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From object to ecosystem

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Architecta webinar on designing physical / digital ecosystems, Nov 15 2019

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From object to ecosystem

  1. 1. webinar architecta FROM THE OBJECT TO THE ECOSYSTEM andreas @resmini November 15 2019
  2. 2. TRADITIONALLY, DESIGN IMPLIES MAKING “THINGS” The design tradition of “making” has its roots in the craft Making has been associated with “things” for a long time
  3. 3. THE DESIGN OF SOFTWARE INTERFACES An initial challenge to the idea of “making things” comes along with software interfaces between the ‘70s and the ‘80s Interaction design produces “objects” that are not tangible
  4. 4. A SHIFT TOWARDS THE INTANGIBLE Through the years, intangibles have become the norm Design thinking and service design are an example of this shift, fields of practice and research that approach organizational processes and services via a design mindset
  5. 5. STILL MAKING “THINGS” Regardless of (in)tangibility, all of these practices are still “traditional design” in the sense that they focus on producing an “object””: it might be a UI, a service, a process for managing patients in a hospital, a chair. Still, it’s a clearly bounded “thing”
  6. 6. ECOSYSTEMS IMPLY A NEW FOCUS The design process here gets centered on “an experience” This shift brings in emergence, complexity, uncertainty, and the necessity to move to a bird’s-eye, strategic view It also brings whomever is having “an experience” center stage
  7. 7. WANT CLARITY OUT OF COMPLEXITY? The name of the game then is information architecture The flows of information across an ecosystem constitute its backbone and its second-order machine
  8. 8. HERE IS AN EXAMPLE Uber is a service. Sure. But: Uber is also a part of a larger ecosystem that is centered on personal, individual transportation To me, Uber is a piece of “going somewhere for some purpose”
  9. 9. THAT’S THE EXPERIENCE Unless you are plain interested in just riding Uber cars, that is (Hobbies are hobbies. Who am I to judge, right?)
  10. 10. NEITHER PRODUCT- NOR SERVICE-BOUNDED The experience does not stop where “Uber the service” stops Uber’s role also changes from completely marginal to absolutely central depending on my own ongoing experience
  11. 11. THAT MEANS UBER DOES NOT OWN IT ALL The experience itself is not owned nor it is fully managed or controlled by any single company or organization
  12. 12. NEITHER DIGITAL NOR PHYSICAL, BUT BLENDED The ecosystem is a blended actionable space that straddles across digital and physical environments It is also the place where an experience unfolds
  13. 13. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “AN EXPERIENCE”? Think “paying my taxes”. Or “going to the movies”. Or again “having the hamster vaccinated”. These are experiences The way they happen, actors will go through them moving freely between locations, devices, products, and services
  14. 14. WAIT AGAIN, “ACTORS”? Yes, actors. The people formerly known as the users. An ecosystem is an actor-driven construct, both in terms of its structure and its content
  15. 15. SO AN “ACTOR” GOES THROUGH “AN EXPERIENCE” Yes, and the structure of relationships between actors, tasks, touchpoints, seams, and channels in which this experience takes place is the ecosystem The actual path that an actor walks is one of the many possible trajectories through that specific ecosystem
  16. 16. actors, agents within the ecosystem youtube.com
  17. 17. all sorts of agents
  18. 18. actors pursue a future desired state alphasys.com.au
  19. 19. tasks, any activity these agents perform
  20. 20. touchpoints, individual points of interaction in a channel
  21. 21. seams, thresholds between touchpoints and across channels
  22. 22. channels, pervasive ecosystem-level information layers
  23. 23. and their relationships
  24. 24. ACTORS, TASKS, TOUCHPOINTS, SEAMS, AND CHANNELS? These are the basic building blocks of any ecosystem Their precise nature is specific to an ecosystem and is defined pragmatically based on context and goals
  25. 25. OK. ACTORS FIRST We know actors very well. Human actors are the people formerly known as the users (TPFKATU) The name change underlines their agency: they are the ones who effectively shape the ecosystem Software agents are or can be actors as well, of course
  26. 26. VERY WELL. TASKS THEN Tasks are all the activities actors perform in their pursue of a desired future state: buying a ticket to go see a movie, for example, or logging in to an online system to pay their taxes Tasks are usually coupled with progression through touchpoints
  27. 27. MH. TOUCHPOINTS? Touchpoints are individual points-of-interaction that become part of the ecosystem as actors connect them freely to move on towards their desired future state When buying that ticket to go see a movie, the touchpoint could be a website or a kiosk or a person: we say touchpoints are medium-specific (digital, physical, biological)
  28. 28. WAIT. IS MY PHONE A TOUCHPOINT THEN? OR THE APP? Both. Working with ecosystems implies adopting an architectural, systemic mindset and a zoom in/out approach The phone level might be ok when investigating mail usage patterns in the workplace, the app better for more specific cases Granularity cannot be discussed or set in abstract, but has to reflect the project’s needs and scope at that moment
  29. 29. FOLLOWING. CHANN ... No, let’s examine seams first. Seams are thresholds, connections If you can move from touchpoint A to touchpoint X, those two are permeable and share a seam Seams allow information circulating in the ecosystem to flow on
  30. 30. OK, SEAMS. NOW CHANN ... Seams have a very interesting property: they allow the experience to progress from touchpoint to touchpoint, but since they convey information, which is medium-aspecific, they actually can connect touchpoints residing in different channels (it goes without saying that seams can connect touchpoints in totally different locations, right? We’re talking semantics here)
  31. 31. DIFFER …? OK, CHANNELS. NOW. Channels are a design construct. They do not really exist The best way to imagine them is to think of individual pipes carrying information around the ecosystem Wherever you have a tap, you have a touchpoint As much as taps live on pipes, touchpoints live on channels
  32. 32. PIPES? TAPS? It’s a metaphor, nothing more. Let’s rephrase Channels are pervasive layers that carry information around the ecosystem, like pipes carry water around The way they are created is a design decision. They could reflect the formal sectioning of an EA model, be the result of the designers’ own biases and interpretation, or anything in between
  33. 33. CHANNELS CONTAIN INFORMATION. AND? That’s the catch. Channels are containers for specific “types” of information. These types can be compared to loose categories For example, a going-to-the-movie ecosystem could have a “movie-related” channel. In there you would find IMDB, a kiosk selling tickets, the website for the cinema, and staff
  34. 34. YES, BUT WHY ARE CHANNELS IMPORTANT? Because we are working with information and our goal is to support better experiences If staff at the movie theater doesn’t know about tickets or a kiosk malfunction (that is, they do not live on the same channel and have no seams between them), we can be pretty sure that lack of connection will result in a bad experience
  35. 35. UH. AND THE ECOSYSTEM? The ecosystem is the product of the ontology, the conceptual boundaries used to organize the experience itself The ecosystem is a spatial structure in blended space, straddling non-continuous digital and physical environments Its boundaries are arbitrary and depend on goals and context
  36. 36. NON-LINEAR ECOSYSTEMS VS LINEAR EXPERIENCE While the ecosystem itself is a non-linear network, actors trying to achieve a future desired state consider themselves moving along a personal, linear path of subsequent steps Even more importantly, their experience is a linear narrative
  37. 37. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 A PATH THROUGH THE ECOSYSTEM GREEN LINE: ACTOR’S PATH THROUGH AN ECOSYSTEM COMPRISING 3 DIFFERENT SYSTEMS
  38. 38. THE ECOSYSTEM’S BACKBONE IS INFORMATION Actors constantly create, remediate, and use information This information is transferred along the actor’s path and through the ecosystem, increasing its complexity Designing a successful cross-channel experience means optimizing the information flows and increasing resilience
  39. 39. OK, SO WHERE DO YOU START FROM? Pragmatically, from the formulation of an individual, organizational, or social need or pain Conceptually, from an actor’s experience
  40. 40. WAIT A SECOND, THAT’S NOT AN ANSWER It is. While a certain project will be initiated because of a social, organizational, or individual need or pain, that need or pain is not what generates the ecosystem That need or pain is a problem space within an ecosystem that is usually, at project start, largely unknown
  41. 41. HERE YOU GO AGAIN. NEEDS AND PAINS? Yes. Needs or pains are usually the reason an investigation starts Examples of organizational pain are “not intercepting the actor’s path because they go to competitors”, “increase our paid-for vs free customer ratio”, or “enter the online grocery market” A social pain could be reduce traffic, or promote equality
  42. 42. NOT FOLLOWING. MAYBE AN EXAMPLE? PLEASE? Sure. Suppose there is a fictional University X whose management wants to “improve their courses” This need or desire to improve is the organizational pain that serves as the catalyst for the design process
  43. 43. “MAKE OUR COURSES BETTER”
  44. 44. SO WE HAVE PA... Before we get to that. I find always extremely useful to have the design team produce a rough sketch of the ecosystem as they see it based on whatever information they possess This is an iterative process whose primary goal is to provide a canvas for further reflection and a way to make bias explicit
  45. 45. ALRIGHT. PAIN ... … this can be the ugliest, most terrible sketch ever, or something more refined or structured, depending on resources The important thing is that it gets to be constantly used and revised, and made like a map / rich picture / system map Pictures. Links. Not a list, nor a set of requirements
  46. 46. ... You were saying that pains are not solutions, right? They aren’t. They are a problem space that requires investigation But then, what about the actors and their experiences?
  47. 47. THEY WANT BETTER COURSES, NO? Do they? We know what University X wants to do, and we could argue that University X is an actor (or many different groups of actors), and we’d be correct, but are they ostensibly the primary actors? Are they the ones for whom we make better courses?
  48. 48. I GUESS NOT. I WOULD SAY STUDENTS Correct again, at least in our example. In reality, even that would have to be checked. It might be that a better course means a course that can be approved by some certification authority Here, let’s say students. So, wouldn’t you agree that we first of all should know what a “better course” is to students?
  49. 49. SURE, BUT WHAT ABOUT TEACHERS, OR STAFF? Pragmatism is the name of the game, as in all of design If budget, time, or other constraints allow it, investigate them If pockets are empty and results due yesterday, stick to the primary group of actors. Remember there’s always more actors
  50. 50. WAIT. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S ALWAYS MORE? Given any system, its boundaries are arbitrarily established based on the questions being asked You cannot argue in abstract that the group “students’ partners” is to be included or excluded, for example
  51. 51. SO CONTEXT IS KING OF SOMETHING Exactly. Ecosystems cannot be but contextual It’s a rather effective approach, and one that provides a very down-to-earth way to answer to the eternal question of “where do I stop”: you stop where all of your questions are being answered
  52. 52. OK. BACK ONE STEP. INVESTIGATE PRIMARY ACTORS Using whatever tools or methods are appropriate, actors are investigated to find out what “a course” is to them We want to know their goal and the path they travel Usually, not only there are differences between actor groups, but individual actors in the same group do not see eye to eye
  53. 53. YES, STUDENTS ARE INDIVIDUALS. BUT GOALS? Students will tell you that a course for them is something they want to pass because they need the credits, or that they want to learn all of the knowledge, or that they hate school These “goals” are important in connection with the path they travel through the still unknown ecosystem we are exploring
  54. 54. THE PATH THEY TRAVEL? At this stage, these different “goals” will probably configure structurally different ecosystems Even though the base elements might or might not be exactly the same, their role, their relationships, and their weight in “the experience” will be different from actor to actor
  55. 55. ANY WAY YOU CAN MAKE THIS A TAD CLEARER? For a student who just wants to pass, additional non-compulsory reading material or resources will have little importance For an off-campus student, the teacher’s office might be useless but a Facebook group or the course online platform essential Goals and paths through the ecosystem are linked
  56. 56. SO, NOW PATHS AND MAPS? Well yes, but there’s a few interesting things that have to do with the primary elements and the nature of the ecosystem itself I should probably mention before I forget Do you mind if I ...
  57. 57. … NO, PLEASE, GO AHEAD Thanks, much appreciated First, I should stress how ecosystem are instantiated by actors As such, they are transient, volatile structures more similar to a theatrical performance or a ballet than to a building or a chair
  58. 58. ELEMENTS IN ECOSYSTEMS ARE POLYMORPHOUS An individual element could represent either a touchpoint or an actor, or both, depending on the ecosystem currently being investigated and the current goals and intent A typical example is provided by human actors, who very often also act as touchpoints for other actors. Staff, for example
  59. 59. A TOUCHPOINT MAY BELONG TO MORE THAN ONE CHANNEL Touchpoints in an ecosystem may belong to multiple channels “Study group” could both be an element in a hypothetical “peer conversations” channel and in a “lectures” channel, for example When they do, they create seams that allow actors to move across channels, which is a good thing
  60. 60. CHANNEL: LECTURES STUDY GROUP SLIDES BOOK CHAPTERS CLASS DELIVERY CHANNEL: PEERS CONVERSATIONS CHANNEL: COURSE INFORMATION PIPES REPRESENT CHANNELS, BOXES REPRESENT TOUCHPOINTS, LINES REPRESENT SEAMS
  61. 61. GOTCHA. BUT WHY IS “LECTURES” A CHANNEL THERE? Because actors have described “lectures” in such a way that they match the description of a channel, that is, as a pervasive layer that transmits information throughout the ecosystem As such, this is a specific characteristic of this ecosystem and not a general rule you can apply as-is everywhere
  62. 62. WHAT WOULD “LECTURES” “CONTAIN”, THEN? In the example, it would be a blended channel where medium-specific touchpoints coexist, allowing actors to move between the physical and digital spaces of the ecosystem It might contain for example video recordings of the lectures, slides, notes and whatnot, but also the actual lecture moments happening in a certain classroom at a certain time
  63. 63. GOOD SEAMS ARE NECESSARY Seams are the thresholds between touchpoints and channels While the “experience” needs to proceed unobstructed, this does not mean seams should not be perceivable. There might be situations where a “bump” is necessary. For example, warning the actor she is leaving a “secure” channel for an “insecure” one
  64. 64. CHANNELS MIGHT HAVE STRUCTURED RELATIONSHIPS Preliminary research seems to suggest that there might be preferred paths between touchpoints and across channels, and that some general rules might exist that allow to predict whether a channel is either permeable or impermeable to another channel depending on the touchpoints involved
  65. 65. GENERATIVE AND EXOGENIC That’s two big words in a row. They mean that ecosystem approaches are practices aimed at making things (generative) whose value proposition for actors resides elsewhere, in whatever desired final state they are pursuing (exogenic). Compare with crossmedia, which is descriptive and endogenic
  66. 66. OK, VERY INTERESTING. NOW REALLY, PATHS AND MAPS Alright, alright. Here’s the emergent ecosystem map from that course example, and then a more detailed example dealing with “going to the movies”
  67. 67. “I wanted to go to the movies, so I checked IMDB, I DM’ed a friend, no Netflix, tried to book dinner, skated all the way to the theater, got tickets, enjoyed killer clowns”
  68. 68. IMDB
  69. 69. WHATSAPP IMDB
  70. 70. WHATSAPP IMDB
  71. 71. WHATSAPP IMDB YELP
  72. 72. WHATSAPP SKATES IMDB YELP
  73. 73. WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB YELP
  74. 74. WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE YELP
  75. 75. WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE NETFLIX BUS YELP RESTAURANT SMSWEBSITE
  76. 76. WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE NETFLIX BUS YELP RESTAURANT SMSWEBSITE FRIEND’S HOME BUS
  77. 77. WHATSAPP BOX OFFICE MOVIE NETFLIX BUS YELP RESTAURANT SMS FRIEND’S HOME BUS DINNER PS4 BOARD GAMES PHONE PIZZA PLACE
  78. 78. WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE NETFLIX BUS YELP RESTAURANT SMSWEBSITE FRIEND’S HOME BUS DINNER PS4 BOARD GAMES PHONE PIZZA PLACE WHATSAPP SKATES BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE YELP WHATSAPP BOX OFFICE IMDB MOVIE BUS SMSWEBSITE
  79. 79. PATH B PATH A Office Text Text Website Theater Kiosk Friend Movie Text Text Bus stop Bus stop Theater FriendHome
  80. 80. Movie PATH D PATH C Home IMDB IMDB Website Netflix Movie Website Reddit App Theater BoothSchool Bike
  81. 81. WHAT ABOUT CHANNELS? Here. This is the same ecosystem map with two different channels highlighted, showing how a couple of touchpoints are thoroughly disjointed from the flow (remember this is an example based on very little data)
  82. 82. MORE TO FOLLOW For sure.

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