Friday, July 16, 2010

MBA Design leadership elective 2010 - Exploratory prototyping

In this fifth iteration of my MBA elective in Design Leadership at Saïd Business School (SBS), this year I again set up a project giving students an opportunity to experience aspects of the design process first-hand. This project was initiated with Alison Prendiville, course director of the MDes Innovation and Creativity at London College of Communication (LCC), University of the Arts and involved the 48 MBA students taking my class to work over a day and a half with 10 students from LCC with the aim of exploring prototyping and its role as a visual aid with the aim to interpreting and developing ideas.

This post covers in detail what the two groups of students were asked to do, and includes video highlights showing what the students developed together during two workshops in Oxford in April 2010 and discussion of what they learned about prototyping and design-led innovation. It will be of interest to other educators bringing design approaches to management education, to those setting up other kinds of collaboration based around design practices, and to future Oxford MBA students thinking of taking the class next year.

Exploratory prototyping

One of the things designers emphasize in their working practices is creating visualisations of their ideas, even at very early stages. Whether called a sketch or a prototype or a model, these artefacts play important roles in multi-disciplinary and cross-functional collaborations. Depending on the stage a project is at and who is involved, the terminology used and purpose of a visualization may vary. The aim of this workshop was for the MBAs to develop an understanding of the value - and implications - of different kinds of visualization. For the MDes students, the aim was to go beyond thinking of their device as a product and pay more attention to the service system and business model around it.

This first video shows LCC tutor Cordula Friedlander and I introducing the workshop.

MBA-designer collaboration: Introduction (1 of 4) from Lucy Kimbell on Vimeo.

Workshop 1

Project brief: Post-operative remote monitoring sensory device base station/charger

The starting point was a project that the MDes students had already been working on for some weeks, exploring possible designs for a remote monitoring sensory device for post-operative patients.

Context: As the population is getting progressively older, the need for higher quality and better efficiency in healthcare, both at home and in hospital, is becoming more evident. Healthcare providers are coming under increasing pressure to improve the quality of preventative and post-operative care delivered to patients. It is in the interests both of care providers as well as patients, for the patient to leave hospital to continue recovery at home at the earliest opportunity. However, carer and patient need to be reassured of seamless communication and reliable emergency procedures. The latest sensor technologies and wireless communication could enable the care provider to monitor the remote post-operative patient’s recovery process. Logging and analysing this information will give the patient reassurance, or provide early warning feedback to carers.

Where they got to: Working with medical technology researchers from Cranfield University, LCC students developed and tested suitable shapes and ways of engaging with the device based on the researchers’ idea of having the device in the patient’s ear for the duration of 2 minutes. The purpose was to use prototyping methods to develop a sensory device that allows easy and reassuring usage by the post-operative patient at home and to provide a starting point to develop and explore the service system that would support it. Students were expected to test their prototypes amongst themselves but also with other user groups such as elderly people or children. The prototypes were developed by the LCC students, as a first step to engage and demonstrate, to the medical engineers at Cranfield, explorative ideas on how elderly people may use the technology and how feedback from this group needs to be considered early on in the device’s development.

The result of this work was presented as a starting point for the collaboration with the MBA students, which shifted from a focus on the device and interactions with it, to the larger service system and business model.

The second video shows two of the MDes students from LCC, Anna Kassen and Nicola Sherry, presenting to the MBAs what they do in their programme, the user-centred explorations they had done to date, and the prototypes they had come up with.

MBA-designer collaboration: Briefing (2 of 4) from Lucy Kimbell on Vimeo.

The third video shows the groups of MBAs+MDes students presenting their concepts for the device base station. They came up with these based on working together for only a few hours, in ten teams, in which two or three MBAs worked with one MDes student and their existing prototype for the device. Using simple materials such as salvaged card, plastic and paper, the students were briefed to come up with a 3d prototype of the charging/base station for the sensor device.

Brief: The base station for storing and charging the sensory device needs to be compact, discreet and user-friendly. The unit communicates, reassures and alerts the patient and also transmits pulse and temperature readings to the receiving hospital /doctor. The unit will accompany the patient during his or her recovery period at home. Where in the home is the best place for its location? The patient’s reassurance and ease of use will play a vital part in the success of the device.

The patient will need to know:
- is the unit sufficiently charged?
- is the sensory device positioned correctly when in use/ when charging
- start, finish and 2 minute indication?
- what time of day to take the readings, and how the patient is alerted.
- are the readings normal/reassuring or is some action required?
- what to do in case of readings that are not in the normal range.

Other practical issues to consider are
- product packaging (eg consider re-use)
- hygiene
- cable storage
- user manual, instructions.

The task is not only to prototype a unit that could fulfil all the practical functions listed above but more so to explore the opportunities for a new product identity (eg name, colour, materials etc).

Together, the ten short presentations in response to this brief illustrate the different ways prototyping helps with the process of exploring the design space at an early stage of technology innovation. For some teams, the exploration of the base station raised important questions about the nature of the service it will be part of. For other teams, prototyping the base station/charging unit forced them to make assumptions about how people feel when they have just had an operation and how they might engage with the device. For some teams, it helped to focus on a very specific user (eg a parent of a child who has had an operation).

MBA-designer collaboration: Presentations (3 of 4) from Lucy Kimbell on Vimeo.

This final video captures the discussion we had at the end of the workshop, with reflective contributions both from MBA students (shaped by their diverse backgrounds in marketing, engineering and other fields) and the MDes students (not all of whom are designers by training). The discussion ranges from the detail of some of the ideas the teams came up with, as well as the value of early prototyping in a complex project such as this. It illustrates how even a with limited timescale (here, one day) bringing together people who had not worked together before, using visual methods to explore the possibilities for a new device, raises valuable questions about the device and the wider service system it is part of.

MBA-designer collaboration: Discussion (4 of 4) from Lucy Kimbell on Vimeo.

Two weeks after this first workshop, we had second session at SBS.

Workshop 2

The aim of this workshop was for students to develop a deeper understanding of the device/system by creating personas, using role play, and by creating visualisations of the service journey and business model.

Part 1: Creating personas for the post-operative remote monitoring sensory device

Once team members had familiarised themselves with the 10 prototypes of the device and base station, we asked them to develop an assigned persona, someone from the possible future service ecology around the sensor. We gave them a template to help flesh out some fictional details to make that person come alive in the context of the device/service, for example picking a photograph so you know what they look like, think about where they spend their time and what other technologies and devices they use and are familiar with.

The actors we picked were: a patient, a family member, a surgeon/specialist, a general practitioner/family doctor, a nurse, a receptionist, a friend or online contact, support worker for the device/service, a health visitor and a pet. We asked teams to pick a country they were familiar with to explore how the device/system might work in quite different kinds of healthcare system and culture.

Once the teams had created their persona, we then asked students from each team to test their personas using role play to reveal some of their assumptions by acting out what might happen when a team's persona interacted with other actors in the device/system around questions like these:
- The readings on the device seem high. What next?
- The readings are ok according to the device but the patient does not feel well.
- The patient is not able to use the device.
- The patient does not know if the device is working.

This exercise asked students to combine knowledge from their various specialisms, with their imaginations, and make a number of assumptions about the future device/service system. Working in this way helped make more tangible aspects of the device and its service system and ecology, raising important questions about the business model and possible benefits.

Part 2: Service and business modelling

The final part of the 1.5 day collaboration involved the students again working in mixed teams of MBAs and MDes students, developing visualizations of service and business models for the device/system based on work done in the previous workshops including the physical prototypes and personas.

This led to a discussion about the nature of this specific project which is technology-led, where the focus has been on developing a suitable technology, with some work on researching end user experiences by the MDes students which informed their prototyping but without any knowledge about what business models, if any, have informed the proposed device as it is currently conceived of.

Service modelling
We gave teams a template of the service blueprint (or service journey) (developed from Shostack 1982; Bitner et al 2008; Kimbell 2010). This template helped make explicit the activities involved in instantiating a service, who is doing them and what kinds of resources are involved, from databases to packaging to support staff, arranged over time, in different locations, and where value was being co-created.

Business modelling
Having imagined in some detail actors in the service ecology by creating a blueprint showing how they interconnect, the next task was to use this enriched understanding of the service to sketch potential business models. We used Osterwalder’s (2009) business model canvass leaving it up to the teams to decide what kinds of organizations should be actors in the business model.


After one and a half days of working together, the MBA students and MDes students came up with a number of valuable ideas that could help shape the design of the post-operative sensor - and perhaps more importantly - its service and business models. Their brief, but intense explorations of the nature of the sensor and what it might mean to imagined patients and other key actors, using 3d prototyping, personas, role play, service journeys and business model visualizations, brought home to them the complexity of design and innovation.

What started off as being conceived of as a question of how to fit a small device in or near a patient's ear comfortably became a question of where the value was being created, for whom, and how. The approach we took of seeing the sensor primarly as a service shifted the students' attention away from questions of physical form, functionality, meaning or usability, to the form, functionality, meaning and usability of the service system. Exploratory prototyping can help bring these questions quickly and vividly to the attention of managers, designers and engineers before committing to design decisions that are inappropriate and wasteful of resources.

Further reading

Buxton, Bill (2008) Sketching User Experiences
Osterwalder, Alex and Pigneur, Yves (2009) Business Model Generation
Verganti, Roberto (2009) Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating what Things Mean


Organized by Lucy Kimbell (SBS) and Alison Prendiville (LCC)
Faciliators: Lucy Kimbell (SBS), Alison Prendiville and Cordula Friedlander (LCC), Moura Quayle (Sauder School of Business, UBC)
Filming/editing: Dariusz Dziala

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