When you hear the word Design Thinking, your mind hears Design and you talk about design and you think that it only a designer’s job; while had that been a different word, you would have thought differently – the meanings that I attached to it would not have happened.
Design Thinking is NOT Design
Misunderstandings around design thinking are quite common – even (especially?) within the design community. For instance, in her talk ‘Design Thinking is Bullsh*t‘, Natasha Jen, Partner at Pentagram in New York, talks about Design Thinking as being a linear process, and one that trivialises design into a wall of post-its.
If you see Design Thinking as a ‘designerly way of looking at business problems’, it stands to reason that it’s meant for non-designers. Unlike what most businesses expect from ‘methodologies’ and ‘frameworks’ it isn’t a codified, standard process. And that’s another part of the challenge. It isn’t meant to replace actual design, and it doesn’t magically transform business people into designers.
Of the many things it does stand for, Design Thinking balances Business (viability), Technology (feasibility) and Human Interaction (desirability) in defining the products and services organisations take to markets. This key aspect forms a highlight in our recent podcast: Design Talks: Design-in-Tech for the social sector.
Explaining away the tirade
Setting the misunderstanding of the phrase Design Thinking aside, why do designers still resist it? Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at Adobe, answers this in response to Natasha Jen’s skepticism.
Khoi presents an insight into the design community, the wall that designers have built around the discipline, and why the rise of Design Thinking will not undermine design, as most designers seem to fear. He takes the analogy of engineering: the idea that ‘everyone can code’ and the availability of free online resources to learn code have not threatened engineers, or the discipline or trade of engineering.
Words like ‘bandwidth’, ‘beta’ and ‘reboot’ have become a part of our vocabulary — used by those outside of engineering — and has led to a greater understanding (and value) of engineering. This is where ‘design thinking’ presents an opportunity — to broaden the language of design, to help expand the community of design, and to help build a world that values and understands design better than it does today.
Very often, in this corner of the world, we have freewheeling conversations surrounding design. So why not share it with the world? Enter Design Talks. A podcast series on design. In this pilot episode, I interview Sunil Malhotra, CEO of Ideafarms about Design in Tech for the social space. The conversation kicks off with Design-in-Tech and Design Entrepreneurship for Social impact (DESi), followed by Sunil’s talk for fellows of Aspire Circle and his take on the challenges facing the social sector in India.
The social sector currently lacks awareness of technology exists and how they can use design thinking as a power tool for their own benefit.
If all organisations could come together to radically collaborate, it would likely get rid of all the challenges that the social sector is facing today — raising funds, getting solutions out in the market quicker, governmental support etc.
You don’t need the whole of design thinking, to be implemented in one go; and similarly you don’t need technology to be implemented in one go. Just by changing the orientation of the way you have been thinking and being open to divergent thinking as well as exploration of possibilities instead of starting with constraints, can show a tremendous amount of difference.
One of my most memorable moments during a trip to Sikkim, was on a road trip in the mountainous region around the river Teesta—beside the road, a shallow stream accompanied us, riding on a bed of hundreds of smooth pebbles; the green hills all around were lifting their misty veils.
Over the week-long holiday, we had got used to the natural beauty of Sikkim, but it appeared that there was no way for us to document it through the windows of a moving vehicle. Try as we might, the rough terrain was impossible to capture without looking like a smudge of paint.
It was during one such trip, that one of our drivers, Mahesh, slowed down at a river crossing, and surprised us.
“You can take the picture now! See, I want you to take as many pictures as you can. I want, that when you go home and you see these pictures, you will remember me!”
Mahesh asked us to soak in the view and take our time — something, that we later realized, no one had said throughout any of our road trips.
Throughout our holiday, we traveled with many drivers, some for transfers, and some for sightseeing. As a driver, Mahesh was just like every one else. Every driver we traveled with, was equally skilled in navigating the rough terrain and guiding us to tourist spots. The difference was that while everyone took us from point A to point B, Mahesh cared about our experience while we were traveling. While some drivers kept calling us to hurry up so that we could complete the itinerary, Mahesh told us to soak in the atmosphere and take our time.
As Design Thinking is gaining popularity, companies are running every which way to train their employees in the methodology and its tools — and that’s a great thing. But at its core, Design Thinking starts with an emotional connect with the end customer. Without this mindset in all aspects of conducting a business, all the tools and methodologies are just jargon. What’s critical is that this emotional connect — call it human centricity or empathy — must permeate throughout the organisation’s culture to the very last mile — especially to the last mile.
Having previously worked within the travel industry, one thing that I observed was that it thrives on partnerships for pretty much everything — transportation, accommodation, sightseeing, recreational activities etc. Customers book their tours with one agency, and interact with other agencies who fulfil the itineraries.
Servicing the end customer may not be your job, but if your partner doesn’t, you lose the customer.
Collaborating with other stakeholders and sensitising them to the importance of ensuring that the customer has, at the very least, a neutral experience, if not a delightful one, is perhaps most crucial for the B2B travel ecosystem.
We loved Mahesh for his empathetic attitude; but even so, due to the overall handling of that tour, after that holiday, we vowed never to take tour packages. With travel advise from fellow travellers and bloggers online, our subsequent travels have been quite fulfilling, all without the involvement of travel agencies.
So how do you (and your partners) treat your customers? Are your employees like Mahesh, or is your entire ecosystem eroding to DIY travellers?
As first-time visitors to the Buddh International Circuit, we stood in awe of the sheer dimensions of the complex. Long before we even reached the entrance gate we were greeted by the sound of tires burning rubber on a warm October morning. Adding to the special atmosphere was the fact that we were guests – that grand treatment for being the mobile app partners of the Vento Cup.
Gasha escorted us to the team’s paddock – ha, that was a new word for us!
“There are the cars and on that side is the pit lane. You can see the action along the straight leading to the start-finish line. And there’s a giant screen up there for seeing the rest of the action. Now I’m going to leave you guys to explore on your own. Don’t you get into any trouble!” Gasha warned me with a mischievous smile.
“Oh! Don’t worry, I won’t run on the pit lane!”
At the paddock, the race cars posed like rock stars, sporting sponsor tattoos, shiny glasses and modified accessories. As we admired the cars, a large horn began blaring warning sounds. A few bikers were riding into the pit lane. As soon as the bikes entered their team’s paddock, the noise stopped.
We stepped on the pit lane to cross over to the fence – a single wired wall beyond which was the race track. Standing at the fence and looking straight ahead, a speeding racer becomes a mere blur, with the vibrating air being the only evidence of his* existence.
“Excuse me, Ma’am” cried a lean heavily tanned man, jogging towards me. His head was tightly gripped by a red cap and headphones, his white shirt read ‘Marshal’.
“I’m sorry, but no slippers allowed. It’s against the rules.”
I stepped back and apologised. He jogged away, blowing his whistle while I stood at the edge of the paddock, and watched at a distance. A little while later he walked up to me and said, “I am extremely sorry, Ma’am, but those are the rules. I just cannot let you cross. Maybe we can arrange for some boots for you.”
I was surprised and humbled, if not a little embarrassed by his generous offer to help me (strangely the phrase pleasant user experience came to my mind).
I managed to arrange a pair of shoes on my own to make it to the fence – yes, I waited for the warning sounds to stop before crossing – so that I could watch the racers speed away barely a few feet from me.
That shot of adrenaline down my throat, I came back to the paddock. The Marshall caught me returning the boots to its barefoot owner and we all shared a hearty laugh.
The Vento Cup was scheduled to start at 11:30 am and we were asked to move to the lounge upstairs so that the cars could be taken out. The drivers, covered from head to toe in fireproof overalls, gloves, shoes and headgear were fastening their seat-belts as we moved away. A short while later, we were leaning against the railing as the modified Volkswagen Ventos began grunting out of the paddock below us.
They went around the track for a formation lap and lined up at the starting grid. The five lights in front of the grid illuminated and went out to signal that the race was on. The cars shot out of sight within seconds – but the sound didn’t go very far away from us. A minute later the sound grew louder and the race leader entered our line of sight. With cars moving fast – apparently the average speed around the track was 133 kmph – it was hard to keep track of who was who. What was clear was that there was a sizable lead, growing bigger with every lap, between the first and the second car.
The horns of the pit lane began blaring again. A car came in – it’s rear wing hanging precariously by one bolt. The pit crew quickly removed the wing and he drove off.
It was in the fifth lap that we identified the Ideafarms car – our car – unfortunately quite far back in the standings, but fighting hard with two other cars.
As the chequered flag was waved, the podium finishers crossed one at a time; the midfield finished much closer. Our car came seventh (hey, at least it wasn’t last!)
With the Vento Cup championship having drawn to a close, we stayed back to watch the Asia Road Racing Championship, with some fierce looking bikers leaning scarily close to the track on the kerbs. More than one biker skidded off. While their bikes were quickly removed by the ever vigilant marshalls, the bikers hitched a ride on rather slow moving scooters back to the pit lane!
During one of the races, one biker suffered a massive accident and lay motionless on the track for an extended period of time. Spectators on both sides of the track ran in the direction of the biker, while red flags were frantically being waved. An Ambulance raced to the biker. It was then that I noticed a large gate along the fence to let the Ambulance take a shortcut through the pits to the medical building behind the paddocks. The Marshal, with whom I had interacted earlier, turned into a traffic policeman whistling out clear instructions for the quick movement of the Ambulance.
Amidst all the adrenaline and exciting sounds around the track, this incident was a rude reminder of the perils of motorsport and it’s not all fun and games on the track.
Early in the evening we decided to leave, and leaned over the railing for one last look at the speeding daredevils performing wheelies and standing up on their bikes while crossing the line at full speed.
Two sounds of a whistle directed our attention to the pit lane below. The Marshall waved at us. We waved back and burst out laughing as he pointed towards his boots and nodded his head in what seemed like a question!
On our way out, we peeked into the paddock where the the cars were getting a thorough checkup and greasing and thanked Gasha for a very memorable day.
We left the circuit in good spirits, wondering when we would return – perhaps not anytime soon. But when we do, and quite likely for next season’s Vento Cup finalé, I’ll make sure I have shoes of my own.
* While the field this year was all male, last year’s Vento Cup featured two female drivers competing against the men.
Sitting in front of a screen ogling simple visuals made by designers from across the seas, I could feel a certain frustration creeping in on me. Having been away for a while from anything remotely resembling a sheet of paper, something had to be done about it.
‘Quick, give me a word – what’s the first thing that comes to your mind’, I asked my colleague.
I grabbed the nearest scrap of paper and a marker, my fingers unsure of themselves. A few seconds later, I stuck the sorry looking doodle on the wall beside me – a reminder of how far I had fallen behind.
The next day, an unsuspecting intern got the same request from me.
Inspired by an activity given by Justin Ferrell to the participants of the Design Thinking workshop (fast-forward to 9 minutes into the video for the challenge), the challenge to myself spread to Eeshta and Vaani. A doodle a day, it was, then. 10 seconds to draw a random word given by someone else.
Two days later, we asked Sahil – the resident artist – who had been supplying us with words, to join in. ‘No! No! You’re taking too long – no making a masterpeice out of it! Take the pen away from him!’
With the wall of post-its growing bigger, we got the techies, even finance and HR into drawing a doodle. ‘Ha! I’ve done it in three!’ Nikhil said proudly, as he held up a neat three petaled flower.
Where it will go – I cannot say for sure, but its fun and definitely that’s not going to be bad at all!
As is now common knowledge across the world (that we know of), Ideafarms makes it a point to greet everyone during the New Year. This time though, we goofed up – big time.
No, we didn’t sleep it off.
No, we didn’t forget about it either.
It’s not that we didn’t have the resources or the time.
And yet, we didn’t make one.
But the Tenacious Teenagers that we are, we didn’t want to pass this opportunity to welcome sweet sixteen! So we chose to phone a friend. Well, actually, more than one friend!
With the Living Greeting Project, our friends shared their best memories for the world to see; each memory adding to the virtual family wall for sharing further as a personal greeting card. After a few photographs and a dash of sharing and an accidentally added chemical D over here, we were screaming out aloud, “It’s Alive!”
Won’t you hop on over to our lab and meet the collective creation? Say hello to all the awesome people who helped fix our goof up and nurture the Greeting. Add your own name by sharing your memories. And most importantly, be sure to wish your loved ones a Happy New Year!
Oh, and by the way (almost did it again, didn’t we!) Here’s wishing you a very happy, prosperous and sweet 2016!
“I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”
– Kathleen Kelly in You’ve got Mail (1998)
In 1998, email was romantic. In 2015, it’s a nightmare.
Promotional emails, updates and news from the hundreds of services we sign up for, lurk and grow in our inboxes like cancerous cells. They’re there. We nuke them on a daily basis. But miss one day, and the emails pile up. Trying to keep those mails away from my inbox seems to be a losing battle. One way to prevent the virtual clutter is unsubscribing to emails.
Overshadowed by glossy sophisticated graphics, the poor unsubscribe link is perhaps given the least respect in email marketing – an afterthought, almost never incorporated in layouts and invariably in some corner as an un-styled plain text. The actual process of unsubscribing doesn’t make for a pretty experience either. So this post is dedicated to the all important unsubscribe link, in as many different shapes and behaviours as I encountered in the wild.
The single click
The single click unsubscribe is perhaps the easiest way for a user to exit. A link to undo the un-subscription is usually provided with the confirmation message. For most cases this is sufficient, but also a lost opportunity. A few marketers try to get creative with the copy of the message to nudge users to re-subscribe. By adding humour (example: charity:water) or a tinge of guilt (examples: Groupon and HubSpot), at the very least, these services make sure that they stand out among the email class.
The big data junkie
Lately, it appears that services are using emails to create user accounts – without the consent of subscribers. So when I hit unsubscribe on some of the emails I signed up for, I was asked to log in to my account (which I never created) and set my preferences! Here are a couple of real-life scenarios I faced while unsubscribing:
It may seem exaggerated (it isn’t) – especially if you imagine having to perform all these actions on an unresponsive website on a phone. Sure, I remember which services I unsubscribed from, but only because I will know never to return.
The ultimate user experience
This email from Maria Popova says it all:
In one single mail, Maria has not only ensured that some load is shed from her email server, but also remained at the top of my mind for eternity. The ultimate unsubscribe which has unburdened my inbox, without making me feel guilty and at the same time made me want to praise her to the roof and beyond.
What about you? Does your service fall under any of these categories? Do you have any unsubscribe scenarios of your own? Let us know in comments.
In a previous post, we highlighted the importance of data, and the inherent flaw in collecting data through paper forms. We also suggested that technology can improve the integrity and timeliness of data.
Real world application – tackling Dengue
The past couple of months have seen a rise in the number of dengue cases in Delhi. Given the sheer size of a city like Delhi, disseminating civic agencies to every nook and corner, in equal measure, is neither feasible nor useful.
The most affected localities would take a higher priority and need a higher number of resources. Identifying such areas through traditional data gathering tools will result in data which is likely to be too late.
What is required in such a scenario is a tool through which accurate data can be captured and analysed in near real time.
Imagine if diseases were reported as soon as they were diagnosed, and each diagnosis could be displayed as a pin on a map. The more the number of cases, the higher the number of pins. A locality with a high concentration of pins will draw attention immediately, thus making it easy to identify where resources need to be deployed urgently.
HealthWatch is a disease surveillance platform for capturing real-time data about the spread of diseases and visualization of the data captured.
With domain expertise provided by St. Stephen’s hospital, HealthWatch was designed to replace the existing system of data gathering used in the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.
The HealthWatch platform (pilot in Delhi-NCR) consists of 2 parts:
a smart phone app
a map-based analytics dashboard
Doctors can use the App to report diseases as they diagnose them. Each disease and associated symptoms are mapped to the doctor’s location. Data obtained through the App is aggregated and presented in real-time on a map for healthcare professionals to identify vulnerable areas and take appropriate measures to manage the spread of diseases.
As part of a high school statistics project, our teacher gave us a form to collect data about customer automobile preferences. We had to analyse the data collected, and present it as a report.
While some were honest enough to actually go and get the forms filled, there were quite a few students who were getting dummy data filled by other classmates.
A few years later
I was walking near a market when a lady holding a bunch of papers asked me if I could spare a few minutes to answer questions about potato chips. She filled the fields of the survey form with my answers at great speed — a great time-saving skill, no doubt.
However, when one of my answers seemed unfavourable, she said ‘Oh no! I can’t record that.’ And then, she changed my answer!
* * *
Statistics form the core of almost every article we read. But behind numbers like 83.7% and 4.8 million, there is data collected by field staff.
While statistical reports talk of error margins, how reliable is the data on which they are based? It is hard to tell. Can we improve their quality? Definitely.
One of the projects we have had the opportunity to work on in the recent past, addresses this very issue.
Before we jump to the solution, here’s a look at the problem in a little detail.
Data typically goes through several stages before becoming a meaningful number — capture, display, interaction and analysis.
Data capture, more often than not, involves paper forms. And paper forms have several inherent problems.
The first is the time lag between when the data is captured, and when it is available for analysis. The second problem is that of data integrity. Forms filled in manually are susceptible to errors during data capture, as well as during data transfer, as illustrated in the two real scenarios mentioned earlier. The third, and perhaps the most critical problem, is that of data authenticity. Paper forms can very easily be used to generate false information.
Raw aggregated data – typically tabulated – is not user friendly. It requires filtering in order to be useful for decision and policy making.
All this seems a lot like a game of Chinese Whispers. By the time the data can actually be analysed, it may lose its value.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could skip a few steps? As it happens, that is how technology can help. This was the subject on which our CEO, Mr. Sunil Malhotra recently spoke about at the 124A Bilateral Training Programme of International Centre for Information Systems and Audit (organised by Comptroller and Auditor General of India). While interacting with the delegates of FBSA, Republic of Iraq, during the session on Disease Surveillance and the Role of Technology, Mr. Malhotra emphasized the need to shorten the data collection timeline, as well as ensure integrity of data, through the use of mobile technology.
Here’s an excerpt from the companion presentation, explaining the common challenges involved in data collection, as well as how mobile technology can help solve them.