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Failing faster, failing forward: Collaborative Design as a Development Activity
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Failing faster, failing forward: Collaborative Design as a Development Activity


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My presentation at Flash Camp St. Louis on September 10, 2011. …

My presentation at Flash Camp St. Louis on September 10, 2011.

What I said is in the notes field.

Published in: Design, Business, Technology
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  • IntroGet a sense of audience…How many onlybuild things?How many only design things?How many do both?I’m going to be talking about a very specific activity that takes place during a very specific phase of product development.Collaborative design should take place in the ideation phase, before anything is built.
  • Suspend your disbelief for 2 minutes.You’re all going to become designers and we’re going to do a Sketching activity.
  • 1 min designing faces (thanks to Jeff Patton and Todd ZakiWarfel for this activity)Theme: “Small changes make a big difference.”Draw a unique face in each of the circles. (1 min)Pass the paper to someone else and have them indicate the best face.Get your paper back.Poll: how many had a best face in the first 2?3-5?6-8?After 8?So it seems that the majority of favourites occurred after X.Who was able to draw more than 10 unique faces?So you wasted at least nine tries getting it right???So were all the other faces you drew failures?What can we conclude?
  • Your failed designs were part of a refinement and expansion process. They were necessary to create the design that was picked as best.I know that was highly subjective…you were at the whims of the person picking.This is completely unrealistic, right?How many of you are never at the whims of someone else making decisions?Rarely is the first idea the best idea.You designed some faces and someone picked the best out of what you had.But how do you know that was the best design overall and not just the best of what’s available?
  • You might have a great idea. But Great ideas become powerful when exposed to the minds and talents of others. (thanks Boon Sheridan for this great insight) Just telling your idea isn’t enough. It is difficult to get buy-in for your great idea when no one else gets itYou have to let others in as part of the ideation process to improve the chances that you’ll come up with a great idea that will be supported by others.This is collaborative design.
  • Deeply ingrained in collaborative design is the concept of the Marketplace of ideas: best ideas are usually a combination of ideas from different perspectives and arises out of competition, debate, discussion, and compromise. This is not design by committee…it is evolution of design ideation.This idea can be a bit of an ego blow for people who consider themselves designers.Leah Buley from Adaptive Path has a great philosophy on design.She says that being a designer doesn’t mean that you own the designs. It means that you are responsible for the process of design. Everyone wants to be able to look at a finished product and say “I helped with that” or “that was me!”How many of you have worked on something that never launched?The more people that can look at something and take ownership of it, the more likely the product will get built, launched and succeed.
  • The idea of designing might make you a little uncomfortable.Here are some truisms that might make you feel better:Design is a problem solving activity.It involves trial and error. Every project is a problem to be solved.And everyone wants to be part of the solution.Everybody “designs” things. Writing code is a craft – each line of code is designed to perform a purpose, and each line can be uniquely crafted.I’m going to talk about two ways to collaborate during the design phase of any project.What I want to emphasize is that anyone can do this.Any of you could do this- you could bring ideas back to someone in your team to do this- You can adapt and only try specific aspects of these techniquesYou don’t have to be an expert in design to lead a group of people through an ideation activity.
  • The early stages of product innovation can crucially influence the success and direction of any product.Yet these stages tend to be fuzzy, highly politicized, underdocumented, and generally poorly understood.Collaborative design can help lend structure to these stages.It can also get all the really bad ideas out there quickly so that they can be rejected and better ideas explored.My theme around design today is about failing faster, but failing with a goal of finding a better solution.
  • What does it mean to collaborate with stakeholders?Find people with a vested interest in the product and working with them to frame the problem in a way that addresses the broad concerns of the organization.It means wiping away differences of job title, rank and file, and putting everyone on a level playing field. Giving everyone the opportunity to be part of the solution.
  • When a jazz band gather for a jam session it is all about improvising based on experience, skills and creativity. They are focused on the opportunities that arise from what others create. They sense, they listen, they collaborate while creating unique unpredictable art.Collaborative design with stakeholders is based on the same principles.
  • So you’re going to have a design jam.You’re going to get a bunch of people in a room and improvise.What do you need to be successful?Variety is needed: the goal of collaborative design is to have different perspectives so that problem solving can take place faster and covering greater breadth.
  • I generally focus on three main types of stakeholders: people who do user experience stuff (IA, IXD, VD, Usability); people who build things (front end developers, UI developers, back end developers); and people who tend to the business end of things (marketing, sales, finance)These three groups usually have very different perspectives, but there is often overlap – people can play multiple roles (front end developer/designer).A good design jam has people at it from each of these three areas.Maybe you don’t have these roles…what now?Know what each area really values and find people that value those same things…then you’ll have a balanced stakeholder feedback.What roles might fill the focus on people?What roles might fill the focus on technology?What roles might fill the focus on the bottom line?Don’t have too many people…collaborative design with more than 8 can get out of hand really quickly.
  • So you’ve got the people who will contribute to the jam. Now you need something for them to do.Problem statement could be “create a mobile app to help moviegoers plan a night out when they are traveling/away from home” Can’t be too broad – If you’re creating a complex application or an entire website, chunk it up and focus on the most difficult problems or the ones that will have the greatest impact on the business or users.Provide context in the form of information about who will be using the product (persona, user story, etc.)
  • Pair people up in the design studio and have them go about sketching a solution to the design problem.Keeps them motivated and moving forward and engaged.Plus it forces them to communicate what they’re thinking out loud, which means you can eavesdrop and learn a lot!Walk around and listen to what’s happening. I often have a notetaker. Timebox the design period.AlsoRely on things people know how to use: paper and pencil, marker and whiteboard, etc. No specialized knowledge means the playing field is leveled.
  • Have the pairs present their solutions.Then put the solutions up on the wall and allow people to circle things they really like.What you end up with is a veritable cornucopia of good ideas, new information, and failed designs.Now you can start building with greater confidence that people will accept the outcome.
  • In this case our problem statement was “Design a page in which scholars can read books online”We had 4 teams of two people. They were given a persona (“Rosie” in the corner) for context and told to sketch what that page might look like.You can see that there are no exceptional drawing skills required to communicate design…boxes and arrows work.
  • We then had them present their ideas and walk through their design with the rest of the stakeholders. This gave people opportunity to build on what others had done, ask questions, and learn about why something was done a certain way.We did this in an hour and a half over lunch (we provided food).What was the outcome?Ideas were allowed to percolate within the room and helped establish a more clearly defined product vision by solidifying ideas in a visible way.They established the problem space together and then it was easier to talk about what should and should not be part of the design solution.The UX team later used those ideas to inform the final mockups. The outcome was a quicker progression to a final design by examining and rejecting bad ideas in a collaborative way.
  • Users aren’t just for testing on after the fact.What does it mean to collaborate with users?Focus really needs to be on understanding.Letting go of preconceived notions, corporate myths, stereotypes, and being open to being wrong about your ideas and your users.
  • Think about reading minds…peeling back layers and getting to how people think about things and why they think that way.Can’t just ask…build a faster horse.Give users a means of communicating needs without having them have UX expertise..
  • If you’re not using real users, you’re doing stakeholder collaboration. This is fine. If you want to collaborate with users, you have to find real users.Recruiting is crucial: do you want people who have never used the product before or who have experience? Do they need to have specific domain knowledge or life experiences?Recruiting is the hardest part – get help with this. Call center is a great resource.You want to get ideas from more than one user, but this is generally not a group activity.Bring them in, give them context, have them sketch their ideas, have them walk through their designs.Good way of giving them context is storytelling. Have them tell a story around the problem you want to explore.the bollywood method.
  • Across individuals there will be patterns of commonality. Those are the things you want to dig into deeply. Those are the things that will inform the design of the product most.So ideally, you’d collaborate with as many users as you need to in order to start discerning patterns. This is usually less than you think. If you’ve recruited the right people – 5-6.Outliers and edge cases can’t drive design.
  • Freehand interactive design offline—read the Tedesco/Tullis paper I refer to at the end!This one is more about collecting the mental model of users as you watch them design something.Best used during exploratory phase of project.How we did it:We were redesigning an existing page on our site (the page where you read online artilcles)We did a competitive analysis and took the most common features/functionality found on other sites, removed all design elements (such as colour), and printed them out on magnet paper to be used on a magnetic whiteboard.We provided a whiteboard marker and eraser as well as a “monitor” (cardboard cutout) to frame the page inWhat this told us was what commonly found elements were most used and where the gaps were in terms of what people had to draw in. We also saw where people placed things.
  • We learned a lot about Patterns and flows!Main questions we answered:What do people think they’ll use?Where would they put it?Why do they put it there?We were able to detect patterns in where certain elements were placed on the page. When we talked to the designers of these pages, we found a strong correlation between where they placed something and at what point in their workflow they would use a feature/functionality.
  • So these ideas are lofty and wonderful, right?Yeah…but how can we get people to buy in to this idea? How can we start doing this?Introduce stakeholder reviews first so that you can have evidentiary support. You want to be able to say “We reviewed this first with some stakeholders and found 3 problems that we would not have found in production. We can fix these problems before it goes live now. We’d like to review with users as well to see if we can prevent any further problems.”It might start with reviewing it with one or two people, maybe catching people on lunch or waiting for coffee. Seek out opportunity.Let design jams evolve organically.We didn’t start out making a big deal with an official name. And we left out the word design (it can be intimidating for non-designers!)
  • While I was putting together this presentation I had some time to reflect on my career and how I’ve evolved from a highly energetic, but defensive designer to a person who regularly invites people into her work.Why do I feel so strongly about collaborative design?I reflected on the high and low points of my career, on small wins and massive failures.  I recalled laughing until I cried with my colleagues, and I remembered bitter arguments over design details.  All these experiences have shaped me as a person, and my professional philosophy has been forged out of those moments of triumph and failure.  But mostly the failures.In my early career, Every design that I created that was rejected or torn apart at a meeting crushed me.    I was oft heard saying “I asked for feedback and nobody ever told me that…”The reasons why my work was rejected had nothing to do with my talent. It had to do with me not knowing the big picture and therefore not meeting the needs of all stakeholders.Collaborative design is about experimenting, and a big part of experimenting is failure.If you only ever settle on your first idea and if you only develop based on your own ideas, you’ll never know what you’re missing. Holding ideas up for rejection and embracing that rejection is about exploring possibilities, not about being seen as stupid.There are many forms of success, most born of mistake, and while the best laid plans can often run amok, we can always emerge with new insight, new ideas, and new attitudes about our work.  Those are the real wins.
One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Smiles, a Scottish author and reformer.  I made it into a poster that hangs in our offices:
“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”
I like to consider myself a great discoverer.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Failing faster, failing forward:
      Collaborative design as a development activity
      Christina (Xtina) York
    • 2. Humour me…
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 3. 1
    • 4. Rarely is the first idea the best.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 5. “A great idea is not enough.”-Rosabeth Moss Kanter
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 6. Rarely does the best idea come from any one person.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 7. You don’t need to be artsy or a designer.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 8. Why should you care about investing in design?
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 9. 1st type of design collaboration: with stakeholders
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 10. Stakeholder Collaboration: Jam Sessions
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 11. Prerequisite: balance in the jam
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 12. Finding a stakeholder balance…
      Focus: people
      Care about what is pleasurable and usable.
      Focus: technology
      Care about what is logical and feasible.
      Focus: bottom line
      Care about what is valuable to the organization.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 13. Prerequisite: clear problem statement with context
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 14. Tip: two heads are better than one
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 15. Tip: have the designers entertain you by presenting their ideas
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 16. Case Study: Idea Studios
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 17. Case Study: Idea Studios
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 18. Questions about collaborating with stakeholders?
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 19. 2nd type of design collaboration: with users
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 20. User Collaboration: Understanding Mental Models
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 21. Prerequisite: one REAL user at a time
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 22. Tip: Look for patterns in user designs
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 23. Case Study: FIDO
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 24. What can participatory design tell us?
      Global area
      You could discover common patterns found in mental models.
      Workflow Narrative
      Participants represent their online research workflow as starting on Google or a library site, searching, clicking on an article/resource, and going to a website.
      Upon landing on an article view page, users generally check to see if the site is credible (1), check to see if this is the article they wanted and where/when it is from (2), skim the article quickly for relevance (3), see what they can do with the article, such as print (4), and finally look for ways to find more relevant information (5).
      This flow diagram represents the area of the web page that users seek to find specific information/functionality during their typical online research workflow.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 25. Questions about collaborating with users?
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 26. Stop trying to convince. Demonstrate.
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 27. Questions about anything I’ve said?
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 28. What’s all this about failure?
      @UXtina #collaborativedesign
    • 29. References
      2004: “Freehand Interactive Design Offline (FIDO): A new methodology for participatory design.” by Tedesco, Tullis, Chadwick-Dais. (A UPA peer-reviewed paper)
      2011: “Introduction to Design Studio Methodology” by Will Evans (UX Magazine)
      Stuff to Google:
      Todd ZakiWarfel
      Jeff Patterson (agile)
      design studios, design jams, innovation jams
      Christina York
      I’m @UXtina on Twitter
      I’m Xtina York on Slideshare,
      (which is where these slides will be later today)
      Thank you!