The CLUMSY Manifesto

This text is about not only looking at design from the perspective of care, but also about reclaiming agility for what it actually is. Too often, “failing fast”, “failing early” and “failing often” are nowadays applied as excuses for not thinking things through, rather than as actual design agility where iterations improve the service being developed, and where people really learn from their mistakes.

The CLUMSY Manifesto highly respects agility. It is not an objection, but a productive counterpoint. I believe that the problems underlying the current misuses of agility are the same that systems scientists like Oliver and Langford described over three decades ago: the user experience and the design experience may not be the same. Service Design addresses this gap well, but as soon as it collides with existing practices in organizations, its impact may start to wither. Like cultures eat strategy, systems architecture sure as hell eats user experiences. To put it stereotypically, left brain has a tendency to veto the right in any large scale design, unless there are people present who are adept in both modes of thinking. To foster such processes, the CLUMSY Manifesto was born.

CLUMSY design should be:

Careful. No amount of failing fast will do good if the key failure was done before the ideation phase. That failure may be for example not taking into account existing legislation, APIs, user patterns, value ecosystems, or upcoming trends, or taking those into account but not trying to alter them sufficiently. Being careful does not mean checking absolutely everything in advance, nor a lack of taking risks. It means not using “we’ll sort it out later” as an excuse for being intellectually lazy.

Liberating. With the background research properly done and applied, design is free to concentrate on that which is possible, and on changing the realms of possibility by e.g., lobbying and network forming. Restrictions foster creativity and in time even impossibilities can be achieved. Those who speak of limitations should be treated as a loyal opposition, not obstructions to be overcome. Keep the “Yes, and…” in active use.

User-centered. Users should be present at all times in the design process, either for real or as extrapolations from sufficient field research, represented through things such as stories and personas. Even a single omission can turn user experiences into process flowchart arrows, and getting the real user back into the implied user can be very difficult.

Marketable. There is no point in creating a great product or service if it does not reach a sufficient number of users. Marginal popularity and cult status may feel great, but rarely carries a societal impact. Especially not in the short term – and companies tend to kill off projects that only result in something ten years later. Same way as basic research is not appreciated without obvious USPs, despite its crucial importance in the long run, result visibility is mandatory for most designs. If it is the customer who defines the value of a service, design is effectively worthless if it never reaches the market proper where its value is ultimately determined.

SYmbiotic. No successful design exists in a vacuum. The ecosystem has to be advantageous to the design, and the design in turn for the ecosystems and at least some of their value networks. If it is not, either the design or the ecosystem has to change. Likewise, care and agility have to exist in symbiosis, if we are to create something that is successful, optimal and as user-friendly as possible.

Herbert Simon wrote in the 60’s that design is really about adjusting an internal process of some tool or concept to fit the outside reality. As service and user experience designers we are particularly well equipped in both tools and perspectives to be able to facilitate such alignment. Let us thus be agile and clumsy at the same time. Humans usually are, and that’s for whom we are designing.

J. Tuomas Harviainen
(The author teaches business science and information systems, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tampere, and is a recent graduate of the Laurea SID MBA program.)

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