Jason Cozy is a Project Manager at productOps specializing in UX/UI, visual design, usability research, and prototyping.
Some of our team recently attended a PARC Institute’s Forum event “Design in Research — How do you use design to support and shape R&D?” presented by Mike Kuniavsky. It was an enjoyable presentation by Kuniavsky, a twenty-year veteran of digital product development and co-author of Observing the User Experience. The talk sparked some ideas about the way we work here at productOps.
PARC is known for their research born from bringing leading scientists, engineers and designers in specific areas of technology together. Their amazing inventions and breakthroughs are responsible for me being able to write this article at the computer right now. You can learn more about their history here.
Kuniavsky mentioned some great aspects of their research and the timelines around them. He covered the long research phases of hardware, historically being up to ten years long, and how they have been working to reduce this timeline in their processes.
There are many similarities to the way we are working here at productOps. In software the research, or as we call it the Discovery Phase, is much shorter and can be counted in weeks or months instead of years. You can’t work on software for years without delivering it and expect it to still be relevant as is possible with hardware. Timelines are compressed and Time is of the essence but you can’t dig in and start building something without having done some research into what you are about to build. Our Discovery Phase helps to inform the coming designs and development. They are a necessity. We have all but productized our Discovery Phase process delivering valuable artifacts like landscape diagrams, personas and workflows to our clients.
From this Discovery Phase the vision for the product that the client has brought to us is more clearly defined and refined. Having a vision into the future is necessary for a designer. Kuniavsky stated that ”as designers we reach into the future” and this struck a chord with me.
Clients approach us with a vision for a product. During the discovery phase we are working to research and validate this vision. We will additionally explore options around this vision to work on validating and improving it. We then focus on the strategies to make this vision a reality building a framework to make accurate informed decisions. These strategies are important to align planning and execution with the intent of building out the vision into a viable business platform.
Through research and discovery into the theme and concepts around the vision I’ll head down various creative paths and build a variety of outputs. Occasionally I’ll build a mood board or thought tree branching ideas, words and phrases that can drop me into that visionary headspace. I’ll utilize personas and sketch high level flows for them, getting a rough understanding of their experience. I’ll then organically explore paths from there. The concepts Kuniavsky mentioned of reaching into the future, bringing concepts back into a feedback loop, looping back to the present and in the process refining ideas resonated with me. It was something I was doing without being aware of it but it helped validate the process we use and inspired me to continue to refine and improve.
From graphic design to web design to experience design — the titles shift and change over time but they are all encompassed by the “design” discipline. I am sure if I searched there would be a hundred articles about how experience design has always been a part of the design process. This is true, but the recent focus on experience design, and more widely accepted views on how important it is, has been transforming business. Industries that weren’t inherently design oriented, like the taxi/rideshare industry, have changed their tune and gone from just thinking about design as the look of their magazine ads or the layout and placement of their logo on their website, to thinking more broadly about the wholesale design. Now the full cross media customer experience involves the customers discovery of the product, on-boarding, ease of use and retention. This isn’t just about getting someone for your mailing list and blasting them offers. It’s about the experience of the touchpoints; how a customer might feel about the email, its voice and tone, their onboarding to the platform and how effortless it is to achieve their main objectives while using it. It’s about the the user and that customer experience.
Near the end Kuniavsky talked about how PARC has worked on a very diverse set of projects and over time has been able to use what they have learned and apply these unexpected perspectives to other unrelated projects.
I was reminded of a recent article on how HP is sticking with agencies to stay exposed to a variety of industries. The knowledge learned by agencies while building projects within other industries empowers them to think differently for the client. This is where a lot of the industry disruption is originating. Taking concepts that are working successfully in one industry and applying them to another. I have definitely seen that and experienced it here at productOps. It is a great pleasure to be able to learn about these diverse industries and understand their pain points and successes and be able to help them along that journey. It is great to hear large corporations like HP see and understand the value of external consultants.
Reaching into the future means defining the vision at a specific future point in time and then using tried and true design techniques to iterate, validate and work backwards from that point to now. Kuniavsky’s presentation reinforced for me the fundamental importance of this aspect of the research/discovery phase, and the importance of getting out of the day to day of design work and sharing ideas with like minded creatives in a public forum.