Play, strategy and improv. UX Cambridge 2011

Teams in my workshop present back to each other (UX Cambridge 2011)


UX has never been more relevant. As UX practitioners, we are being respected by absolutely EVERYONE. Here are a few reasons why…

We play well with everyone

Only a fifth of participants at my UX Cambridge workshop “Idea to prototype in just 180 minutes“, were UX designers, front end dev or usability researchers. The rest were made up of developers, graphic designers, business analysts, scientists, marketeers and business owners. People showed up to better understand how to embrace and work better with UX in order to create better experiences for their customers.

My design workshops are about having fun whilst tackling a very real problem a specific industry sector is facing. Not only do participants have to solve a surprise design challenge each time but they have to do it in newly formed teams with complete strangers. Team members have to quickly form rapport and trust quickly. There is no time for silly power plays. #JFID. Effective facilitation and pulling together cross functional, poly-skilled people to leverage strengths and surface ideas are the key to success. The person doing this (me in this case) needs to be well versed in all things awesome about UX.

Ryan Haney, Redgate Software also ran an amazing workshop, “Game on. Getting your organisation from game-zero to gaming in no time. “again around ways to think about solving problems using innovation game and play techniques. He had a Nerf gun that he used liberally if you were the last one to post up an idea. Dare I say we could run a whole day workshop together where creativity is a must and speed is of essence. Wouldn’t that be awesome!


UX strategy = Business strategy = success for everyone

We have the power and talent, so it is our responsibility now to better champion the customer. This means being sought after naturally to define what it is that businesses need to create at a strategic level. Over the last 2 years, my role as a Idea facilitator means getting together with business owners both external and internal to define the next generation of ideas to help them remain more than relevant and competitive in today’s fast-paced customer centric world.We are working collaboratively to suggest strategies that directly map to business KPIs, Value and their business model.

Business strategy is UX Strategy. Peter Drucker summed it up quite nicely when he wrote:

“What the customer thinks he or she is buying, what he or she considers value is decisive – it determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper and what the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always a utility– that is , what a product or service does for him or her and what is value for the customer is anything but obvious.”

In the UX Cambridge Panel discussion I, Eewei Chen, also mention the role of the UX advocate:

“There are loads of advocates doing the work for us. We can see the resurgence of the power of design at a higher level. I mean, look at Apple’s Jonathan Ives- he’s a God! It’s about being strong and passionate, otherwise what’s the point?”

We need to start planting seeds everywhere and get other people to do the PR work for us. That way everything we design and build has a reason we had a hand in deciding makes sense from a business perspective which makes it sooooooooooooooo much easier to then deliver with a smile on our faces whilst making the smile on our customers and business owners faces even bigger.

Thank you Leisa Reichelt and her presentation on Strategic UX that really highlighted how relevant and well placed people like myself are now. Spiderman said it best:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Everyone likes a good story – but make sure they get it!

As a leader and workshop facilitator, I have to be able to make sense of the world and it’s problems. I also need to be able to engage our audience and participants. Improv as an art form, when done well, allows the story teller or stand up comic to frame events and issues that surround us in a way that it connects to their very soul. As a designer I curate experiences that allow customers to achieve their goals effectively, having learned or experienced something they enjoyed.

When brainstorming in a collaborative environment I make sure partipants understand why they are doing things each step of the way. Often the goal is good enough but to keep them truly engaged I outline the entire set of exercises at the start and clearly state why how each step allows us to progress closer to the end goal.

We take participants on a journey of discovery and help them see value by joining the dots. These step by step creative techniques help form the basis of good user centered idea generation that map to real business benefit.

Thank you Ian Fenn for his presentation “Love all the People: What UX practioners can learn from Bill Hicks” where he talks about Dieter Rams, Jonathan Ives and re-introduced me to the amazing Bill Hicks!


My Agile 2011 workshop – How to design stuff that matters, fast

That's me telling the best in the Agile world how to design fast!

If I had to sum up Agile 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah in three words it would be, “Wow, wow, wow!” I was lucky enough to have been accepted to present, speak and run a 90 minute workshop at the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the Agile Manifesto.

Workshop attendees had to solve my design challenge in less than 90 minutes. The trick is, the actual challenge is not revealed till 5 minutes after the start of the workshop. With ‘surprise’ workshops like this it is vital for me to get participants to emotionally buy-in to the challenge from the very beginning in order to then successfully guide them rapidly through each step of my design ideation and creation techniques.

My workshops are very fast and furious. There is very little time to think. More importantly, though, there is, however, just enough time to be creative and make decisions in order to move on to the next creative ideation technique phase.

Here is are the workshop slides

My take on important factors when running a collaborative workshop where time is short and creativity needs to be high:

  1. Set the scene. Make it real and personal
    “New conference attendees who arrive in a foreign town away from home have limited knowledge about where to go and what they can do locally…”
  2. Surprise them. Issue the challenge and make sure it is interesting
    “Design a mobile app to help people new to Salt lake City & Utah explore all that the area has to offer from a ‘local’s’ perspective.”
  3. Let them know it can be done
    Show participants what each subsequent creative ideation technique phase is going to be. Give them an overview from start to finish. Giving them this visibility will help them understand what they need to complete to proceed to the next phase.
  4. Guide each step of the way
    I had to facilitate 6 teams in the workshop. Even though personal attention all of the time is not possible, I gave them hints and tips at each creative ideation technique phase on screen, then proceeded to walk round and act as a design ‘catalyst’; challenging ideas and creatively ‘nudging’ teams to help them move towards successfully completing each phase.
  5. Make it good not just OK
    Just because it is a 90-minute workshop where time is short does not mean the ideas need to be ‘below-par’. I always encourage participants to push their ideas harder and further. After all if you can’t do it when you are having fun (hopefully) when are you going to do it? Some participants are there to just observe and learn the techniques, which is great but I always make sure each teams knows they have to present back to each of the other teams. I find that introducing this low level of competition makes team members want to do a better job of their overall idea.
  6. Be passionate
    My workshop was a huge success and for me personally, I never tire of seeing how creative people and teams can be once they embrace and start sketching! I am so privileged and proud to have been allowed the opportunity to share the way I do things in the best possible way… by being infectious and work together with willing individuals to collectively create some thing from nothing in less than 90 minutes. I do this every day of my life. For me this way of agile creative ideation is part of my DNA and I hope has become part of all those who I have ever worked with.

Thank you to Darius Kumana, Darci Dutcher, Jeremy Sutherland, Anders Ramsay, Pat Kua, Martin Fowler and Jonathan Rasmusson as well as all other participants for making my day in Salt Lake City one of the best ever!


Design Jam London 2 – a more structured design process

This is my second London Design Jam. I am hooked. The idea of working with designers, business analysts, developers, entrepreneurs, strategists with varying experiences to build a product prototype in 4.5 hours sends tingles down my spine. I love a good creative challenge!

When I arrived, I grabbed coffee and the challenge was revealed:

Design a mobile service to help visitors to London ‘become local’ – to discover and connect with the city in a meaningful way.

There were 3 key lessons from the first London Design Jam back in November 2010 I wanted to make sure I nailed this time round:

  1. Structure creative ideation for speedy results
  2. Quickly focus ideas down to one killer app
  3. Usability test that ‘minimum viable’, ‘minimum delightful’ rapid prototype

From my previous experience, teams spent too much time coming up with ideas without validating them with ‘real’ consumers. Little time is also left for the actual creation of the prototype. A London Underground ‘malfunction’ meant I had time on a bus to sketch out some ideation methods on cards:

10:00 – 11:45
Research & Explore

Having sketched ideation methodologies on cards meant our team, Red Banana-nana, were able to show good progress 1 hour 45 minutes into the challenge. At the Interim presentation/feedback session we managed to show how we:

  • Grouped ideas under clear headings using affinity mapping (duration 45 minutes)
  • Created empathy maps and validated our 3 personas by interviewing 3 people who have had interesting local travel experiences in the past (duration 35 minutes)
  • Made a start, sketching user journeys (duration 25 minutes)
  • Saw other teams also dot vote, card sort, cover story, poster session their early ideas!
ideation in action

Ideation cards help to structure and speed up our thinking, knowing what to do next was vital

13:15 – 14:45
15:00 – 16:00
Design phase

After lunch where I struggled for 30 minutes to try and get wifi connection working on my mac (and failed), we spent this time narrowing our ideas; focussing on key interactions and most importantly validating assumptions with real users.

The team:

  • Without Wifi, could not get my cunning plan to use LiveView Screencaster to broadcast a prototype of what we are building onto my iphone :-(
  • Decided to focus on a key persona :

    “as a business traveller with a smart phone I want to get the best local recommendation for something I want to do so I can be instantly gratified and save time”

  • Defined the elevator pitch and brand name of the app:

    “Travel Buddy gives travellers to London ONE trusted local recommendation to satisfy their immediate needs”

  • Briefly validated our value proposition using the Business Model Canvas mapping it back to our customer relationship with the business traveller
  • Created Interaction models and wire-frames using the 6 up method to come up with up to six interaction flows before narrowing it down to one we wanted to show and tell
  • Conducted guerilla usability testing the user interaction screens with as many people as possible using our paper prototype
Wireframes and interactions

Wireframes and interactions

Empathy map of a business traveller

Empathy map of a business traveller

16:00 – 17:30

We spent this time justifying our proposed solution as follows:

  • Business justification (who is it for, what makes us different) (2 minutes)
  • Our processed summarised using the wiki and the sketch cards
  • Simple paper prototype walk through as the user
  • Q and A (3 minutes)

In summary

There were many great ideas and I left feeling I had set out to do what I wanted which was to try and speed up the ideation process using some element of structured game-play (Game Storming). The goal for the next Design Jam is to create a stronger more unique proposition and be able to showcase this back with more than just a paper prototype. Our idea was solid and we even got complimented at the very end saying that a similar but less attractive proposition won an award in 2009, being incorporated into the Samsung phone OS ( High praise indeed. However as we all know being first to market counts for a lot. Making it social is even more attractive. How do you in 4.5 hours create something truly unique? A question to attack the next time.

Thanks to: