Tags: iteration

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Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

From Ideation to Iteration: Design Thinking for Work and for Life by Una Kravets

The unstoppable engine of An Event Apart in Seattle rolls onward. The second talk of the second day is from the indominatable Una Kravets. Her talk is called From Ideation to Iteration: Design Thinking for Work and for Life. Here’s the description:

Have you ever had a looming deadline and no idea where to start? Do you have a big task to face but are having trouble figuring out how to get there? Have you ever wanted to learn a technology, or build a side project but didn’t know what to build? In this talk, Una will go over an actionable approach and several techniques for applying design thinking to our work and every aspect of our lives. This includes ideating product features, blog post ideas, or even what general direction we want to move toward in our businesses. We’ll go over traditional approaches and breakout techniques that will leave you feeling more in control and ready to reach your goals.

Let’s see if I can keep up with this…

Una’s going to talk about design thinking. Una does a variety of different work outside her day job—a podcast, dev doodles, etc. Sometimes at work she’s given big, big tasks like “build a design system.” Her reaction is “whut?” How do you even start with a task like that.

Also, we make big goals sometimes. Who makes new year’s resolutions? But what does “get more fit” or “earn more income” even mean?

In this talk, Una will break things down and show how design thinking can be applied to anything.

Design thinking

A stategic, solution-based approach to solving problems.

It’s a process. It’s iterative. It’s used by IBM, Apple, GE, and it’s taught to students at a lot of different universities.

Tim Brown of Ideo points out that there’s a Venn diagram of feasability, desirability, and viability. In the middle is the point of innovation.

The steps are:

  1. Empathise — develop a deep understanding of the challenge
  2. Define — clearly articulate the problem.
  3. Ideate — brainstorm potential solutions.
  4. Prototype — design a protoype to
  5. Test — and iterate.

Una feels that the feedback part is potentially missing there. IBM uses a loop diagram to include feedback. Ideo uses these steps:

  1. Frame a question
  2. Gather inspiration
  3. Generate ideas
  4. Make ideas tangible
  5. Test to learn
  6. Share the story

Another way to think about this is how the teams interact. There’s divergence and convergence throughout. Then there’s the double diamond: design, deliver, discover.

Ideo wrote a book called Design Thinking for Libraries. It has some useful tools and diagrams. Una found this fascinating because it wasn’t specifically about products. In healthcare, GE Health used design thinking for their Adventure Series MRI scanners—it resulted in 80% less need to use sedatives. The solution might seem obvious to us in hindsight, but it wouldn’t have been obvious to medical professionals in their everyday busy lives.

Design thinking is bullshit, says Natasha Jen. She describes how it’s become an over-used term that has lost its value. Una can relate—she gets annoyed when there’s too much talking and not enough doing. Design thinking is not diagrams and sticky notes. It’s a process. It’s very much about doing something to shift perspective. It’s another tool in our toolkit, even if it has become an overused term like “synergy.”

Back in 2014, when Una was working at IBM, she thought design thinking was stupid. It seemed to be all talk, talk, talk. It felt tedious. It was 75% talking and 25% development. The balance wasn’t right.

But it’s also true that solutioning too early leads to cruft. If you end up going back to the drawing board, maybe the time could’ve been better spent doing some design thinking up front. Focus on the problem, not the solution.

Now some developers might be thinking that this is outside their area. But it can really help you in your career. It can help you choose technologies. Also, everyone on the team, regardless of role, is responsible for the product.

1. Empathise

Understand your users and the challenge. This could be a task that a user is trying to accomplish, or it could be you trying to get a raise.

Sometimes we forget who our user is. The techniques in this first step helps us solve their needs, not our needs.

You might have many users that you’re trying to help, but try focusing in on a few. You can create personas. When Una was working at Digital Ocean, the users were developers. The personas reflected this. Do the research to get to know your users.

Next, you can create an empathy map for your users. What are their goals? What are their hopes? What will they gain from your product?

Connect the empathy map to a specific context—a goal and or a scenario that the user is going through.

Bear in mind that there are many layers to your user. There are conscious rational thoughts, but also subconscious emotional thoughts. Empathy mapping helps you understand how to best communicate with your user.

Una shares a real-life scenario of hers: create a new shop-able product that increases time on site. That’s a pretty big goal. She creates a persona for a college-educated woman working in the medical field who commutes on the subway, keeps a skin-caring routing, and is getting into cake-making. Next, Una creates an empathy map for this persona. What she says, thinks, feels, and does. All of this is within the context of browsing your fashion media website casually at work.

2: Define

The problem statement should be:

  • Human-centred,
  • Specific, but not too technical (don’t solutionise too soon),
  • Narrow in scope.

How can we best create a product-highlighting web experience that Rosalyn will enjoy to increase her time on site?

You can use a tool with two columns: As-Is and to-Be. The first column is what users currently do. The second column is what you want to achieve.

3. Ideate

This is the fun part. Good old-fashioned brainstorming is good here. Go for quantity here. Get loads of ideas out.

There’s also a “worst possible ideas” game you can play at this stage. It can be a good ice-breaker.

Have a second round of brainstorming where you play the “yes, and…” game to build on the first round.

When Una was working on The Zoe Report, she found that moodboards were really useful. The iteration cycle was very fast. A moodboard allowed them to skip a lot of the back and forth between design and development. They built the website without any visual design mock-ups. They prototyped quickly, tested quickly, and shipped quickly.

Journey-mapping is the next tool you can use in this ideation phase. Map out the steps between the start and end of a user journey. Keep it simple. This is a great time to refine your product and reduce complexity.

Next, start sketching out ideas. Again, this is a great time to uncover issues and solve problems before things get too defined. But remember, when you’re showcasing your ideas in sketches, too many ideas can lead to analyis paralysis.

Oh dear. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Yes, Una is using the paradox-of-choice jam example …the study who’s findings could not be reproduced.

4. Prototype

Go forth and build. A prototype can exist on a number of different axes:

  • Representation—the form it takes.
  • Precision—the detail it contains.
  • Interactivity—the extent a user can interact with it.
  • Evolution—the life stage it is at.

There are lot of prototyping tools out there. Prototypr.io helps you find the right tool for you. It breaks things down by fidelity and life cycle.

But not all prototyping has to be digital. Paper prototyping only needs pen, paper, and scissors. Some tips:

  • Use a transparency sheet for forms.
  • Use well-visible and mid-tip pens.
  • Draw up your prototype in black and white—people can get caught up in colour.

But on the web, Una recommends getting to digital as quickly as possible because interaction is such a big part of the experience. That’s why Una likes to prototype in code. But this is still a rapid prototyping phase so don’t get too caught up in the details.

5. Test

Testing with internal teams is fine during the ideation phase, but to understand how users will relate to your product, you need to test with representative people. We are not our users.

As well as the user, have a facilitator, a computer, and a scriber. As a facilitator, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of input you give a user. Don’t hand-hold too much or you will give away your pre-existing knowledge. Encourage your user to be verbal.

Sessioncam is a tool for creating a heatmap of where people are interacting. There are also tools for tracking clicks or mouse hovers. These all feel so utterly icky to me.

The metrics you might be looking to gather could be click-through rate, time-on-site, etc. But, Una cautions, be very wary of adding all these third-party scripts to your site and slowing it down. Who’s testing the A/B tests?

On Bustle, Una wanted to measure interactions on mobile. They tested different UI elements for interactions. They ended up updating the product with a horizontal swiping component. They were able to improve the product and ship a more refined experience.

6. Review and iterate

Una feels that this step is the most important. Analyse your successes and failures, and plan to improve.

Technology changes over time so what’s feasible and viable also changes.

Design thinking on the daily

You can use design thinking in your everyday life. Maybe you want to learn JavaScript, or write blog posts, or get more fit. Una used design thinking brainstorming to break down her goals, categorise and organise them.

“Get better at JavaScript” is a goal that Una has every year.

Empathise. In this situation, the user is you. You can still create a persona of yourself. Define. Why do you want to get better at JavaScript? Is it about making better use of your time? Ideate. There are so many different ways to learn. There are books and video courses. Or you could have a project to focus on. Break. It. Down! Create actionable steps and define how you will measure progress. Match the list of things you want to learn with the list of possible side projects. Prototype. Don’t take it literally. Just build something. Test. You’re testing on yourself in this case. Review. Una does an annual review. It’s a nice therapeutic exercise and helps her move forward into the next year with actionable goals.

Another goal might be “Write a blog post.”

Empathise. Your users are your potential readers. Who do you have in mind? Make personas. Define. What’s the topic? Ideate. If you don’t know what to write about, brainstorm. What are you working on at work that you’re learning from? Select one to try. Prototype. Write. Test. Maybe show it to co-workers. Review. How did it go? Good? Bad? Refine your process for the next blog post.

Here’s a goal: “Buy a gift for someone.”

Empathise. What does this person like? What have they enjoyed receiving in the past? Define. Is the gift something they’ll enjoy for a long time? Something they can share? Ideate. Bounce ideas off friends and relatives. Prototype. In this case, this means getting the gift. Review. Did they like it?

“Get Fit.”

In this case, the review part is probably the most important part.

Marie Kondo asks “Does this spark joy?” Ask the same question of your goals.

Remember, design thinking is not just about talking, and sticky notes. It’s about getting in the right headspace for your users.

Design thinking matters—because everything we do, we do for people. Having the tools to see through the lens of those people will help you be a more well-rounded person.

Monday, August 20th, 2018

How can designers get better at learning from their mistakes?

Jon has seven answers:

  1. Build a culture to learn from mistakes
  2. Embrace healthy critique
  3. Fail little and often
  4. Listen to users
  5. Design. Learn. Repeat
  6. Create a shared understanding
  7. Always be accountable

It’s gratifying to see how much of this was informed by the culture of critique at Clearleft.

Friday, July 20th, 2018

What walls are for – disambiguity

Digital things look ‘finished’ too soon. When something is a work in progress on a wall, it looks unfinished, so you keep working on it. moving things around, reshaping things, connecting things, erasing things, and making them again. Walls make it easier to iterate. Iteration, in my opinion, is massively correlated with quality.

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Architecting the uncertain - Getting started with Agile Software Architecture

Some ideas on the best of use of time in sprint zero of an agile project.

  • Understand your context
  • Identify risks
  • Understand the business process
  • Get testing infrastructure
  • Understand quality attributes
  • Get to know the people
  • Prepare an initial product backlog
  • Build a walking skeleton/spike
  • Build a learning backlog

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

How to prototype in the browser | GDS design notes

This is a clever quick’n’dirty way of prototyping iterations on an existing site using dev tools and screenshots.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

A Code Review, Or Yet Another Reason to Love the Web | Brad Frost

I love this back and forth between Brad and Jonathon. I think they’ve both got some good ideas:

  • I agree with Brad that you can start marking up these kind of patterns before you’ve got visual designs.
  • I agree with Jonathon that it’s often better to have a generic wrapper element to avoid making assumptions about which elements will be used.

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Reflections on An Event Apart DC 2013

Jason pulls together some of the themes that emerged at An Event Apart DC this week.

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Clearleft.com past and present

We finally launched the long-overdue redesign of the Clearleft website last week. We launched it late on Friday afternoon, because, hey! that’s not a stupid time to push something live or anything.

The actual moment of launch was initiated by Josh who had hacked together a physical launch button containing a teensy USB development board.

The launch button Preparing to launch

So nerdy.

Mind you, just because the site is now live doesn’t mean the work is done. Far from it, as Paul pointed out:

But it’s nice to finally have something new up. We were all getting quite embarrassed by the old site.

Still, rather than throw the old design away and never speak of it again, we’ve archived it. We’ve archived every iteration of the site:

  1. Version 1 launched in 2005. I wrote about it back then. It looked very much of its time. This was before responsive design, but it was, of course, nice and liquid.
  2. Version 2 came a few years later. There were some little bits I liked it about it but it always felt a bit “off”.
  3. Version 3 was more of a re-alignment than a full-blown redesign: an attempt to fix some of the things that felt “off” about the previous version.
  4. Version 4 is where we are now. We don’t love it, but we don’t hate it either. Considering how long it took to finally get this one done, we should probably start planning the next iteration now.

I’m glad that we’ve kept the archived versions online. I quite enjoy seeing the progression of the visual design and the technologies used under the hood.

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Throw away Photoshop and be true to your medium | Government Digital Service

How designing in the browser works for rapid iteration.

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

theunbook.com

An approach to releasing community-driven books that is more like software than traditional book publishing. Think versions instead of editions.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Designing for hyper-connectivity - SlideShare

This talk that James gave in Bristol last week is chock full of great stuff. Well worth a read/look.

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Iteration and You

Daniel gets off to a great start by plugging my blog. Oh, yeah! The excellence continues with his first slide which features the looming head of Trammell.

Daniel asks for a show of hands. Who works on one website? Who works on many different client websites? A good mix, it seems.

We’ll be hearing lots from Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn. Buildings don’t change much (on the outside at least …but let’s not go into right now). That’s certainly true of High Road architecture. But there’s also Low Road architecture which is much more modular. A lot of websites are like that. Frameworks like Django help there, as do Web Standards. With Low Road architecture you can easily build a castle as someone has actually done with mobile homes. White trash nirvana!

Establish a visual vocabulary to avoid building a . That worked with Pownce. Notched rectangles are used throughout, right through to the branding. On Digg, a lot of the visual language stems from the Digg button. It was initially inspired by a design element by Dave, used on Mozilla and refined on Digg where it influenced the overall design. Facebook also has a visual vocabulary based around blue rectangles and single-pixel lines. App developers can take this visual language and work with it to ensure their products fit in with the Facebook look and feel.

Design paths. That’s paving the cowpaths to you and me. Launch your website with the base set of features; don’t try to anticipate everything everyone will want to do. Instead, watch what people do and build on that. That’s how images came to Digg—emergence through user behaviour. Threaded comments also emerged from watching how people used a basic single-thread comment.

Adapt to scale. It’s a great problem to have. The original Digg button couldn’t handle figures with more than three digits.

Subtraction is iteration too (so true! I witnessed a great example of this in action just the other day in the Clearleft office). Remove clutter. You can add functionality and reduce complexity at the same time.

Realign, don’t redesign. That’s a direct quote from Cameron. You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch. When the Martha Stewart site redesigned, it really confused long-time users (like Daniel’s sister and the girl who sat next to Daniel on the flight to the UK). Unless there’s a really good reason to raze something to the ground, try instead to adapt what’s already there.

Now for the Stewart Butterfield quote:

Every time I hear a designer say the word innovation, I reach for my revolver… I want to shoot them in the face.

It’s okay to reuse something if it’s what works.

Make time for iteration (oh man, I hear ya!) — don’t overbook yourself on the new stuff. Release early, release often. Get it out the door even if it’s not perfect. Daniel illustrates this point with one of my Flickr pics.

But at the same time, don’t panic! You’re going to get an avalanche of feedback. Stop. Listen. Learn. Don’t overreact.

So to sum up:

  • Low road design is easier to adapt.
  • Realign, don’t redesign.
  • Create a visual language.
  • Remove as much as you add.
  • Don’t be over reactive.
  • Make time for iteration.

That’s it. Great advice! Any questions?

  • How do you sell iteration time to clients? That’s always tough—the politics. Choose your clients well.
  • How about using A/B testing to test features? It’s a great idea but Daniel hasn’t had a chance to implement it himself. If you can do it, it’s awesome but it requires the right infrastructure.
  • As an in-house designer, how to you get your bosses and management to buy into iteration? Didn’t we already have this question?
  • On the point of visual language, how much do you use a style guide? Daniel’s never used an official style guide, it’s more of a de-facto thing. At Mozilla they had some dos and don’ts but nothing hardcore.
  • Last question: You know when talked about the visual language? At what point do you decide that it’s too much to deploy everywhere? You can shake it up a bit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. Variations are fine.

Bravo, Daniel! And indeed, Delta Tango!