Saturday, October 30, 2010

Focus on the Core Features and Invite Inputs By Keeping Your Boundaries Porous

When I was in school, my geography teacher taught us a neat trick for answering mapping questions. For example, when asked to map the sugarcane growing regions in India, he suggested that we use a collection of dots to indicate the area roughly rather than draw a definitive circle to indicate the area.

The reasoning was that the evaluator will see what they want to see rather than nit-pick on the specific areas covered by the definitive circle. In some cases the dots gave the evaluator an opportunity to provide partial credit and point out to you the areas where you went wrong. A testing experience also turns into a positive learning experience.

This applies to product design as well. When we design software applications, if we deliberately leave our design a bit rough and porous around the edges, we can invite users who did not participate in the design process earlier to participate in the design. They may even cut you some slack for at least recognizing that you do not claim to understand every possible usage of the product and are open to suggestions.

When You Design With Plastic Don't Think Like a Steel Worker

When I was in design schools more than 20 years ago, I designed a computer for children and took my concepts to my professor. I presented the reasons why design was superior to current products. He asked me why I had straight lines in my product. I realized that there were straight lines because computers in the market then were made of steel and had constraints of manufacturing. I did not have such constraints with plastic and yet I was sticking to the same form factor and making minor improvements.

Most iPad application designers, I suspect, are suffering from the same mental block.

When I look at TweetDeck for the iPad I feel like the designers have not really thought about the new medium and its capabilities. I am pretty certain that some one just decided to do an iPad version of TweetDeck to capture the market. Instead of appreciating the fact that there is an iPad version, I lost some respect for the designers at TweetDeck after looking at the iPad version.

On the other hand, the designers of the twitter official iPad app have done a good job of building for the iPad. So I picked videos of users using both the apps and posted them here so that you can see the apps and make a call yourself. These are not marketing videos by the firms. 

Twitter for iPad video by a user

You'll note that the above user also had other twitter apps on her desktop. She uses the words, devotee, love and awesome while she talks about Twitter for iPad. 

TweetDeck Video by a User

Don't do the mistake that the TweetDeck guys did. When you design for the iPad, start from scratch and build it for the iPad.

Thinking Mobile-First Puts Space and Time Constraints on Your Design and Brings Out Creativity

Many product designers know that thinking mobile first, instead of designing for the web browser, forces us to focus on essential features. It is obvious that the physical space constraints imposed by the screen of a mobile device enables us to focus on the most essential features.

However, space is not the only constraint a mobile device imposes on the designer. Mobile devices also impose an attention-span constraint on the design. People use mobile devices while they are standing, walking, when they are among colleagues, while in a meeting, while at a noisy place, while in a crowded place and even while they are in places where mobile device usage is not acceptable or is prohibited by law.

Think about boring meetings where you check you blackberry under the table, restaurants where you check your email when your spouse visits the restroom, movie theaters just when the lights are dimming, the airplane when you check your email while hiding it from the stewardess, while in bed, while in the toilet and so on.

In mobile situations, people want to do a quick, yet important task that is meaningful and is of some value.

This is a wonderful constraint, that forces designers to think of large business applications as multiple small applications that bring quick, specific yet significant value. This is another reason why we should think mobile-first while designing business applications.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less

The Paradox of Choice - Why Less Is More. Checked out a book on choice. I am interested in this book, because I think this problem exists in enterprise software as well. Too many choices and features has produced paralysis rather than liberation. Too many features in business software, I suspect, has actually reduced participation by employees.

I plan to convince my colleagues to work hard to identify the features that actually work for people and focus on them. I want to compete with other on the value of the products we produce rather than match every other product feature by feature.

The best value a product designer can provide for a customer is a metaphorical fish bowl that provides a boundary that makes the person who uses the product happy. This should be done without promising too much, without nudging buyers towards unrealistic expectations and ultimately disappointing them when they don't realize lofty goals.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Opportunity in Catalunya, Spain for Corporations

While in Barcelona for the Barcelona Design week, I had a chance to visit the National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya). The city has a tradition of design and architecture and the tradition shows in huge investments in public art, architecture and design education. The photo below is a view of the city from the Museum.

However, the region is suffering from more than 15% unemployment. A friend who is from the area told me that unemployment among new college graduates is more than 50%. While this is terrible news, this might be a great opportunity for companies to take advantage of well trained, relatively low-cost talent in the area.

Sharing and Collaborative Consumption

Yesterday, I attended a two hour panel discussion where a group of three entrepreneurs and two experts, one of them an author of the book 'What's mine is Yours ', discussed collaborative consumption. It was organized Bay Area Future Salon. I came away very informed, impressed and with more faith in humanity. It was nice to see smart, young entrepreneurs taking a long term view and dedicating their career to move the world away from owning more to sharing and consuming together.

I learned about new services such as Zimride, and AirBNB. The Panel discussed the advantages, problems, legal changes, criteria for success, and pricing among other things.

According to Wikipedia, The term collaborative consumption is used to describe the cultural and economic force away from 'hyper-consumption' to re-invented economic models of sharing, swapping, bartering, trading or renting that have been enabled by advances in social media and peer-to-peer online platforms.

The video below gives you a quick idea about what is happening in the world of sharing.

WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Empowered by Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research

I received my copies of Empowered by Josh Bernoff  yesterday and browsed through it. Empowered talks about how to prepare your employees to respond to and work with a empowered customers. It also revisits some case studies covered in the first book Groundswell and gives an update on how Enterprise 2.0 efforts are working in companies such as BestBuy.

If you are designing, implementing or considering a purchase of Enterprise 2.0 tools, this is a good book to read. A useful book for business unit leaders, people leaders and managers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Barcelona has Design in its DNA

I had the privilege of being the guest of the Barcelona Design Center this week. I participated in several sessions with city officials, local designers and design students, where I learned about the efforts of the City of Barcelona to build talent and infrastructure in Barcelona so that companies can setup their design operations there.

The city itself is designed by talented architects who build open spaces into every city block. Watch the picture below and you will notice that there are open spaces built into every block. I visted some of these blocks and they seem to have inherited the architecture from the great architects who build Barcelona's magnificient cathedrals.

I saw this design tradition of focusing on people and sustainability in contemporary design as well.
Instead of giving you my opinion, let me share a very innovative product I saw at the design gallery at Roca of one of the Barcelona companies.

It is a toilet sink combination. The water you use to wash you hands is stored and used to flush the toilet. The designers at Roca focus on aesthetics and sustainable design. The product is a run-away success and customers are paying a premium to get this product.

I met several design managers from local design centers, designers from the local companies and students from local design schools to learn about their experience of living, working and doing business from Barcelona. Focus on design, a relatively inexpensive supply of talented designers, resonably priced accomodation, good public infrasturcture and a committed city administration makes Barcelona a good place for corporate design centers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Javier Mariscal believes in scrawling with the hand rather than using computer tools

While in Barcelona, I met Javier Mariscal, the Spanish artist and designer in his design offices in an area called 22@Barcelona. This is where design companies have their offices in Barcelona.

Mariscal's work has spanned a wide range of mediums, ranging from painting and sculpture to interior design and landscaping. He speaks like his design. With a few words and a stroke of his hand he slows things down and makes everyone around him very relaxed.

While designing he likes to scrawl and belives that a scrawl with a hand is far more expressive than using any digital tool. He team uses computers for his production work. But he does not use them in the design stage.

It was a reinforcement of my product design lessons, when my professors asked me to draw first rather than write or use a computer program to start your design process.

Antoni Gaudi believed in modelling and prototyping rather than blueprints

In Barcelona I visited Sagrada Família, the the master-work of renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), the project's vast scale and idiosyncratic design have made it one of Barcelona's (and Spain's) top tourist attractions for many years.

I was curious about his design approach and stopped by the workshop where the design and models are made and read about his approach to design. I was pleased to find out that he believed in models and prototyping rather than blueprints. I could see that the architects and designers follow the same approach today.

The modelling shop

The final product

Liz Sanders, Co-Creation and Making To Think

I had the good fortune of meeting Liz Sanders at the Barcelona Design Week. Liz is the founder of MakeTools, a company that explores new spaces in the emerging design landscapes. She is a visionary in pre-design research, and has introduced many of the tools, techniques and methods being used today to drive and inspire design from a human-centered perspective. She was also a teacher and colleague of some of the design thinkers and practioners at SAP.

She was very pleased to hear about the design thinking work we are doing at SAP. It was a previlege to spend a day with her and learn from her. The work she is doing is what many software product design companies badly need to learn today.

Her lesson is very simple. Don't just ask you users what they want. Ask them to express themselves by making something with their hand. She showed and told me about examples of nurses designing their workspaces and executives designing their strategy by making something rather than talking.

It would be a great step forward if software product designers can incorporate this into their design and customer research process. I mentioned to her that we follow many of her teachings at SAP and her work should become part of training for product designers and software product managers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Barcelona Design Week

I am participating in discussions and sessions at the Barcelona Design Week, which will take place from 18 to 22 October 2010. My panel discussion is on the role and career path of design managers in organizations. I look forward to meeting the several product design managers speaking at the event.

BCN Design Week 2010 for Corporate Design Managers

BCN Design Week (, organized by BCD Barcelona Design Centre is an international business focused congress framed in the field of design and aimed at those companies and professionals in any industry or productive services that use knowledge and creativity as a driver of its business activity. On the occasion of celebrating the 5th edition of the BCN Design Week, the organizers are launching a new programme that consists in inviting some key international design managers to share the event.

The project is promoted by:
  • Barcelona Centre de Disseny (BCD) – It is a promotional design centre set up in 1973. Its mission is to promote design within businesses as a strategic tool for innovation and competitiveness, as well as to position Barcelona as a capital of design.
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona - Barcelona City Council- It is the local government of the City of Barcelona. Through the International Economic Promotion Department it promotes Barcelona as a good business location.
With the support of the following organizations.
  • Cambra de Barcelona - Barcelona Chamber of Commerce-
  • Roca Barcelona Gallery -
  • Palo Alto Barcelona –
  • Equip –
  • Lagranja Studio –
  • Mariscal Studio –
  • Moreradesign –
  • Vasava Design Studio –

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 tools help make work more meaningful

If you are designing, developing, marketing or selling Enterprise 2.0 tools, you should be very proud of what you do. You are helping people find meaning at work. Making a difference in other people's lives used to be the privilege of kings, rich philanthropists and corporate titans. It also used to be something that people did outside their work. They worked during the week to make money, they pursued their passions on weekends and focused on doing good after they retired. Today’s workers not only want to make a difference in the world, they want their every day work to make a difference to people right from day one.

They have help. Using Enterprise 2.0 tools they can and are making a difference at work and in other people's lives much earlier than the previous generations. The current macro economic conditions, of abundance, outsourcing and automation are actually nudging them to be a creative class that is passionate about what it does, rather than be a cog in the wheel. In fact this generation has no other choice but to be passionate, creative, entrepreneurial, collaborative and community oriented. Enterprise 2.0 tools are enabling this generation pursue their passion and find meaning at work.

I hope this knowledge makes your work of creating and marketing Enterprise 2.0 tools a bit more meaningful.

If you are interested in reading more about the changing nature of work, "A Whole New Brain" by Daniel Pink is a good read.

Collaboration should be at the core of today’s work tools. Not at the periphery.

The world is moving from a knowledge economy to a conceptual economy. In the knowledge economy we stored information in paper and digital formats, made the information accessible to certain people, let them modify the information and send that information for modification or consumption by the next person. We built computer systems and processes to make this as efficient as possible. We did this because at that time, creation, storage and access to information was a privilege that was available to a few selected people who had to earn the right or pay the price to do it.

Businesses strived to enable the structured creation, modification and movement of information. They started with paper, moved to computers and then to the network.

With efficiency and productivity enabled by technology, the right to create, access, share and modify information, has become cheap and abundant. Suddenly professionals who earned the right to use information and charged a premium to apply information to problem solving are losing their advantage and, in some cases, their livelihood.

You doctor is a good example. A general physician’s job was to look at your symptoms and apply structured knowledge, which he acquired in college 15 years back, to diagnose the problem. Today, a patient has access to the same information the doctor has. Patients are researching their conditions and are armed with considerable amount of information when they go to a doctor. Moreover, a group of patients with the same medical conditions talking to each other are able to help each other much more than the doctor can help them. This group is more knowledgeable about the medical conditions, the symptoms and current advances in research than the doctor. This has changed the nature of a doctor’s job.

At Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto for example, my doctor keeps in touch with me via email and an online collaboration workspace. He does not spend a whole lot of time with information sharing when I meet him in person. Instead, when I go for my checkups, he uses the time to ask me about how I am doing and points me to websites where I can find information about the things I need to know and community sites where I can mingle with people like me. For example there is a community for nutrition information for South Asians. I value this advice from my doctor a lot and of course pay a fee for his guidance and empathy, much more than what I pay for a diagnosis.

Person-to-person interaction, knowledge creation, sharing, modification and frequent information exchange has become the norm of every day work. Business software needs to play and important role in enabling information workers adapt and embrace this new reality.

This requires collaboration and communities to be at the core of the tools that we design and build for today’s workers. Hence when we design business software we need to put people-to-people interaction, sharing, modification and information curation at the center of our tools. In other words collaboration and communities should be at the core of business tools. Not at the periphery.

The real reason why business should adopt Enterprise 2.0 tools

Whenever I go to my local super market I prefer the automated check-out counters. I seek out people only when I have questions or when I am not sure about something. When I do approach people, they normally are very glad to help me out and I am grateful when they do. Although I prefer automated check-out counters for their efficiency, i make it a point to go to grocery stores that have helpful people. This is true for other standard processes such as airline check-ins, reservations and many other services. With every passing day, I see jobs eliminated in almost every kind of business.

While many workers in the developed world complain about outsourcing, that is only one of the factors affecting business as usual. Automation of standard procedures, enabled by technology, affects the nature of work much more than outsourcing. This is true for blue collar as well as white collar work. We are able to produce more with less, make inexpensive products and eliminate the need for human intervention in many places.

So what should workers who are trained for routine jobs do?
It is not the end of the day for all workers in the developed world. If we watch carefully, we will realize that we are not really required to perform routine jobs. We are valuable only when we can step in to handle exceptions. Exceptions are not rare. In fact exceptions are the norm in a substantial portion of employee time in professional service, supply chain management, sales, health care and customer service.

Today people try and can go to the cheapest source for routine products are services. However we are very demanding consumers and are willing to pay for exceptional products and services. Just think about how much money you paid for your iPod, your Bose headphones, your cappuccino or your favourite plumber. Suddenly, the word exception does not have a bad connotation. In fact, at work, every exception is an opportunity to be exceptional and hence demand a premium for your product or service.

How can software help workers in the developed world?
Even though exceptional situations are the norm in the day to day work of most employees, today's business software is designed only to enable the standard process. Software is carefully designed to take every exception out of the process, wipe out any opportunity for excitement, eliminate the need for interacting with people and make a person's job as listless as possible. People to people interaction is what creates value for the individual and the business. While current business software has made us efficient, we have also systematically reduced the opportunity to create, improve or delight.

This needs to change. If software wants to play a role in the growth of the western world, software need to be designed and built to help employees do their regular work, which is erroneously referred to as exceptions. What a human being does in most of the jobs in developed countries, is handle exceptions. If it is not an exception, most probably a machine (or some one who is willing to do the job for lower pay) can perform it.

If we watch closely, people who provide exceptional work always seek our the right people and right information required to address an exception. They normally know whom to contact to get the information or expertise. Such contacts are almost always weak connections outside the organizational hierarchy. So they strive to find, establish and maintain these weak contacts and do what it takes to stay in touch with them. This is not difficult because human beings are naturally wired for such behavior.

In the consumer world, we have tools that enable people to find, establish and maintain weak connections in context. There is an urgent need to provide such tools for people at work. These tools are normally referred to as Enterprise 2.0 tools. I believe that Enterprise 2.0 tools need to and will become the core of business software in the near future, not just an add-on to existing tools. Make such change happen is a major part of the work I and my colleagues do in the Career OnDemand project at SAP.

Contrary to popular belief, the need for tools is primarily driven by the changing nature of work and the urgent need to create value. "Attracting younger workers" is sometimes referred to as the reason to adopt Enterprise 2.0 tools. After researching this for almost two years, I have come to the conclusion that Enterprise 2.0 tools adoption is necessary for creating business value. The fact that adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools can help you attract talent from the younger generation to your company is a bonus.

If you are interested in this topic, i have a few book suggestions. 'Pull' by John Hagel and John Sealy Brown. "A whole new mind" by Daniel Pink".

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink

I am listening to the book "A Whole New Mind"
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink.

Dan Pink argues that in an era of abundance, outsourcing to Asia and automation, the only way for people from the developed world to get ahead is to use their left and right brains.

Simple Principles for Customer Research Sessions

I just came back from a customer research work session. As always, it was very informative. Visiting a customer at their offices gives you a lot more insight into what their culture and pain points are compared to giving them a call.

When I conduct customer research sessions, normally referred to as co-innovation sessions, I follow these simple principles.

1. I like to show up at the customer's office, if I can. It shows respect. It tells them that you care about their thoughts. It is money and time well spent. As a product manager I am the voice of the customer and that is my only advantage over every other function. So customer visits are my number one priority. Nothing else is more important than that.

2. Show a prototype. Don't show a set of slides. I do not show slides during customer work sessions. I always draw a picture or show a prototype. This forces participants to think differently, look at the prototype and imagine rather than go into a passive finger-pointing mode.

2a. After introductions, I ask them what they plan to get out of the session and write that down on the flip chart. If the crowd is large, I ask if they plan to participate or if they are merely there to observe. I differentiate between the participants and observers and focus my questions to the participants.

3. Listen more. Speak less. Roughly 10% of talking and 90% listening. This is especially hard for me because I love to talk. So I take on the role of the writer on the flip chart. This helps me talk less and listen more. It forces me to keep quiet and nudges customers to think aloud and direct my writing.

4. Write or draw on a flip chart. I don't sit down in a chair and write in a notebook where no one can see what I am writing. Writing on a flip chart, conveys to customers that you are listening, synthesizing and are open for comments. They can see your thought process, point out gaps in your thinking and, if necessary, correct what you write. So take notes publicly. Not privately.

4a. Display all the flips charts all the time.
I do not flip the chart over and go to a new page. I tear the paper I wrote on and tape it to a wall. Do not worry. Customers do not mind you posting 4-5 flip charts on the walls of their conference rooms. Pausing to tape the flip chart paper on the wall gives me a logical break after about 15-20 minutes of conversation. If my colleagues are present, it gives them an opportunity to chime in. It gives me a minute to collect my thoughts.

4b. After I paste the flip chart on the wall, I underline the key words in the notes, recap the conversation, point out who said what, and ask participants if I missed anything. It gives participants an opportunity to point of simple errors that are bothering them.

5. Document while at the session. Not after you come back to the office. I use a (phone) camera to take a picture of all the flip board charts. That is my documentation. I dont write elaborate notes after I come back from the session. I post the picture to sapstreamwork along with the notes and share it via streamwork with customers. My colleagues know that my notes  are honest, because customers saw what I wrote.

6. I capture customer quotes and share them with my colleagues rather than write elaborate reports. My colleagues actually read the quotes.
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