The Emperor's New Clothes

Increasingly I'm finding people ask me to talk to teams about Design Thinking, what is it, how does it work and how can they do it.

It's strange.

Why in 2017 are we talking about a framework for problem exploration and ideation that has been standardised since the mid 1960s? 

Personally, I think this is coming from the many agencies out there who just spent the last 2 years struggling to win new work as businesses take UX Design in-house - they won the war, but to their detriment. Now they're beginning to sell the process behind the process whereas before they were selling the design behind the design.

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British Red Cross Society lunchtime lecture attendance

Come on then, what is Design Thinking?

The best way of explaining the idea of design thinking is from this quote from one of it's co-creators Tim Brown, President and CEO of IDEO.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

Tim Brown, President and CEO of IDEO

Simply put, it's a process that follows the model known as the Double Diamond, a series of divergent and convergent stages in order to broaden your horizons, understanding of a problem space before honing in on a specific area you believe you can provide value, or see an opportunity to do something with.

Again, this is nothing new, any design worth their salt has been working in this way for decades, even though as with Design Thinking as a term it's only within the last 3-4 years there has been a massive resurgence in people folding it into their explanation of how their design process works. We're are not any different, in fact, if you were to talk to us about working with you it's a core fundamental not just to our way of working but also what we'll be teaching you to adopt.

What's quite frustrating about it, and many people don't realise is that the diagram almost everyone uses is in fact Copyrighted by it's creations - The Design Council.


Double Diamond

The Double Diamond by Design Council

The Design Thinking Process

First of all it doesn't start with technology - it starts with a human need. Majority of digital projects start with technology, it happens, and it is incredibly frustrating because the human need is usually we need to upgrade platform X because they're charging us too much. Whilst that's an acceptable reason to invest in technology, the outcome is almost always choosing the platform that's the most cost effective, whether that is cheaper, or long term... cheaper. If the project was based on a true human need i.e. why do we need a CRM at all? I guarantee that the technology invested in would exceed expectations.

As you can see from the Double Diamond it follows this repeatable divergent convergent process. Divergence is used to cover lots of ground, go down avenues you might not have anticipated and to gather information or ideas. Convergence then allows for zeroing in on a specific area defining how something can be achieved and for delivering a way of testing out the idea.

In similar respect to the concept of running Agile, whereby we want to break large elements down to something smaller, we're aiming to have something that works in order to test and get something in front of people as fast as possible to learn from it before going again. This doesn't necessarily mean it happens at the end, it could actually occur at any stage and ideally, throughout all stages.

Breaking down the silos

The most important element of this methodology is that it is collaborative and requires involvement, insight and learning from everyone in the business. When we talk about Agile we use this term of multi-disciplinary teams and sadly that is often looked at purely from a product end - developers, architectures, product managers, designers etc. 

This is wrong. 100 shades of wrong.

At We Are AFK, we help businesses to understand these problems together and leverage the wealth of knowledge in the business that is all too often inaccessible due to departmental siloing.

When we're talking about multi-disciplinary teams in our work we mean representatives from across the organisation. Everyone has something to contribute after all, UX is efforts of everyone - not an individual, or individual team.

Bank of America and Saving Money

For the session at The British Red Cross I thought about a suitable case study that reflects how changing the way you think about problem solving and working across the business can produce radical changes.

Back in 2005 Bank of America found themselves in a situation where people weren't taking on new products, opening new accounts and critically they weren't saving money. this was a huge problem for the bank because of course they make money by playing with yours.

They had a problem statement:

The goal was to discover how to get this consumer segment to open new checking and savings accounts?

The issue here is that's a business problem - not a customer problem. Up to this point they'd been doing what all banks do in this situation, invest lots of money designing new products (account types), if it has a higher interest rate people will save more and they'll put more money in them. They were using their own knowledge to tackle challenges and it is a very internal one.

They hired a design agency (who I've yet to confirm ownership) who ran a project that followed this design thinking format (remember this is 2005 - nothing new here in the world of design).

Their discovery period was spent in small teams that were half from the agency and half from assorted members of the business, going out and conducting street surveys, in-house visits, diary studies and general good qualitative research, even spending days with their target market (mothers with young children) going to the store, and watching them balance their checking account every week.

They got together at the end of the study and began to compare notes looking for the themes. Overall people admitted having problems with saving money. Reasons ranged from they were already living outside of their means, genuinely not having enough and living hand to mouth whilst at the other end of the spectrum many confessed to simply wanting to know they had something in the bank because they couldn't resist impulse purchasing.

Looking at the right problem to solve

One of the research teams talked about how they'd seen someone round up the tabs in the check book because it made it easier to total up and understand how much they'd spent - remember, this is 2005 most banks didn't have online services, and the ones that did were pretty shoddy. If it was the weekend you'd have to wait until Monday to go into a branch to get your bank statement, and if you're in the suburbs of America, it could be 40 mins to the nearest ATM.

She commented that it was an easier way of doing things and that by rounding it up she was over-compensating meaning that she'd actually have more in the bank than she thought - and who doesn't like that!?

This insight is what we can achieve from looking outside of our own product lens.

Product Lens

Looking outside of our own product lens to find innovation

The problem is not the bank product - it’s our relationship with money

Design Studio Workshop

Now the team had something to focus on. How could they change the way people thought about their money and what they did with it? Could they help people look at their spending differently and in turn find an opportunity for them to support that?

The agency ran a design studio workshop with an even larger group from across the business including product managers, financial experts, software engineers, operations, bank branch staff, customer services.

The purpose was to come up with as many ideas big or small of how this could be achieved. At the half way point they had collated over 80 ideas before converging down onto 12. The bank traditionally worked on the basis of launching a number of products at once expecting some to fail, however this time there was a clear favourite and unanimous decision to explore it further.

Why don't we round up their transactions and put the remainder into their savings?

Define & Design

There were a number of questions that came from the design studio sessions to define and then design ways in which to test the concept.

  • How would this work?  The behind the scenes processes, systems that may be required etc.
  • How do we communicate this idea to the rest of the business? They may need input from other teams, what's the best way of sharing the concept and on-boarding new people to the project, and crucially, how to get buy-in from the C-Suite.
  • How do we communicate the benefits to our customers? This was an idea born from observation of a few individuals, how do we show that it is safe and beneficial to you as a customer/future customer?

Service Design 101

The project team worked together to storyboard the experience, creating a comic strip that showed a day in the life of a mother and how this type of banking product enabled her to save money every day that would help with her child's college fund, holidays or repairs to the house.

They worked with another party to create an animated video that sadly is no longer online which they put in front of focus groups to see what their feelings were in the idea. This focus group was around 1,000 going back into the same 6 communities across America they'd conducted the original research in.

The feedback responses were incredibly high and helped build the business case for developing a pilot project and getting it into the wild.

Running Pilot Projects

Bank of America produced a pilot which ran for 6 months with a small subset of customers; I'd estimate this to have been a few hundred in order to measure results effectively.

The results for the pilot were overwhelming with positivity and cemented the deal for the product to become available to all customers. 

In an unprecedented turn, the retention rate for the Round Up account was 99%. The account still exists today in 2017 although it now looks very different and frankly is a huge let-down in part because at some point it was incentivised to match your contributions up to a certain amount.

What can the charity sector learn from design thinking?

If it isn't clear from reading that story, the main challenge faced by all charities is not dissimilar to that in the banking world, particularly for those charities that are reliant on fundraising and donations.

Over the last decade I've worked with a lot of household name charities and some you never knew existed.

There are many commonalities between them, one of their biggest restrictions is self imposed - fundraising teams don't work with customer service, they don't work with aid workers, they don't work with finance.. you get the picture - there's a lot of silos in charities.

This is a huge let down as there's so much potential for great work to happen in these areas - just like all their unbelievable work on the ground where it matters.

It's also this point that makes me sad. How is it that these charities, that are all founded on the principle understanding of true human needs can't reflect that back internally?

Got any spare change?

Back in 2015, a report was conducted by Pennies, Digital Charity Box in which they'd researched the decline in contributions through charity tins on store counters and fundraisers on the street. They reported back on two points I found curious.

Fewer people are carrying cash

With the dominance of debit cards, contactless technologies and the slow death of minimum spend fees along with the governments own acknowledgements about wanting to limit the flow of cash people don't have pennies in their pockets.

If we look not too far to our right in the UK, most of Scandinavia is operating cashless societies with Sweden in particular on a mission to remove cash entirely within the next 5-10 years. 

I won't go into the pro's and con's of this, you only need to take a look at what happened when the 500 Rupee was removed from circulation in India last year to see how cashless society can alienate and destroy certain classes livelihoods, but then again, how many times have you been aggravated by Taxi drivers in the UK and their cash only operations? Go to Denmark and you can't even give them money card only! (so much better IMO).

Uncertain Future

Even in 2015 things were starting to feel a little shaky. Across Europe entire countries were going bankrupt. These causal effects can have huge impact on peoples spending behaviours and their perception of what rainy day could be ahead.

The report, like so many reports is looking at a specific business problem - why aren't people putting money in the boxes? But the way it is asking the question is too direct. Had Pennies been looking outside their lens, maybe they'd have asked the question I am:

Who has spare change?

Ask yourself, truly do you have spare money? If we're completely honest none of us believe we have too much money!

What does spare change even mean? Turns out there's already a definition for it.

A small amount of money that someone does not need.

Merriam Webster Definition

The definition for spare alone is enlightening.

  • Not being used
  • Held for emergency use
  • Being over and above what is needed
  • Superfluous

Reading this we can ask ourselves the question again - do you have spare change? I wager your response is still no, because all of those points are valid emotional motivators for you to retain whatever perceived wealth you have.

It's time to start looking outside the fundraising lens to understand why people don't give money to charities because money is not the solution, it is an enabler, perhaps, but charities are too focussed on money in and I think, looking in the wrong direction.

We could look at our relationship with money through different lenses.

Maybe by looking at other areas and understanding motivations behind peoples interest in specific causes, values or beliefs charities can find new ways of creating support, and solutions for the amazing things they do on the ground.

Ethical Banking by Design

This is partly why we bank with Triodos. The money put into accounts with Triodos is not used for corporate gain. Instead they fund ethical socially responsible projects all over the world. What does this mean? It means that every day We Are AFK is giving to charities, funding the rebuilding of communities, homes and lives of people all over the world and all we had to do was to go about our daily work.

It's just another great example of how we can change the way we think about what we're doing and why and how what we do can have a significant impact on the lives of others.