Reframe: Design thinking for Africa

Image source: Cyrus Kabiru, C-Stunners 2012. Caribbean Sun. © Cyrus Kabiru. Foto: Miguel Luciano.
What is the reframing? Cultural intelligence

What is the idea of cultural intelligence?

We start by defining what cultural intelligence is not. It is not: something derived from clever marketing tools; an myriad of digital insights that inform marketing practices; a device that is on standby and called on when needed.

We begin by understanding cultural intelligence as the air that brings life to humans, the core of what informs daily human decisions, an underlying sense of connectedness and belonging innately placed before the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creeps into an adolescent youth on their path to existential inquiry.

Cultural intelligence is the idea that culture inherently is and of itself a sentient being, a living, breathing thing, in other words human; one with thoughts, ideas and basic survival instincts. To push the envelope, the idea of its own existence in the broader category of other social nuances.

Cultural insights is a more passive and evasive stance in understanding the makeup of a tribe.

Consider this, Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO advocates for a new model of living, the circular economy – the need to move away from linear movement of raw materials along an assembly line to a more distributed and democratic model of bending the assembly line into a circular flow where the output of the system now informs how the system is built. The notion that people comes before process.

Image source: http://report.akzonobel.com/2015/ar/case-studies/the-circular-economy.html

 

This is not a new idea when one traces the harmony of man and nature, something very characteristic of indigenous tribes in Afrika. Intelligence speaks to the holistic need for change and balancing, insights is represented in the change process.

To expand on the idea of cultural intelligence, let’s take a closer look at indigenous knowledge systems, a more digestible and pragmatic way to understand it.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. Indigenous knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education: natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.

Flavier. De Jesus and Navarro (1995:10) state that:

Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society. which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic. and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

To propose a new idea of design thinking re-framed for Afrika appeals to the former stance of internal creativity and experimentation. By design, design thinking prompts the ‘innateness’ to surface. Afrikan design thinking means reverting back to dynamic communal structures and nuances and interrogate those means to which we can interpret the world and its problems.

With design firms such as IDEO and Frog Design, they have had the mileage in producing methodologies that systematically find themselves adopted into similar societies and externalities, offering a plug-and-play approach to design thinking.

Reframing for Afrika means beginning with the end in mind, starting with the understanding that systems change in Afrika rests with the information base from indigenous rural areas like Sauri, Kenya; Adet, Ethiopia; Chibuto, Mozambique and how these knowledge reserves play themselves out and inform the rural, peri-urban and urban migrant as they carry them into urban spaces.

Reframing urban dilemmas emphatically using peri-rural intelligence over insight.

Cultural preservation

There is keen debate amongst indigenous communities, government officials, public negotiators and academic commentators alike over whether intellectual property rights are appropriate for the preservation and legal protection of traditional cultural expressions. These debates need to be understood in relation to the intrinsic nature of traditional cultural expressions, and how they carry with them ‘shared, symbolic meanings, which may represent for a community a link with the sacred…its history, or an attribute of its identity’

In reframing design thinking for Afrika we begin with the idea that cultures, inherently carry with them a sense of expressions and being. To this end, we employ devices as empathy and resign preconceived notions of systems challenges in communal structures.

How might we preserve Afrikan traditional systems? How might we use cultural systems thinking to inform design thinking?

Image source: https://www.tripsavvy.com/games-played-in-africa-1454491

Mancala is one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. Pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes.

How might we build a culture for Afrikan design thinking?

  1. Isintu (empathy)Design and innovation are geared to solving problems, problems experienced by humans.

    Derived from Ubuntu, isintu suggests consistent and genuine human values being a part of everyday life gathered from “umthombo”, the essence of being human.

  2. Context driven learningMany tools are used by design thinking practitioners locally. While functional, how many of those tools have been informed by indigenous knowledge systems?

    The idea of a deep, native narrative creeps up in the learning. Learning from folklore practice and oral storytelling and charging this into the facilitation.

  3. Content driven ideationAs suggested by the context driven learning point above, practitioners ought to move into a space of iterative content ideation, the aim of creating unique design tools and innovation methodologies.
  4. “Cultural misappropriation”Although counterintuitive to the main idea carried by this piece, cultural appropriation suggest being unapologetic and disruptive jeering of cultural intelligence in design practice. Instead of using insights and layering them onto an appropriate medium that advertising and marketing types place on campaigns (ready-placed frameworks), a deliberate celebration and highlighting of innate cultural qualities needs to surface.

    The idea of Afrika with a “K” and not a “C”

  5. Deep dives and immersionDriving a culture that all are ethnographers, that every team member once given enough latitude can relate to a situation and personalities and not treating the challenge from a passive stance.

    Mindfulness, that every moment presents an opportunity for observation and learning.

  6. GamificationUsing Afrikan games as a point of assimilating and expounding on new approaches to design and innovation.

What are the impacts of reframing for Afrika?

Seeking first to be understood and then to understand

For the better part of this thought piece, reference to the marketing and advertising arena is made, not to take away from its impact however to highlight approaches to problem-solving where corporate Afrika relies heavily to solve problems of understanding people to gain market traction.

Design thinking over-emphasizes the human.

Reframing design thinking places a deeper need to understand the human, wholly, from a point of their decision-making.

Systems change

With an invigorated approach, this contextual with content backed by evidence and facts-based intelligence and the creative confidence to implement to problems, Afrikan design thinking is a host to new innovations.

References
1. http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/journal_archive/10113487/324.pdf
2. http://www.piipa.org/images/IP_Book/Chapter_5_-_IP_and_Human_Development.pdf

Pretotypes and prototypes

Why is prototyping so important and how does it fit in to the design thinkers tool kit?  In this short read David Kester looks at some recent projects he has observed and been involved in and shows how invaluable it is to get prototyping early and then keep iterating to build your minimum viable product (MVP).  From a floating school to a sexual health service the prototype proves key to de-risking projects.

John Farrer_POD PrototypingDraft 593x354

 

Prototyping in design is often much misunderstood.

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to interview the Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyeme. He is a deeply thoughtful, talented and hugely experienced architect tutored under the great Rem Koolhas at OMA and now running his own highly successful practice NLE in Holland.  One of his areas of research and investigation has been in the field of amphibious buildings.

Just before our interview on stage at What Design Can Do, two interesting things happened:  Kunle was awarded a Silver Lion for his new design for a floating school at the Venice Biennale.  The original prototype that he built with the local Nigerian community in Makoko was destroyed in a storm.  The fact that it had always been conceived as a prototype and had been a wonderfully successful living experiment was completely missed in the media.

 

floaring schools-593
Kunle Adeyeme’s original prototype Floating School on the left and the developed scale sconecpt at the Venice Biennale.

Prototypes and what some call “pretotypes” (very early concepts for user testing) are the vital stock-in-trade of a design thinker.

When a telecoms company came to us recently we worked with product teams to develop pretotypes in the form of quick storyboards.  They were developed following customer observational research and provided the syndicate groups with a super-fast (2 hour) method of establishing concepts  they could test in “cognitive walk-throughs” with end-users.

orange storyboard-593

 

Quick prototypes developed to test, iterate and also eliminate early concepts with end-users

One of my colleagues (who I admire greatly for his work in health design) Chris Howroyd, has deployed this sort of fast, quick and constant prototyping to develop, test and bring to market on of the most successful new health services for the treatment of sexually transmitted disease.  It’s a 24 hour self-testing service called SH:24.  The programme is re-writing the script for these services in the UK.  A comparison of the early storyboards and the current operating model is a powerful demonstration of the value of prototypes, and constant iteration in order to bring to market minimum viable products (MVPs).

David-blog-493SH24-593

Early prototypes and the user journey for the sexual health service SH:24

Pearson Lloyd-593

Pearson Lloyd’s design for an NHS commode on display at the Design Museum alongside one of the early prototypes

Pretotyping and prototyping has its origins in industrial design.  My good friends at Pearson Lloyd created endless prototypes in order to develop the multi award-winning NHS Commode in a project Chris and I ran at the Design Council.  The techniques of prototyping have been adapted by interaction designers and service designers.  They are there to be used and incorporated by innovators and are an essential tool for design thinkers.  The benefits are huge:  designing around the user; aligning multidisciplinary teams around evolving ideas, and that great design thinking mantra…”failing early and cheap”  so that success comes with minimum risk.

Building a better design culture

Original article: https://design.google/library/building-better-design-culture/

Designers are special creatures. Mike Buzzard understands this, and for the last four years he’s been working to make sure Google develops a strong appreciation for design and designers. His mission at Google is ambitious: to foster a world-class UX culture through cross-functional product development, internal operations, programs, education, talent recruitment, and perhaps most impactfully, by improving how Google defines roles and performance expectations for designers. This is an endless exercise in refinement, revision, and keen observation. So how does one become an unapologetic design evangelist in a world where engineering reigns supreme? It helps when you yourself are an edge case: a high-school dropout, an entrepreneur, and a self-taught developer who loves design. Buzzard has learned a number of lessons on his unconventional path to becoming a design lead—ideas helpful not only to understanding the rising stature of design at Google, but also for fostering excellent design vibes on any team.

Amber Bravo: Tell us a bit about how you came to work at Google?

Mike Buzzard: I started out in the ’90s as a self-taught developer with a strong interest in design. I worked for an architecture firm and built a bunch of internal, internet-based tools. Then I moved to San Francisco in 2000, and worked at a startup while also building a freelance practice. I ended up co-founding a design and development studio called Cuban Council. We ran the company for about 10 years out of San Francisco, New York, and Portland. We did a lot of identity, branding—logos for Facebook and Quora at one point—and content management tools for startups and more established entities like NASA, Francis Ford Coppola, BBC, Evernote, et cetera. Google was a client for about seven years, which is how we eventually got acquired to work on Google Plus.

AB: What inspired you to get involved in fostering the UX community at Google?

MB: Well, I had immediate design needs for Google Plus, so I had that motivation. But I also joined the hiring committee and gained a top-down view on how we source, qualify, and assess design talent, which put me in unique position to start bolstering the design disciplines. I also had an existing network of UX leads across Google that I’d meet with to understand their needs and perspective. I realized that by changing the documentation you can actually reframe the way the whole company views a discipline. In 2012, there were a lot of design generalists at Google, and we were trying to diversify and enhance our design capabilities by hiring a lot of specialists. It’s one thing to source specialists, but it’s completely another to build confidence that they’ll be successful. That requires making sure the company understands who they are and what they do, and how to sequence the various disciplines successfully in the product design process.

AB: How has this work evolved over the years?

MB: Google is an engineering-driven company, and I think it’s important that those roots remain. However, I do think Google can become more design oriented. Signals of that would be in the vocabulary engineers use when talking to designers about their work, or even just a top-down, bottom-up sort of comfort in understanding how design influences the company’s products and culture. To me that influence should be visible from the outside. Things like the Google rebrand or Material Design, for example. It’s a slow transition, but it’s clear that the company is definitely moving in this direction. The number of people working in UX at Google has multiplied over the last 5 years—that magnitude of growth is partly why we created a team dedicated to UX community and culture, to ensure the health and success of UX across all of Google.

AB: What types of designers thrive at Google?

MB: I think designers who are interested in creating products from top-to-bottom, who understand the importance of how something functions as well as how it looks and feels. Designers working in brand marketing are often responsible for making sure that brand, content, and functionality goals are met, but often don’t receive the same level of rigor and testing that Google requires. At Google, it’s not uncommon to be working on something that will affect hundreds of millions of people, so there’s an inherent responsibility that you need to get the design as close to “right” as possible before you push it out the door. A lot of people who come in actually appreciate that rigor, that level of ownership and accountability. People with an agency background tend to be great listeners with a strong sense of self-awareness because they have to be—every client is different and their needs are different. That’s a really translatable characteristic that can serve the designer well at Google.

AB: At Google, all designers are hired and evaluated based on the same universal criteria: impact. How does that fit into fostering the company’s design culture?

MB: The idea is that as we hire into roles and grow both the diversity of disciplines as well as the diversity of experience, it will feed back into improving the broad culture of design at Google. We started with scaffolding, or a framework—first aiming to simplify by focusing on the essentials, and then we focused on refining and evolving rubrics. This helps designers better understand and communicate: What is hard about the work I do? What did I do to make a difference or what would have happened if I wasn’t there, and what impact has my work had? When you have peers from different job functions evaluating each other, they’re absorbing this information, and it influences how they think about design roles within the company.

AB: Having a strong criteria is great, but is there a level where feedback and self-assessment has to be tailored to each team?

MB: Really good managers will provide tools and education for their team, they’ll create clear language which people can evaluate themselves and their peers against. It’s important to have a framework for people to tell their story, to help others understand and appreciate the work that they do, especially with the broad range of team compositions. We aren’t doing this work in a vacuum. We observe design promotion committees, we help compose them, we also collect heaps of feedback from pools of reviewers ranging from specialists to leadership. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people understand their job profiles and criteria for advancement, by routinely providing resources and training. It’s an end-to-end, ongoing process.

AB: Measuring your personal success or job impact doesn’t necessarily require that the project or product you worked on was successful, right?

MB: It can be an impact on a project. It can be an impact on a product. It can be an impact on a team or on Google at large. A good example of impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, or measurable, or launch-related could be something like building tools for automation, or identifying common problems that designers have and creating programs to address them. It might be very project specific, and if it is, and everybody adopts that program or process, then it just made the whole team more efficient in their work.

AB: What’s the key to attracting talent at different levels and from different backgrounds?

MB: When we look at the slotting of a discipline at a particular level, we are careful to consider all of the data we have available to us. We look at a person’s former or current role and assess his or her level of influence, leadership, and impact. It’s very important that they will be able to meet or exceed the expectations of the teams when they join. At the more junior levels, we’re looking for opportunities for designers to feel their individual contribution helps them develop a strong sense of purpose and self-awareness. It’s up to them to deliver the value, not just the assets, but younger designers aren’t often wired that way. You’ve got to put yourself in meetings where there’s something to be gained or learned—you can’t always wait for invitations, especially when you have a curiosity or an idea or a concern about the larger product work that you’re contributing to. We look for the hint of an entrepreneurial spirit.

AB: What do you think is uniquely challenging about evaluating design success at Google?

MB: Google is big and has so many different teams. Part of developing criteria for measuring success is to not overly prescribe based on the norm. I’m a great example—I’m a one-off at Google. The ladder has to be general enough to allow me to show how I have impact and demonstrate leadership, yet at the same time it can’t be too vague. We have to be considerate of all the different use cases, and it’s not something we finish and then just walk away from. As Google’s understanding and appreciation of design matures, we need to make sure that the documentation that sets those expectations is representative of the culture that we want. We’re constantly collecting feedback. Some of it’s very small and detailed, and some of it is very philosophical. We’ve come up with different models and frameworks for testing the concepts, profiles, and criteria that we produce. And we regularly observe committees to see how these materials are considered and applied in practice.

AB: In the UX ladder you talk about many qualities of leadership—driving an idea to fruition, building consensus, being a thought leader—can you be a strong leader and be deficient in one of those things?

MB: Leadership manifests itself in many ways. I wouldn’t say that you have to check all the boxes to be a good leader. You could go very deep in one area that has significant impact. As many people progress in their career, they move into the management realm, often times circumstantially. If you have more than eight people reporting to you and you’re not spending more time managing the careers and efficacy of those individuals, you’re doing a disservice to the team and probably the product. In the agency world, this is similar to transitioning from a designer to a creative director, where the challenge is to detach yourself from the details of the design execution and essentially learn to design through others. A “lead” is a person who’s designing through others as they scale themselves. And a lot of the great managers will build a team that’s so high-functioning that they can then focus their time more strategically. When this happens, the manager typically begins to think more logistically about how the team is operating and functioning, focusing on things such as resource allocation, product strategy, and cross-functional partnerships. For example, I know one director who thinks very carefully about personality pairing in trying to identify who’s going to be the UX lead that partners with such and such product manager. What keeps that person up at night is not the pixel accuracy or the simplification of a flow, as much as it is the level of healthy collaboration of the team with its partners. People have to be acutely aware of these organizational traits if they’re going to successfully grow as a managing leader.

AB: What advice would you give to a young designer interested in working at Google?

MB: Excellent design skills are table stakes, communication and presentation skills are also extremely important. If a designer comes into a role and they’re the only designer on the team, they need to be able to confidently express their ideas, rationalize and justify their design decisions, and understand how to align both user and business goals while being mindful of engineering constraints and opportunities. If they’re not comfortable with that level of engagement, then they might consider working on a larger team where they’ll get more mentoring and structure to grow.

AB: How does pedagogy play into this?

MB: Investing in education is about helping people find their passion. In 2013, I started visiting design schools just to see what kind of events we were running and the message Google was sending. Immediately I recognized that there was room for improvement. We were sending mixed messages, and students were leaving school not knowing how they wanted to apply and expand their training or what type of organization would be the best first step down their career path. So a lot of my involvement with Google’s university recruiting programs has been spent trying to help on both sides—to help students develop a better understanding of what type of company, role, and work would provide them with the best opportunity to thrive—and to help Google set clear expectations that help students self-qualify more confidently.

AB: How much of your work is about ensuring general happiness?

MB: We want to make sure that Google is a great place for design and designers, whether you’re a 15-year veteran designer coming from a small brand studio or an entrepreneurial junior designer. We want people to be comfortable on a product team. That’s a big ask. There’s often a sort of a reboot with somebody’s personal identity when they come to Google. They need to try to figure out how to apply their skills within a massive product organization.

To me, this work is most important because it helps designers understand where they exist in the world of Google. They have specific criteria to measure themselves against and can align their day-to-day work with those expectations. Equally important is the definition of what is expected of designers within Google to people in functions other than design. I want it to be a healthy place for designers to grow and evolve. Not everybody is going to climb all the way up the ladder, nor do they all want to, but everyone should have the opportunity to grow, whether it be intentionally developing specific skills, assuming more ownership over a product, or leading a team. I just want to see happy, successful, healthy designers and design culture. I can’t think of another way for me to have a more widespread effect than in doing this kind of work.

Material Design

Original article: materializecss.com/about.html

Created and designed by Google, Material Design is a design language that combines the classic principles of successful design along with innovation and technology. Google’s goal is to develop a system of design that allows for a unified user experience across all their products on any platform.

Principles

Material is the metaphor

The metaphor of material defines the relationship between space and motion. The idea is that the technology is inspired by paper and ink and is utilized to facilitate creativity and innovation. Surfaces and edges provide familiar visual cues that allow users to quickly understand the technology beyond the physical world.

Bold, graphic, intentional

Elements and components such as grids, typography, color, and imagery are not only visually pleasing, but also create a sense of hierarchy, meaning, and focus. Emphasis on different actions and components create a visual guide for users.

Motion provides meaning

Motion allows the user to draw a parallel between what they see on the screen and in real life. By providing both feedback and familiarity, this allows the user to fully immerse him or herself into unfamiliar technology. Motion contains consistency and continuity in addition to giving users additional subconscious information about objects and transformations.

Why user experience always has to come first

Original article: https://hbr.org/2016/09/why-user-experience-always-has-to-come-first

Actions speak louder than mission statements. If a UX feels more like “User Exploitation” than “User Experience,” business becomes ripe for disruption. Profitability predicated on customer friction, intrusion, and irritation simply isn’t sustainable. Privileging easy money over better user experience is the antithesis of customer centricity.

That’s why digital services in general, and mobile advertising in particular, make superior templates for evaluating business model design. Entwining real-time data and predictive analytics lets serious organizations quickly calculate and calibrate trade-offs between experiential and exploitive UXs. Those trade-offs become explicit. Most everyone in the enterprise can now see where customers are respected partners in value creation, and where they’re data-herded sheep to be sheared.

For example, Facebook makes great money from mobile advertisers, but it’s now refusing to subsidize technical inefficiencies that undermine overall UX. Roughly 40% of Facebook mobile users abandon sites that take even three seconds to load. Delays frequently lead to abandoning the Facebook visit as well. Unsurprisingly, the company informed advertisers to speed up their load times or else.

“Our goal is to give people the best ad experience possible on mobile. By considering website performance and a person’s network connection, we can improve that experience and help drive the outcomes advertisers are looking for,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Crudely put, when advertising latencies undermine perceived UX quality, Facebook optimizes UX at the tardy advertisers’ expense. Abandonment in any form is an increasingly measurable outcome. Facebook has effectively declared that it prioritizes superior UX over inferior advertising.

This highlights a fundamental dynamic that’s transforming digital product and services worldwide: Dynamic pricing is being superceded by dynamic opportunism. That is, platform providers and innovation ecosystems are rethinking how they really make money from, and with, their customers and partners. That means they must constantly (re)calculate whether, and when, degrading their UX in exchange for easy or instant money is worth it.

The ongoing networked fusion of data and analytics basically forces organizations to reveal how much they value their customer relationships as relationships, as opposed to as a series of transactions aggregated over time. The former perspective inspires and incents a different investment in UX than the latter.

Reducing UX frictions and irritations that have nothing to do with money or value creation is a no-brainer. But technology makes it easier and simpler for more organizations to try to get away with profitable but irritating little nicks and customer scrapes. In other words, temptations and opportunities for “nickel and diming” one’s customers and partners are digitally rising.

Google’s policies curtailing mobile interstitial adverts — pop-ups that spread, fungus-like, across your mobile screen — underscore this intensifying theme.

“Google’s intention is to not just direct people to more informative results, but to results that work better for them — e.g., don’t annoy them with a pop-up — too,” The Verge observed. “This is something Google has increasingly been doing with its search algorithm. Last year it began boosting the rank of ‘mobile friendly’ websites, and in 2014, it began boosting the rank of sites with encryption as well.”

Note that a pop-up’s IQ — Irritation Quotient — is but one of hundreds of elements that Google uses to weight its mobile search algorithm. That said, Google tracks user abandonment rates as assiduously as Facebook does. The essential tension doesn’t go away: When does user experience feel like, or become, user exploitation?

Advertisements that genuinely interest or intrigue users will obviously be welcome no matter how intrusively or invasively they materialize. The receptivity/abandonment ratios can now be tracked and analyzed with increasing rigor.

But the most important takeaway should revolve not around advertising efficacy but around how — individually and collectively — advertising defines and determines the UX. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts, or pop-ups, phenomenon remains a real threat to sustainable platforms and ecosystem growth.

So these UX themes transcend digital advertising trends. An Amazon developer, for example, told me that her company takes great pains to avoid digitally irritating customers. Entire KPI dashboards have apparently been built around receptivity/abandonment behaviors. Tests explicitly examining how “best” customers or “typical/average” customers respond to intrusive offers are hotly debated. Enhancing Amazon’s overall UX is paramount, she insists. Optimizing the overall relationship, not the individual transaction, is the core value.

The leadership challenge around customer centricity will become sharper and starker both inside the enterprise and outside. Will business discipline revolve around optimizing UX for customer value? Or does “dynamic opportunism” devolve into user exploitation? How your organization defines and manages its receptivity/abandonment ratios will tell you the answers.

How We Use Data to Inspire Design

 

Original article: https://medium.com/design-x-data/how-we-use-data-to-inspire-design-ccc51327e904

When most people imagine good design, numbers probably don’t come to mind. In fact, anything quantitative might feel completely at odds with the concept of beautiful design. But at IDEO, in addition to connecting with people and learning their stories, designers use quantitative data as a tool to gain empathy and inspiration. We learn from numbers the same way we learn from people, because we see numbers as a representation of people.

In our traditional human-centered design process, we empathize by going where people live and work. We talk with extreme users. We immerse ourselves in their lives. We explore the tension between what people say versus what they do. We prototype. As the world becomes increasingly digital, data becomes a natural byproduct of people’s lives. We’ve learned that the qualitative process we traditionally use cannot only be strengthened by this quantitative data, but can also uncover insights that qualitative data alone cannot. Quantitative data is a rich, ripe source for design research that IDEO is using (and you should too!) to get inspired by users.

How might we use quantitative data to inspire design?

Talk to extreme users

If we wanted to learn how to improve a product, would it be better to talk to someone who feels indifferent towards the product or someone who hates it? At IDEO, we prefer to talk to the extreme users, the “haters” and “super users.” Why? We’ve learned that the needs of extreme users are amplified. They really need something to be one way or another. There’s no in-between. They can clearly articulate what is amazing or awful about the product and show us the workarounds they use to make up for the product’s weaknesses. This helps us pull out meaningful needs that may not emerge when engaging with the average user who represents the mean.

Quantitative data is perfect for helping designers determine who the extreme users are to better understand what makes them stand out. We can analyze the behaviors of people in the bottom or top quartile of the dataset. We can also use the data to guide our qualitative research. For example, one startup we were working with was questioning whether or not to incorporate a feature into their product. The data showed that most people used the feature only ~1.5 times, so their first thought was to get rid of it. Rather than focusing on the “average” user, we looked at the whole distribution. We spoke to the two or three people at the extreme who maxed out the use of the feature to learn what value the feature was providing and how to tweak the feature (and the messaging) to make it more helpful to others.

Immerse yourself in people’s lives

There’s no better way to understand the people we’re designing for than by immersing ourselves in their lives. Why? Because observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives us clues about what they think, feel, and need. This helps us uncover insights and inspire new design solutions.

Digital products enable designers to collect an endless stream of quantitative data to immerse themselves in the lives of users. With permission, users can take us along with them wherever they go — even when we’re not physically present — and share their needs and desires in real time with us. For example, IDEO worked with an automobile company to understand how people move through cities. To immerse ourselves in users’ lives, we asked them to download the Moves app which tracked how they moved through their city. We also asked users to take photos and videos of moments when their trips went wrong, and moments when their trips made them smile. For every major travel incident, we were able to connect the quantitative data with the photos taken in the field and the human stories. This way, we understood the insight wasn’t just the numbers: it was grounded in human experience and connected to a larger system.

Explore the tension between what people say versus what they do

Good design is often built on a solid understanding of both people’s explicit and latent needs. One way we uncover the needs and values that may not be obvious to the people who hold them is by listening to the stories people tell and comparing them to observations of what they actually do. The differences often indicate a latent need that might not otherwise be expressed.

In addition to traditional ethnographic observation, designers can capture the tension between what people say and do from both survey data and behavioral data. Survey data lets us understand people’s thoughts and attitudes about a subject. Live data (i.e., from a website or app) helps us observe actual behavior in a real-world context. For example, an IDEO team was developing an app to identify levers of behavior change to coach safe driving. In surveys and interviews, the team heard people claim they were good drivers. However, the team observed through tracking behavioral data that those drivers were actually riskier. If the team designed opportunities based on what they heard, they’d design products to reward good drivers. If they designed based on what they observed, they’d design products to help people improve bad driving. However, the people who needed their driving improved wouldn’t have used the product because they believed they were good drivers. This insight helped us design for that tension.

Create a prototype and see how it resonates

Prototyping gets ideas out of designers’ heads and into the world. By building rough prototypes that participants can see, touch, feel, and react to, we can rapidly elicit feedback and test the functionality of early design ideas. This is done overtly, through tactics like questioning and role playing; and tacitly, through observation. After asking for feedback from a number of people who represent different types of users, we synthesize it to find strategic and directional themes to guide our teams in further development.

Traditionally when we built prototypes (anything from paper wireframes to physical retail spaces), we relied on our own observations and conversations with users to understand how the concept resonated. Now, digital tools enable us to collect and leverage quantitative data in our prototype as well. We use live data and integrate it with tools like Slack to prototype digital experiences that feel real for users, but are actually very rough and rapid to create on the backend. These “Wizard of Oz” prototypes enable us to learn quickly and investigate a lot of different possibilities.

For example, an IDEO team was working on a behavior change project and wanted to design a messaging system. Rather than spending time coding a system that would automate responses, we created a ‘magic’ automated experience to quickly prototype effective messaging statements. First, we hooked up the Slack interface to import user data so designers could quickly understand it. Then, we used that data to create, send, and receive personalized text messages to help improve users’ behavior. Based on the the user’s qualitative responses via text messages and behaviors captured via quantitative data, we were able to figure out messaging statements that resonated with users. By creating prototypes that collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback, designers are able to get a better, more holistic understanding of how a concept resonates with users.


Inspiration comes from a variety of sources including observations, conversations, and quantitative data. Quantitative data can be used for direction and inspiration throughout the design process, as it helps us understand where to focus and how and why people behave the way they do. It also serves as an input for prototyping. And together, with qualitative data, it provides us with a complete, meaningful story. The combination of both heightens insights to ensure that the weakness of one is balanced by the other. So the next time you turn to data, consider how you can merge both the people and the numbers to get to the heart of your design challenge.

Bauhaus: a blueprint for the future

Original article: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/apr/13/bauhaus-dessau-barbican-rowan-moore

Not much united Walter Ulbricht, the Stalinist dictator of East Germany for two decades, and Tom Wolfe, celebrant of the splendours and follies of American capitalist excess. Not much, except a loathing of the Bauhaus and the style of design it inspired. Ulbricht called it “an expression of cosmopolitan building” that was “hostile to the people” and to “the national architectural heritage”. Wolfe called it “an architecture whose tenets prohibit every manifestation of exuberance, power, empire, grandeur or even high spirits and playfulness”.

For Ulbricht it was alien to Germany, for Wolfe it was alien to America. Both agreed that it was placeless, soulless and indifferent to ordinary people’s needs. And if the Bauhaus attracted such consistent forms of hostility, that is due to the power and coherence of the image it presented to the world, of disciplined and monochrome modernist simplicity, usually involving steel and glass. Given that it was actually a short-lived and semi-nomadic school of design and art with the usual riot of individualists, visionaries, eccentrics, schemers and geniuses that such places attract, this appearance of unity was an achievement.

From May the Barbican is staging an exhibition of 400 of the Bauhaus’s works, the first in Britain on this scale for 44 years. It will stress the breadth of its output, including paintings by Paul Klee and László Moholy-Nagy, furniture by Marcel Breuer, textiles by Gunta Stölzl, architecture by Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, photography, film, ceramics, theatre, graphics and product design. It promises to portray the central ideal of the Bauhaus, “to change society in the aftermath of the first world war”, as the Barbican puts it, and “to find a new way of living”.

When Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919 it was with these aspirations for a new life, and for a multiplicity of creative disciplines, together with a stress on the importance of making things as opposed to just theorising about them. But there was not yet a distinct form or direction to these ideas, and almost anything could be considered as a route to a better future, including new spiritualist religions and a strict vegetarian diet which had to be livened up with plenty of garlic. According to Gropius’s spectacular wife Alma, whose other husbands and lovers included Gustav Mahler, Oskar Kokoschka and the writer Franz Werfel, the most distinctive feature of the Bauhaus in its early days was garlic on the breath.

Certain questions were unresolved and intensely debated. Was craft or mass production more important? Could art and manufacturing be reconciled? Did individual expression impede service to society? In 1925 the school moved to Dessau, between Berlin and Leipzig. At the time it was an industrial boom town, the base of the Junkers aeroplane company. The harder-edged, more technocratic arguments started to prevail. The young Marcel Breuer started collaborating with Junkers on making tubular steel furniture of a kind that would eventually become commonplace in boardrooms and forward-thinking homes. Greater attention was paid to the commercial development and marketing of Bauhaus-designed objects.

In Dessau they built, in the extraordinarily short time of one year, the Gropius-designed building that became as famous as the institution it served. With its glass curtain walls and spare rectilinear forms, it crystallised what would become the dominant type of modernist architecture. It was one of the most prodigiously influential buildings of all time, a prototype that would be followed by office buildings, hotels, schools and hospitals in almost any country you can think of. In Dessau, Gropius and his followers could also try out other architectural ideas on the row of houses built for Bauhaus masters, and on 300 low-cost houses built for industrial workers on the Dessau-Torten estate.

In 1932, however, the school moved on again, to Berlin. The next year it fell victim to the National Socialists – another movement that, after the catastrophic trauma of the first world war, sought a new order and expressed itself through memorable visual imagery. Junkers started making Stuka divebombers, not Breuer chairs, and Dessau was all but flattened by bombing in 1945. The Bauhaus building was severely damaged, and only recently has been fully restored. But its influence spread. The Bauhausler diaspora, of ex-students and teachers building in the style they had learned, extended to Tel Aviv and Tokyo. Gropius migrated via London to the United States, where he became a professor at Harvard and designed the Pan Am building above New York’s Grand Central station, much disliked for the way it imposed on the view down Park Avenue. He also designed the Playboy Club in London, prompting a new generation of radicals to denounce him for selling out.

To visit the Bauhaus building now is to be struck again by the extraordinary way in which a single construction in a provincial town could have had so much effect. It is also to see nuances that, inevitably, imitators lost. For years the Bauhaus building was known to the wider world mostly through a few black-and-white photographs that stress its more easily copied details, but miss the point that it was a framework for the creative energy of the school. Its stairs, workshops and balconies were places of display as well as function, and its glass walls made a spectacle of its internal activities. One of the key spaces was an auditorium whose stage is connected to the communal canteen, thereby bringing together performance and life. It also has a subtle colour scheme, contrary to Wolfe’s assertions that the Bauhaus was only interested in black, white and grey. If it looked like a factory it also had properties of a commune, a cult centre and a theatre.

Although it was founded by Gropius, architecture was not at first the main point of the Bauhaus, and its vast legacy extends from graphics through product design to art. But architecture came to dominate the public image of the place, and the style of the building proved easier to record than the events that happened there. What Wolfe and Ulbricht railed against was its impact on the built environment. Which, if you only look at its form and not at its content, does indeed look sterile. Hopefully, the Barbican show will put this misconception right.

As for Alma, she tired of the work ethic of her husband and his school. At least if Tom Lehrer is to believed. As “Alma”, his tribute to her, has it:

But he would work late at the Bauhaus,

And only came home now and then.

She said, “What am I running? A chow house?

It’s time to change partners again.”

Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames

Original article: https://www.dezeen.com/2011/12/08/ice-cube-celebrates-the-eames/

The musician, who previously studied as an architectural draftsman, compares the combination of prefabricated elements in the Los Angeles Eames House to a sampled hiphop track.

“Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames” is the latest installment in a series that explores unexpected artistic connections between culturally influential Angelenos of different generations

In “Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames,” O’Shea Jackson, the rapper and actor also known as Ice Cube, talks about his love for architecture and how the work of legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames continues to inspire him.

Touring the home of Charles and Ray Eames, known as Case Study No. 8, Ice Cube explains how hip-hop mirrors the couple’s beautifully designed home as both make use of prefabricated pieces that fit together to form a whole.

“What I love about the Eames is how resourceful they are,” explains Ice Cube. “[The idea for the Eames House is] taking something that already exists and making it something special, kind of like sampling.”

The extended version of the video features Ice Cube driving around Los Angeles and talking about the city’s vast architectural landscape, from strip malls to famous landmarks like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Watts Towers. Ice Cube has long been passionate about architecture and studied architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology in 1987, right around the time when he recorded the first demos with the legendary South Los Angeles rap group N.W.A.

“When N.W.A. was first about to pop off I wasn’t sure if I was gonna make a living [from music],” says Ice Cube. “Cussin’ on the radio? I didn’t know if that was gonna bring me any money, so I ended up going to school in Phoenix and spending a year out there.”

Produced by video director Dave Meyers, “Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames” is the third video in a series that features authentic and unexpected connections between today’s cultural influencers and Pacific Standard Time-era (postwar) artists to show how Los Angeles art continues to inspire the world.

The Eames House Foundation is a Pacific Standard Time exhibition partner, presenting “Indoor Ecologies: The Evolution of the Eames House Living Room”.

Preceded by the videos “Kiedis Celebrates Ruscha” and “Schwartzman Celebrates Baldessari,” the Ice Cube/Eames video is the latest installment in the creative campaign by TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles to promote Pacific Standard Time: Art inL.A.1945-1980, the unprecedented six-month celebration of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene.

 

The hip-hop architect on how music and the environment can influence one another

Original article: http://brandnudesign.com/new-blog/?offset=1482008769401
Youths fly a kite in a street bordered with firegutted buildings in the South Bronx section of New York City in June, 1977. The Carter Administration has agreed to revive urban renewal projects in an effort to revive the neighborhood. 
AP Images

From its early roots in the Bronx to its current status as a worldwide cultural movement, hip-hop has never lost its street-level sensibility. When writing songs, rappers and lyricists trade in the currency of credibility, constantly dropping the names of street corners, city neighborhoods, even specific buildings and housing projects to connect listeners with the urban environment.

Hip-hop is often about place. And, according to architect Michael Ford, it is place—often poorly designed, underfunded, and cut off from the rest of the city through bad urban planning and structural racism—that birthed the genre. Ford, who has been tapped to design the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, has helped coin the term “hip-hop architecture,” popularizing the concept as a lens for looking at the intersections of culture and the built environment.

But it’s not just about looking back at the ways urban planning and housing policy created the environment for new forms of music; it’s how the ethics and ethos of hip-hop can help inspire new solutions for designing our cities.

“I’m looking at the intersection of architecture and hip-hop,” Ford says. “I use hip-hop to look at the impact architecture has had on the community, and the impact my profession has made. Architecture has shaped communities, but we can go back and reclaim them, and reconnect those that have been lost to things such as freeways.”

Michael Ford

Ford, who wrote a thesis about the subject, Cultural Innovation, Hip-Hop Inspired Architecture and Design, while studying at the University of Detroit Mercy in 2005, believes this is a perfect example of the power of narrative. Historical discourse often pushes the idea that the “black ghetto” exists because of the cultural behaviors of its occupants. Exploring and exposing the conscious and subconscious efforts of past members of his profession to shape these spaces, and the effects those decisions have, can inform and inspire more community-oriented design in the future.

1520 Sedgewick Avenue
A Feb. 11, 2010 photo of the exterior of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx borough of New York.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Beginning: Moses, Le Corbusier, and Structural Racism

Ford can talk all day about hip-hop, how it started in the Bronx and at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue. But ask him who the godfather of hip-hop is, and he won’t say Grandmaster Flash or Kool Herc. He says it’s Le Corbusier. Of course, he doesn’t mean that literally. But the famed French modernist did create the architectural blueprints for the buildings that would become the cradle of the art form.

“This is not a means of taking credit away from the brothers and sisters who actually created hip-hop, but a method to make a sustaining narrative which links the built environment and hip-hop culture based on historical facts,” he said during a presentation in Austin. “And, to be honest, it’s a subtle jab at modernism and those celebrated as the standard bearers of our profession.”

Corbusier’s famous towers-in-the-park concept—a series of soaring high-rises interspersed with parks—aimed to bring “democracy and equality through the built environment.” He thought “good” or “enlightened” buildings would create good and enlightened citizens. Officials in Paris “thought his idea were crazy,” and never implemented Corbusier’s plans.

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan
Built in 1942, Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, a Robert Moses project, was an early example of the tower blocks concept
Scott Davies: Flickr/Creative Commons

New York, and its infamous master-builder Robert Moses, had no such reservations, replicating parts of Corbusier’s plan as part of the massive slum-clearance and housing project programs he oversaw in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, in what Ford calls “a terrible early example of sampling,” Moses borrowed part of Corbusier’s plan—the tall, narrow towers, and dense living conditions—but didn’t include all the amenities and park spaces Corbusier envisioned. The housing projects he created, an architectural sample, then became the standard for public housing across the country.

The construction of these dense towers, and the concurrent freeway construction that cut neighborhoods off from one another, created the spaces that birthed the different elements of hip-hop; DJing, MCing, B-boying, and graffiti. Areas choked of private spaces and arts funding, where creative youth congregated in public parks, towers and basketball courts, and created a cross-pollination of culture.

“People criticized Corbusier’s plans, saying they would ‘create a culture that begs for creativity,’” says Ford. “I call it a prediction of hip-hop culture, almost 50 years before it was born.

These towers had perverse impacts on their residents, says Ford. The physical environments had psychological effects. And it wasn’t just the landscape; social priorities and lack of funding for education or the arts also had a huge impact.

The Project: The Hip-Hop Museum

While Ford and others have published essays and research looking at the historical connections between hip-hop and architecture, he’s also trying to practice a new type of architecture influenced by the cultural movement.

The most high-profile example is his Universal Hip-Hop Museum, a forthcoming cultural institution in the Bronx that not only seeks to share the artform, be inspired by it as well. Instead of a traditional design brief and community feedback loop, the museum’s look was designed in part by a “cypher,” a term that references a freestyle rap battle, and has the support of rap legends such as Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang.

Universal Hip-Hop Museum mobile museum
A rendering of the mobile version of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum

Set to open in 2019 or 2020, the museum will also embody hip-hop’s focus on community. Thanks to funding from Microsoft, the initiative will also build a portable museum that, starting later this year, will travel between major cities in the years leading up to the permanent museum’s opening. A truck-like portable space, which Ford has nicknamed “Optimus Prime,” will travel to Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, not only allowing fans to visit the museum in their hometown, but also to contribute. In a hip-hop spin on StoryCorps, visitors will be able to add their stories, including text and images, and tag them to a specific place, creating a map of hip-hop’s influence across different parts of the country.

“We wanted to figure out a way to make the museum accessible to people around the country,” says Ford. “It’s like mapping a phenomenon. It allows the pioneers of hip hop to tell their own story, it allows architects, designers and urban planners to fuse their culture with their practice and it allows the community to effectively engage in the design process of developments in their neighborhood. ”

The Vision: Architecture that reflects the community

Ford has described hip-hop as the “post-occupancy report of Modernism.” Referencing the term architects, designers and engineers typically use for their account of mistakes and success after a project is finished, Ford feels the lyrics and language of hip-hop, and the visceral descriptions of the urban environment, can teach his profession important lessons.

Creating spaces for and by the community matters. Using hip-hop as a connector, narrative, and frame of reference can get more people, especially people of color, engaged in shaping and designing their environments, a form of self-empowerment that seems perfectly aligned with the genre’s message. Only three percent of architects in the United States are African-American, says Ford. He wants to see more kids follow President Obama’s suggestion and become literal architects of change.

“Will hip-hop architecture allow minority students and young practitioners to make immediate contributions to the field of architecture, instantly raising the visibility of minority practitioners as a whole? “ says Ford. “I hope that the hip-hop generation will champion this new vernacular, and rely on our love for hip-hop coupled with our architectural knowledge, to build our communities and increase the number of minority practitioners.”

The Music: A hip-hop playlist about the environment and architecture

Consider this the playlist to Ford’s work. Curbed asked the architect to name some of the songs he feels showcase the relationship between hip-hop and architecture; we included a few below, which he recently played during a lecture.

KRS One – R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – “Rhymes Equal Actual Life in The Youth”

“I used this song to describe hip-hop lyrics’ are reflections of real life in urban communities. If you want to hear a critique of the environment from which the music is made, listen to the music.”

Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, “The Message”

“This song describes the urban reality of urban renewal.”

Snoop Dog, “Life in The Projects”

“Describes the dismal environments resulting from the modernist vision, Towers in a Park. The monotonous superblocks failed to provide the lush green environments once envisioned by Le Corbusier.”

Ain’t no trees, the grass ain’t green, And when I say it’s all bad, you know what I mean

Wu-Tang Clan, “S.O.S.”

“Wu-Tang member Street Life’s contribution to ‘S.O.S” reveals a deep frustration and level of tension between public housing authorities, architects and the tenants about the cyclical fostering and implementation of injustices upon African-American communities.

Street chronicle, wise words by the abdominal

High honorable, rap quotable phenomenal

Seniority kid, I speak for the minority

Ghetto poverty f*** the housing authority

The West Coast All-Stars, “We’re All in the Same Gang”

“In the song “We’re All in The Same Gang”, produced by Dr. Dre in 1990, featuring the top hip hop artists and rappers from the West Coast. Shock G eludes to John B Calhoun’s research during his verse below. Sociologist John B. Calhoun studied the behavior of lab mice under conditions of overcrowding and controlled resources. People eventually made parallels between the activities of his study subjects to humans, some predicting that overcrowding was in the future for the human race, and based on his research, violence, amongst other things, was an inevitable part of that future if we don’t change the way we design our cities.

I’m in a rage. Oh Yea? Why is that G?

Because other races, they say we act like rats in a cage.

I tried to argue, but check it, every night in the news, We prove them suckers right and I got the blues

Nas, “I Can”

“Nas told your hip hoppers they can be whomever they want to be, including an architect.”

Be, B-Boys and girls, listen up

You can be anything in the world, in God we trust

An architect, doctor, maybe an actress

But nothing comes easy it takes much practice

Why Diversity in Architecture Matters for Communities and the Bottom Line

Original article: http://brandnudesign.com/new-blog/why-diversity-matters

I’m honored to join thought-leaders Gabrielle Bullock and Lilian Asperin in the latest publication by Redshift,  “Why Diversity in Architecture Matters for Communities and the Bottom Line”. This conversation is a continuation of How Music Can Help Solve Architecture’s Diversity Problem and is a short preview of the upcoming South By Southwest panel discussion, Remixing Architecture with Hip Hop Culture, which includes Tiffany Brown of The Urban Arts Collective, University of Michigan professor, Dr. Craig Wilkins and Daniel Guillory, The Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Autodesk.

Photo: RedshiftPhoto: Redshift