Posts tagged “ideation”

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

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(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Audio

Reading Ahead: Building models

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We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…

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models

Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting

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There’s always something new in every project. Often we encounter a bit of process that we may not know how to best manage it. So we’ll make our best plan and see what happens. We learn as we go and ultimately have a better way for dealing with it next time.

In a regular client project, we write a screener and work with a recruiting company who finds potential research participants, screens them, and schedules them. Every day they email us an updated spreadsheet (or as they call it “grid”) with responses to screener questions, scheduled times, locations, and contact info. It still ends up requiring a significant amount of project management effort on our end, because questions will arise, schedules will shift, people will cancel, client travel must be arranged, etc. etc.

For Reading Ahead, we did all of the recruiting ourselves. Although we’ve done this before, this may be the first time since the rise of social media: we put the word out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email to friends, and here on All This ChittahChattah.

While Dan lead the effort, we both used our own networks, and so we got responses in a number of channels, sent to either or both of us, including:

  • @ replies on Twitter
  • direct messages on Twitter
  • Comments on Facebook posts
  • Messages on Facebook
  • Emails (directly to either of us, or forwarded from friends, and friends-of-friends

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A private dialog on Facebook

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Comments on a Facebook status update. Note that Dan is able to jump in and make contact directly

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Direct Messages in Twitter

Some people were potential participants, some were referrers to other potential participants, and some were both. And given the range of platforms we were using, with their associated restrictions (and unclear social protocols), we had to scramble to figure out who could and should communicate with who to follow up and get to the point where we could see if the people in question were right for the study. We didn’t expect this to happen, and eventually Dan’s inbox and/or his Word document were no longer efficient, and as some participants were scheduled or in negotiation to be scheduled, he ended up with this schedule cum worksheet:

schedule

Being split across the two of us and these different media, eventually we were interacting with people for whom we had to check our notes to trace back how we had connected to them, which was great for our sample, since it meant we weren’t seeing a group of people we already knew.

It was further complicated when we had finished our fieldwork and wanted to go back to everyone who offered help close the loop with them, thanking them for help. Technically, and protocol-wise, it took some work (who are the people we need to follow up with? Who follows up with them? What media do they use), basically going through each instance one-by one.

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We haven’t figured out what we’ll do next time; we won’t forget the challenges we’ve had but there’s just not time or need right now to plan for the future. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a Google Spreadsheet that includes where we got people from, who owns the contact, whether they are participant-candidate or referrer, etc.). Despite being very pessimistic about the demands of recruiting, we still underestimated the time and complexity required for this project.

Reading Ahead: Looking for the story

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I started today by typing up all of the Post-it notes you saw in our recent blog post on Synthesis.

This activity created a 6-page Word document of bullet points.

The next part of the process is something I always find challenging: taking an incredibly detailed list of observations, particpant statements, hypotheses, and ideas; figuring out what the Big Ideas are (there’s a point in the process where many of them seem Big!), and putting those into a form that tells a cogent story.

First step: make a cup of tea.

Ok, then my next steps were:

  • Categorize all those bullet points
  • Synthesize those categories a bit further
  • Write down in as short a paragraph as possible what I would tell someone who asked me, “what did you find out?”

Then I went into PowerPoint, which is what we use when we present findings to our clients. I’ll continue bouncing back and forth between Word and PowerPoint; each piece of software supports a different way of thinking and writing.

I dropped my synthesized categories into a presentation file, sifted all of the bullet points from my Word doc into the new categories, and then started carving and shaping it all so that it started to follow the paragraph I had written. (I’m mixing cooking and sculpting metaphors here.)

I printed out the presentation draft, and laid it out so I could see the whole thing at once.

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Steve came back from a meeting and I asked him to read over what I’d printed out. He started writing notes on my printouts, pulling out what he saw as the biggest of the Big Ideas.

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We talked about what he’d written, which led to an energetic discussion in which we really started to breathe life into this. Tomorrow, I’ll start the day by iterating the presentation draft based on our conversation.

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

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Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

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Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.

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Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.

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While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.

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When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:

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Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.

Reading Ahead: Participatory Design

Reading ahead logo with space above

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Tracy and her younger son thinking about possibilities for books and reading devices

Our fieldwork sessions often include a piece in which we ask participants to brainstorm and fantasize about the future.

In an earlier post, we talked about the simple models we were building for the Reading Ahead interviews.

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Book and device models for participatory design activity

We wanted to put something in people’s hands to help them show us what the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future” could be and do. (This fieldwork approach borrows from participatory design.)

We’ve had clients come out in the field with us and say after an interview, “That person didn’t give us any ideas,” so it’s important to clarify that we don’t expect this kind of activity to directly produce marketable ideas. Rather, it gives people another mode for expressing themselves, and it’s great for helping them communicate things which may not always be easy to verbalize, like:

  • Their desires
  • What they think should exist
  • What problems they are trying to solve
  • What seems acceptable and what seems outlandish to them
  • Preferences and in what ways they would like something to be different

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Chris uses the device model to help express his thoughts about navigation

Often for us, the very act of making the props for an activity suggests new ways of using them. In this case, while making a blank cover for the “future book” model, we realized that we could also make a blank inner page spread.

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Holding the “book of the future” model

As it turned out, this meant that when we were done with the sessions, people had created very nice book models for us, with a cover and inner spread.

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Erica’s “telescoping shopping bag” book with digital annotations, hyperlinks, and built-in dictionary

Part of the preparation for each interview session was to get the models ready with new blank paper. Here I am on the trunk of my car, prepping the models before an interview in San Francisco.

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Now that the fieldwork is done, we have a great collection of models made by the people we interviewed.

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Artifacts from participants’ “future book” ideation

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The last section (copied below) of our Topline Summary synthesizes some of what we gleaned from this part of the fieldwork. These are just quick hits; we’ll develop any themes and recommendations that come out of these activities much further in the analysis and synthesis phase of the project.


Excerpt from Topline Summary: Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”

NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off

  • Durable
  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions
  • Size-shifting
  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality
  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy
  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting
  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands
  • Reading Ahead: Topline Summary

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    As soon as possible after concluding fieldwork, we write a Topline Summary, in which we capture our first impressions and the ideas that are top-of-mind from being in the field.

    We’re always careful to be clear about what the Topline is and isn’t. There’s synthesis that happens from the fieldwork experience itself (which the Topline captures), and synthesis that happens from working with the data (which we haven’t done yet).

    In the Topline we go a step further than the field highlights and start to articulate some of the patterns we think are emerging, but these ideas may change once we do a detailed analysis and synthesis of the data we’ve gathered.

    In a client project, we’ll have a discussion with the client team around the Topline Summary. We encourage members of the client team to come out in the field with us, and the Topline discussion is a great opportunity for everyone who did so to share their experiences and tell stories. The Topline discussion is also a good time for our clients to let us know if there are any specific directions they want us to pursue as we analyze and synthesize the data we’ve gathered.

    We’ve now finished our fieldwork for Reading Ahead. We conducted six in-depth interviews, with photo diary and participatory design activities (more in our next few posts about these methods).

    Here’s our Topline Summary:



    Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Topline Summary

    1. Reading is not just a solo activity; there are significant social/interpersonal aspects for many people
    • Recommendations, book clubs, lending

    • Books facilitate the interpersonal aspects of reading

    • Can be easily lent or given away
    • Given as gifts
    • People can use a book together: parents and kids, showing someone a passage or illustrations, etc.

    • Reading can be a big part of family life

    • Childhood memories, passing books between generations, reading with one’s own children.

    • Connection between home life and outside world (school)

    1. Reading and Books are not always one and the same
    • Erica buys some books because she likes them as objects. She knows she may not read all of them. “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

    • Jeff says if you love to read, you’d like the Kindle. If you love books, you should try it out before you buy one

    • The Kindle facilitates types of reading beyond books: blogs, articles, periodicals

    1. Books do more than carry content
    • Books engage the senses: they are tactile, visual objects, with specific characteristics like smell and weight

    • Become carriers of specific memories

    • Develop a patina that carries meaning
    • An inscribed book becomes a record of an event, interaction, relationship

    • There is an art/collector aspect to books (which is absent in the Kindle)
    • First editions
    • Signed copies
    • Galley proofs
    • Typography
    • Pictures and illustrations
    • Quality of paper, printing, etc.
    • Books say something about a person
    • Others can see what you’re reading; like clothes, etc., this carries meaning
    • “Looking at someone’s bookshelves when you go to their house” (Jeff)
    • When people give books as gifts they are deliberately communicating something about the relationship, the event, themselves, and the recipient

    • Books can create a physical record of someone’s reading activity
    • Chris used to line up all the books he had read to get a sense of accomplishment
    • Annotations, bookmarks, tags all convey the reader’s personal history with that book

    1. Books are easily shared
    • Pass them along to others

    • Donate to library

    • Sell or buy at used book store

    • Borrow from the library rather than purchasing

    1. How books are stored and organized carries meaning
    • Emotion, sense of pride, expression of personality, record of engagement

    • Erica organizes her books by how the content/type of book feels to her: “dusty” classics, modern classics, etc.

    • Julie’s extensive shelves are organized alphabetically to reinforce the idea of library

    1. Libraries and bookstores provide specific experiences
    • As a little girl, Erica visited different libraries with her Mom. This was their daily activity, and Erica retains strong and specific memories

    • Julie and her housemate recreated a library atmosphere in their home

    • A quiet, comfortable space
    • Good lighting
    • Alphabetized bookshelves
    • A unified décor

    • For Jeff and others, spending time browsing in a bookstore represents having leisure time

    1. The Kindle
    • For people whose love of reading is bound up in their love of books, the Kindle loses much of the reading experience; it is only a content carrier

    • Julie has a history of wanting to read on electronic devices as well as from printed books, so to her, the Kindle is a big evolutionary step from her old Palm, the iPhone, etc.

    • For Erica, the Kindle signifies “computer,” so it does not let her “unplug” from the fast-paced connected lifestyle that books provide a refuge from

    • Several people described the kinetics of page-turning as an important aspect of reading books that is absent in the Kindle

    • Books afford ways of navigating content that the Kindle does not: flipping, comparing non-sequential pages, looking at the recipes at the end of each chapter, etc.

    • Peter finds it frustrating that when he buys a Kindle book from Amazon, he can’t share it. When he started working in an environment where people were passing books around, he went back to reading printed books

    1. Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”
    • NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

    • Instant on-off
    • Durable

    • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

    • Interactive
    • Put yourself in the story
    • Leave the story for more information
    • Choose from alternate endings, versions

    • Size-shifting

    • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
    • Retain the book form while adding functionality

    • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
    • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
    • Privacy

    • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
    • Projecting

    • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands

    Now online: summary of “Well, we did all this research – now what?” at BayCHI

    Keith Rayner (krayner@kemarra.com) has put together a detailed summary of last month’s BayCHI presentation featuring Kate Rutter and I each sharing our approaches for going from research to design. Hit the link for the whole review, but here’s an excerpt:

    In a fascinating, interactive pair of presentations on product and services design, the audience gained valuable insights into design thinking and the design process. Both presenting companies, Adaptive Path and Portigal Consulting, help companies with the design process for product and services creation and improvement. The session dispelled any notion that these companies work in an intellectual ivory tower, remote from their clients. We saw how their methodologies effectively engage a client in the process, and how the design concepts get pushed through to final product creation. As an added bonus the audience got to join in, be creative and become part of the design process ourselves.

    Steve is often asked by clients to help designers determine what’s going on with their products and services and find out what the future holds. For Steve, conducting research and turning field data into insights consists of two main aspects:

    • Synthesis – turning field data into insights
    • Ideation – turning insights into solutions

    I’ll be running a half-day version of this workshop at EPIC later this summer as well a shorter version to be held in an East Coast city late fall (TBA).

    Duty now for the future

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    Artpiece made of clocks, Chicago MOMA

    This list of 10 workplace skills of the future is going around the various ‘Scapes and ‘Spheres (it came to me on Twitter via Chris23). Without getting into whether the list is entirely correct or comprehensive, I think it’s incredibly thought-provoking.

    For anyone involved in designing products–especially work environments and tools–it will be crucial to explore people’s daily lives and see what’s really happening: how these types of shifts are manifesting behaviorally and emotionally, and what new opportunities are being created as a result.

    10 Workplace Skills of the Future
    (From Bob Johansen’s book, Leaders Make the Future. Originally posted by Tessa Finlev in The Future Now blog.)

    Ping Quotient
    Excellent responsiveness to other people’s requests for engagement; strong propensity and ability to reach out to others in a network

    Longbroading
    Seeing a much bigger picture; thinking in terms of higher level systems, bigger networks, longer cycles

    Open Authorship
    Creating content for public modification; the ability to work with massively multiple contributors

    Cooperation Radar
    The ability to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best collaborators on a particular task or mission

    Multi-Capitalism
    Fluency in working and trading simultaneously with different hybrid capitals, e.g., natural, intellectual, social, financial, virtual

    Mobbability
    The ability to do real-time work in very large groups; a talent for coordinating with many people simultaneously; extreme-scale collaboration

    Protovation
    Fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles; the ability to lower the costs and increase the speed of failure

    Influency
    Knowing how to be persuasive and tell compelling stories in multiple social media spaces (each space requires a different persuasive strategy and technique)

    Signal/Noise Management
    Filtering meaningful info, patterns, and commonalities from the massively-multiple streams of data and advice

    Emergensight

    The ability to prepare for and handle surprising results and complexity that come with coordination, cooperation and collaboration on extreme scales

    Building on what isn’t there

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    Sketch for curved shelf ©2007 Dan Soltzberg

    There’s a testament to the power of openness as a spur to creative participation nestled in Scott Brown’s piece on early fan fiction in this month’s Wired.

    Brown writes about the works Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more avid readers created around his Sherlock Holmes novels, and how what were really continuity errors provided these folks with points of entry:

    Sir Arthur, God bless him, didn’t write with an eye to what today’s nerd would call “continuity.” Crafting Holmes stories bored him, and he frequently lost track of details like the exact location of Watson’s Afghan war wound (was it the shoulder or the leg?) and the precise status of Mrs. Watson. But Sir Arthur’s table scraps, his inconsistencies and random allusions, made for a fan feast. From a throwaway line-a hilariously oblique reference such as “the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared”-scores of amateur yarns have been spun.

    Conan Doyle’s omissions and errors left space for others to contribute. Less-than-fully-speced inputs–raw sketches, concept directions, overarching themes–can often leave more space for creative participation than a finely honed departure point.

    Of course it depends on where in a development process one is and what the objectives are. (Sing, “a time to diverge, a time to converge” to the tune of The Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”).

    In semi-related news, San Francisco IxDA will be exploring the use of prototypes at their May 26th event.

    Related Posts:
    Giving Away Time, and Moving with a Magic Thing (Quickies)
    Human Behavior
    Trying to find out things we didn’t even know to ask about

    Turn It On Again

    Stephen Anderson’s musings on collaboration and attribution reminded me that a project we worked on for BIC has gone live:

    From Business Week

    [BIC is] designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today’s rechargeable batteries can’t keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets.

    Bic’s big adventure with fuel cells began in 2002. Ken Cooper, the company’s U.S.-based director of strategic business development, was in a New Haven (Conn.) drugstore and spotted a cordless travel hair dryer with a tiny motor that ran on butane. This got Cooper thinking about fuel cells for handheld gadgets-a hot topic in consumer electronics circles. Few companies in the world package as much fuel every day as Bic does in its butane lighters, he reasoned. So Cooper decided Bic should take a gamble and develop fuel-cell cartridges that are “lighter-like, pocketable, yet safe.”

    I know Ken worked with a series of small consultancies over that period. From our workshop, I remember strongly that fuel cells were a key takeway. But was that concept extant before the workshop, or did we generate it? I honestly can’t remember, and ultimately, (as Stephen addresses) it’s not a worthwhile pursuit to frame it that way. In most of our engagements we are trying to inform and inspire talented business people to develop and refine ideas and move them further along, and seeing this story in BusinessWeek 6 years later confirms that indeed we did.

    User-Centered Government


    Student Protest, Bonny Doon, CA 1987

    Today is the 5th anniversary of the current US military involvement in Iraq. I heard Army Major General Mark Hertling speaking on NPR this week about helping members of Iraq’s central government figure out what people in the different provinces really want and need.

    “We call it reverse helicopter governance – bringing the ministers to the provinces.”

    This starts to sound a lot like the kinds of contextual research we use to inform product design. Going out and talking with users in their own environments. Seeing what people’s needs really are, rather than making assumptions.

    There’s been a thorny debate in the Anthropology community about doing anthropological work in military contexts, but this is a different type of situation. Hertling is talking about facilitating Iraqi ministers to do contextual research on the people they are charged with serving as government officials.

    What would it look like to take a further step, and take a design approach to creating a “user-centered government?”

    One important aspect of design is a spirit of playfulness-in the sense of “serious play.” A spirit of willingness to reassess the meaning of a problem and the range of possible solutions. To prototype rapidly and try multiple approaches.

    Michael Schrage, the author of Serious Play states that

    “…the real value of a model or simulation may stem less from its ability to test a hypothesis than from its power to generate useful surprise.”

    Ideation and design processes have been used to solve some pretty complex problems. Steve wrote last year about introducing empathy and user-centered design into government. Participatory processes and contextual inquiry have become much more prevalent in development work.

    What could be done to bring more of the spirit of serious play to bear on the ways that problems like civil and international conflicts are framed and addressed?

    Stefan Sagmeister, Performance Ideator

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    Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister gave a wonderful talk Wednesday night at Stanford, as part of the David H. Liu Memorial Lectures in Design series. He focused on Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, a group of projects based on a list of personal maxims he took from his diary.

    For me, the highlight of the talk came when someone in the audience asked about Sagmeister’s ideation methods. After mentioning “hotel rooms in foreign cities,” Stefan described an Edward DeBono lateral thinking approach which involves looking at a project from “a completely nonsensical point of view.” Then he picked up his water bottle and did an off-the-cuff ideation that created a perfect little gem of a moment.

    I’ve paraphrased a bit, but this captures how he talked through his process:

    “Say you were going to design a new water bottle. You could base it on a . . . zipper” (the choice was triggered by a zipper on the jacket of an audience member in the front row).

    “Let’s see, it could interlock” (demonstrates by spreading and interlocking his fingers), “You could have 2 that go together . . . maybe a 4-liter bottle that comes into 4 parts. That wouldn’t be too bad.” (pause)

    “Not bad. DeBono would be proud.”

    From start to finish, this ideation took about 10 seconds, and it was just a great illustration of a creative thinking process.

    This demonstration, coupled with a caution Stefan made about the dangers of starting ideation from existing solutions and opinions, got me thinking about the art of research.

    Design research is often positioned as a kind of counterbalance to the type of creative act I’ve just described. But, when it’s well-practiced, research includes a juxtaposing and synthesizing of ideas that is similar in creative process to the bottle+zipper riff. Just as with other aspects of the design process, research culminates in possibilities for new ways that things can go together. For design researchers, the materials for this synthesis include a deep and focused exploration of people: behaviors, bodies, meaning, culture, complaints, wishes, lies and truths.

    At the beginning of the night, Stefan talked about his fear of doing graphic design primarily for other graphic designers, comparing it to playing “music for other musicians.” He said at a later point, “If you can reach a mass audience with good quality, that’s the highest honor” (and listed the Arch of St. Louis, The Simpsons, and the Champs Elysees as examples).

    The beauty of integrating a focused understanding of people into the whole design process-using it as one of the basic materials with which to design-is that what comes out the other end of the pipe will be imbued not only with the vision of its creators but with the soul of that wider audience as well.

    Hey what’s with all those shots of dog butts?

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    CatCam was making the rounds recently. It’s nice to see this finally realized as a product, even with a good measure of humor. At my old firm, we delivered a concept that was very similar to this. It seemed like a “good” idea but in hindsight it’s not clear how it really connected to any of our research or was appropriate for the client. Ah, youth.

    The pet-mounted camera would randomly snap pics throughout the day, when you got to the images, you’d see what s/he had been up to while you were at work. We called it Dog Day Afternoon and we were quite proud of that.

    I’ve been holding this post til I dug up the drawing I did (something I was quite proud of, with my lack of training in illustration) but it’s not in my archives. But seeing that Nicolas Nova blogged about another pet camera (Wonderful Shot) I guess this will have to do.

    Series

    About Steve