Urban Explorations

What to do with abandoned, liminal spaces in cities? Should the city’s inhabitants be let to make use of them? And how to design a space where everyone feels welcome?

These are some of the questions that I have been facing lately in conjunction with my university studies.

I have always been interested in terrains vagues, so-called “dead zones” in different cities. The term was coined by the architect-philosopher Ignasi de Solà-Morales Rubió, who has famously stated that “When architecture and urban design project their desire onto a vacant space a terrain vague, they seem incapable of doing anything other than introducing violent trasformations, changing estrangements into citizenship, and striving at all costs to dissolve the uncontaminated magic of the obsolete in the efficacy”.

Considering this statement, I wonder if another kind of transformation of a “dead zone” could also take place – such as for example the transformation of the Tempelhof airport into a party location in Berlin?

I’m currently participating in two different courses related to the aesthetics of space and spatial design at the University of Helsinki. I’m fascinated by the hands-on part of the curriculum this spring, as it also involves a small-scale hands-on urban development project in the “Marian sairaala” area of Helsinki.

The work on this project kicks off tomorrow with lectures and two workshop type sessions with other students and our Project Manager, Rami Ratvio. The “Marian sairaala” area is an abandoned hospital site in Helsinki, in the close proximity of the residential coastline areas of Jätkäsaari and Ruoholahti, where I spent most of my childhood as these parts of the city were still in the middle of their construction.

The city of Helsinki is currently planning on transforming the hospital area into a new use, and this, mainly, is what this cross-disciplinary course is all about. The participants of this project are planning on organizing a public block party or a small-scale festival event to take place in the hospital premises one month from now.

While the concept of this event is still to be discussed and refined, yesterday I found myself browsing the internet for different modular venues for such parties.

As the designated area is very close to the coastline, cargo containers would certainly complement the overall venue. They would make for an affordable and a practical choice for constructing various spatial structures in the area, as well as a strong visual element. While we have yet to make any decisions on utilizing these type of elements and the outside area of the premises, I find the containers inspirational.

See different container venues constructed by the Berlin company “2X20 FT”:

http://www.twotimestwentyfeet.com/

Read more about the University of Helsinki course “Tilapioneerit”:

http://tilapioneerit.fi

About Travel and the Notions of Place

“Place is security, space is freedom”, states Yi-Fu Tuan, the author of “Space and Place – The Perspective of Experience”. He goes on to explain that “what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better”, and that places are, essentially, “centers of value”. According to Tuan, places “attract or repel in finely shaded degrees”, and “to attend to them even momentarily is to acknowledge their reality and value.” This is evident when visiting another country, or moving into a new city.

The next issue of FNG Research (http://research.fng.fi) will deal with art and politics, and it will be available online next week. Coming back to the statements of Tuan, I think places are certainly endowed with value.

Having myself travelled in many places and also in some conflict areas in the past, and thinking about the current overall political situation and the ongoing crisis in the Middle-East, for example, it seems to me that many people would benefit visiting other countries and cities more often. This helps in putting certain things in a perspective.

In a series of black-and-white photographs in the recent “Demonstrating Minds” exhibition in Kiasma, a Finnish artist, Jari Silomäki, is visiting various sites of atrocities. Tiananmen and Auschwitz are featured in these images, along with many other such locations. The mere images of these places evoke such a powerful sense of the reality of the events that occurred in the past, that they are almost too hard to view.

Tuan states that a “—place may lack the weight of reality because we know it only from the outside—through the eyes as tourists, and from reading about it in a guidebook”., I think it is precisely visiting another country and meeting the people there that significantly affects the way we perceive the world and various political conflicts.

I think this kind of experiences are extremely beneficial, as they make us acknowledge the value and conditions of other places besides our native countries and hometowns.

That being said, and because I enjoy travelling, I have quite recently come to think about relocating again. I could continue working at home on the FNG projects on the side, while I look for new, more challenging opportunities.

Berlin is one of my absolute favourite destinations in Europe. It has been a while since my last visit, so this week I decided that it’s time to book flights there.

Being well-known as a city of many creative digital agencies and tech start-ups, Berlin also has a thriving art and museum scene. I am currently seriously considering starting job-hunting on location – unless of course I happen to get another job here in Helsinki in the meanwhile. In addition to English, I speak some German, not completely fluently, but well enough to cope with everyday situations at the workplace.

It’s quite an effort to temporarily move into another city in another country for a job – but I think it might be well worth all the trouble…!

On the other hand, having just moved back into my old place in the Kallio area of Helsinki, and in order to be able to continue with my studies at the University of Helsinki, staying here in my hometown for now makes a lot of sense too. I have yet to make any final decisions, but I’m certainly looking forward to perhaps starting in a new job this summer, be it in here Finland, in Germany, or elsewhere.

On the Lean Methodology and Metrics

I think setting up consistent metrics makes all the difference in relation to the lean startup model thinking. The practice of creating Minimum Viable Products is becoming a prevalent way to create new products and services. But in order to keep on improving our MVPs, it is essential to figure out the relevant metrics in relation to the customer’s overall happiness and satisfaction with the product or service.

So let’s take a brief look at the lean methodology in relation to metrics. In a recent post entitled “Flow and Seductive Interactions” (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/flow-and-seductive-interactions/), I emphasized the need to create products and services that cater for the customer’s personal improvement, while giving us a sense of a true “flow experience” of micro-moments while performing relatively complex tasks. This is essential especially in multichannel digital service design.

But how to measure all of this?

Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup”, says that while we certainly need figures, the customers are individuals.

In his book, Ries states that “Numbers tell a compelling story, but I always remind entrepreneurs that metrics are people, too. No matter how many intermediaries lie between a company and its customers, at the end of the day, customers are breathing, thinking, buying individuals. Their behavior is measurable and changeable.”

I agree with Ries. So essentially, we need to figure out what works, and also understand why it works. Focusing on these questions, especially the “why” part, helps us choose the correct metrics.

In “The Lean Startup”, Ries states that in order to support the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, the metrics need to be “Actionable, Accessible and Auditable”.

First of all, let’s take a look at “Actionable” metrics.

Your company may attract 1 000 000 unique visitors to its website annually. However, this figure might not be as relevant as many people think. As Ries explains, “For a report to be considered actionable, it must demonstrate clear cause and effect. Otherwise, it is a vanity metric.” So the question we need to ask next is, where are the visitors coming from and why? And follow up by setting the metrics for that.

Ries also provocatively states that “All too many reports are not understood by the employees and managers who are supposed to use them to guide their decision making.” Furthermore, he says that “Unfortunately, most managers do not respond to this complexity by working hand in hand with the data warehousing team to simplify the reports so that they can understand them better.” I think this is true.

Based on my own experience, this might be one of the most important issues to solve in relation to metrics. I think setting up an accessible dashboard of the most relevant metrics should be a top priority in the analytics team. There is currently a plethora of excellent analytics dashboard software available. I personally prefer the kind that are accessible for any employee at any time, modular and visual.

Finally, Ries states that all analytics and metrics must be “Auditable”. An easy way to test hypotheses based on analytics is to interview the people that are using the product or service. Another feasible way to audit and validate the hypotheses is A/B testing. Playing around with various landing pages, for example, usually certainly pays off. Checking out the heatmaps of the existing websites also helps. Yet another practical way to test the hypotheses based on metrics is creating traffic via modifying the parameters of search engine optimization. I think regular auditing paves the way for regular improvements.

So the KPIs as well as other metrics should have a clear relation to the overall customer experience as well as the strategic goals of the company. Some of the most important KPIs still remain social media audience size, reach, engagement rate, website traffic, and the amount of leads and conversions. But understanding why visitors end up on our social media or landing page, and why they convert into customers is essential in order to create the next MVP as well as improve on the multichannel experience of the existing ones.

Setting up the most relevant metrics for these processes should be a top priority in the analytics team as well as in the C-suite.

Flow and Seductive Interactions

How to create an engaging website and increase conversion rates?

According to psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, great websites are really not about navigating content – they are all about staging an experience. The key, says Csíkszentmihályi, is a finely tuned sense of rhythm, involvement, and anticipation known as “flow”.

Csíkszentmihályi has famously stated that flow is “– being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

In a book called “Seductive Interaction Design”, Stephen Anderson takes a similar approach to designing sites and interactions, based on the psychological stages of seduction. I recently purchased a copy of this book.

In the very first chapter, Anderson lists four different aspects of an engaging and seductive experience:

  • Sequencing — we are more likely to take action when complex tasks are broken down into smaller tasks.
  • Appropriate challenges — we delight in challenges, especially ones that strike a balance between being overwhelming and being boring.
  • Status — we constantly assess how interactions enhance or diminish our standing relative to others and our personal best.
  • Achievements — we are more likely to engage in activities in which meaningful achievements are recognized.

I think each one of these factors is crucial in relation to increasing conversion rates. To me, it is sequencing that seems like the most important aspect. The tasks performed online may be complex – just consider the process of purchasing a pair of new sneakers from an online store, for example. Sequencing is especially important, when conversions require for several fields to be completed in an online form, for example.

As for the rest of the aspects, appropriate challenges certainly motivate us to take action, status is very desirable, and is what really makes us want to use the product or service, and we are definitely most likely to engage in activities when our personal demographics and previous achievements are recognized.

Applying the concept of “flow”, an engaging website presents us with personalized, interesting challenges, encourages us to take action, gives a sense of an elevated status, and highlights our achievements.

It seems to me, that all of this correlates with the emerging trends. Personal improvement is one of the key megatrends at the moment. Wearable technology is gaining in popularity, healthy foods are trending, self-help and motivational literature is increasingly being published, and new forms of physical exercise are on the rise, just to point out a few examples.

Considering this, and the concept of “flow”, the most desirable digital service design now, and the kind that increases conversions, is the type that ultimately caters for the customer’s personal improvement, while giving us a sense of a true “flow experience” of micro-moments while performing relatively complex tasks.

Designing for Happiness

Last week, I visited several design agencies in conjunction with the IXDA Helsinki Open Studios 2016 event. The most important takeaway of this event, in addition to making new friends, was to visit the various agencies in the field of digital service design, see what they are working on, and how. I met many interesting people, while getting insight on the latest developments in this field by Solita, Fjord, Futurice and Reaktor.

Digital agencies are more and more design-driven, which is excellent. We ultimately need better products and services, and this is why design should be deeply integrated into digital strategy, and not function merely as a subset of other functions. In many organizations, design is still considered a separate silo. Design is increasingly applied, but it seems to me we have yet to reach design-driven maturity.

Nevertheless, it seems there is also a lot of hype involved. As more and more companies start investing in design, and while many happily outsource these functions, it is crucial to keep being focused on the customer experience, and not overlook getting insight on their behavior through proper research and analytics. Getting the relevant analytics and research together must precede the design process.

It is tempting to manage the customer experience based on what is already known about the current customer behavior and the current analytics, but what we don’t know about customers and what we think we know about customers is important as well. Thinking about these other two factors, it is paramount to define the strategic target. Focusing on a specific strategic target in relation to the specific customer profiles and segments is what makes all the difference here.

After gathering the data, I think it is best to start out by asking, how to make this customer happy?

Once the analytics and research is sufficient to answer the three questions listed above, it should be relatively easy to identify the touchpoints that matter most. I dislike the term “moments of truth”, but the key takeaway here is to identify when customers pause for a moment, evaluate the experience, and make crucial decisions. Addressing the customer’s needs on such touchpoints and investing on augmenting and delivering an emotion-based experience on each touchpoint of this type makes for an engaged customer.

The strongest emotion-based experiences often take place when the needs of the customer are not met. Then, the customer has a problem. The pain points, however, should be viewed as key opportunities to create an outstanding customer experience. The customer may be confused, or having negative emotions. To give a prime example of such a touchpoint, this is when they contact the company’s customer service.

Making this kind of “moments of truth” a competitive advantage should be set as one of the goals of customer journey mapping. We have all had experiences such as this, with different outcomes.

Customer experience management taken to the next level, however, for me, is all about designing for innovations. Customer journey mapping, for example, may generate many new ideas and concepts. The key here is to involve the customers in the design process, and getting together the relevant people in the organization to envision the ideal journey of the customer.

I personally prefer to have a workshop or a series of workshops based on analytics and in-depth research.

As a final touch, turning customer experience management into compelling materials for the rest of the organization should not be overlooked. To give an example, the customer journey map may be turned into a compelling visual story. How the results are communicated within the organization matters.

Many large companies are now sporting internal innovation labs, while many others still have to outsource design thinking. Nevertheless, there is a whole new paradigm: a design-driven “experience economy”. Flipping through annual trend reports for any business, this shift is evident. The Fjord Trend Report 2016, for example, states that “design is making huge strides”. Furthermore, it states that “– We’re seeing the largest companies bring the practice of design in-house.” But what I like best, is the statement that “designing for happiness resonates at the core of many of our trends”.

Happiness. It is sometimes hard to measure, yet it seems to me as the most relevant goal of design. In addition to being what is trending now, it is what will trend in the future too. Ultimately, it all comes down to the question – what is it that your company doing in order to make the world a better place?

I think here Stephen Anderson’s User Experience Hierarchy of Needs is a prime reference here. The products and services that make people happy must be functional, reliable, and usable, but moreover, they must be convenient, pleasurable and meaningful.

And the most meaningful things in life are, of course, the things we love – the things that make us happy.

See Stephen Anderon’s User Experience Hierarchy of Needs: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/8a/2e/4a/8a2e4ae07d445e94c00df25cfa4c5ea4.jpg