I spent the early part of this week at the University of Delaware, where I was invited to visit the campus and speak on a panel on social innovation and design. My fellow panelists included Colleen Macklin, associate professor in the Department of Communication Design and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and director of PETLab (Prototyping Evaluation, Teaching and Learning lab), and Cole Galloway, an associate professor at the University of Delaware.
Colleen reviewed some of her work on cutting-edge game design and theory including physical, digital and card-based games to promote experimentation and learning on social and global issues. Cole gave us some insight into amazing work he is doing on using low-technology tools combined with behavioral and learning theory to promote development in young children with disabilities.
I had the chance to present some of our thoughts at Design Concepts about innovation and design, including a framework for multidisciplinary design education and some perspectives on where great design comes from.
In addition to the panel, during my visit to Delaware I had a great opportunity to learn more about the Delaware Design Institute, a hub for design innovation and education on the University of Delaware campus that promotes cross disciplinary education and collaboration.
A joint effort between the schools of art, engineering, computer science, journalism and others, this initiative proposed collaborative “design action” — thinking, doing and making across disciplines and perspectives — as a way to tackling today’s most pressing challenges.
I had the opportunity to sit in on and present to classes on visual media design and engineering as well is seeing some of the unique collaboration that has resulted from the Delaware Design Institute.
It was a tremendously enjoyable and thought-provoking trip, and I was inspired and motivated by the fresh thinking and demonstration of the power and promise of design.
Last week we had the privilege of hosting professor Ian Robertson, the recently named dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Given our close relationship with the university and the number of Design Concepts staff members who are alumni, there is an understandably high level of interest and passion for the engineering school. We had the chance to introduce Robertson to some of our past work and share some of the collaboration we’ve done with UW-Madison.
It was an engaging and thought-provoking meeting. We talked about initiatives such as the Design Summit and discussed ways to increase a focus on design and an interdisciplinary approach to innovation.
In today’s dynamic academic environment, Robertson, like deans at every college, certainly has his challenges cut out for him. The funding model for higher education — particularly land grant universities — has never been more challenging. State and federal financial support of higher education are likely to erode in the face of government budget difficulties. The decline in funding along with the pace of tuition increases are creating real difficulties.
Nevertheless, there are also areas of tremendous promise and opportunity. Robertson spoke passionately about the need to balance the university’s core research and teaching missions. It will be a very tough job, but I certainly got the impression that Robertson was ready and willing to take it on with passion and energy.
UW-Madison is a tremendous intellectual force and asset. We’ll enjoy watching as Robertson seeks to steer the College of Engineering forward, and we hope we can continue to be actively engaged with the university.
As designers, we can’t help but look at every situation as an opportunity for redesigning the user experience. Tax season is certainly no different.
I spent part of my morning signing our 2012 corporate tax returns – weighing in at around 2500 pages!
In defense of our government (and our accountant) we had a corporate stock transfer and multi-state filings that for some unknown reason conspired to prevent us from filing electronically this year. Nevertheless, this sentence is particularly disheartening to write.
Now taxes are certainly a complex and toxic topic, and I won’t begin to pretend I understand the nuances of funding the government or using the tax code to stimulate and control the economy. Never the less, the entire user experience of filing taxes still leaves something to be desired! It makes me wonder how our designers would attack the problem.
Not sure this is design material but Groupon fired their CEO/Founder today. Wall Street seems to be cheering the move.
I have to say though that I gained a ton of respect for the founder based on the very humble and thoughtful email he sent announcing his own firing. If you read it, it’s pretty remarkable and inspirational. It would be easy to be cynical about it but I think it shows some interesting insight and I’m going to take it at face value. The closing line is particularly interesting:
If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!
Sage advice for most companies!
He still should have sold to Google for $6 Billion when he had the chance though!
In the innovation business, we’ve had some spirited discussions about capturing user needs and turning them into opportunities for innovation. Everyone recognizes the value in listening to the voice of the customer and using this to guide design strategies. There is, however, disagreement in how literal one should be when following that voice. Some say firms should prioritize needs articulated by their customers. Conversely, others believe firms should trust their intuition and gut feel to postulate what users really want.
The problem with this debate is that there are smashing successes and resounding failures on both sides. We’ve seen examples where gut feel and intuition were used to develop products and services that were intellectually interesting but proved to be irrelevant or unwanted. And we’ve seen instances where slavishly prioritizing articulated customer needs led to me-too products or huge missed opportunities for revolutionary innovation. I recently had a great discussion about this with Stephen Ross a Senior Vice President of Ikaria Medical who shared the following:
I’m a sort of amateur photographer, and I remember back not that long ago… I was carrying around a Nokia. It wasn’t a smart phone. It was just a regular phone. It didn’t have a camera. It was just a phone. And I remember having conversation with people saying, “I don’t want other stuff on my phone. I want my phone to just be a phone. If I want to take pictures, I’ll get my camera”. Now look! – it’s my camera – I listen to music I find the weather forecast. I make hotel reservations. I do my expenses. I mean, the list goes on and on of all the things that I never thought that I would want to do but I did. Someone else knew what I wanted to do.. and I was wrong.
(5 year comparison of the stock prices of Apple and Nokia)
So if you can fail miserably listening to customer and fail miserably not listening to customers – what’s the right thing to do?
I believe the answer is to HEAR, SEE, THINK and TALK .
First, you definitely need to HEAR – listen to users and make sure they have a voice in your future plans.
Beyond listening, you need to SEE – observe what users really do and how they really act. People struggle to think beyond current solutions and observation of people can reveal critical latent needs that escape articulation.
You also need the courage to THINK beyond what you simply hear or see to imagine novel solutions to problems users may not realize they have. Innovation is often the ability to visualize a future that’s invisible to the marketplace (and your competitors) until it arrives.
Finally, because meaningful innovation involves taking a risk, innovation teams need to have a forum to TALK. The failures of being too bold or too conservative can often be mitigated by frank dialogue aimed at balancing the risks and rewards of innovation strategies. R&D and Marketing need to come together on a strategy for features and functions that balance articulated customer wants with latent but unarticulated needs and the innovation teams’ vision for what a future can be.
In my experience, the firms that pay heed to the voice of their customer, support the courage to think beyond latent needs and have a process and culture which allows for a thoughtful and safe discussion have the best chance at innovation success.