs, on the other hand,  give nice large volumes of water.   Without doing a study, I couldn’t say that more people use the tub than the sink, but I’d be willing to bet they do.

So what does this all mean?

It probably means that the designers of this product didn’t take the time to actually watch people in their homes filling their humidifiers.   If they did, they would have noticed the contortioning that people do while filling up their humidifier tanks.  To be fair, maybe this was done on purpose so that  people wouldn’t overfill the tanks.  Or, maybe they didn’t go to people’s homes because they measured 100 different faucets and designed for the average and it turns out that mine is an outlier – 99% of all faucets fit but mine doesn’t.  

Regardless, this all comes down to the simple question,

“Why does this even have to happen?” 

Moving the fill hole an inch closer to the closest straight edge would enable this to be used in all types of tubs. 

People could just walk into the bathroom, plunk the tank down, watch the water gush through the hole with minimal splashing (and thus not require major wiping afterwards), turn off the water, screw the lid on and pick up the tank.  It would’ve made for a simple, stress free, tank filling process. 

Is the current situation a huge dealbreaker?  Probably not.  I already bought it and it’s not worth taking it back to the store.  But, in the end, if someone asks me about a room humidifier, while I’d probably still recommend this model, I would share the info on filling because it’s an inconvenience and mess that I’d want to be upfront about.  It’s a shame really because it wouldn’t have taken much to make this product rock solid…

It’s a simple lesson really:   A better customer experience doesn’t necessarily come from flashy numbers, cool dials, smooth, beautiful lines.    Sometimes it comes from just paying attention to what the customer does.

Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Ergonomics, Market Assessment, Research | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

One Way of Unsticking Brainstorming Sessions

Posted by Plish on December 10, 2010

 
 
It’s the silence.  Nobody has anything to say and you can almost smell  burning neurons as people twist and twirl things in their heads while they try and be original…

Your brainstorming session has hit a brick wall…

How do you get out of it, or around it – or through it?

One way is to change the perspective of the participants.

What does that mean?

All problems/solutions exist in some type of context.   The problem-solvers/solution-finders usually inhabit the same space.  It makes sense, right?  A problem with customer service in a bank will be solved by employees at the bank; improving the design of a surgical device is done by clinicians, designers and engineers in the medical realm; figuring out the best meal for a family dinner is the responsibility of those in the household.

“The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.” – Leo Burnett, The advertising father of The Marlboro Man, Toucan Sam, the Jolly Green Giant, Morris the Cat, Tony the Tiger, and the Seven Up ‘spot’ among other things.

We can replace the word ‘advertising’ in the above quote with the word, ‘brainstorming sessions’ and it’s just as apropos.  It’s about finding new relationships and one of the easiest way to do this is for  idea generators to leave the space the problem inhabits. By doing this the solutions will necessarily come from a different direction and novel relationships will be made. 

For example, let’s say that a team is thinking up ways of improving customer service in banks.  Instead of looking at it from a banking perspective, pretend you are all hippies and ask, “In what ways would a hippie improve the experience  in a bank?”  Some of the resulting conversation might look something like this:

” Incense- we need patchouli  in the air,”

“Flowers, we’d need flowers, maaaaan..”

“What about music?  A guy playing an acoustic guitar would be sweet, man…waiting in line is such a drag…”

“Music is about righteousness and truth..where’s the righteousness and truth in here?”

“And love…I don’t feel love. ”

“How can anyone feel anything with the colors in here? It’s all dark and heavy, and this chair, augh! It’s too heavy and cold- give me the floor (she says pouring out of her chair and on to the floor).”

There’s an entirely different perspective now about what constitutes a bank, what the lobby should look like, smell like, feel like.  Sure, maybe patchouli isn’t the way to go, but the brainstorming session has taken on an entirely new direction and ideas are flowing where only minutes ago there was  uncomfortable silence.

So, next time you’re stuck in a brainstorming session that’s stuck, try becoming someone else outside the context of the problem space.   You might be surprised at the results.

Posted in Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Lateral Thinking, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Novel Tool for Measuring Emotional Response to Products – PrEmo

Posted by Plish on December 5, 2010

Companies put extreme effort into making sure their products are built according to specifications in repeatable, cost-effective processes.   For many, quality is seen almost exclusively through the lenses of assuring or controlling quality, Six Sigma,  Lean Manufacturing and the like.  In other words, improving quality means minimizing scrap or complaints due to product failures.

The problem is that none of these quality measures actually look at intangibles of quality, that je ne sais quoi tied into the emotional responses of the people purchasing or using the product.  Instead, these intangibles are indirectly (and many times incorrectly!) measured through metrics like increasing sales, i.e. if the products are selling, people must be happy with them and love them! 

In reality, however, good sales of a product may not have anything to do with people being excited about a product.  Instead, people may buy because of  how easily something can be purchased, or simply because of the lack of other offerings.   We’ve all had the experience of buying something that really wasn’t the preferred product simply because it was more readily available at a closer store.  In fact, since we are creatures of habit, we may even repurchase that very same item the next time our ‘habit cycle’ comes around! Does that mean I like that product? 

Of course not! It means I can live with it, and in the increasingly competitive world of  product offerings, successful companies shouldn’t, and in some cases can’t, rely on their products being ‘good enough’ to live with.  What are needed are products that elicit powerful emotions in people – those emotions that make people want to buy something even if it means driving 2 hours and waiting in line for 10 hours to buy it.

How do we know if a product elicits this response?  We measure the emotional response

How?

Pieter Desmet, Ph.D.,  has done some excellent work in  finding ways of objectively and effectively measuring emotional responses.  To that end, I strongly suggest you read his paper entitled, ‘Measuring Emotions.’  It’s an easy but informative read about the development of his emotional response measurement tool called,  PrEmo.  

PrEmo is based on the premise that people are more able to effectively articulate their emotions through recognizing those same  emotions as conveyed in the facial/body expressions/vocal tones of others, than they are able to describe what it is they are feeling.   To facilitate this process, PrEmo consists of animated cartoon characters depicting 12 emotions (it used to be 14) on a screen.  Also on the screen is a picture of the product that’s being evaluated (though this product could be held in someone’s hands or experienced another way).  The person then clicks on each cartooned emotion, noting the extent he or she feels that particular emotion.  The data is compiled at the end and voila! Emotional responses have been measured and comparisons between populations and products can be made. The tool is easy to use and is even described as fun by some people.

 SusaGroup, in conjunction with the Delft University of Technology, built the system into a reasonably priced  commercial product.  If you contact them they will even oblige you with a demo so you can experience the tool for yourself.   

I think you’ll find that, like me,  PrEmo will have a place in your research toolbox, because product quality isn’t just about specifications and manufacturing processes – it’s also about the experiences people have when they interact with your product; it’s about designing products that elicit emotional bonds.

The importance of this emotional response can’t be overstated, because when the experience of a product is memorable in a positive way, you’ll find that people are often more than willing to overlook certain ‘quality’ issues.

Posted in Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Metrics, Market Assessment, Quality Systems, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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