Extrastatecraft, the Game of Go and Digitalization as an Oxymoron

In “A Thousand Plateaus”, in a chapter entitled “Treatise on Nomadology: The War Machine”, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari utilize the model of the game Go to illustrate the dispositions of the “war machine” – an array of conflict that is “exterior to the state”.

What might be the implications of this notion when it comes to the infrastructure of the internet?

Any infrastructure is a setting that controls our lives to a certain extent.

“Microwaves bounce between billions of cell phones. Computers synchronize. Shipping containers stack, lock, and calibrate the global transportation and production of goods. Credit cards, all sized 0,76 mm, slip through the slots in cash machines anywhere in the world. All of these ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous features of our world are evidence of global infrastructure. – In the retinal afterglow is a soupy matrix of details and repeatable formulas that generate most of the space in the world –“

So begins the dystopian story of the infrastructure of our time, “Extrastatecraft” by Keller Easterling. This epic book describes the prevailing conditions of the global digital and physical capitalist system.

In this book, Easterling sets out to analyze the current situation via the themes of “zone”, “disposition”, “broadband”, “stories”, and “quality”. The approach, case studies and perspective in this book are very leftist, but will carry relevance to anybody interested in these topics.

As reflected upon by Easterling, the sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour has written that networks and infrastructure are composed of both social and technological actors. Think about the most popular social networks. According to Easterling, they may be “conglomerates of many surprising sets of agencies”.

Whichever corporations control the algorithms of these conglomerates, however, have rapidly taken over the framework and infrastructure where we operate in our daily lives.

I would argue, in the spirit of Easterling, that the algorithm of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, for instance, are very powerful ones, in as much as they control our current social lives and actions online.

As Easterling describes, for Deleuze and Guattari, “the war machine conquests operate in the “smooth” space of Go, instead of the “striated” space of chess.” The main distinction here is that whereas chess offers hierarchy, and each game piece operates via established hierarchical routines, Go only allows areas of black and white stones to move on a grid as each attempts to conquer ever-changing territories.

What are the implications of this notion for the 21st century and the digital industries?

Coming back to algorithms, and taking the algorithms of our most powerful social media tools as example, any attempt to run an agile and successful software company should be based on the game Go, rather than the game of chess.

My next question, then, is, how to make the algorithm appealing to masses, and  what might then be the driving values that eventually make successful companies with this operating system, as these must matter as well? Or do the values matter?

Digitalization is an oxymoron in the sense that it implies to a change, whereas now it seems that in our current economy it only adds a layer of infrastructure upon it.

I firmly believe now more than ever any aspiring startup entrepreneur must consider the social and global impact of their service and product, and play a game of Go.

Get “Extrastatecraft – the Power of Infrastructure Space”, 2014, by Keller Easterling on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Extrastatecraft-Power-Infrastructure-Keller-Easterling/dp/1784783641/

or

Get “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia”, 1987, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari:

https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Plateaus-Capitalism-Schizophrenia/dp/0816614024/

A Website Makeover Overnight and Other Recent Events

So the Steps Helsinki website finally got a complete makeover this weekend!

Feel free to check the new site out at http://stepshelsinki.fi.

I am fairly happy with the resulting look and feel, as well as with the new design-related photos and colors that I used in the design.

Migrating the site over to a WordPress Business Plan as well as a complete redesign of the site was in my interests since the very beginning of this year – but I have been putting this project off for some time now, since my weekends seem to fill up with social events.

Last night, I also took the time to revamp the rest of the contents of the site, and will also shortly start writing a blog about marketing and service design and related topics in Finnish to spice up the website.

So stay tuned for that, dear readers!

Steps Helsinki now has 80 followers over in Twitter, and nearly as many followers as that in Facebook and LinkedIn combined.

Joining Twitter, finally, has been fruitful and rewarding. I still need to speed up and to boost my sales, as the two deals I was aiming for to get started with fell through before the end of the year. I am very much looking forward to closing some deals soon.

My agency will be moving in next month with Pentagon Design Oy. This is great news, as their premises are located conveniently enough in the hip Suvilahti area of Helsinki, and only a 10-15 minute walk away from my place in Kallio.

And who knows, perhaps there will be some joint efforts design projects coming up too.

The “Upea Ura!” -festival event is coming up soon. I have been planning the event as for the theme of strategic and creative thinking together with Riikka Pellikka. Our invited keynote speaker in the event as for this theme will be Anne Stenros, the Chief Design Officer of the City of Helsinki. Also, Maija Tanninen-Mattila, the Director of the Helsinki Art Museum, and Piritta Kantojärvi, the CEO of Grape People, as well as Marianne Tenhula, a Service Designer currently working at the design agency Palmu, will be giving talks.

I will be facilitating a few practical exercises during the event. Looking forward to the festival!

In other news, it seems my studies at the University of Helsinki are currently at a complete standstill since last autumn. I did give a presentation on the issue of street art and the Berlin Wall last year in an international summer school conference of the Nordic Summer University (NSU), however, my beloved master’s thesis is a work very much in progress right now.

I will just have to see if this upcoming summer may offer me a chance to work on that.

I am mentoring a group of four students and my peers this semester. Most of them are currently looking for a job. It seems to me like my university background has always come second to my studies in the university of applied sciences when it comes to getting employed and my next career moves.

I hope, nevertheless, that I can inspire this group of students to get to know their strengths in the current job market and to find an intriguing position. I think university background gives a huge advantage for many vacancies.

Like many in the academia here, I am worried that we will shortly be facing tuition fees in universities and other arrangements that will greatly affect the equality of access to higher education.

I think it goes almost without saying that a university-level education certainly gives a substantially stronger background for getting employed in many fields besides studying in a polytechnic institute. The current budget cuts in the university world of Finland may come at a cost in the long run, because we do need workforce with higher education in Finland, to boost the economy and the startup-spirit.

On the Relevance of Lifestyles in Service Design

Customers and the end users of services are obviously the best people to evaluate their experiences. This is the reason why the design of any new, innovative product or service should always be based on in-depth research on their lives, aspirations, desires and needs. By this kind of material I do not mean only data and analytics, but also qualitative interviews, or other extensive research, on people’s daily lives and habits.

Most service design methods are firmly based on the initial research conducted.

Research on people’s preferences should always be based on several in-depth-interviews, or alternatively, extensive analytics, or other quantitative material on the potential customer’s lives and lifestyles.

In literature on sociology, marketing and consumption, discussions of customer experience are closely linked with the concept of lifestyle.

And correspondingly, questions concerning value construction, lifestyle and taste lay at the core of most service design research methods.

The sociologist Antoine Hennion has written about taste as “a reflexive activity”, and as “a collective technique”. Questions of taste define our choices to a certain extent, and should not be overlooked.

Hennion says that analyzing taste helps us to understand the various ways we make ourselves sensitized to objects, to ourselves, to situations and to moments – while simultaneously controlling how those feelings might be shared and discussed with others.

Hennion has also defined amateurs as connoisseurs who have “a spiritual enthusiasm” for the things they do. In my experience, this kind of enthusiasm for a certain lifestyle is shared amongst like-minded people.

It makes perfect sense to limit initial research objectives to certain customer segments, and choose the people interviewed and researched based on their overall lifestyle, interests and enthusiasm.

Individuals are, of course, essentially, very social creatures. They do not live in a void – nor are they steady members of certain consumer segments for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, we all live in a rapidly evolving world, with technology taking huge strides all the time.

The properties of a certain product or service re-evaluated and tweaked, after the initial iteration. Service design and qualitative research on lifestyles of consumers can be of assistance in this phase as well.

The lifecycle of any iteration of a digital product or service should also perhaps be considered limited.

The image below describes the situation from the viewpoint of a design team. This picture has been initially published in a book called “The Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research for the Front End of Design” (2013) by Elizabeth Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers.

 

 

The Emerging Trends and Seismic Shifts in CX, UX and UI Design

What are the major issues dominating the field of design right now? As the holiday season is now over, it is time to skim through the relevant details.

Let’s get started with a few statistics. By 2017, a whopping 89% of marketing people expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator at the global and local marketplace, says Gartner Group. Furthermore, 72% of businesses now say that improving the customer experience is their “top priority”, Forrester states.

This year makes for a highly interesting era as for the evolution digital and service design then.

In a recent article “Service Design Trends for 2017” John Knight describes the current “seismic shifts” in customer experience and user experience design right now.

The inevitable huge strides technology, internet of things and artificial intelligence are changing the landscape of digital services. “As smart machines start to replace human actors, UX will need to move from delivering simple usability to dealing with more complex domains that blend human and technological agency”, Knight states. Many others in the field of service design seem to agree.

While I do not consider this to be the main concern for many companies still during this year, in the very near future this shift will be one most designers and businesses will simply have to find a way to deal with in order to keep up with the others.

Knight views micro-interactions and micro-moments as another important trend for this year. “Beyond removing barriers to conversion, building value creation into all touchpoints and weaving it in as a design element. It will no longer suffice to make check-outs easy but instead UX will need to deliver sustainable engagement”, Knight says.

Accordingly, maintaining a sustainable and striking visual and contextual consistency over different devices and different mediums will be more important than ever before in service design. With more people spending more time on various devices, designers will need to maintain their attention and create engaging experiences. I think, like many others, that the use of video clips and fresh illustrations, and a bolder use of colour and typography, will be growing trends in UX next year.

Another emerging trend seems to be that UX design is a more widespread discipline than ever. “Just like the eponymous DJ, everyone is a UX designer nowadays”, Knight exclaims. I agree with Knight as for the fact that “has many repercussions for UX as a discipline, practice and job. In the longer term, everyone doing UX will require a tighter, more focused and stronger core discipline”.

In an article in Forbes magazine online, Shep Hyken says, almost as if stating the obvious, that this year customer service is getting better (even if it doesn’t look like it), value and experience created continue to trump price, and that personalization eventually creates a better customer experience. Coming back to Knight, he says that “this shift will require a much more agile approach to design where rather than single solutions there will be multiple segmented and highly tailored interaction patterns.”

When it comes to personalization, privacy, security and trust will be the next issues involved. As Knight states, “The robustness, clarity and visibility of organisations trustworthiness and security will become a primary part of the customer proposition”, and I firmly believe that statement is true.

Data supplied enables every customer experience to be personalized, starting with the browser cache and cookies and with our latest online orders lists. However, it seems a growing number of people are not that willing to share even this much information with the corporate world.

Engendering the feeling of trust in a product or service is now an important task for any good CX or UX designer.

I am currently working full-time for the small service design and marketing consulting agency Steps Helsinki since the beginning of this year. Exciting times!

As the discipline of service design remains largely unknown in many companies over in Finland, not including many big companies and startups of course, I will need to work hard to cut the first deals.

It seems to me that traditional marketing and graphic design is by far easier to sell here in Finland than service design, but I find these two must come second to well-designed digital services and streamlining the overall customer experience. To me, it all starts with an approach that involves multidisciplinary stakeholders from the start and takes them through the entire process of design.

Also, happy to tell you that the blog has had around 1,000 unique visitors last year, even though I have only managed to push around three posts per month online. A warm thank you to you all for reading.

I wish for an excellent new year for all!

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day 2017 Finland!

With the unique Slush 2016 tech event of last week now behind us here in Helsinki, Finland sets out to celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017.

Independence day celebration being about history and looking back on our accomplishments, 100 is a very nice round figure for not only reflection on the past – but also to contemplate where we want to go next.

It goes without saying that there is a major cultural paradigm shift going on for our country, and as for the rest of the world, perhaps too. Over the next one hundred years, Finnish companies, like others, will have to make services and products that put the needs of the customers first, without compromises.

The global stage, especially the digital, is a very competitive one.

Finland has a long tradition of approaching product and service design from a technological standpoint. Perhaps this is a key element in what originally placed Nokia cellphones, as well as many other innovations, firmly on the global market. But equally importantly, we tend to base our design on the needs of our customers, as well as to approach industrial design and IT from a Nordic aesthetic standpoint.

Take the Iittala products, spatial design by Alvar Aalto, Visit Finland’s brand, and the Helsinki-Vantaa airport as prime examples.

For me, this year’s independence day celebration incorporates mixed emotions, as our current government seems to emphasize values that differ from many things that I most value in Finnish culture.

Finland is currently facing heavy cuts of budget on the overall education and cultural sector, and the startup spirit of the Slush event seems to have not hindered our decision makers from reducing the education budgets in Finland to the bare minimum.

However, without our education system and most Finns in the field of IT and design being professionals with a polytechnic institute or university level background, we would hardly be able to host such amazing events as Slush and we would certainly not have witnessed the success of Finnish design and technology globally.

Independence day celebration here in Finland also being largely about fighting the Russians during the Second World War it is a very curious fact that in the ongoing crisis in Middle-East – caused chiefly by the absurd and offensive politics of the United States – is a cause of little or no concern for many Finns – even so much so, that a small minority of us Finns would present racist attitudes towards refugees fleeing from war.

With that being said – I am very happy about being born a Finn and here, as there are still many heavy issues to tackle in many other places in the world.

Finnish women won the right to vote a hundred years ago, and Finland, in fact, was the very first country in Europe to grant women that right.

Equality between the sexes and equality among people from different backgrounds being a key element in how our parents built this country, I wish we as Finns could promote these kinds of values more, both in our own country as well as globally.

The Helsinki Design Week and Other Recent Events

This year, the Helsinki Design Week takes place from 1st of September to 11th of September. So this week I am very busy indeed, attending numerous design-related events. This year’s theme for the event is “Better”.

Habitare, the most extensive annual design event is taking place in the Messukeskus Convention Center, and I have been invited to this event as a blogger. I will be writing an article on the event, so stay tuned for that one!

And make sure to visit Habitare yourselves. This year, with 550 attending design companies, there will be an unprecedented plethora of contemporary design on show at Messukeskus. This year’s event has a separate exhibition space reserved for contemporary art, which I am very keen to explore myself.

Habitare takes place from 7th of September until 11th of September.

Another interesting event this week is the upcoming “Better Cities Together” seminar that will take place in the Helsinki City Hall. The keynote speaker in this event will be Anne Stenros, who has recently been selected as the city’s new Head of Design. As I am very interested in how design can be incorporated into city planning, I am very much looking forward to this event.

I am a member in a local network of businesswomen called “Ompeluseura”, and I recently signed up to volunteer in organizing an event called “Upea Ura!” next year.

Our team of volunteers is thinking about inviting Stenros to be one of the keynote speakers in our event, so I am very much looking forward to meeting her this week. We will have our next meeting of the network where the programme of the upcoming event will be discussed next week at my workplace in the FNG.

Recently, I have also come to think about signing up for a course on design entrepreneurship, and founding my own business. There will be an Open Studios event on 8th September in Helsinki, and I am looking forward to checking out a few locations for an office, such as the Mothership Of Work, located in Punavuori area of Helsinki. I went to a party organized on location last week, and that was a fabulous event.

If I were to go for setting up my own company, it would most likely be a digital design consultancy agency.

But let’ see how the still on-going job-hunt works out for me first. I went to two interesting interviews last week, and there are still more of these to come…!

So this is a brief summary of what is happening in my life right now. Exciting times!

My blog is celebrating its 1st anniversary in one week, and has so far had over 1,000 unique visitors, with 40 posts now published. My most popular post last year dealt with mindfulness and meditation (https://lifeofaplanner.fi/2015/10/22/about-meditation-and-mindfulness/), and the most popular post this year was about designing for happiness (https://lifeofaplanner.fi/2016/03/12/designing-for-happiness/). I think I will write more on these topics soon.

I recently updated the layout of the blog, and I am very happy with the resulting look and feel. For your information, I also opened a Facebook-page for the blog, you can find a link to that one below. I appreciate that so many of you have taken the time to read my posts, and any feedback on these is most welcome!

See Helsinki Design Week programme: http://www.helsinkidesignweek.com/

Follow “Life of a Planner” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lifeofaplannerblog/

About the Future of Online Shopping

I had a sudden urge to write about the future of online retail and shopping online. What kind of trends will shape the future of online buying?

According to Google, most online customer journeys now span at least five different channels. Furthermore, most people shopping online view and compare the items they wish to purchase multiple times before making the final decision.

Around 50% of the Finnish people are using the mobile internet on a daily basis. During the last 10 years, the overall time an average Finnish person spends online has doubled, and is now over 10 hours per week. And 80% of all Finns are also shopping online.

My latest online purchase was made in Zalando yesterday.

This company was founded in Berlin in 2008, and in Europe’s scale, Zalando has been a success story beyond comparison in fashion retail. And it all started with the idea of a convenient and simple way to purchase shoes online — and with an extensive research carried out on the needs of the customers shopping for footwear.

In the Zalando corporate website, it is stated that shopping fashion is, “above all, an emotional event – it is the emotional experience that turns clothes into your new favourite outfit, with the first impression being just as important as a detailed presentation. — That’s why it was clear from the start that the Zalando store would focus on a high-quality, professional and consistent product presentation.”

Still headquartered in Berlin, Zalando now has a creative tech hub location here in Helsinki. The buying office is located in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

But what is most important regarding the company’s success is the Zalando website infrastructure, which really makes shopping very convenient and effortless. High-quality photos of each product are found with multiple sorting options, and there are detailed descriptions for more than 150 000 products available.

Another factor that makes Zalando one of the most attractive fashion retail stores online is the amount of effort put in offering personalized content to each customer.

I firmly believe this kind of personalization is a major aspect of the future of online shopping. As privacy issues are still of no consequence for many people online, the websites they visit receive a steady flow of information on the customer’s preferences via the browser software.

Last week, this blog turned 9 months old. I decided to buy a domain for the site, so you can also find this blog directly via the URL http://lifeofaplanner.fi. The blog currently features 30 posts, including this one. I attempt to publish around 3 posts each month.

“Experience economy” has been a recurring theme in this blog in relation to digital service design.

My most popular post so far has been “Designing for Happiness”, inspired by the IXDA 2016 event in Helsinki, and written a few months back (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/designing-for-happiness/).

In that post, I briefly introduced Stephen Anderson’s “User Experience Hierarchy of Needs”, and stated that “the products and services that make people happy must be functional, reliable, and usable, but moreover, they must be convenient, pleasurable and meaningful.”

To recap the most important statement of that post, I think it is safe to say that the most meaningful things in life are, of course, the things we love – the things that make us happy.

And tapping into the potential for happiness is definitely worth the effort of creating personalized content for each customer segment, even for each customer online via an algorithm at the website.

Yet the online customers also expect an element of surprise and serendipitious discovery.

Adidas recently ventured to launch “Avenue A”, a box subscription service. Every Avenue A box is designed and curated by a celebrity fitness artist, such as Nicole Winhoffer. The subscriber receives 4 boxes per year, each featuring a mix of 3 to 5 Adidas items. The Summer 16 edition will ship with Adidas MiCoach Fit Smart watch. All for the price of $150 per box.

While some of us shop for more and more new clothes online, others are now purchasing little-worn clothes and accessories over the internet.

San Fransisco -based ThredUp is a website with the slogan “Secondhand clothes. Firsthand fun.” And a plethora of rare vintage items are still being sold through eBay. I recently also purchased my very first piece of clothing made solely of recycled textile fibres. Major brands, the Swedish Ikea perhaps as the most striking example of this trend, are now concerned about the reuse of their products.

According to the “JWT: The Future 100” Trend Report for this year, consumers are beginning to “join the dots” in multiple areas of their consumption patterns and lifestyles. “Across all sectors, consumers are differentiating between brands based on concern for the environment“, states the report. “Brands, once judged on their desirability and products, are now being judged on their value systems, on whether they are innovators, on whether they are promising to change the world”.

The Rituals brand, for example, recently launched its “30 Days of Good Karma” campaign online. The campaign highlights that the Rituals brand is there to help us “slow down, and to find happiness in the smallest of things”. And what better way to do so, than to stop shopping online or elsewhere for any unnecessary and non-environmental-friendly items. Rituals also offers a free app to aid meditation and mindfulness practice – and the same app will let you conveniently order more Rituals products.

Perhaps the future of online retail will be in the hands of whoever will be making it easy and memorable to make more conscious, healthy, environmental-friendly — and ultimately — more sustainable choices.

 

About Urban Planning and Ikigai

Today, I attended an intriguing lecture by the architect Hella Hernberg, the author of the book “Helsinki Beyond Dreams – Actions Towards a Creative and Sustainable Hometown”. This book came out in 2012, as Helsinki was a World Design Capital.

Hernberg is one of the key professionals behind initiatives that transformed the former cargo port of Kalasatama, still in the middle of its ongoing construction, into a hip area in Helsinki. This area was opened to the general public in 2010, as I moved to neighbouring Kallio myself, and has so far witnessed the creation of open-for-all graffiti fence, urban gardening, a pop-up sauna, and various self-organized events. It’s one of my absolute favourite places in Helsinki, especially in the summertime.

Hernberg’s book explores new perspectives of a city in transition. As Hernberg states, it’s the “new we-spirit and enthusiasm of its people” that has turned Helsinki into an inspiring place to live. “In the past few years our previously quiet and reserved Nordic hometown has been a source of constant surprises”, she says. Helsinki is indeed bubbling with new ideas and creative endeavours. “People are motivated by doing concrete things that have an impact – however temporary – on their environment,” Hernberg writes.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an “ikigai”. The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: “iki”, referring to life or spirit, and “kai”, which roughly translates to “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Finding one’s ikigai, according to the Japanese requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to everyday life. An ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ – a reason to enjoy life.

Reflecting on the concept of “ikigai”, perhaps we would benefit from letting more people have an impact on their surroundings. As ikigai, more or less, consists of doing the things you love, which you are good at, which you can be paid for, and most importantly, that which the surrounding world needs, I think this concept is extremely useful in relation to crowdsourcing urban planning. One example of such co-design is the project coordinated by the University of Helsinki in the abandoned Marian sairaala hospital area.

According to Hilde Heynen “architecture – in its most broadly conceived sense – forms the framework for life”. Heynen also says that “But in accepting this as a starting point, one should also recognize that there can be something more”. In Heynen’s view, “the critical impact of an architectural project is not equivalent to its smoothly fitting into the international magazines”. Nor should it be. According to Hella Hernberg, the designer or the architect should act as an agent for a positive change. I am happy that my hometown is co-designing urban projects more and more.

This Week in Los Angeles

The Museums and the Web conference organized in the United States is now turning 20 years old. This year, the conference takes place in Los Angeles. Originally established by David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, this four-day event has become one of the museum industry’s most valuable gatherings.

According to the Washington Post, there are roughly 11 000 Starbucks locations in the U.S., and about 14 000 McDonald’s restaurants.

Nevertheless, when combined, these two chains don’t come close to the number of museums in the U.S. – there are a whopping 35 000 museums in the U.S. as it is. The Museums and the Web event will again this year showcase the most prominent of these in the form of lectures on the digital dimension by experts of the field.

Scrolling through this year’s program and exhibits, it is evident that museums are embracing the digital – as well as brand new design and leadership practices.

Service design is increasingly being applied, and this year, many talks in the event will focus on this topic.

Service design is used, for example, to research the ways in which customer behaviour, motivations and needs interact with existing products and services. As it is service design that highlights best where there are critical moments, thresholds, and new opportunities for improvement, or entirely new ways of meeting customer needs, it is also increasingly applied in the museum industry.

Applied to the museum world, service design offers the opportunity to connect up long standing audience-focused research practices. For all of us involved in the delivery of digital products designed to support museum initiatives, service design presents a very useful as well as a provocative framework for designing, planning, and executing the next generation of digital products.

Following up on the service design paradigm, organizations across the field are also increasingly interested in how to measure success when it comes to digital projects.

Furthermore, organizations across the field are adopting new leadership practices and policies, like “Lean”, “Agile”, “Radical”, and “Open”. These concepts incorporate some of the most remarkable changes in the museum C-suite. As Michael Edson has demonstrated in his talks, these methodologies may be applied in the museum industry with success. Yet another emerging trend is designing digital mobile experiences.

I’m excited that some of my co-workers will be visiting the conference again this year and networking in LA. Last year, when the conference was organized in Chicago, our staff gained valuable insights into the current exciting digital projects in various museums around the world. Visiting this kind of topical events is of utmost importance for any big museum organization attempting to invest in digital projects. I’m looking forward to following the conference proceedings online!

See the full conference program of the MW2016: http://mw2016.museumsandtheweb.com/program/

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

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