SlideShare a Scribd company logo
Philosophy of Lean
Toward a Phenomenological Understanding of
Product Innovation
Thomas Wendt
Surrounding Signifiers
@thomas_wendt
thomas@srsg.co
srsg.co
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Thomas Wendt
Design Strategist and Researcher
!
Teacher, Speaker, and Writer
!
Founder of Surrounding Signifiers, a strategy and design
consultancy
!
Background in continental philosophy, psychology, and
literary theory
!
!
Designer’s Paradox
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
The designer’s paradox
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
We cannot think about solutions until
we understand problems
!
AND
!
We cannot understand a problem until
we think about solutions
The designer’s paradox states that we cannot think about solutions until we understand the problem, AND we cannot understand a problem until we think about
solutions.
!
The first part of the statement is easy enough. Designing solutions for a poorly defined problem space is wasteful and is exactly what a good design process tries to avoid.
The second part, however, is more complicated. Saying that we cannot understand a problem until we think about solutions breaks up the linearity of the first statement.
Moving from problem understanding to solutions assumes that there is a final answer at the end of the “understanding” phase, and once we find it, we will be able to
design solutions without anything changing in the problem space. It assumes we can understand a problem space before exploring all the conditions of possibility it
affords. The second part allows for exploring these potentialities in terms of solution hypotheses, but it largely ignores the need to for upfront exploration.
http://www.emerce.nl/content/uploads/2013/09/build_measure_learn.jpg
Lean attempts to solve the paradox by emphasizing action before thinking, and continuous learning over drawn out reflection. In a similar fashion, phenomenology
attempted to prioritize active engagement as a means of understanding over theoretical speculation. Our focus here is how phenomenology can inform lean design.
Intro to Phenomenology
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
I’ll do it a massive disservice by summarizing in 4 slides
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Phenomenology is the study of human
experience
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Use of technology shapes our
conception of ourselves and the world
http://josephstashko.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/foursquare2.jpg
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
All experiences occur within a use
context
http://patsylove.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/dsc050103.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5202/5339017351_00185bd19d_o.jpg
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Praxis over theory
Phenomenology emphasizes practical experience over theoretical speculation. We experience something before we develop theoretical models of it. 
!
Lean’s rejection of waterfall big design is similar to phenomenology’s rejection of theoretical philosophy. When Lean UX emphasizes in-context user testing and
hypothesis-driven design, it is essentially rejecting the theoretical, speculative nature of waterfall product development. 
!
Both phenomenology and Lean UX promote praxis as a means of knowledge and understanding.
Phenomenology and
Lean UX
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Where do they overlap?
We have to begin with the Build, Measure, Learn cycle.
Build
Measure
Learn
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Enactivism:
Our understanding of the world is not
theoretical, it is enacted through
everyday interaction.
Both Lean and Phenomenology agree on the role of enactivism, or the idea that knowledge and understanding come from active engagement with the everyday
environment. Both are inherently anti-dualist. 
!
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Situated Action:
All action occurs in a particular context.
Context shapes the experience.
http://24.media.tumblr.com/76f4866cda711160fba545c963ae23d6/tumblr_mz4145oVgs1tocz7ko1_1280.jpg
The emphasis that Lean UX places on prototypes as a means of active, worldly engagement is a way for product development to incorporate enactivism and situated
action. Prototypes are the means by which designers enable real user interaction rather than speculating from the white board.
Build
Measure
Learn
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt http://uxmag.com/sites/default/files/uploads/pulidopaperinscreen/Step6.jpg
“At the very moment human beings use
them, artifacts change from mere
‘objects lying around’ into artifacts-for-
doing-something.”
Peter-Paul Verbeek
The prototype becomes an artifact used for measuring real world action. It is a compromise between potential wasted time spent coding an unvalidated idea, on one side,
and on the other, relying on artifacts without a use context. 
!
Some factions of phenomenology differentiate between objects and things. Objects are dead material with no use context. But as Peter-Paul Verbeek says, “at the very
moment human beings use them, artifacts change from mere ‘objects lying around’ into artifacts-for-doing-something.”
!
Purposeful interaction transforms objects into meaningful things. This is what the prototype does: it provides objects with a use context and transforms them into
meaningful things for users.
Intention
Breakage
Coping
But purposeful interaction and engaged use do not mean that nothing goes wrong. Quite the opposite: introducing the human element almost guarantees that mistakes
will happen.
!
It is easy to think of user testing as a way to eliminate the “unintuitive” aspects of a product, and to eventually create something that allows smooth interaction. But this is
an impossible goal. Instead, phenomenology tells us that smooth interactions will almost always be interrupted. The important part is how users deal with the
interruptions. When using a mobile app, for example, a user might come across a screen that doesn’t make sense. Instead of complete abandonment, the user is more
likely to cope with the object’s shortcomings.
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
ConspicuousCoping
http://cache.20minutes.fr/photos/2013/01/14/people-watch-participants-in-2d65-diaporama.jpg
Phenomenology identifies coping as the ways we deal with everyday objects and situations. It refers not only to dealing with broken things or things that don’t make
sense, but also to everyday situations in which we transition from unconscious interaction to conscious deliberation.
!
A simple example is typing an email. If you are fluent with a common keyboard, your focus is likely on the screen and the message you are crafting. The keyboard itself
fades into the background of the experience. If you misspell a word, however, your smooth interaction with the keyboard is broken and you must deliberately consider the
keyboard as an object.
Consider a more extreme example: my awful alarm clock. It looks like a regular clock…nothing special. Except that it has no on/off switch. There is no way to simply turn
off the alarm when it is blaring in your ear. Instead, one must perform an intricate combination of pressing, holding, and banging on multiple buttons to turn it off.
!
Instead of simply buying a new alarm clock, my wife and I have adapted our behavior to accommodate for this clock’s poor design. I still can’t identify exactly why.
Perhaps I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finally stop the alarm. Or maybe I’ve become accustomed to the dim red glow. Or maybe I like the idea being in
possession of such an awfully designed object.
!
Or perhaps it is a mix of environment and personal quirks. I need to see the time if I wake up at night. I can’t stand the idea of waking up and not knowing if it is 1:00am
or 5:00am. I could simply use my phone as an alarm clock and keep it within reach throughout the night. But there is a problem with that as well. I live in Soho, where
apartment space is a premium. Thus, my bedroom is literally too small for a night stand. 
!
These are the types of things that only emerge from dialogue and observation with an artifact in it use context.
Build
Measure
Learn
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
“The environment, other people and
tools are engaged with by way of the
affordances they offer. There is a
“structural coupling” between
intentionality and affordance.”
Phil Turner
Phil Turner says “The environment, other people and tools are engaged with by way of the affordances they offer. There is a “structural coupling” between intentionality
and affordance.” 
!
Learning from observing users not only provides insight into the relationship between available affordances and user intention, but also to designer intention. Testing a
prototype allows designers to see their intentions played out in real situations. Similarly, users see how their expectations match up with the potentiality of technology.
!
Learning from this interplay is more difficult than it seems.
“Hermeneutics begins where dialogue
ends.”
Paul Ricoeur
http://www.janushead.org/8-2/dialogue.jpg
Hermeneutics involves the interpretation of a text. It began with Biblical interpretation and was later incorporated into the larger practice of textual analysis.
!
In any process in which users are involved, a text emerges out of the interplay between designer, user, and technology. It is our job as researchers to interpret that text.
This is something that newcomers to the lean process are not usually prepared for. This is a broad statement, but most discourse around Lean, especially the lean startup
movement, espouses the benefits of research (why we do it), but does a poor job of explaining methodology (how to do it).
!
User research and testing understood through the phenomenological lens takes on a different tone in Lean settings. We often do not have the luxury of spending weeks
interpreting and reframing data, so we must adapt. We need to preserve the importance of interpreting the text that emerges through research and testing, but do so in a
way that doesn’t cause bottlenecks.
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
http://www.thestyleblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Mike-China-1.jpg
“Embodiment does not simply mean
physical manifestation. Rather, it means
being grounded in and emerging out of
everyday, mundane experience”
Paul Dourish
This brings us back to the role of everyday praxis and the role of embodiment. Paul Dourish says “Embodiment does not simply mean physical manifestation. Rather, it
means being grounded in and emerging out of everyday, mundane experience”
!
User testing aims to be as close to an embodied experience as possible. Choosing natural settings, minimizing bias, device-based prototypes are all the means of
embodying the experience in the everyday. The criticism that Lean posits against waterfall methods is essentially that the latter does not account for everyday
embodiment. Lean UX attempts to account for the inherently decontextualized nature of waterfall by placing the emphasis on the embodied world.
Prototypes enable
engaged interaction
!
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Prototypes enable
engaged interaction
!
Testing reveals coping
strategies
!
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
Prototypes enable
engaged interaction
!
Testing reveals coping
strategies
!
Interpretation uncovers
embodiment
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
The designer’s paradox
Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
We cannot think about solutions until
we understand problems
!
AND
!
We cannot understand a problem until
we think about solutions
To revisit the paradox that opened this talk, Lean UX and phenomenology give us a preliminary framework we can use to understand how problems and solutions must
evolve together. Other design theorists have observed the paradox, but to my knowledge, none have attempted to understand it via Lean and phenomenology.
!
If we think back before modern design, the intentional creation of a thing was the domain of craftsmen. Craft is separate from design in the sense that the craftsman does
not differentiate between maker and user. The one who creates is also the one who uses. A phenomenological approach to design does not necessarily return us to pure
craft, but it does begin to ground our approach within the contextual nature of situated action. 
!
I hope this short introduction will spark more conversation.
Thanks!
Thomas
Wendt
!
Surrounding
Signifiers
!
@thomas_wendt
!
thomas@srsg.co
!
srsg.co
Help me write a book!
!
designfordasein.com

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Philosophy of Lean: Toward A Phenomenological Understanding of Product Innovation

  • 1. Philosophy of Lean Toward a Phenomenological Understanding of Product Innovation Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt thomas@srsg.co srsg.co
  • 2. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Thomas Wendt Design Strategist and Researcher ! Teacher, Speaker, and Writer ! Founder of Surrounding Signifiers, a strategy and design consultancy ! Background in continental philosophy, psychology, and literary theory ! !
  • 3. Designer’s Paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 4. The designer’s paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt We cannot think about solutions until we understand problems ! AND ! We cannot understand a problem until we think about solutions The designer’s paradox states that we cannot think about solutions until we understand the problem, AND we cannot understand a problem until we think about solutions. ! The first part of the statement is easy enough. Designing solutions for a poorly defined problem space is wasteful and is exactly what a good design process tries to avoid. The second part, however, is more complicated. Saying that we cannot understand a problem until we think about solutions breaks up the linearity of the first statement. Moving from problem understanding to solutions assumes that there is a final answer at the end of the “understanding” phase, and once we find it, we will be able to design solutions without anything changing in the problem space. It assumes we can understand a problem space before exploring all the conditions of possibility it affords. The second part allows for exploring these potentialities in terms of solution hypotheses, but it largely ignores the need to for upfront exploration.
  • 5. http://www.emerce.nl/content/uploads/2013/09/build_measure_learn.jpg Lean attempts to solve the paradox by emphasizing action before thinking, and continuous learning over drawn out reflection. In a similar fashion, phenomenology attempted to prioritize active engagement as a means of understanding over theoretical speculation. Our focus here is how phenomenology can inform lean design.
  • 6. Intro to Phenomenology Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt I’ll do it a massive disservice by summarizing in 4 slides
  • 7. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Phenomenology is the study of human experience
  • 8. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Use of technology shapes our conception of ourselves and the world http://josephstashko.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/foursquare2.jpg
  • 9. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt All experiences occur within a use context http://patsylove.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/dsc050103.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5202/5339017351_00185bd19d_o.jpg
  • 10. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Praxis over theory Phenomenology emphasizes practical experience over theoretical speculation. We experience something before we develop theoretical models of it. ! Lean’s rejection of waterfall big design is similar to phenomenology’s rejection of theoretical philosophy. When Lean UX emphasizes in-context user testing and hypothesis-driven design, it is essentially rejecting the theoretical, speculative nature of waterfall product development. ! Both phenomenology and Lean UX promote praxis as a means of knowledge and understanding.
  • 11. Phenomenology and Lean UX Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Where do they overlap?
  • 12. We have to begin with the Build, Measure, Learn cycle.
  • 13. Build Measure Learn Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 14. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Enactivism: Our understanding of the world is not theoretical, it is enacted through everyday interaction. Both Lean and Phenomenology agree on the role of enactivism, or the idea that knowledge and understanding come from active engagement with the everyday environment. Both are inherently anti-dualist. !
  • 15. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Situated Action: All action occurs in a particular context. Context shapes the experience. http://24.media.tumblr.com/76f4866cda711160fba545c963ae23d6/tumblr_mz4145oVgs1tocz7ko1_1280.jpg The emphasis that Lean UX places on prototypes as a means of active, worldly engagement is a way for product development to incorporate enactivism and situated action. Prototypes are the means by which designers enable real user interaction rather than speculating from the white board.
  • 16. Build Measure Learn Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 17. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt http://uxmag.com/sites/default/files/uploads/pulidopaperinscreen/Step6.jpg “At the very moment human beings use them, artifacts change from mere ‘objects lying around’ into artifacts-for- doing-something.” Peter-Paul Verbeek The prototype becomes an artifact used for measuring real world action. It is a compromise between potential wasted time spent coding an unvalidated idea, on one side, and on the other, relying on artifacts without a use context. ! Some factions of phenomenology differentiate between objects and things. Objects are dead material with no use context. But as Peter-Paul Verbeek says, “at the very moment human beings use them, artifacts change from mere ‘objects lying around’ into artifacts-for-doing-something.” ! Purposeful interaction transforms objects into meaningful things. This is what the prototype does: it provides objects with a use context and transforms them into meaningful things for users.
  • 18. Intention Breakage Coping But purposeful interaction and engaged use do not mean that nothing goes wrong. Quite the opposite: introducing the human element almost guarantees that mistakes will happen. ! It is easy to think of user testing as a way to eliminate the “unintuitive” aspects of a product, and to eventually create something that allows smooth interaction. But this is an impossible goal. Instead, phenomenology tells us that smooth interactions will almost always be interrupted. The important part is how users deal with the interruptions. When using a mobile app, for example, a user might come across a screen that doesn’t make sense. Instead of complete abandonment, the user is more likely to cope with the object’s shortcomings.
  • 19. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt ConspicuousCoping http://cache.20minutes.fr/photos/2013/01/14/people-watch-participants-in-2d65-diaporama.jpg Phenomenology identifies coping as the ways we deal with everyday objects and situations. It refers not only to dealing with broken things or things that don’t make sense, but also to everyday situations in which we transition from unconscious interaction to conscious deliberation. ! A simple example is typing an email. If you are fluent with a common keyboard, your focus is likely on the screen and the message you are crafting. The keyboard itself fades into the background of the experience. If you misspell a word, however, your smooth interaction with the keyboard is broken and you must deliberately consider the keyboard as an object.
  • 20. Consider a more extreme example: my awful alarm clock. It looks like a regular clock…nothing special. Except that it has no on/off switch. There is no way to simply turn off the alarm when it is blaring in your ear. Instead, one must perform an intricate combination of pressing, holding, and banging on multiple buttons to turn it off. ! Instead of simply buying a new alarm clock, my wife and I have adapted our behavior to accommodate for this clock’s poor design. I still can’t identify exactly why. Perhaps I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finally stop the alarm. Or maybe I’ve become accustomed to the dim red glow. Or maybe I like the idea being in possession of such an awfully designed object. ! Or perhaps it is a mix of environment and personal quirks. I need to see the time if I wake up at night. I can’t stand the idea of waking up and not knowing if it is 1:00am or 5:00am. I could simply use my phone as an alarm clock and keep it within reach throughout the night. But there is a problem with that as well. I live in Soho, where apartment space is a premium. Thus, my bedroom is literally too small for a night stand. ! These are the types of things that only emerge from dialogue and observation with an artifact in it use context.
  • 21. Build Measure Learn Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 22. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt “The environment, other people and tools are engaged with by way of the affordances they offer. There is a “structural coupling” between intentionality and affordance.” Phil Turner Phil Turner says “The environment, other people and tools are engaged with by way of the affordances they offer. There is a “structural coupling” between intentionality and affordance.” ! Learning from observing users not only provides insight into the relationship between available affordances and user intention, but also to designer intention. Testing a prototype allows designers to see their intentions played out in real situations. Similarly, users see how their expectations match up with the potentiality of technology. ! Learning from this interplay is more difficult than it seems.
  • 23. “Hermeneutics begins where dialogue ends.” Paul Ricoeur http://www.janushead.org/8-2/dialogue.jpg Hermeneutics involves the interpretation of a text. It began with Biblical interpretation and was later incorporated into the larger practice of textual analysis. ! In any process in which users are involved, a text emerges out of the interplay between designer, user, and technology. It is our job as researchers to interpret that text. This is something that newcomers to the lean process are not usually prepared for. This is a broad statement, but most discourse around Lean, especially the lean startup movement, espouses the benefits of research (why we do it), but does a poor job of explaining methodology (how to do it). ! User research and testing understood through the phenomenological lens takes on a different tone in Lean settings. We often do not have the luxury of spending weeks interpreting and reframing data, so we must adapt. We need to preserve the importance of interpreting the text that emerges through research and testing, but do so in a way that doesn’t cause bottlenecks.
  • 24. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt http://www.thestyleblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Mike-China-1.jpg “Embodiment does not simply mean physical manifestation. Rather, it means being grounded in and emerging out of everyday, mundane experience” Paul Dourish This brings us back to the role of everyday praxis and the role of embodiment. Paul Dourish says “Embodiment does not simply mean physical manifestation. Rather, it means being grounded in and emerging out of everyday, mundane experience” ! User testing aims to be as close to an embodied experience as possible. Choosing natural settings, minimizing bias, device-based prototypes are all the means of embodying the experience in the everyday. The criticism that Lean posits against waterfall methods is essentially that the latter does not account for everyday embodiment. Lean UX attempts to account for the inherently decontextualized nature of waterfall by placing the emphasis on the embodied world.
  • 25. Prototypes enable engaged interaction ! Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 26. Prototypes enable engaged interaction ! Testing reveals coping strategies ! Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 27. Prototypes enable engaged interaction ! Testing reveals coping strategies ! Interpretation uncovers embodiment Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  • 28. The designer’s paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt We cannot think about solutions until we understand problems ! AND ! We cannot understand a problem until we think about solutions To revisit the paradox that opened this talk, Lean UX and phenomenology give us a preliminary framework we can use to understand how problems and solutions must evolve together. Other design theorists have observed the paradox, but to my knowledge, none have attempted to understand it via Lean and phenomenology. ! If we think back before modern design, the intentional creation of a thing was the domain of craftsmen. Craft is separate from design in the sense that the craftsman does not differentiate between maker and user. The one who creates is also the one who uses. A phenomenological approach to design does not necessarily return us to pure craft, but it does begin to ground our approach within the contextual nature of situated action. ! I hope this short introduction will spark more conversation.