"You come to a point in your life when you really don't care about what people think about you, you just care what you think about yourself."
Robert "Evel Knievel"
1938 - 2007
(click for larger image)
I can remember a time not so long ago when the notion of "strategy" seemed nearly divorced from the design and/or creative process. Strategists performed competitive analysis or "landscapes", talked to stakeholders—aggregated industry reports and trends and did stuff with lots of charts, metrics, bullet points etc. Then they moved on to the next strategic initiative on and performed an augmented version of the process while an "execution" team came in and did their thing. I may be oversimplifying, but speaking from experience—I don't feel I'm too far off.
But many of us are integrating strategy with the creative process to result in tangible deliverables that are informed, and can help result in not only a recommended "roadmap" but lead to a vision for what direction an organization can move forward in. Many of you no doubt are already working this way. And if you're not, take this as food for thought for how you can better integrate planning and design as part of the broader "experience strategy" for your digital touch points of choice. Some things to keep in mind:
Research doesn't have to be a dirty word, and while your clients may feel that they've done enough of it, sometimes what's actually been done is market research vs. more qualitative measures such as user research. Any experience strategy needs to begin with people—common sense stuff of course, but sometimes it's difficult to sell this notion to the business who's potential you are trying to maximize. Contextual user research including ethnography techniques such as shadowing or field studies to help provide unfiltered insights that kick start the process.
Traditional planners lived in the world of brands and consumers. Experience Planners also factor in brand and consumer relationships but integrate elements that will be critical bridging the user experience with the total customer experience. Research done in the previous overlapping state informs artifacts such as personas and mental models which helps to prioritize wants, needs and the desires of a user. It also helps make the user into a person, and when done properly creates empathy among various stakeholders.
What once may have been a creative brief, an experience briefing synthesizes insights that comes out of research and communicates them in a way which can be easily digested among a variety of audiences. The briefing can include artifacts such as videos, photos, or audio to help make a compelling case for why the project should move in a specific direction.
(Conceptual) Experience Design:
This is a fancy name for prototyping. Basically, you ideate and start building stuff. Point is that we need to start creating in the strategy phase because it will help make the project objectives tangible and concrete. What's essential in this part of the process is that the ideation is informed by insights. This makes the process co-dependent on the initial research. Anyone can start building a prototype, but good research, analysis and synthesis will likely result in a better prototype. With a rough prototype in place, you now have a "thing" which can be validated or invalidated. In this approach—while you're still thinking strategically, you now have something to "test".
Here's where we bring it back to strategy basics. Everything that's been learned about business, brand, and user needs. All of the research and analysis combined with what's been learned through prototyping leads to a vision, a set of recommendations plotted over time. A version of the prototype can be updated to help visualize what the this is and a plan is laid out for how to get there.
All of this can be done in probably less time than you think. And the next step is for a more detailed design process to take place. Probably an iterative process that aligns with the roadmap. But the most important thing to think about as a "Web Strategist" is, can you go beyond analysis in how you develop your strategies for a digital world?
Tip of the hat to fellow CMer David Stallsmith for contributing to some of these thoughts. You'll find related reading and visual thinking in the Experience Map which also influenced this approach.
I'm speaking at CanUX today and you're looking at the first slide which I just added to my presentation. Ironically, it's going to be an "icebreaker" that actually involves ice. I snapped this photo yesterday in the middle of a frozen Lake Louise in beautiful Banff Canada. You see, I'm a terrible ice skater. My ankles buckle, feet get sore quickly and heaven help you if you get in my way because I couldn't stop if my life depended on it. I ended up going ice skating with Julia, a co-worker. Our original plan was to do a little snowboarding and have a business lunch after. I'm a decent snowboarder and was looking forward to it. But Julia convinced me that I needed the true Canadian experience of getting out on a frozen lake with a couple of hockey sticks and a puck. Go figure. ;-)
So when faced with the unexpected prospect of ice skating, I suddenly realized that this is exactly related to the stuff I talk about. You plan for one thing, but it's usually your ability to improvise that determines how the story ends. Mine ended up in the middle of some breathtaking scenery. Sometimes being agile and adaptable means being willing to skate when you really don't want to—and not being afraid to fall on your ass. Once you get to that point—you'll end up just fine.
It's been less than 24 hours since posting "Thankful Experiences" on the Critical Mass blog. I'm a bit overwhelmed at the nature of the 62 comments. They are personal, genuine, thought provoking, funny and some reveal the vulnerability we all feel as human beings. You really owe it to yourself to read through the comments there. You'll be inspired—I guarantee it.
I think the thing that's always drawn me to the digital medium is how human it really is. Warts and all—it's a reflection of who we are. It captures our best and worst moments and is sometimes utterly unpredictable. In the case of "Thankful Experiences" it was delightfully unpredictable. I want to thank each and every one of you who participated, and I'll leave you with an excerpt from my contribution to the Age of Conversation. I think it's ironically appropriate:
"But are we also seeing another Renaissance unfold before our very eyes? A Renaissance built off of us discovering each other? A Renaissance composed of a human Web woven through shared knowledge, interests, creativity, and yes conversation? Is it simply a resurgence of connectedness and an answer to this question:
Am I alone?
The answer is no. You are not alone. "
If you're a regular reader of L+E, then you know I like to shake things up when possible. For the past couple of months we've been giving the Critical Mass blog a good effort—posting relevant short essays that are related to the the industry in some shape or way. We've gotten our share of comments and links—the blog is doing OK.
But I think something is missing. And it's your voice—not just commenting on something we said, but sharing something about yourself. So I'm asking people about the experiences they are thankful for. If you have a moment, please do come over and share. I've shared one of mine—and we want to hear about yours. And I'll be honest with you—this may help prove a point. That sometimes in order to "join the conversation" you need to be willing to strike one up. And that begins with sharing something of yourself.
Just a quick update on some upcoming events I'll either be speaking at or attending. On December 5th, I'll be giving a 20 minute pep talk at the Phizzpop design challenge in Chicago. The talk will be framed around an updated version of "Experience Design and the Digital Agency". Phizzpop is sponsored by Microsoft and is described as follows:
"The PhizzPop Design Challenge pits top interactive, Web, and design agencies against one another to push the limits of technology and creativity in a battle royale. Think Mad Max for design.
The regional teams have been selected and will duke it out in New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin, and Los Angeles, with the regional winners competing against one another, and San Francisco winner AKQA, at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, TX."
On November 27th, I'll be in breathtaking Banff Canada for CanUX where I'll be getting a little fuzzy. By now, you should know what that means. ;-)
Then in March I MAY be speaking at Mix 08. This is also a Microsoft-related event and will include the likes of Guy Kawasaki among others. Still figuring out details, but will let you know if this comes to fruition.
Lastly, and I'll need your help in this one: I would like to attend SXSW. CM has identified this as a conference to attend, but alas, my proposal wasn't accepted. BUT, it would be a much easier sell if I could be on a panel. So if you're looking for a creative/designer/marketing/blogging/social media/ kind of guy for your panel. I'm your man. All I require are purple M&M's. Lots of 'em. :)
Lastly, I'll be at Blogger Social '08 hanging out with lots of people who I connect with digitally on a fairly regular basis. It's not a conference. It's a get together. I have a feeling that this is the only event that where hugging will be mandatory.
Hope to see you at any/all of these!
Something is in the air. Is it change? Could it be? Is the business world really ready to work a little differently? Evolve business models and offerings? Offer new solutions? Or will we cling to how it's always worked for us in the past? Maybe you work in sector where advances in technology and evolving human behavior hasn't affected what you do. But most of the readers here are feeling the change. Feeling it daily—sometimes hourly, seconds, nanoseconds. Growing pains. Friction. Tension. If your lucky—growth. And in many cases success. Most of us work in organizations with clearly defined hierarchies. Some of us work in organizations that support working in both hierarchies AND networks. Regardless, I have to wonder if change is in the air for real? Have we really woken up the sleeping giant—and if so, what will happen next? Some food for thought to chew on as we witness the sometimes awkward waltz between digital natives and digital immigrants:
"Agile is the new rigid. In order to thrive in the digital
age—individuals, brands and business must adapt, evolve and demonstrate
a nimble flexibility that bends rather than breaks. Flexibility rules
in the form of never-ending beta releases, experimentation and
innovation. In the digital age—planning will be essential, but improvisation will be required."
~Digabilities (Experience Matters)
"OK, it's not necessary for everyone to be able to build the next great
Facebook app, but everybody needs to be curious about and aware of what
kinds of digital innovations are cropping up and where marketers might
fit into them. Crew's Ms. Wall said her account team "needs to be on
top of the Facebook open application program or the new [Apple] Leopard
~The Digital Skills Job Seekers Need To Survive Now (AdAge)
"We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having one million (subscribers), having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth,"
"The changes that we are all feeling in the workplace and within our
industries which are requiring us to think and work slightly
differently. We can no longer afford to over-analyze our challenges.
We must try to get things launched—learn from these experiences and
refine. We must define ourselves and what we do more broadly while
retaining the potency of our our crafts. It's about going from left
brain to right brain and ending up on "light brain". We must become "fuzzy".
~The Fuzzy Tail
(Visual By Idris Mootee)
"These talents are the innovators or collaborators of innovation. They make it possible for companies to come up with new business model that help them to survive today's rapidly changing and disruptive business environment. They are the people who produce and manage the intangible assets that are the primary way companies in create economic value. Unfortunately the educational system of the world is to provide a uniform level of competence based on the faulty metaphor of education as a factory ( It's worth recalling that Steve Jobs' brief college career included an utterly impractical interest in calligraphy."
~Enterprise 2.0 and the concept of Virtuality
It's important to remember that while we may be feeling the shifts—in reality it may take much longer for outdated models to reform. But it's hard to deny that the world is spinning. The giants are waking up. The only question is how long will it take? So has your job changed in the past 5 years? If so—how? I'd love to hear about it.
Just found out that the agency.com Dallas office closed it's doors. I worked at agency.com (Chicago) with some really great people for nearly six years. That office is still present—yet most of the people I worked with have moved on. Digital and non digital companies alike are not immune to change.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked a simple question. Should digital agencies be blogging? I mean, we are out there advising clients on "social media" and how it's evolving the way we interact with brands and each other. Some folks felt that the question was silly. Isn't this a no brainer? Well, not exactly. The best part of the post came in the comments (no surprise) and the post itself got picked up by several agencies who use internal blogs to discuss issues like this. This means that they are having conversations in private vs. publicly. And there's nothing wrong with that. But wouldn't you like to be fly on that agency's wall? I would.
My POV comes from a personal perspective as most things do. Blogging has given me a better grasp of the nuances of social media—how it works and what it means to get involved. It's made me a better writer, a better thinker and more "strategic" at creative problem solving. For me, it is "intellectual prototyping" as Roger Martin put it. I use my blog and other social media tools as "digital ethnography". I watch what people do online. I study it and connect the dots. I look for patterns in behavior. I take comments on my blog to heart—even when I don't respond. I soak it all in. And it most definitely creeps into my work. You can be sure of that. So should agencies be blogging? My answer comes in the form of a challenge:
Yes, I believe agencies should be blogging. Blogging with a purpose. I believe they should invest the time and energy it takes and align the effort around their agency's culture, beliefs and perspectives. I believe it's an opportunity to participate openly. But if an agency doesn't see a purpose—then maybe it is better not to do it at all (I'm with you Cynthia). As I said in my comment, it's less about having a "social media strategy" and more about having a vision. My vision or "purpose" was to prove to myself that a blog could indeed be an "engaging experience"—but I didn't know how I was going to do this. Then I did my first meaningful visual and the rest was history. But enough about me—here's what some of you had to say:
like a big question. Perhaps we should also ask what they would blog
about? How often? Would their blog be public / internal or private (for
the clients only?)"
me it comes up to this: Will you take advice of an accountant or a
lawyer that only read some articles but never done any work themselves?
So why take advice from a marketer that never blogged before. (You all
know about Coke Zero and Sony psp flogs). I believe you have to
practice what you preach. The first thing I've done in FRANk was to
start a company blog. It's not much and we didn't "find our voice" yet
but I think all this will come. The critical thing is to be part of the
conversation as soon as you can. Because if you're not, well, you're
talking to yourself."
A while back Geno from Brains on Fire wrote about what it means to be a fan and he even did a L+E inspired visual (above). Facebook helps connect us to friends and contacts now lets us be Fans of brands and products that we like. But does it make sense to go from Friend to Fan? I'm actually using the service for this blog in a pretty practical way. I've aggregated many of mys visuals all in one place. It's a start—but the most amazing thing about it was how quickly it was up and running. (see below)
If you want to be a Fan of L+E, get yourself on Facebook and go here. Oh, and interesting timing given the profile Crains Chicago did of me. Essentially it's the visual thinking that helped get this blog off the ground—so only fitting to treat it as a "product".
Everyone's talking about Social Graphs and Jeremiah Owyang recently penned a wonderful and brief synapsis of what a Social Graph is and what it means to your business. From his post:
"The Social Graph is the representation of our relationships. Today, these graphs define our personal, family, or business communities on social websites. Unfortunately, we’re duplicating our same Social Graph on multiple websites, resulting in inaccurate data and time spent managing it. Despite many challenges, our Social Graphs should be self-managed from a single trusted source, replicated to websites of our choosing, thus resulting in accurate, efficient, relationship management."
But sometimes words—even highly synthesized words aren't enough. So I'm including two recent visuals in this post that are related to the topic of Social Graphs. Feel free to use them in your next presentation. Credit is always appreciated.
"When you think “social media” a few names and images come to mind. You might think of Robert Scoble who is essentially a “Weblebrity” or Jeff Jarvis who leveraged his blog to amplify his gripes with Dell’s customer service creating “Dell Hell”. But there’s a new reality that’s much less dramatic and becoming more pervasive if not mainstream in the modern day office. Some of your employees may be leading double lives which often blurs the lines between personal and career—they are “super-connecters” who leverage social media tools to amplify their communications and conversations with hundreds and possibly thousands of people across the globe…
Masters in the Art of Improvisation
If you find that you have one or more people like this in your organization, what you need to understand is that they are self-teaching themselves skills that are incredibly effective in a digital world. For one, it’s likely that an experienced office influential who communicates regularly through multiple social touch points have become comfortable with the art of nimble, less formal conversations."
Read the full post at Experience Matters
Today I wrapped up my UI 12 version of "The Fuzzy Tail"—presenting to a group of 300 + people from a variety of companies. I have to thank Jared Spool and team for putting on a great conference and giving me an opportunity to share this POV which such a great audience. To give you a perspective how how huge this honor was for me—I filled the "Spotlight Plenary" following in the footsteps of folks like Barry Schwartz, author of "The Paradox of Choice". And the year before Barry, it was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also known as the "flow" guy.
Jared shared this little unknown fact with me the night before I presented and to be honest with you—it completely FREAKED me out. I mean, no pressure right?? But, I did my best and it seemed to go over well. Here's what made it all worth it for me. One audience member got hold of the mic and said something along these lines...
"as a recent college grad, I relate to everything you are saying and see myself in what you describe. I always thought there was something wrong with this—but you've made me feel like I'm not alone. I just wanted to thank you."
All I could say was this:
"wow. you're welcome"
It was a good day. Feel free to download the presentation from Slideshare—I've made it available in PDF.
Bob Jacobson is back and just posted a—well, I'm not sure what to call it yet as I am still digesting. But if you interested in Experience Design and why people crave positive, meaningful experiences—you should read it. Bob describes his notion of "Composing for Experience" which takes me back to Dan Pink's description of Symphony. Actually, composition and symphony do make interesting metaphors and may help explain the mystery behind the lack of a comprehensive and universal definition of Experience Design. It may be in fact, a truly intuitive discipline—and intuition is difficult to put an elevator speech around. Interesting stuff and certainly food for thought. Go give it a read.
"Composition means gathering elements of meaning and emotion from the environment, the audience, and in one’s self, applying what one knows and feels about experience, and then expressing not so much a solution as a creation. the process of composing has rules by which it’s conducted, but the actual composition of a work – including an environment that provokes desired experiences – remains a personal feat and something of a mystery."
"The natural next step will be for designers of experience to integrate and apply the methods of scoring and wayshowing concurrently, Thus creating places, not only in the physical world but also in the virtual worlds of knowledge and understanding, that reveal themselves in the same way that a musical composition is heard. this is composing for experience."
This week is a doozy for user-centered design, research and related topics. In Chicago, DUX 2007 will be in full swing, while over in Boston Jared Spool's User Interface 12 will be heating up. I'll be flying out tomorrow as I'm keynoting the last day of UI 12 with a modified version of The Fuzzy Tail. In addition to speaking, I'll be doing the usual coverage on Twitter and if my Lemonbook cooperates, you can expect some live video from CM's beta cam.
UI 12 has a solid line up of speakers including folks such as:
Luke Wroblewski, Principal Designer, Yahoo! Inc.
Joshua Porter, Director of Web Development, User Interface Engineering
Christine Perfetti, Director, Business Planning & Strategy, User Interface Engineering
Gerry McGovern, Gerrymcgovern.com
Kim Goodwin, VP Design and General Manager, Cooper
Kevin Cheng, Senior Interaction Designer, Yahoo!
Scott Berkun, scottberkun.com
Larry Constantine, Chief Scientist, Constantine & Lockwood
Rolf Molich, Founder, DialogDesign
Cameron Moll, Principal Interaction Designer, LDS Church
Jared M. Spool, Founding Principal, User Interface Engineering
Oh and one more thing—if you ever get an invitation to speak at UI 12, I suggest you accept. Jared and his very capable team seem to realize how much effort goes into speaking between the travel and prep. I've never worked with such a responsive group of folks. They really make it a pleasure to do these kinds of things and certainly have their act together. Anyway, both events should be great. Hope to see you in Boston!
I recently had a chance to catch up with BusinessWeek's Bruce Nussbaum who was a good enough sport to go ahead and share a his "innovation gym" story with us on video. What I like about Bruce is that he's not afraid to stir up the pot. Apparently, he caused a bit a scene at BusinessWeek by taking down photos of CEO's in order to put up imagery that would stimulate his staff as they worked on the inaugural issue of INside Innovation.
The video clip is only two minutes long and I suggest you watch it. Bruce obviously peppers in a bit of humor as he reflects upon his experience trying to create his own version of innovation INside the historic walls of the McGraw Hill building—but I'll bet you one thing. I bet you have a story just like this. Maybe even a couple. If that's the case—you're doing something right.