Monday, May 30, 2016

What's the Problem er... uh... Product?

"What sort of Products do you design?"

About three years ago I joined both of the Design Thinking groups on LinkedIn and began to participate in the conversations. It was very obvious from the outset that their conceptual frameworks were *very* different and that there was a large gap in perception about what Design Thinking is. That was a surprise as my context for DT was firmly rooted in what I'd been taught in the undergraduate Product Design Program at Stanford many years ago, before Dave Kelley even began calling the method design thinking.

I knew from my own experience that Product Designers were a bit of an odd duck in the highly silo'd American job market. I had struggled for many years with being neither fish nor fowl to the EE's ME's, CE's and CS graduates competing with me in the workplace. Even today, Product Design is viewed in many companies as pertaining to whatever product the company sells. Obviously, a Product Designer at Procter and Gamble does something different that a Product Designer at Apple. Or do they? Recently, Systems Engineering has been a more welcome partner as the deeper question of how to make extremely complex systems fit together has become more important.

So, it was with great interest that I recently came across the Masters Thesis of Jonathan Holmes which made reference to a review of a book by Gerhard Pahl and Wolfgang Beitz written in 1977.

In the third paragraph it states:

Wallace and Blessing lend some perspective to systematic design by noting two contrasting ways in which design can be approached. The systematic generation of solutions set out by Pahl and Beitz is a problem-orientated approach which is favored in central Europe. In contrast, in the UK and the USA, a more product-oriented approach is evident in which an initial product idea is continually elaborated during the design process.

I was already familiar with the writings of L. Bruce Archer an Harold vanDoren, which all but defined the fields of Industrial Design as taught in the 50's and 60's at least in England, so I was aware of this difference which manifested so strongly in the DT groups on LinkedIn.

Over the past two years there has been a significant increase in awareness of DT in industry. Once other colleges and universities besides Stanford began to offer courses and big names (IBM, P&G) began to advertise their adoption of DT methods, things really began to take off. I was still wondering if the current DT framework had become broad enough to overcome this product-problem dilemma.

Offenders for the Words

Wallace and Blessing explained that one of the problems had been translating Pahl and Beitz's book Konstruktionslehre, from German to English.  Konstruktion was translated as Design, but there was difficulty with the name of the second phase of the design process Entwerfen which was translated as Embodiment until an author named French suggested Embodiment of Schemes was a more accurate term.

A web search on Embodiment of Schemes turned up a definition of Embodiment Design:

The embodiment process is the bridge between the conceptual stage of the design process and the detail design stage. A more detailed analysis of the selected concepts is undertaken in the embodiment stage of the design process. Most recently, here in the US, I have seen the terms Concept, Preliminary and Detail used.

The main goal of the preliminary design phase is to refine concept sketches as a distinct stage in the design process by identifying the steps and rules employed. The input to the embodiment stage is often little more than an outline sketch and associated project controlling documentation such as Preliminary Design Specifications or design requirements. The output is a definitive scheme/drawing accompanied by documentation, such as calculations, required dimension and tolerances and suggested materials and manufacturing processes. 

 (Note: The author also wrote that the output from Embodiment Design includes appearance, shape, style and size, but materials and process details are not included in this stage.) 

"Embodiment design is not solely the achieving of technical solutions but also creating useful products, which satisfy and appeal to the users."

That reference to creating things which were useful and appealing to the users finally rung the bell although leaving the underlying issue of whether a "product" existed when the design process was begun unresolved.

Put another way, as a Design Thinker are you a problem solver or product designer. Is there even a difference?  The answer to that has its roots in part in where you were trained - which impacted how broadly you define product.

At the Design Thinking has always been framed as a problem identification and resolution method which is embodiment agnostic - the solution may be a physical product or a process - but openly shifting DT's framework up a level by asking the question; What is/are the unfulfilled needs of the customer? by starting with Empathic Inquiry has been pivotal in the story.  

The idea that central Europe has a problem oriented approach and the US does products is interesting. If it is true, does that imply a difference in the cultural rational/emotional balance of the two methods? Do Central European designers more typically ask What is the problem? while Americans say; Here is a product!

Or like Alice's conversation with Humpty Dumpty, is there something altogether different going on in the background?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Startup Lean Processes

I recently came across a posting on the Methodology of the Lean Startup which was very interesting because of how closely it follows the Design Thinking process. The article started by making some assertions about Lean Startup Methods and then outlining some Lean Startup Principles;

The Lean Startup - Overview

The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster.

The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development.

Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer.

When Lean Startups fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don't care about the idea, the startup fails.

Eliminate Uncertainty (Reducing Risk)

The lack of management skills has led many a start-up to take an undisciplined approach to developing processes. Taking a "just do it" approach basically avoids forms of management.

Using Lean Startup, companies can create order by providing tools to test a vision continuously. It is Kaizen for the process of managing the startup.

Work Smarter not Harder (Answering the Right Question)

The Lean Startup methodology asks two questions; "Should this product be built?" and "Can the business of providing this set of products and services survive?" This is determined by prototyping a first product. If it is successful, it allows a manager to get started with the campaign: enlisting early adopters, adding employees to each further experiment or iteration, and eventually starting to build a real product. By the time we're read to distribute widely, have established customers, have solved real problems and offer detailed specifications for what needs to be built on a larger scale.

Develop A Minimum Viable Product (Express - Test - Cycle)

A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop.

As we just mentioned, the first step is figuring out what the real problem is. Next, you develop a Minimum Viable Product by prototyping in order to learn as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a Lean Startup works on tuning the volume production engine (Scaling). The measure learn cycle must include actionable metrics which demonstrate cause and effect by asking the "Five Whys" (Kaizen)

Build-Measure-Learn uncovers the drivers of the business model and can lead to testing new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth. (Pivots)

Validated Learning

"The unit of progress for Lean Startups is validated learning - a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty." (Wicked Problems)

Focusing on finding what customers want and will pay for by rapidly prototyping an ever increasingly detailed set of prototypes avoids months waiting for a product beta launch.

Driving Principles

Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere

You don't have to work in a garage to be in a startup. Every company is constantly on the cusp of future growth, stagnation, or failure.

Entrepreneurship Is Management

A startup is an institution and requires management geared to its current context.

Validated Learning

Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. This can be achieved by running experiments (prototypes) which allow us to incrementally test and validate each element of the plan.

Innovation Accounting (Feedback)

To improve entrepreneurial outcomes, we measure progress, set milestones, and prioritize work. This requires feedback - accounting - so we can adjusts the process and the product.

Build-Measure-Learn (Express-Test-Cycle)

The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.

If you've been following our other posts on the Design Thinking process. the parallels to Lean are obvious. The next time you meet someone who wants to talk Lean, you'll know exactly what they are excited about.

Here is a link to a Stanford Webinar by the's Bill Burnett; The Design Thinking Hybrid: An evolution of Innovation

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Building Problem Solving Teams

One of the key goals of interviewing with empathy is to understand the client's motivations. That can be a very difficult if you don't truly understand their points of view, particularly when they seem to be very different from your own.

What if there were just three things you needed to understand to discover why anyone acts the way they do?

We've already talked about two of them; tolerance, for ambiguity and complexity. The third is called cognitive bias. It's a measure of risk tolerance, which a blend of tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, past experiences and future expectations. As we learned earlier, these traits have their roots in different parts of our brains and how those parts interact has a huge effect on learning and decision making.

Ichak Adzies developed a useful framework of four decision making styles, which he mapped against Approach, Focus, Pace and Perspective.


These scales were picked because they illustrate what Adzies thought were built-in conflicts in decision making processes. They also pivot around where on the ambiguity, complexity and optimism scales someone naturally falls.
  • Slow, Process Driven <--------------> Fast, Results Oriented
  • Chaotic - Other Centered <-----> Structured - Self Centered

These scale parings have some built in assumptions which Design Thinking addresses head on by flipping the Pace and Perspective pairings towards the goal of creating a faster, process driven approach with a structured, other-centered perspective;

The implications of this insight are both obvious and interesting;
  1. The more selfish someone is the more impatient they are.
  2. Solving complex, ambiguous problems takes time and help from other people.
  3. User-Centered Persistent Optimists rule the problem solving roost.
From the Design Thinking framework we know that positive/negative bias, or optimism plays a crucial role in how we learn and problem solve. When things seem simple, clear, likely and positive, we feel good. When things seem ambiguous, complex and risky, we feel anxious, confused and fearful.

In the context of Empathic Inquiry what we need to remember is that different people interpret the same set of circumstances differently depending on their tolerance for ambiguity and complexity and their degree of optimism. We need to recognize that without having our objectivity influenced by it.

So, are there any quick ways that we can get a read on where in this universe of decision making styles someone naturally falls? Here are a few ideas, questions to ask yourself, or someone else, and some elements to notice about your own or others' environments (homes or office spaces).
  1. Do you feel the world is basically a safe or a scary place?
  2. Do you like to be spontaneous or does there always need to be a plan?
  3. Is your desk or workbench organized or cluttered?
  4. Do you prefer company or being alone?
  5. Do unfinished things drive you crazy?
  6. Is "slack time" restful or a punishment?
What we are interested in is determining how exposure to ambiguity and complexity makes you and others feel.  This manifests itself in things like attention to detail and how clean and organized personal spaces are. Patience and level of optimism another are two other good indicators.

By the way, these traits are expressed and illustrated nicely in the characters of one of my favorite stories;  Winnie-the-Pooh.

How would these traits be useful in building problem solving (Design Thinking) teams?


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bob Gurr's Secret Imagineering Non-Process

Bob Gurr in an Arrow Development designed Antique Ford

In July of 2015, Disney Legend Bob Gurr gave a talk at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, CA - which is just across the street from the former home of Arrow Development, BTW.

One of the interesting and funny parts of Bob's presentation is his insistence that while he was with Walt Disney Imagineering they had no processes.  He is so insistent about this that he says it twice with special dramatic effect.

Bob is a very strong parallel thinker, so it can be difficult to tease linear storylines out of his tales. In this case it is even more difficult if you started by accepting his assertion that there was no process and aren't familiar with any creative design processes. You also have to overcome the tendency to accept Bob's opinion as that of an expert - after all he is a Disney Legend!

Fortunately, as a reader of this blog, you know that creativity often requires us to not take things at face value and even challenge the strongly held and asserted beliefs of "experts."

After viewing Bob's talk, you should have no doubt that he strongly believes there was no process at Walt Disney Imagineering - at least in the early days. But once we edit out the sidebars and focus on the core ideas, a new picture emerges which looks like this:
  1. No Boundaries Brainstorming. ("French Cats bouncing off the walls")
  2. Curiosity about everything.
  3. Building prototypes and failing fast. (Just Do it!)
  4. Radical collaboration (Feedback - collaboration)
  5. Optimism
Add to this Walt's clear focus on the customer (Empathic Inquiry) and it's a formula for innovative success which has been contributing to Disney's global domination of themed entertainment for over 60 years.

I've edited the full talk down into three shorter segments. Listen to them with those six ideas in mind and you'll know Bob's secret Imagineering non-process process. 

(Hint; At the it's called Design Thinking.)


Monday, May 2, 2016

The Neurobiology of Inside Out

Dr. Lori Desautels - Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Marian University recently posted an article on how emotions affect learning, behaviors, and relationships

She begins with the idea that we need all of our emotions for problem solving, in order to remember, retrieve, transfer and connect new information to what we already know.  She goes on to say that a continuous stream of negative emotions changes our brain's architecture by leaving us in a heightened stress-response state where fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, and sadness overwhelm over our thinking, logical brains.

Desautels then turns to the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out's depiction of how joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust interact, illustrating that we need the negative emotions as much as the positive. She then explores the four categories representing the conceptual and developing brains of all children and adolescents.

Neuroplasticity - which Lori calls "the best news from neuroscience in recent years" is the brain’s capacity to rewire itself. Learning is the result of neuroplasticity, which also changes our perceptions and behaviors. Neuroplasticity includes reframing or reappraising an experience, event or relationship, so that we observe and experience a different outcome. In other words, our perceptions are our reality. She also warns that lingering negative brain states can become habitual.

Next, Desautels moves onto Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and Emotional Intelligence; the development of mindful awareness, as strategies for achieving healthy integration of emotional, psychological, physiological, and cognitive functioning.

All of us are constantly creating memories. What makes them significant are the emotions that we attach to past events, experiences, and relationships. Emotions drive our attention and perception. Core memories have high emotional intensity which we've attached to an event or experience.

Inside Out introduced us to the emotions mingling in 11-year-old's brain. Riley's joyful core memories are represented as golden balls. In the beginning, Riley's sadness interferes with her joy-filled memories. When a golden memory is touched by sadness, the gold fades to deep blue, and her joy becomes frustrated. As Riley matures, she experiences sadness and joy beginning to work well together, creating lasting core memories which eventually become a part of her personality.

Lori suggests a number of questions which were designed for educators to ignite their creativity and thought processes about teaching and behaviors in the classroom. I strongly suspect that these can also be helpful in the office; I've edited their wording to reflect that shift;

  • What types of core memories can you create with clients, bosses and co-workers? These memories might be emotional, academic, or social, reflecting a new relationship, a novel way of attempting an assignment, or collaboration on a project.
  • How can we create core memories that energize, pique curiosity, and bring joy to others?
  • Are you considering the "neuroanatomy" of others?
  • Do people understand the negative role that stress plays in cognitive functioning with regard to learning, memorizing, and retrieving information?

  • How might we begin the workday with an emotional check-in? What is the "weather" in your brain? 
  • What could we all do to become more aware of, and transparent about, our emotions during the day? 
Desautels closes with observations and questions about specific emotions and puts them in the context of the film;

  • How do you cope with Sadness?
  • Can you use your Sadness to feel better?
  • What would happen if we never felt Sadness? 
  • Is it sometimes good to keep Sadness inside a circle so that it does not spread and get out of control?
Fear and Anger can protect and motivate us.
  • When was Fear needed in your life?
  • How did Fear help you?
  • What is the perfect amount of Fear?
  • What happens to our thinking and problem solving when we carry too much Fear or Sadness?
  • How does Anger show up in your brain?
  • Has Anger ever helped you?
  • How do you typically handle your Anger?
Disgust keeps us from being poisoned physically and socially.
  • How has the feeling of Disgust helped you?
  • How has expressing Disgust hurt your relationships or experiences?
Joy - the leading role among the feelings in Riley's brain.
  • Does Joy always play the leading role in our brains?
  • What happened when Joy and Sadness left headquarters?
  • How do we see Joy in your own brain?
  • What creates Joy to take over your brain?
Not Feeling
  • What would life be like if we didn't have feelings?
  • Describe two positive changes in our life if we didn't have feelings.
  • Describe two negative changes that could occur in a life with no feelings.
There is more to come from Desautels. She's going to look at core memories next.