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What if… organizations could prepare for uncertainty?

What if an organization would know what are the pain points of its future customers, which are emerging competitors and partners, what type of ecosystems organization should be part of, what type of legal, social or political issues are arising, what is going to be next industrial trend, how to disrupt the industry? “What if” is one of the most important questions in futures thinking. It enables stretching our thinking and imagine possible futures.

Photo from https://www.pixabay.com

Minna Koskelo, futures designer had a presentation about “What is futures thinking” on Waffle Wednesday at Wonderland in February 2020. According to Koskelo “you can’t control the future but you can have a sense of control if you do understand more the drivers that are affecting the future. “ We don’t know the future but futures thinking gives us a mindset and offers a systematic approach that combines, methods, and tools to explore alternative futures which can support organizations to make right decisions. Koskelo’s presentation made me think about how well organizations are actually aware of the powerful mindset of futures thinking and its methods? Organizations are doing customer insight, business insight but how systematically and continuously companies are conducting future-oriented insight a.k.a. futures thinking? Feels like many organizations are focusing more on what is already visible instead of investing on what is about to come. Research shows that future-prepared firms outperform the average by a 200% higher growth and were 33% more profitable than average!

From where to start Futures Thinking?

When talking about the future there are certain terms that we need to understand. These terms are: megatrends, trends, signals.

Megatrend is a dominant long-term phenomenon with a global impact. Megatrends can change slowly. Examples of megatrends are climate change, senior citizens, digitalization, and circular economy. Koskelo mentioned that many times it is said that companies shouldn’t focus on megatrends when finding business innovation because megatrends aren’t bringing any competitive advantage. Then again we could also ask how many companies are today actually tackling on helping senior citizens?

Trends are changes in people’s behavior, attitudes, and values locally and globally. They have an impact on the culture, society or business sector. Trends indicate which direction development is going. Trend has a lasting impact, but the impact is smaller than megatrends’ impact.

Signal is a phenomenon, the first expression of change or a new trend. Signal might be a weak signal that is very surprising and weird that forces companies to challenge current assumptions. So if a company would spot a weak signal and tries to develop it to a trend, it might offer a competitive advantage.

Tools for exploring the future

The more aware organizations are of the opportunities that the future holds, the more future-proof decisions can be made. There are various tools for supporting in future decision making. Four of them are described below.

What if an organization would get a holistic view of opportunities and obstacles in its future environment? It feels like organizations focus their future view heavily on technology and ignore other important trends. But in order to get a more holistic view, an organization could utilize a framework called STEEPLED that is an acronym for: Social, Technology, Economic, Environment, Political, Legal, Ethical, Demographics. STEEPLED offers a checklist for exploring external factors that might have an impact on the organization’s success – the organization could find signals that might turn into trends!

What if organization could really reach their vision? Backcasting would be the tool to be used in this case. In backcasting the organization defines first its desirable future and from there works backward to identify the critical steps necessary to achieve the desired future, the vision.

What if organization would be able to anticipate its future customers? By using future personas the organization would provide insights of future customers, anticipate what motivates them and what are their future needs.

What if organization would recognize the direct and indirect consequences of a decision, trends and events that might have an impact on the organization’s ecosystem? Futures wheel is a visual tool that supports to create a structured map of the future. When working with the futures wheels a particular trend will be put in the center after which the primary, secondary and tertiary impacts of the trend will be explored in a structured way.

Six business benefits of Futures Thinking

Based on Minna Koskelo’s presentation and my earlier studies in futures thinking I would sum up futures thinking benefits as below.

Futures Thinking
1. offers a safe space to consider and discuss unthinkable options,

2. encourages to think beyond the company’s current value proposition and reveal new business opportunities,

3. offers new innovative ways for decision-making processes and enhance decision making under uncertainty,

4. enables test ideas before translating them into business or innovation strategies,

5. helps to align the whole organization working towards a common vision in their daily work practices,

6. offers a roadmap for navigating complexity and reaching the vision.

Future does not just happen, it depends on today’s choices and is created through interaction and collaboration. What if we start to influence our future today?

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You might be interested in below links:
Megatrends 2020, Sitra
Futures Day 2020

References:
From signals to future stories
Futures Thinking
Ojasalo, Koskelo and Nousiainen. 2015. Foresight and Service Design Boosting Dynamic Capabilities in Service innovation. In: Agarwal, R., Selen, W., Roos, G. & Green, R. (ed.) The Handbook of Service Innovation. London: Springer. 193-212.

What’s the secret recipe to becoming an agile and customer-centric company?

Futurice hosted Service Design Network Finland’s event in Helsinki in January 2020 where Marc Stickdorn* talked about how companies can use journey maps as a management tool. Stickdorn explained three different situations where journey maps can be used: in workshops, projects or as a management tool. Workshop journey maps are used only once and they will not live after a workshop. Project journey maps are used throughout the project and they can be research, assumption or future based. Journey Map Operations is a management tool that combines different projects and business units in a company and supports companies to become agile: it builds relationships across silos, collects information and the most important – manages customer experience across departments.

Journey Map Operations, Marc Stickdorn

The reality in many organizations is that different departments are working with different projects and processes. There might be lots of handovers, various targets, expectations, practices and end solutions. This is because departments have different ways of documenting, they use different tools, terms, and language in their projects. The focus of the projects might be different depending on if it’s a legal, IT, sales, product innovation, marketing, or finance project. But in the end, all the internal and external projects impact also directly or indirectly on company’s customer experience. Many projects might also overlap and from the customer’s point of view there may be shared the same steps in the journey but then the journey continues for different directions which might be really confusing and frustrating for the customer. For a company it is difficult to operate and manage this kind of complexity.


How to get a shared perspective and language across departments?

Companies talk about being customer-centric and agile, but few companies really are because it is impossible to be agile in practice without a shared perspective and tools. According to Stickdorn journey maps would support companies be agile in operations by offering a common visualized language and understanding across different departments and levels in the organization. By mapping and combining different internal and external projects from customer’s perspective organization gets better transparency and understanding what’s going on in different parts of the organization that have an impact on customers or employees’ experience. This helps employees and management to see what are the ongoing initiatives where the organization needs to align? Is there an overlap in the processes? What ongoing and planned projects are around the organization?

I like how Stickdorn compares journey maps for maps in geography: by zooming in and zooming out it is possible to see different levels of the journey. By zooming in the company can see details and understand micro-interactions while zooming out helps to see the high-level journey, the bigger picture.

Different level of journeys zoomed in and out


A recipe for the secret sauce

Stickdorn proposes that there should be specific roles or teams in charge of the journeys. These would be called journey map coordinators. Coordinators are responsible for different parts and levels of the journeys. Somebody on the higher level, for example, CXO, is responsible for the highest-level customer journey. When zooming in the highest-level journey there might be different teams and departments responsible for other parts and experiences of the journey.

Journey map coordinators are split around the organization into different departments and they should meet regularly – once per quarter, month or once per week depending on how close the organization wants to be with the customer, how quickly they want to react and adapt to change. In these meetings, information is shared from microlevel customer interactions to higher levels. The power of the meetings would not only be in sharing information but they would help to see what kind of qualitative and quantitative information organization has from its customers on different levels. And when you add customers’ and employees’ pain points and KPIs there, soon a company might have a dashboard of customer experience!


The value for business

I think that Journey Map Operations is a perfect example of service design method – it brings people from different parts and levels of organization together, focuses on collaborative problem-solving, offers a holistic view, brings clarity in complexity, creates a common language by visualizing things and shares information between different departments with a common target – the customer. At the the same time Journey Map Operations provides a lean way of working and supports company to become more agile.

In overall, journey maps are helpful when company wants to get a holistic understanding of customer or employee experience, recognize their needs and pain points and seek opportunities for innovations. We just need to keep in mind that it’s not about the tool but what the tool can deliver for employees, customers and business. “Journey map isn’t a f..inkg deliverable” as Marc Stickdorn would say.



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You might be interested also:

How to co-create journey maps https://www.thisisservicedesigndoing.com/methods/journey-mapping

How to map journeys https://www.thisisservicedesigndoing.com/methods/mapping-journeys

*Marc Stickdorn is co-founder of More than Metrics, and editor and co-author of the award-winning books This is Service Design Thinking and This is Service Design Doing. He regularly gives talks and workshops on service design and innovation,and teaches at various business and design schools.


You’ve Been Nudged!

What do you mean by “I’ve been nudged”? (Picture by @designwilde)

Whether you realize it nor not you have most likely been nudged if you have ever done e.g. some online shopping. Of course, you can be nudged in other environments too but in this blog I will for the most part concentrate on nudging in the digital environment. This is because I took part in the Digital Nudging Workshop hosted by Riina Salmivalli at the Central Library Oodi on the 9th of December 2019 and I wish to share some of the learnings I got from there. The workshop was part of events organized by Ompeluseuran palvelumuotoilijat which is a women’s service design networking group.

What Is a Nudge?

Okay I realize I have said the word nudge already quite a few times yet have not given any explanation on what it actually means. So here we go, according to Thaler and Sustein (2009, 12) a nudge: “… is any aspect of the choice architecture that alerts people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” Still confused? Let me give you some concrete examples.  

Picture by GETTY CREATIVE featured in BBC News online article “Have you been nudged?”

One of the most famous examples of a nudge is the picture of a fly added to the urinals in Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The spillage on the men’s washroom floors decreased by 80% helping to save on cleaning costs as users of the urinals were now aiming at the picture of the fly placed near the urinal drains. Thaler describes this as harmless engineering that captures peoples’ attention and alters their behavior in a positive way (Sommer 2009). Another typical example of a nudge is making citizens automatically registered as organ donors unless they choose otherwise. Spain has implemented this nudge in their healthcare system and thus it is a world leader in organ donations (Govan 2017).

Nudging in the Digital Context

By now you have probably gotten a better sense of what nudging is, so let’s see what it looks like in the digital context. I am going to give three examples of nudges used in the digital environment: default settings, social references and warnings. Obviously, there are more than just these three but I think that calls for a separate blog post. Without further ado, let’s get to it:

Default Settings:

This is to do with the status quo bias where individuals tend to stay with the current status as changing is seen to have more disadvantages than remaining with the current status quo (Mirsch, Lehrer & Jung 2017).  Take the example of Posti’s parcel service pictured below that instantly gives as a default setting the option “Postal Parcel International” (Posti 2019), which will make it the most likely option the customer will continue with.

Posti’s online parcel service

Social References:

This is about taking into account the factor that social norms influence human behavior. Social norms are described as rules and standards which are understood by members of a group that direct and restrict them in social behavior but are not enforced by laws (Cialdini & Trost 1998). At the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna website (2019) the customer can see the reviews of their desired products. The reviews show the reviewers age, region, skin type and tone (Fenty Beauty 2019) so that customer can be influenced in making a purchasing decision if a similar type of person has liked the product as well.

Product reviews for Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

Warnings:

This refers to the psychological theory of loss aversion where losses and disadvantages are presumed to have bigger effect on preferences than possible gains (Kahneman, Knetsch & Thaler 1991). When booking for tickets at the online service ebookers.com (2019), the website notifies how many people are currently searching for flights to the same destination. The site also gives a warning that there are only three tickets available for that particular price, creating an urge for the customer to want to avoid the risk of loosing the cheap tickets.

ebookers warning the customer that there are only three tickets left at £823

Next time you go browsing on a website, see if you can spot any of the three digital nudges being used. It is quite interesting to notice how much nudging is happening without you even realizing it.

Written by Lyydia Pertovaara

References:

Cialdini, R.B. & Trost, M.R. 1998. Social Influence: Social Norms, Conformity, and Compliance. In: The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp.151–192.

Ebookers.com. 2019. Holiday Deals, Hotels & Cheap Flights | ebookers.com. [online] Available at: https://www.ebookers.com/ [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

Fenty Beauty. 2019. Fenty Beauty – GLOSSY POSSE MINI GLOSS BOMB COLLECTION. [online] Available at: https://www.fentybeauty.com/glossy-posse-mini-gloss-bomb-collection/40282.html [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

Govan, F. (2017). How Spain became the world leader in organ transplants. [online] Thelocal.es. Available at: https://www.thelocal.es/20170915/how-spain-became-world-leader-at-organ-transplants.

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J.L. & Thaler, R.H. 1991. Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), pp.193–206.

Mirsch, T., Lehrer, C. & Jung, R. 2017. Digital Nudging: Altering User Behavior in Digital Environments,

in Leimeister, J.M.; Brenner, W. (Hrsg.): Proceedings der 13. Internationalen Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI 2017), St. Gallen, S. 634-648

Sommer, J. 2009. When Humans Need a Nudge Toward Rationality. The New York Times. [online] 7 Feb. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/business/08nudge.html [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. 2009. Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. London: Penguin Books.

The growing role of design in government

Last week the city of Rotterdam (NL) hosted the latest edition of the International Design in Government Conference

Previously hosted in London (UK), Oakland (USA), and Edinburgh (Scotland), last week’s edition was already the third happening in 2019, suggesting that the interest in the topic is growing world-wide.  

Hosted officially by Gebruiker Centraal (User Needs First), a Dutch knowledge community for professionals working on digital government services, the conference took place between November 18th and 20th and its participation was completely open to anyone. 

The International Design in Government Conference aims at sharing best practices, takeaways and discussing common challenges so that they can be tackled through a collaborative approach. In facts, established by Government Digital Service in 2017 as an opportunity to bring together design-minded people that work in, for or with the government all over the world, in the last two years the international design in government community has grown to over 1500 members from 66 countries. In addition to participating to face-to-face meeting occasions such at the conference, community members engage every month in sharing knowledge through calls and other collaborative digital tools, contributing to keep the discussions alive and make some steps further. 

 

Keynote speeches

 

I attended the conference on Tuesday, November 19th, where the morning was entirely dedicated to keynote speeches, whereas the afternoon had a more dynamic connotation as participants could choose to attend a wide range of talks, workshops and breakout sessions. 

Below a summary of the morning keynote speeches and their related visual notes I made on the spot:

 

  • Measuring service quality – Willem Pieterson

 

Willem Pieterson is a researcher focusing on the intersection of data, technology and their orchestration with the aim of helping organisations become more innovative and data-driven. Presenting his work on how to better assess the quality of governmental services, he introduced a quality model based on 20 dimensions of quality, which helped defining a service evaluation model that suggests “satisfaction” as the biggest predictor of quality. 

 

E1C3747C-C68C-4089-AA36-EFBBB24C8DF7.JPG

 

 

  • Designing digital to meet user needs – Francis Maude

 

Francis Maude is the former Minister for the UK Cabinet Office. He was responsible for the establishment of the Government Digital Service, with the aim of reinforcing internal IT and bringing all government services onto a single web hub: GOV.UK. By telling the story on how the UK moved from having its digital services spread across more than 2000 government websites to winning the award as “world leader for online and digital public services”, Maude suggested that leadership, capability, and mandate are the three elements to implement a functional reform. Additionally,  the implementation of horizontal, cross-silo functions (by ensuring the commitment of several Departments to redesigning all existing Government services) as well as building a critical mass of technical capabilities were pointed out as the key to execution of such an ambitious strategy. 

Maude’s office estimated that moving services from offline to digital channels could save approximately £1.8 billion a year. 

 

C68F8243-1709-430F-A4A6-C24F8C9EF78B.JPG

 

  • Digital social innovation – Audrey Tang

 

Audrey Tang is listed number 3 in the World’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government in 2019. She took office in Taiwan as the “Digital Minister” on October 1, 2016,  and was assigned the role of helping government agencies communicate policy goals and managing information published by the government, both via digital means.

Through her talk, Tang stressed the importance of implementing “radical transparency” in all governmental processes, and highlighted how Taiwan is promoting presidential hackathons as a means to co-create solutions around several topics related to the SDGs.  

 
CB3AB191-809A-4EE4-8CBD-A64937300A20.JPG

Key takeaways

 

Although I could only attend one day, my brief participation to the International Design in Government was very interesting and it triggered a few considerations that I summarise below:

 

  • The understanding and recognition of (service) design is skyrocketing

 

If only five years ago it would have been unimaginable to have designers in a municipality, now designers working in Government are thousands and, based on the networking I did, most of attendees either knew what service design is or had service designers in their teams. In this landscape, the NL and UK are commonly acknowledged as the two countries in Europe who are the forefront of design and innovation in their governments. 

 

  • Inclusion and diversity are not an optional in government services

 

Although public and private sectors are facing similar challenges (such as defeating a siloed mindset), the public sector must deserve some extra attention to designing for diversity and inclusion: in facts, governmental services need to be used by all citizens and therefore must be accessible to all kind of users. Of course, diversity and inclusion should not be considered as an optional in the private sector. However, they often are shadowed by other commercial priorities. 

 

  • What is designed for some users might be very well received by other users

 

The story of Gemeente (Municipality) Rotterdam, who prototyped and tested visual letters for citizens with learning disabilities in the attempt of delivering a more engaging way for these users to read important communications, tells how this solution turned out to be a success for other citizens too. What we can learn from it is that at times what is designed for a specific target of users might very well apply to other kinds of users too. 

AI and Service Design

Picture by Franki Chamaki

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of AI?

Robots? Data breach? Self-driving cars?

There are as many thoughts about AI as there are definitions. It really depends on who you ask. However, in this blog I won’t go over what it is or isn’t but rather how we as designers can influence its use for better or worse.

So is AI an opportunity or a threat?

I’d like to think it’s more of an opportunity but with that comes great responsibility. How so? I will get to that a bit later…

How to Service Design AI

On Thursday 21st of November I took part in the Ompeluseuran palvelumuotoilijat event on “How to Service Design AI” hosted by Solita x Palmu where I got a lot of food for thought about AI. Anna Metsäranta, Data-Driven Business Designer, talked about why 85% of the AI projects fail business wise and Anni Ojajärvi, Ethnographer, Business Design and Strategy, discussed the ethics of AI and how AI can influence human behavior and everyday life. Here are my key take a ways from the event:

The Recipe for a Successful AI Project

Picture from Solita x Palmu “How to Service Design AI” event
  1. AI is just a tool. Humans must define the problem as well as the outcome. The more concrete the better.
  2. We as designers need to be part of AI development projects in order to bring the human aspect to the equation. It is important that we validate along the way that the project is going towards the right direction.
  3. Your solution is only as good as your data. Case in point Amazon’s now scrapped recruiting tool that showed bias against women. The recruiting tool used application data from a 10 year period, mostly made up of male applicants’ resumes due to the male dominance in the technology industry.  “In effect, Amazon’s system taught itself that male candidates were preferable.” (Dastin, 2018).
  4. Developing AI is not just a one of thing. AI needs to be constantly trained and the results validated.

WEIRD People Define the Ethics of AI

Picture from Solita x Palmu “How to Service Design AI” event

AI is for the most part developed by WEIRD people. That is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic people that make up only 10 to 15% of the world population. Thus, as my final question I leave you this: How can we make this WEIRD situation into a GREAT one? That is Global, Representative, Equal, Accurate and Tolerant.  As I mentioned earlier with opportunity comes great responsibility and it is up to us designers to think of the direct and indirect impact that our design and solutions have on the customer, context, community, employee/process, society and environment.

Written by Lyydia Pertovaara

Links:

https://www.solita.fi/en/

https://unsplash.com/@franki

References:

Dastin, J. (2018). Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women. [online] U.S. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight/amazon-scraps-secret-ai-recruiting-tool-that-showed-bias-against-women-idUSKCN1MK08G.

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Empathy?

Disclaimer:  These thoughts, opinions, and observations are mine, and mine alone.  They are not the thoughts of my fellow Dash team members, only myself. 

I recently had the immense pleasure of participating in the 2019 Dash Hackathon in Helsinki (organized by the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society – “Aaltoes”) which is the largest design hackathon in Europe.  In this hackathon there were over 220 participants from 40+ different nationalities that came together specifically for this event. 

https://www.dash.design

I knew that this hackathon was going to be a gigantic time commitment to squeeze into my fulltime work and student schedule.  I imagined that I would meet countless new people and possibly make a new friend or two.  As time crept closer to the event, I ruminated about the design process and wondered how the actual process of designing would unfold over the course of the event.

This was the schedule for the Dash Hackathon (there were two additional prep events the week prior to this main event)

Now that the event is over, I can reflect that the element of this hackathon which took me completely utterly by surprise was the profoundly visceral and emotional rollercoaster of a ride this journey took me on. 

For this post I do not want to focus on the specifics of the design process or what my team ultimately created.  What I am taking away from this experience is different than what I had initially imagined.  What I am left with is a list of existential questions for myself about who I am as a person, and what kind of service designer I want to be. 

As we all know, the cornerstone of service design is empathy (I realized this weekend this crucial element could be what drew me to service design in the first place).  The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, see the world through their eyes and then walk a mile in those shoes.  All while keeping this perspective in mind as you create whatever amazing user-centered design solutions we service designers will ultimately come up with.

I think that empathizing with the user is an integral part of service design and it is very important to lay this as the foundation of everything we as service designers will do, however after this weekend I have come to realize that everything has a limit; empathy included. 

It is not possible to design a solution that suits everyone.  That is a fact of service design every designer must accept, and it is also how I am approaching this post.  This post is not for everyone.  This post is written for those of you who may have a propensity to over empathize.  For those of you who can relate, please read on.  For those of you who can’t relate, if you read on anyway, maybe you will notice this trait in a fellow designer and send them this post.

I decided when I signed up for Dash that I really wanted to be part of the challenge for Startup Refugees.  This is a Finnish NGO that has made it their mission to match refugees and immigrants with jobs here in Finland.  They were only founded three years ago, but they are already having a significantly positive impact on the employment situation of refugees and immigrants in Finland.  They currently have two offices; one in Helsinki and one in Oulu. 

If you would like to read more about them check out this link: https://startuprefugees.com/

I really wanted to be a part of this challenge more than any of the other challenges because this issue really speaks to me on a personal level.  I am a black American immigrant who has lived in Finland for the past six years.  I am very happy with where I am now in life both personally and professionally, but it was not an easy journey.  I know how hard I had to work to be where I am now, and that I did not get to where I am now on my own.  Sure, I have a good work ethic, but I also had a great network, a bit of luck, and people who were willing to take a chance on me.  I was really excited to see if I could somehow find a way to help other immigrants and refugees (whose situations coming to Finland were/are infinitely harder and more complicated than mine) find a way to become employed in Finland. 

I believe that through gainful employment an immigrant or refugee can have dignity, community, and a purpose for life in their new country of residence.  This feeling of comfort and belonging is something I genuinely wish I could give to anyone and everyone who wants it.

As I mentioned at the top of this blog, I do not want to go into specific details of the design challenge because I want to focus on my emotional journey and findings related to that.  For the sake of brevity let’s just say the challenge was related to Startup Refugees’ larger focus of helping to find refugees and immigrants employment in Finland.  This is what we in the realm of service design call a wicked problem.

In Richard Buchanan’s report “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking”, he refers to a report by Rittel (1967) that defines a wicked problem as:

“A class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” (1992, 15)

Wicked problems are manifested in the major issues and systemic failures of our society today.  Issues such as climate change, poverty, multicultural integration, healthcare, and so forth are problems so prolific in nature that there are no single solutions or tangible ends to their plight.

Source: https://transitiondesignseminarcmu.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Wicked-problems-flower.png

That being said, with this challenge being quintessentially wicked, there was no way we would possibly be able to fix this challenge in a 48-hour hackathon session.  To be fair and very clear, this is not what the challenge was asking of us.  It was asking for ways to help improve a small part of the issue so that they could more successfully match their clients with work or help immigrants and refugees better understand the foreign job market in which they are attempting to enter. 

However, with an issue this complex where do you even begin?

As a team, on that first day (Friday) we began the hackathon creative, upbeat, and ready to tackle the world.  On the second day (Saturday) that emotional rollercoaster shot full speed out of the launch bay.  The day started well, but by the middle of the day that upbeat and playful attitude was all but dead.  Our mentor repeatedly asked us where our playful attitude had gone and eventually encouraged us to go get some air together outside the venue to try to regain the spirit from the day before.  We got a bit more playful after that, but something personally inside me had shifted that I never could quite reset.  By later that night we had a working solution concept, and after starting again early Sunday morning we were able to finalize our idea and proudly present it later that afternoon as a possible solution to their challenge. 

I was very proud of the solution we came up with as a team and although some people may have thought that my closing lines of the pitch were sappy and maybe just for show, I honestly meant every word I wrote, rehearsed, and delivered as a closing.  The event ended later that night and I went home feeling happy, physically tired (this I understood- the hackathon was long), but also incredibly emotionally exhausted.  I felt like my inner child had just run an ultra-marathon through a mine field.  I felt acutely emotional and I wanted to figure out why.  I had been emotional since the second day of the challenge and those feelings just kept compounding until the challenge was over and I could finally go home.  Would I have felt this way if I worked on any of the other non-wicked problem challenges? Was I too close to the subject? Probably.

I began a search where all great internet searches begin (google) and stumbled across a blog that pretty much summed up the personal issue I faced during this challenge.  It is post is titled “The Dilemma of Designers’ Empathy Delusions” by Jason Mesut (2018).  In it he states:

“I have three challenges to the importance of empathy. To strengthen designer performance by battling what I feel is an ideal that is often delusional and misguided.

Two of my challenges are likely to be unpopular, and the third will probably be appreciated by many:

1.Most designers are not actually that empathic to end users

2.Empathy isn’t that valuable and unique a quality for designers

3.We should care more about people beyond users”

I will link the entire article because I think it is a really good read. However, I would like to focus on the 2nd and 3rd points he makes in this article.  In his second point that questions the value of empathy, and he gives a good example of the dangers of over empathizing with the following example:

“Imagine a doctor.  Imagine if she had high empathy.  She would struggle to make decisions for the population she helps.  If one of her patient(s) suffered, she would suffer.  The pain would impede the process of resolution.  It’s why many healthcare professionals build up barriers to the emotions and the pain of the patients they serve.  It helps them make better judgement calls. 

I’m not saying a designer shouldn’t care.  Often, they should.  But I’m not sure that empathizing over every user they meet can really be that productive or helpful.”

Now I know this for some people may sound a little over the top, but I think that this is a real danger for some designers that work specifically with wicked problems, or any other issues that are highly emotional, in which putting yourself into the shoes of others may elicit extremely deep feelings of empathy and compassion that are much deeper than what is productively necessary for the purposes of service design.

The article goes on to talk about what happens when your over empathizing can cause you to lose sight of the larger picture.  In your compassion driven quest to create real change for the end user you run the risk of losing empathy and sight of the other players in the game; the other clients and stakeholders in the relevant network who are all a part of the challenge you are hoping to solve.

The author proposes a framework for an empathy map where you consciously adjust your feelings up or down as necessary while also keeping in mind other players besides the end user:

Source: Jason Mesut https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf
Source: Jason Mesut https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

You can read the whole post here: https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

I wholeheartedly believe that empathy must exist for great service design.  However, I now believe there is a spectrum.  A spectrum of levels of conscious empathy every designer must have, and this spectrum should be personally re-evaluated during all phases of the design process to ensure it is evenly distributed across all people the new design will affect; users, clients, and stakeholders alike. 

I could not imagine being as deeply emotionally connected to an issue that I would be working with for a prolonged period of time without emotionally burning myself out.  Though I did not appear to be overly emotional or stressed during the event (and I did have a lot of fun too), I took mental note of how exhausting this challenge was, and wondered how I would deal with this kind of problem if it was my everyday job.  That is what lead me on this introspective journey and critical evaluation of the weight of empathy in service design.

I am fully aware that had I done a different challenge, I would not have had the emotional response I did. However, I am glad I experienced everything exactly as I did.  It gave me time to reflect on my emotions and myself.    

I had an amazing time at Dash and would like to thank the organizers for the opportunity to be a part of this great event.  I would also like to give my deepest thanks to Startup Refugees for all of the great work they do and wish them nothing but the best in the future.  Most of all, I would like to thank my amazing team members for all of their hard work, and I am very happy for the new friendships I have made. 

Dash Hackathon 2019 Team #39!!!

 By: Johanna Johnson

Sources

Buchanan, Richard 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In Margolin, V. & Buchanan, R. The Idea of Design. A Design Issues Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Mesut, J. 2018. The Dilemma of Designers Empathy Delusions. Posted 9 December. https://medium.com/shapingdesign/the-dilemma-of-designers-empathy-delusions-a61f0663deaf

Lessons on language and inclusivity

Held annually in Stockholm, Nordic Design 2019 is a conference focused on the design within the range of user experience, user interface, technology and graphic design. The speakers were varied and did much more than simply show their impressive portfolios of work. They actively outlined certain manifestos or values inherent in their work. Topics ranged from design sprint methodologies to how to the design language learning app Duolingo; from design of systems to the usage of eye-tracking.There were a few key points which stuck with me from a few of the speakers, the first of which discussed the importance of names.

How to name

Like many who work in design nowadays, Sophie Tahran inhabits multiple roles already in her job title: she is a UX Writer. This unique and new role has her creating copy and naming systems for various services and products. Much like the visual side of design, the linguistic side must not only carry the brand’s unique voice but also serve its functional purpose. Language, she pointed out, is important. Much of Sophie’s eloquent talk described the structured process which she has crafted in order to find suitable names for brands or wording systems within brands. Overall, there are seven main categories of possible brand names, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. Descriptive names which describe what the service offers
  2. Evocative brands which try to stir a certain emotion
  3. Invented words which don’t exist in the dictionary
  4. Lexical names are those which play with language or spelling
  5. Acronymic names of individual words
  6. Geographic names of places
  7. Founder of company names.

Sophie outlined her process of creating a name for a new brand and this process is similar to the divergent and convergent phases of the design thinking double diamond. The process of starting the naming a certain brand begins with laying the foundation through looking at the context in which the name is intended to be used, the scope of the brand, competitors and the stakeholders involved. After this a brainstorming workshop is organised. Sophie was quite vague as to how exactly to brainstorm, but there are a near infinite methods available at this ideation stage. The key is to generate an over-abundance of ideas. Once it is deemed sufficient ideas have been generated a move into the refinement stage is needed. Names need to be clustered and researched into whether they fit certain requirements for literacy, universality, SEO or size (meaning whether the name fits the scope of the brief or the forecast growth of the company).  Additionally, legal teams need to be consulted in case of copyright issues. Once a name or shortlist has been made, you need to find approval from the rest of the stakeholders. A new name is easier to approve through being transparent about the whole process by showing an overview of the steps taken to get to the final result. Finally, once a name has been approved the driving of adoption is needed in order to fully execute the naming process correctly.

Sophie’s talk was interesting not only in its content, but also in the way it highlighted an oft overlooked element of design: language. In design it is understood that not only what is being communicated is important, but also how. This is especially important when you are literally discussing the usage of language in design. For example, the way specific navigational signage in a building may guide you around matters: it must not only be succinct, but ideally also carry some of the brand’s values as it provides the important service of showing you where to go.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Speaking of traversing through a service, another speaker Laura Kalbag, highlighted the needs of making services not only accessible but inclusive. It was not a distinction which I had previously made. In fact, in my ignorance I may have used the terms interchangeably.

The difference is wonderfully simply illustrated in these two shopfronts she showed. In the accessibility image, the shop has tried to accommodate for wheelchair users by building a ramp. However, the ramp is on the side of the building and accesses the back of the shop. In inclusive design, as shown in the image on the right, the ramp is built into the front of the shop. This may seem like a small difference to those without special needs, but it represents a fundamental shift in how we think about the provision of services for everybody. It is simply not enough to make services accessible; we must make include those with special needs in our society as fully equal members. This comes from designing products and services which do not simply have augmentations which accommodate special needs, but are intrinsically – from the shopfront onwards – geared towards giving everyone an equal footing.

Designing in collaboration

A final insight which I would highlight came from the introductory speaker, Prem Krishnamurthy. He gave an inspiring and conceptual talk about how his team goes about their graphic design practice. His talk had many good takeaways, but I will focus on one overarching theme: collaboration. Prem seems to have really understood that combined we make more than the sum of our parts. One project stood out which highlights this point well: his co-creation of the “Ministry of Graphic Design” for the Fikra graphic design biennale.  Hired to create an identity for the biennale, Prem’s studio instead decided to collaborate with other designers and create fake bureaucratic entities such as the dept. of optimism or the dept. of non-binaries and curate the work according to their subdivisions. This level of collaboration, in which a design studio will actively involve others and even split their allocated budget in order to raise the level of work being completed is significant. It shows how important collaboration and co-creation truly are in the design field. Working together in order to raise the bar of what is possible as a designer shows a deep understanding that design is a co-creative process and that by making it ever-more collaborative can only make even better work.

Overall, Nordic Design 2019 proved an inspiring and well-designed conference. Service design, despite its closeness to may of the fields at the conference, was not mentioned. However, despite this it was completely worth attending in order to further my service design practice. The lessons of mindful usage of language and inclusive collaboration will serve me well in the future. I look forward to attending in 2020!