Conceptual Design

What does the product do?

Build It and They Will Come…NOT!

NEXT logo

There’s a common misconception — a folksy wisdom, a p-prim, if you will — that in our many years of product design led many entrepreneurs astray: Build it and they will come! Oh, if only it was so… While this is a wonderfully optimistic world-view, it just doesn’t work out that way in real world. So rather than just say it isn’t so, I will give a few examples where I was personally involved either in the design of the product or the workings of the company. Please keep in mind that all of these examples were EXTREMELY well-funded, had a lot of design resources, and ALL believed that they were changing the world for the better. NEXT We all remember NEXT, right? If not, let me jug your memory… After leaving (or being forced out of Apple), Steve Jobs started NEXT — a computer hardware company to rival Apple. Even with Jobs’ charisma, talent, deep financial resources, access to the best minds in the business… he couldn’t make this work. Some say that NEXT is now part of Mac DNA, but it still stands that as a company is was a failure… Steve built it, and no one ever…

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Social Design

Baby Fresh Air Cage for High-rise Apartment Buildings

Nudging is a form of social engineering — a way of designing system constraints and support structures to encourage the majority of people to behave in accordance with your plan. Here’s a famous-in-my-classroom example of nudging: Opt-in versus Opt-out Consent Solutions There are many examples of such social engineering. During our breakout groups at the NIH think tank on the future of citizen participation in biomedical research, I raised the difference between opt-in versus opt-out option results for organ donation. In some countries in Europe, citizens have to opt-out from donating their organs in a case of a tragic accident — they have to do something to NOT donate their organs. As the result in Austria — which has an opt-out system — the donation rate is 99.98%! While in Germany — which has an opt-in system — only 12% will their organs for transplants. This is a huge difference in consent between very similar populations of people. Unintended Consequences of Social Design Not all social engineering efforts go as well as opt-in/opt-out organ donation systems. To reduce pollution for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese government established the even/odd license plate law: cars with even license…

Long-term Strategy versus Fast Success

Divergent Road with low hanging fruit

NIH think tank on the future of citizen participation in biomedical research came to a closure on Friday night, and I had many hours in the airport and plane to think about all that was discussed. In the next few days, rather than writing a longish piece of my impressions of the meeting, I hope to get to each of the items that I feel I didn’t get a chance to fully explore while in Washington D.C. in a series of small posts. Low Hanging Fruit There is a strong temptation in any project to achieve success early (and often). The expression Low Hanging Fruit refers to relatively easy to accomplish tasks. But in the desire to get things done, it is easy to lose track of the overarching strategy — the main purpose of the enterprise. By chasing the Low Hanging Fruit, it is easy to get distracted and end up on the wrong path. Two Different Roads We’ve discussed two visions for the future: more of the same and a radical cultural shift. We visualized the first path as “turning the knob to 11” (aka Spinal Tap). More of the same (but with higher intensity) has many tempting…

2013 Think Tank Presentation on Socio-Technical System Design

I’m about to leave for Washington D.C. for a Think Tank on Citizen Engagement in Biomedical Research. I have only five minutes to talk during the introductory speed geeking event, where all of us get to know about each other and each other’s projects. I’m going there to talk about our lessons learned from designing complex socio-technical systems that required intense participation from their users. I’ve been working on designing such systems for many years now. Some projects were/are very successful, some not so much. I’m not sure I will be able to give a full account of what we’ve learned, so I’m putting up a long(ish) version of my presentation here — if I had 15 minutes, this is what I would say to our very interesting group of participants. I chose these four complex socio-technical systems because all of them were in some measure educational ventures and all required outside users to contribute large amounts of data. I will start with Ushahidi. Ushahidi was born during the 2007 Kenyan election. That election was bloody and the violence, in many cases perpetrated by the government, was not being reported. Ushahidi was a grass-roots effort to tell their countrymen and…

How Do You Know When Contractors are Lying to You?

Do you sometimes get that sunken feeling that your contractors are flat out making up statistics about your users on the spot? I do get that a lot…but until just a few days ago, I didn’t have the indisputable evidence. Slide below is from a Russian contractor Power Point deck explaining the user demographic breakdown for different forms of payment awareness among the 18 to 45 year-olds. The logo of the company which made this slide is blurred… But for those of you who don’t speak Russian, let me walk you through the slide. Horizontal variables are: Knowledge of the type of payment and Usage. The columns are: Credit Card Payments; eMoney; Internet Banking; non-Internet Currency (aka cash); and payments via SMS. 79% of the population of Russian cities with population of over 800,000 people (really?) know about SMS payment systems and 22% use them. While only 93% heard of “offline” cash!

Daniel Kahneman, Customer Service, and Perception of Quality

Last week, we went to listen to a talk by Daniel Kahneman and by coincidence I’ve just finished reading his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, just a few months ago. The ideas in the book are amazing and worth a read (it would be great if the two academic papers included in the back of the book and for which Dr. Kahneman received his Nobel Prize in Economics were printed in a font larger than 8 points!). And a few days after the lecture, I was struck by an obvious application of his ideas, or more to the point, how his experiential self versus remembering self concepts help explain the customer service phenomenon. It has been known for a long time that politeness of error messages and civility of customer service play a strong roll in how the experience with the product is remembered. Above a small portion of the Google Image Search results for “error messages”. The internet is full of these because people get so irked by such messages that they want to share their bad experiences with others. The results are just as illuminating for “bad customer service stories”. Again, a good bad story has legs! But…