The Value of Design Sprints Explained

Many companies are now becoming software driven and they need to deliver genuine value, build useable, intuitive and desirable interfaces so that people can operate them quickly and effectively with their mobile and other devices. This is harder than it seems and takes a great deal of time, skill and talent to achieve.

Design sprints bring people of various backgrounds together to collaboratively find solutions within a highly complex system of business, technical, and human context to ultimately result in products and services that people need and desire and are happy to make part of their lives.

How to succeed in delivering a design sprint and wherein lies the value of design sprints to begin with?

I recently had the chance to skim through a few excellent books on this topic. In “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz from Google Ventures explain and outline the Google 5-day Sprint method.

It all begins by setting the stage – outlining the big issue you wish to solve in a week, getting your sprint team together and scheduling a sprint room for the five days.

As for the sprint team or the group of people participating, no more than seven people, with the facilitator not included, is recommended for the sprint. Based on my own experience, this is the ideal group size.

Who then, is needed to participate in the sprint? Knapp and others recommend, that the group includes these people, in addition to the Facilitator:

  • Decision Maker – such as the CEO, Product Manager or Chief Design Officer
  • Finance Expert – such as the CFO, or a Business Development Manager
  • Marketing Expert – such as the CMO, or other qualified person in Marketing
  • Customer Expert – one who regularly meets or chats with customers
  • Technology Expert – such as the CTO or any other person with expertise on technology
  • Design Expert – such as the Design Strategist, the Designer or the Product Owner of the software

Sometimes, some of these roles can be combined. But Knapp and others emphasize, that a Facilitator must be the one that keeps things running, keeps track of time and tasks, and leads the sprint on. It makes sense to hire one or two professionals for this task. Also, some extra experts can be invited to participate and give their views and insights on the issue on the very first day.

It is highly recommended by Knapp and his colleagues that each day, 7 hours with a 1-hour lunch break is spent on the sprint. This will allow for 6 working hours for the group each day, divided between various scheduled tasks.

Knapp recommends starting the sprint each day no earlier than by 10 a.m., so that everyone is present having already checked their emails for the day, as well as being very persistent that no laptops, phones or tablets are allowed in the room. If anybody needs to take a call, they can take it outside the sprint room.

Sometimes, the group may have to reframe the original issue to be solved with human perspective and empathy. For the very first day of any sprint, Knapp and others suggest setting and agreeing to a long-term goal is needed. Challenge mapping is recommended, but picking a target for the sprint is equally important.

Before setting out to pick the target for the sprint, it is paramount to ask the group of people participating, where the company wishes to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now. Sometimes, there may be a long-term strategy involved, but it is recommended to allow for some time for discussion on this topic.

In “The Design Studio Method”, Brian Sullivan emphasizes that preparation largely determines success when it comes to sprints, and suggests scheduling a Problem-Definition Meeting, before the sprint. I find, based on my own experience in facilitation, that this method might work better besides or alternatively combined with the Google 5-day sprint.

Arranging a Problem-Definition Meeting before the design sprint incorporates several benefits:

  • Defining and outlining the original issue, problem or opportunity you wish to solve during the sprint, before the sprint team gets together for the first time
  • Understanding any prior existing requirements or commitments
  • Explaining the methodology of the sprint to the key stakeholders
  • Identifying any such pieces of information you may need to do some research on beforehand
  • Securing alignment between the key stakeholders of the company
  • Committing key people to participate in the sprint beforehand
  • Determining the schedule and scope of the sprint

Sullivan also lists the various advantages of a cross-functional team:

  • Diversity – With a variety of people from different departments, you will have unique perspectives based upon each person’s expertise.
  • Cohesion – Participants complete assignments together using their individual talents to further the bigger goals of the team.
  • Synergy – With a variety of perspectives, the interactions of the group should lead to a greater creativity, as people build upon the ideas of others.
  • Consensus – Your project will have a final plan for execution, or at least a product vision set in place.

The core mission of design is to seamlessly translate business efforts and technology into products and services that deliver human value. At the end of the day, products are simply tools and services that are part of a human ecosystem of tasks and much deeper — almost spiritual — human drivers. Products and services empower humans and enhance human abilities.

There still remain organizations that see design thinking as unnecessary rather than essential to driving organizational change and innovation. Without doing proper research on the customer’s lifestyles and needs and then generating and evaluating various design ideas in a group of people with diverse expertise, in design sprints, however, your product or service might fail in delivering value to the target customers.

This, to me, sums up the value of professionally prepared and facilitated design sprints.

Read more in an article “How Using Design Thinking Will Fix Design Thinking” by Bert Brautigam:

https://thenextweb.com/contributors/2017/04/27/design-thinking-will-fix-design-thinking/

Get “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, 2016, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz”, or “The Design Studio Method”, 2016, by Brian Sullivan on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sprint-Solve-Problems-Test-Ideas/dp/1442397683

https://www.amazon.com/Design-Studio-Method-Creative-Sketching/dp/113802256X/

Contact Iiris via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iiriskonttinen/

Visit the Steps Helsinki website (only in Finnish): https://stepshelsinki.fi/

About Analytics, Conversions and On-Site Surveys

Recently, I have given a lot of thought to conversions. A static website may attract a lot of traffic, but unless there is an initial CTA (otherwise known as “call-to-action”), that traffic may be of no use at all.

According to a recent study by Bain & Company, around 80% of companies say they are customer centric, yet only 8% of their customers seem to agree with this.

When it comes to online shopping, this gap is evident.

You already have my contact info, and you know exactly what I bought – why not use that information and ask me for my opinions on-site, as well as at least some feedback about the online store and my purchase experience, or at the very least the product you just sold me?

As we all know, around 90% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. Proper SEO and SEM are, naturally, of a very high importance when it comes to attempts to increase the conversion rate.

Also, to be more precise, conversions only take place when targeted traffic meets the relevant offer. It all starts with knowing who is your target audience – and with knowing what they need or want.

It is highly recommended to begin by asking the right questions.

  • Who are the target customers? And what is their ongoing life situation?
  • What do they want? And what is the biggest pain point related to that?
  • What are the exact needs of the customers that aren’t being met right now?

Surveys can be used to significantly increase conversions by directing visitors to the correct pages on site. It all starts simply by asking questions related to customers and their specific needs, or feedback on whatever is displayed on the current page being browsed.

Qualitative research can offer more insight than anything else for coming up with conversions. Whereas quantitative figures tell you “what, where” and “how much”, the qualitative information tells you “why”.

The primary goal of qualitative research on-site is to gather an in-depth understanding of a website user’s behaviour, and the main reasons for that behaviour.

It makes sense to first inquire the user’s intent – to dig into what exactly is the specific problem they were solving by visiting the site in question. Moving forward, the next relevant questions might be, for example, what mattered to them when choosing the product or service, what kind of comparisons did they do prior to purchase, or how many and which other sites they looked at, and so on. It might also make sense to ask about friction – fears, doubts and hesitations the users experienced before making the purchase.

Your basic Google Analytics tools help you in defining your questions and in placing the surveys on site.

With Google Analytics tools, it is easy to spot the exact:

  • Best performing content (Which pieces of content work best? Try and get a clear view on this one!)
  • Best converting keywords (Which keywords rank? Aim to rank better for these and similar words.)
  • Best converting landing pages (Where is the incoming traffic landing on – and does it convert?)
  • Best converting traffic sources (Where exactly is your traffic that converts visitors coming from?)

To best avoid bounce and churn rate increase, I suggest giving the conversion surveys as well as their placement on your site a lot of thought. Less is more.

Exit surveys, annoying pop-ups and prompts to subscribe to another newsletter are proliferate. With Google Analytics tools, you can easily target the relevant customers with your on-site surveys – it does not matter if they converted, or did not yet.

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.

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!

 

 

 

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.