Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 6 - User-centred design, inclusive design, participative design

This week's class started with a crit of the design of Saïd Business School. Students came to class with two examples of 'good' design and two examples of 'bad' design, from their experience as users or observations of others. Examples were drawn from the design of the building and fittings, processes and procedures, software and internet services and communications. This exercise generates a discussion about judgements about design, and the management of design in organizations.

We then moved on to discuss emerging issues in design which focus on the end user. Increasing attention is paid not just to the appearance of design artefacts, but also to utility and usability. Interface and human-computer interaction designers have been developing methods that either take a “user-centred” approach – putting the user and their perceived needs and desires at the centre of the design process; or involving end users in the design and development process – participative design, drawing on Scandinvian research and practice that emphasizes democracy in design. Inclusive design methods seek to design products and services that do not exclude users or customers (for example by making text on a phone too small to read for older people or those with poor sight). These developments provide opportunities for managers and entrepreneurs to get closer to the articulated or unarticulated needs and requirements of end users. Instead of seeing these as constraints on design and innovation, is there value in looking at these as opportunities to forge new markets, not just new products or services?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 5 - Design leadership v design management

In this week's class we hosted Joe Ferry, head of design and service design at Virgin Atlantic, who gave an engaging and inspiring presentation about the role of design at the airline.

Joe's personal story started with his final year student project for his MA in Industrial Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, which caught the airline’s eye. It was an invention which would become Virgin Atlantic's initial Upper Class Sleeper seat and later a business class standard on most airlines. But Joe's presentation was not just about design - it was about the value of design methods and processes within a difficult commercial context. As an upstart airline challenging the incumbents British Airways and the US carriers, Virgin had to find a way to differentiate itself. The way Virgin Atlantic has gone about this is by giving design a key role.

Having developed his MA project into a seat that was rolled out in the airline (and copied by many others), Joe was then given the challenge of developing the next generation of seating. He lead the team of in-house designers and external design conultants, working closely with engineers, ergonomists and manufacturers, which lead to the £105m investment in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Cabin, unveiled in late 2003, the winner of many awards. This is the design not just of seating, but of the whole customer experience.

Joe has a team of 15 designers from a range of backgrounds (architects, interiors, textiles, service design, lighting) who - having learned the constraints they must work within in a highly regulated industry - work closely with external design consultancies. They prefer to work with emerging designers rather than established consultancies, Joe said, for several reasons. Firstly, because they know little about the airline industry and ask difficult questions, challenging the assumptions of the in-house team. Secondly, as emerging companies they are keen to prove themselves and make their mark. Thirdly, in smaller agencies, he said, you know who you are going to work with.

Having used design to re-define the transatlantic business class experience, the challenge is now to continue innovating. Under Joe's leadership, design has played a critical part in creating a commercial success in a demanding industry; it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Another issue will be to what extent concerns about climate change will impact on the airline industry: to what extent will designers be quick to respond to constraints (whether imposed by regulators or in response to public opinion) to devise innovative experiences that minimize their envrionmental impact?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 4 - Design processes and methods

In this class we explored some key ideas about design, distinguishing between design as outcome and design as process. We then drew on literature in design management to discuss how to manage design processes - as it appears in textbooks and how it is enacted in practice. Drawing on design research over the last 40 years, we explored the implications of the idea that designers co-create the problem space and the solultion space (eg in Cross and Dorst). Understanding design processes and design methods is key for managers and entrepreneurs developing new products, services and ventures. We considered methods such as sketching and prototyping and explored what they offer managers and entrepreneurs and designers at different stages in the design process. From the brief but intense project with the MA students at the RCA, as well as their previous experiences, students were able to see the relevance and importance of visualization methods in exploring and commmunicating design problems and solutions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 3

In the third and final week of our MBA students' joint project with MA students from the Royal College of Art, we again visited the college for an engaging and enjoyable afternoon. In the intervening week, the design students took forward their initial ideas, several of which had been iterated in the larger group. The MBAs also had a role in each product/service proposal - using frameworks and analytical tools from their background to contribute to and extend the underlying concept, often at a very early stage. At this workshop, the MBAs did a one-minute pitch for each project, and then the class voted on which three they wanted to hear in more depth. This voting mechanism - primarily decided on because of the limited time available - brought some competition to the proceedings which is (in my experience) not so overt in RCA crits.

In the ensuing discussion, students talked about their encounter with each others' methods and processes in this short project which several saw as having a huge divide between them. Some business students were astonished how quickly the designers were able to generate and develop ideas, for example going from what seemed (to some MBAs) incomprehensible manifestos in week 1 to a product prototype in week 2, or in daily iterations of the project between weeks 2 and 3. There was also a question about how useful 'MBA thinking' could be at the very early stage of these projects.

To give the MBA students a different insight into design-inspired innovation, we then had three presentations by graduating second-year students from three departments with very developed projects. From MA Design Products, Ian Ferguson described the development of his software tool for rapid prototyping machines to enable them to produce objects with more heterogeneity (resembling bone, wood or foam). From MA Industrial Design Engineering, Michael Korn and Komal Vora presented their new design for a fashion boot aimed at people who find it hard to put on shoes, a project which has already won a business plan competition. From MA Design Interactions, Jess Charlesworth talked about her personlized futures methods that draw on her internship at the DTI futures lab.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 2

The second week of the joint project between MBAs at Saïd Business School and MA Design Interactions students at the Royal College of Art took the design process a stage further. MA students each presented their initial concepts for products and services which ranged from a "Spiritual Gym" to a "Manifesto for a Better London".

The photos show a simple prototype for an "Antenna", a product proposed by Kenichi Okada and Chris Woebken. Inspired by the ways ants sense their environment, these students constructed a simple device which has a microscope at the end of a stick, connected to a laptop showing what the microscope sees. Thus this device offers a different way of looking and making connections - only able to 'see' in extreme detail. But as the second photo shows, using this device in public generates social interactions that generate different kinds of data.

The point of this exercise is not to develop a product from this prototype but rather to explore the ways (student) designers go about generating, testing and communicating their ideas - such as the power of prototyping to instantiate concepts. The MBAs and MAs voted on which products and services to take forward, and then spent time analyzing their features, prioritizing some for the next iteration of the design. The third photo shows one of the matrices generated in which design features are organized under four headings.