Our clients come to us with really cool ideas for web, mobile, and embedded apps. Usually, they know their domain inside and out, and they’ve come up with a great way to improve the world with some custom new software.
Human-Centered Design (HCD) practices help companies develop innovative product concepts. From my experience, extending HCD practices inward to include a company’s information technology team increases the chances for success.
What is Human-Centered Design?
IDEO (a leading global design consultancy) recognizes that HCD involves viewing solutions through the lenses of Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability and building products that live at the intersection of all three lenses.
In the introduction, Kumar underscores the idea that innovation is not just for executives and business stakeholders, or just for practitioners: the most successful innovation comes out of fruitful collaboration between team members whose roles cross traditional organizational boundaries.
“Once an innovation initiative is defined, teams of managers, designers, researchers, marketers, and engineers must figure out how to act on it…Innovation requires a much broader scope of understanding than other business practices. The designers and technologists developing new offerings must not only know how to innovate on a tactical level, they must also comprehend the strategic objectives and wider implications of their work. In the old model of incremental innovation, strategy was conveyed to practitioners in the form of business requirements, objectives, and specifications. Documents clearly outlined the boundaries of the solution…but in the emerging world of leapfrog and disruptive innovation, practitioners must be empowered to question previously held assumptions…and explore unaddressed market needs and opportunities. This requires…a deep understanding of the business strategies behind their work, of where and why the company is trying to innovate in the first place.”
In developing an online product, it can be difficult to maintain perspective on the overall purpose and user experience. When and if you run out of ideas, take time to get out and test your assumptions by bringing in an outside source.
On our product team, we recently reached a point in development where we wanted to get some fresh perspective. We were almost a year and a half into development on the application. But we were about ready to embark on creating a new feature in the app, and a lot of time had passed since our original concepts, so we decided to brainstorm with several people from inside and outside of the industry in which our app is used.
Brainstorming isn’t always easy. It can be messy collecting the information and deciphering which way to go when you’re done. Therefore, we drew from a brainstorming process entitled Focused Innovation Technique (F.I.T) for our session to facilitate the best outcome.
From the website:
“The F.I.T. encourages groups to be creative while building on each other’s expertise in a high-energy process that promotes team spirit and the alignment necessary to support implementing the results. Innovation Project Design helps you to target the right challenges in the right way.”
Our brainstorm process using this technique was comprised of 3 main stages:
We often hear that “design is an overloaded word.” This must be one of the biggest understatements of all time! Often when I’m communicating with others and the word design is dropped, we need to ask ourselves: are we talking about visual design? User experience? Markup? Tangible design? Tactical design? Strategic design? Or simply aesthetics?
Given all of the confusion, as I was skimming the Table of Contents of Bettina von Stamm’s Managing Innovation, Design, and Creativity, the appendix titled Categories of Design immediately jumped out to me. I thought, “ah, perhaps this will help build my understanding of the word design.”
Walker’s design family tree1 courtesy Plymouth University
Atomic Object has helped many companies design and implement new software products. I’ve noticed different environments at companies that are primed for innovation and companies that are not.
Roger Martin’s knowledge funnel concept describes how business practices become more algorithmic as organizations scale and strive for efficiency. As companies scale, their technology departments develop an operational mindset and become more focused on efficiency and stability than on creating opportunity.
GiveCamp is a single weekend long mashup of non-profits and technical volunteers. A group of non-profits pitch their technical-problems and are hand selected to be paired up with volunteers.
This year I am proud to be attending GiveCamp, not as a volunteer but rather with a non-profit. The Creative Youth Center (CYC) is a non-profit that offers after-school creative writing programs to Grand Rapids students, and it all happens on Wealthy Street, right by our Grand Rapids office. At GiveCamp we hope to write an evaluation tool for the after-school programs to assess student performance over the course of their CYC careers.
It takes skill and dedication to have a strong command over the craft of software development. It’s a blend of science and art that requires careful attention to detail in every aspect. You must have a solid understanding of the machine, languages, and tools you are using. And the experience to understand how the design decisions you make will affect your code’s performance, maintainability, and flexibility. Writing high quality software isn’t easy.