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Power of Why


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How the question "why?" is core to a designer's career. How the twin ideas of compassion and curiosity help us to ask people, Why?

Published in: Design, Business, Technology

Power of Why

  1. 1. The Power ofWhy ? Note: This is a combination of three talks I gave in a three week span in Aug/Sep 2012: - UX Week (San Francisco) - UX Australia (Brisbane) - RMIT (Melbourne) Naturally, this talk evolved in between each run. This version combines all three. The live presentation uses a lot of animations to augment the story. Since animations don’t translate to PDF, this version attempts to recreate the essence of the live version with static screens. Boxes like this include things I said, but didn’t appear in the live versions.Bill DeRouchey Consider them as speaker notes or talking points. I’d love to keep expanding on this, soAug/Sep 2012 @billder please send any feedback to Thanks!
  2. 2. wh Today we’re going to talk about that deep probing question, Why?, and how it relates to our careers as designers.
  3. 3. We are all quiteLucky. First, let’s take a step back to acknowledge that all of us in this room are incredibly lucky to have the career that we do. The world of design and user experience is an incredible profession to be a part of.
  4. 4. Our job is to talk to people. It’s our job to talk to people, to understand what they do and how they live. We get to go out, meet strangers, and simply learn from about subjects that we often don’t know much about. flickr : kunchia
  5. 5. And ask them questions. We even get to go outdoors sometimes. Propose ideas to people. Ask them questions. Get their feedback. Invite people to partake of the design process, even if it’s just fifteen minutes at a time. flickr : kunchia
  6. 6. And then make things for them. And then we get to go back to the office and make things for them. Hopefully help out their lives somehow. Ease some burden or just make something better. Studio Neat : Cosmonaut
  7. 7. But we have aProblem. But we’re faced with massive undercurrent of the relentless pace of technology. Keeping up with everything keeps getting harder and harder.
  8. 8. How can we plan ourCareers ? The result is that it makes it really difficult to plan out our careers. Looking ahead to plot a career may even be an antiquatedWe can’t. notion. Mine has definitely been one step at a time. But there’s something to be said for having some sort of direction as we go ahead in life.
  9. 9. 1967 1977 1987 2012 Let’s look at this from the long view. We’re here in 2012. Suppose you’re 25, 35, 45 years old. Maybe even a bit more.
  10. 10. 1967 1977 1987 1997 2007 2012 2017 2027 2037 2047 2057 And based on good medicine and exercise (right?), we’re all going to be at least 90 years old. Congratulations! Your career will span these years if you’re 25, 35 or 45. Notice how quickly 2047 comes along.
  11. 11. 1967 1977 1987 1997 2007 2012 2017 2027 2037 2047 2057 touch web Let’s look at the rapid tech evolution. The web has only been around for this long. Widespread use of touch, even less time. The iPhone only came out five years ago. Five. Years. Ago.
  12. 12. 1967 1977 1987 1997 2007 2012 2017 2027 2037 2047 2057 ? flexible neural displays? implants? touch dynamic webweb the surfaces? So what technologies do we have to adapt our design skills to next? How can we continually drive toward something while we’re continually learning about the mediums we have to design with and for?
  13. 13. Luckily, there is oneConstant. Fortunately, beside all this technology churn, there is one skill that we can work on throughout our careers. At least one constant that will serve us well at any age, and in any situation.
  14. 14. Simply askingWhy ? The ability to simply ask Why? To ask a probing, yet reasonable and calm, Why? In any situation.
  15. 15. Why does that happen ? Suppose you’re analyzing the action and feedback of a product and it does something unexpected. Why did that happen? What drove that design decision?
  16. 16. Why is that the plan ? Suppose you’re in a business that has a deadline to ship on a certain date, despite pressure that it’s a bad date. Why is that the plan? What’s driving that business decision?
  17. 17. Why is that the way ? Suppose you’re in a business that has a certain method for doing things, and it no longer works. Why is this the way we do things? Why did it make sense then, but not now?
  18. 18. Why did you do that ? Suppose you’re out in the field observing someone during some primary research. They hold a thing, or do things in an interesting order, or make an unexpected choice. Why did you do that? Tell me more about how you made that choice, or were you even aware of it?
  19. 19. Why do you believe that ? Suppose somebody uses an interesting word that reveals how they think about something. That’s an interesting phrase. Does that mean you think this? Why do you believe that?
  20. 20. Why What How/MuchWho When Where These are the questions that set us apart. These are the words that help us uncover the truth, that help us understand the world around us. And I think it’s these concepts that separate us from the other creatures on the planet. “I think.”
  21. 21. Why What How/MuchWho When Where =Being Human
  22. 22. Let’s look at this another way. A commonframework for looking at projects is What,How, Why.What you are working on.How you are working on it.Why you are working on it.In theory, the Why is the core andchanges the least often. How you achievethat vision may change a bit more. AndWhat the work entails will change themost rapidly. What How Why
  23. 23. Scott Sinek calls this the Golden Circle.He says that people who focus on Whysomething should happen tend to havethe best success in getting things done,because they have the vision and cancommunicate it. What How Why
  24. 24. It is our job to create aConversation. So let’s dig more into what it is to ask the question Why? It’s our job as UX people to have conversations with people. They may be research participants, co-workers, or other partners. But as we need to learn from others and craft solutions, part of that is simply have a productive conversation with somebody.
  25. 25. We often have to ask hardQuestions. But in our quest to learn about how things can be better, different, or improved, we often have to ask people questions they don’t normally hear. We often have to ask them questions about Why they do/think/believe various things. We have to probe.
  26. 26. Why? digs under theSurface. These aren’t your everyday questions. These are questions that dig below the surface of everyday activity. These are questions that dig into the layers under behavior and sometimes into the subconscious.
  27. 27. And this can beTricky. And these are delicate conversations. These are questions that require people to step outside themselves to assess what they are doing or thinking. And sometimes with a stranger filming them and somebody else taking notes. No pressure at all!
  28. 28. People can getWeird. Not everybody is up for being placed in this tricky situation. They may put up their barriers and get weird somehow. Defensive. Unsure. Flippant. In short, they don’t respond to you in an open manner because they feel threatened in some way.
  29. 29. Uneasy Unsure Flustered Flippant Defensive Agitated Territorial ConfusedUncomfortable Distracted
  30. 30. Problems arise whenWho = Why And this is because some people tie what they believe in with who they are, their identity. When you question what they do or how they think, you are questioning them as a person. No wonder some people get defensive. It’s because they believe you’re attacking them. And of course, you’re not.
  31. 31. Who ≠ Why So we need to break the bond between Who and Why. How?
  32. 32. Compassion Curiosity and With compassion and curiosity. These will help you to reach people so that you can learn what you need to learn.
  33. 33. First, Compassion.What better living embodiment ofcompassion then the Dalai Lama? A manwho simply travels the world trying to getpeople to be nicer to themselves so theycan be nicer to others. Compassion
  34. 34. It is not just aboutEmpathy. Many people say that designers need empathy, and I agree. But is it enough? Can we be truly feel what another person is feeling? If I’m interviewing a surgeon, a social worker or a mom, I can intellectually identify with their feelings, but never at a real gut level.
  35. 35. Empathy first requiresCompassion. So we need to push ourselves a little harder. We need to reach out to the participant, the co-worker, the partner to really want to help them. Compassion is the alleviation of someone else’s suffering. Which not coincidentally, sounds a little bit like design itself.
  36. 36. Compassion“ If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people.” Reducing someone’s fear can open them up.
  37. 37. Curiosity The other thing that designers need to reach people with is Curiosity. We’ve all been around two- and three-year olds and witnessed their insatiable need to know Why the world works the way it does. Why is the sky blue? Why do we need money? Why does Darth Vader always wear a helmet?flickr : kristaphoto
  38. 38. It is the eternalUnfolding. Asking Why? helps us to continually understand the world around us, to unfold the hidden aspects of our world. Since it’s impossible to know everything, it’s 100% possible to keep learning.
  39. 39. It is the essence ofWhy? And curiosity is of course the essence of Why? It’s that desire to learn about something you don’t know, to expand your knowledge about something.
  40. 40. And it requiresTenacity. And curiosity for designers requires the tenacity of a three-year old. The neverending drive to want to learn more about the subject at hand.
  41. 41. CuriosityYou will fly to anotherplanet, parachute intothe thin atmosphere,and drop yourself bya sky crane just to golook at rocks. What better role model for curiosity than Curiosity?
  42. 42. On one side, compassion for the people that we need to have hard conversations with. On the other, tenacious curiosity to understand and build. Those are both necessary components for designing.THIS IS DESIGN
  43. 43. I want to see you right in the middle, employing both compassion and curiosity. YOUCompassion Curiosity
  44. 44. Now if you slightly twist these words, you get Genuine Interest. And that’s what you need to really reach people. Simply display genuine interest in what they have to say, because people can sense fake interest. YOUGenuine Interest
  45. 45. Ok, let’s say you’ve spent some time practicing how to ask Why? with compassion and curiosity... now what? You can now look at three different levels you can focus your Why skills on: individuals, organizations, and the world.Why? a Person an Org the World
  46. 46. Let’s start with people. Most of this talk has already been discussing one-on-one conversations, so I won’t belabor this point too much.Why? a Person
  47. 47. But simply having and displaying genuine interest in what somebody has to say is the best way to reach somebody, the best way to have a conversation that probes into what they do and think. People will tell you their life story if they think you want to hear : halfchinese PEOPLE
  48. 48. Now let’s step it up a level and talk about groups of people, and that usually means....Why? an Organization
  49. 49. When your design problem becomes the business itself.BUSINESS!
  50. 50. Why? exposes theRuts & Habits. Too often, businesses fall into habits into the way they do things. They drop into ruts they can’t escape. Why? can expose the assumptions behind them, can shine light on decisions that made sense months or years ago, but maybe not now. You have the skills to probe into business decisions to understand why things happen.
  51. 51. It reveals absurdity ofBECAUSEI SAID SO. Asking Why? often times will also bubble up to somebody simply saying “because I said so” without any backup of reasoning or logical thought. Gut is one thing, but if you can’t articulate anything beyond “because”, then you have a problem. A good designer can probe here to surface that.
  52. 52. And then at some point...Why ? Why! And then at some point in your career, the skills you’ve developed in having conversations with people leads you to developing skills in articulating ideas.
  53. 53. You learned toDistill. Because you’ve learned how to distill many different data points or discussions into a single concept, framework or model.
  54. 54. You learned toCommunicate. You’ve learned to develop ways to communicate what you’ve distilled, whether it be prototypes, words, diagrams or images.
  55. 55. You are asked toExplain. And your co-workers and colleagues recognize this and look to you as the one who can explain things.
  56. 56. Your job then becomes toEvangelize. You become the champion of ideas because you’ve learned to talk to people, pose questions, distill your findings, and communicate them.
  57. 57. You have the tools to sayThis is WHY! You’ve built up a skill set that can say Why something should happen because you can back it up with observations, thought, and rationale.
  58. 58. This is driving the trend ofUX Product. And this is what I believe is behind the trend of UX people becoming product managers. Because they’ve developed the skills to understand people and create ideas appropriate to them. They’ve learned how to be advocates for people, not just business plans.
  59. 59. Then you get the itch toGo Bigger. And then at some point in your career, you may get that burn to try out your skills on even bigger problems.
  60. 60. And that means looking at the big world around you.Why? in the World
  61. 61. And that means the big institutions of our lives.INSTITUTIONS!
  62. 62. The really big things that Food Water we’ve built up that all have massive problems that need fixing. Massive. Problems. Energy Science Banking Social Care Education Health Care Insurance GovernmentTransportation Environment
  63. 63. These are the BIGGEST designProblems. The great thing is, we can apply our design thinking to these problems. They’re just bigger, harder, more intransigent, and ultimately, more worthwhile in the long run to tackle.
  64. 64. Use your ability to ask Why toGo Fix Them. Because in the end, somebody has to break through this mess we’ve created for ourselves. Why shouldn’t it be the designers of the world who conceive of new ways to live and work and be human? Isn’t that what we do?
  65. 65. Live to be at least 90 years old.Practice asking Why?Really connect with people.With Compassion. With Curiosity.Question everything, small and big.And then go redesign it all. In summary...
  66. 66. Thank you.Bill DeRouchey What’sAug/Sep 2012 @billder stopping you?