By Lisa Helminiak
March 20, 2017
Presenter: Lisa Helminiak
The case for human-centered design.
The standard methods of gaining customer input, such as, voice of customer reviews, surveys and focus groups are no longer enough to really understand what customers want and, especially, what they need. To differentiate and create or evolve more valuable products, truly gaining empathy with customers is where breakthrough ideas come from.
Lisa Helminiak, Founder and CEO of Azul Seven will talk about why empathy matters to product development.
Webinar attendees will learn:
- Why empathy building leads to better and more profitable products
- Proven processes that embed empathy gathering through the product development lifecycle
- Staffing for empathy
- Why aligning service and support matters more than ever
- How to measure the impact of the human-centered design process
Watch the webinar now:
Slide: Why Empathy Matters in Product Development: Aligning Products with People to Drive Performance
Hey everybody, I want to thank you for joining us for Azul Seven’s webinar, Why Empathy Matters in Product Development: Aligning Products with People to Drive Performance. My name is Lisa Helminiak. I’m the CEO of Azul Seven, and I’m going to be taking you through this presentation today.
I’ve got a couple of people with me, colleagues that will be assisting me. First is Michelle Powers. Michelle is here to organize and gather your questions. We are going to have a Q&A at the end of the webinar, if you want to ask a question there’s a questions tab in your GoToWebinar panel, feel free to enter a question anytime through this webinar and we’ll get back to those at the end. Then, Jane Calvin is with us. Jane’s going to make sure that everything is working both from a technical aspect and then deal with anything else that might come up during the webinar so we can make sure that everyone can hear and has access to what they need throughout the rest of the program. Feel free to contact us through the webinar tools and we’ll make sure you have what you need.
Today we’re going to be talking about three main aspects of why we think empathy matters in the product development process. We believe that empathy leads to better and more profitable products. If we understand people, we can really develop things that are going to be better at the end of the day, both for them and the company. We also are going to talk about proven processes that embed empathy gathering through the product development life cycle. We’re going to be talking about why aligning services and support is the key to success.
Slide: Azul Seven: Design & Innovation Consultancy
A note about Azul Seven, for those of you who may not know of us, we’re a design and innovation consultancy. We help clients create better products, services and organizations thorough human-centered and nature-inspired design. We do a lot of innovation work and help develop new products for clients. The focus and some of the tool sets that we use for this are human-center design, design thinking, as well as biomimicry. If you stick with us we’re going to be having some other webinars coming up in the future talking a little bit more in depth about each one of those practices. I hope some of you who’ve not heard about biomimicry will join us for some of those. My colleague Denny Royal is a biomimic and is starting to put the practice together with human-centered design leading to some pretty cool stuff. Hopefully you’ll come back and join us for some future webinars.
Slide: Some Definitions
Before we get into a lot of the content here, I wanted to define a couple things. First is the word design.
Slide: Design: “The Plan”
When I’m talking about design I’m not necessarily talking about making things prettier, though we do want to make things pleasing and delightful for people. I’m really talking about design as the bigger plan. If you think about it, anything that we develop as humans-we are really “designing”.
When we’re building a building for example, engineers and architects and interior designers will all come together and craft that experience. That’s really what I’m talking about. It’s that bigger design, the plan, looking for that bigger outcome that we’re hoping to get. When I’m talking about “designing” we’re either being thoughtful about design, meaning we’re being focused on it and we’re actually designing for outcomes, or we’re not being thoughtful and we end up with a design that may or may not work. Again, when we’re talking about design, we’re not talking about graphic design or specifically making things beautiful, we’re talking about the whole aspect of the nature of putting things together so that they work better.
Slide: Empathy: “A deep understanding of our customer’s contexts, desires and needs gained by observing and storytelling over time.”
The next definition is empathy. When we talk about empathy we’re not really talking about compassion or sympathy, those things are very important, we’re really talking about trying to get into the shoes of our customers, really understanding where they’re coming from, what their life is like, what context they’re in when they’re using our product or service. It’s really that deeper understanding of customer’s contexts, desires and needs so that we can better design for them.
Slide: Empathy Leads to Value Creation
The rest of the presentation we’re going to be really talking about why we think focusing on empathy leads to value creation. Why can’t we just do things the way we have always done them? Well, we’ve got some factors in the world that are actually eroding value of products and services today. Things are moving really quickly. As you know the life cycle of our products and services are getting shorter and shorter.
Slide: Eroding Value of Products and Services
Why is that happening? We know about a couple of things. Commoditization of products and services is happening. We just have more competition. When you can go to another country to get accounting services where you used to hire somebody locally, we know that there’s a lot more pressure on business models to change. There’s business model disruption from technology, globalization, in general, and democratization of information. We’ve got fluctuating costs and accessibility to resources, and then we’ve got shorter times to market.
Overall we’ve got a lot more competition and less lifespan on our products and services currently in the market. That’s probably reason enough to start thinking about different ways of creating value, so how do we start thinking about getting beyond this product erosion?
Slide: 1 to N
Peter Thiel, co founder of PayPal, teaches a course on startups at Stanford. In the course he defines most companies as focusing on taking what’s already known and selling it to the most people as possible. That’s what this “one to n” means. So, I’ve got an idea and I’m going to put it out there and I’m going to try to sell to as many people as possible.
But this is that business model that gets eroded quickly because of all those things I was just talking about. One of the aspects of his sessions that he teaches is a topic on secrets. He asks the question, “What great company is no one starting?” Or in our case, “What great product or service is no one developing?” All great companies he suggests are founded on discovering a secret about people or nature that lead to a new offering or a new solution to a problem.
Slide: 0 to 1
Mr. Thiel’s proposition is that only people with the vision to go from “zero to one”, that is to develop that something that no one has thought of before, that’s where we’ll create that next lasting value, that innovative product or business, a product or business that creates new value.
Airbnb is a great example of this. Airbnb was brilliant. Who knew that people would actually want to rent out their house to strangers who would come and go and spend the night there? Who knew that people would want to travel to new cities and find places and stay with strangers they’ve never met before? Maybe to save a few bucks or maybe to have a really unique experience.
Airbnb really disrupted in a sense that hotel or vacation business model where the traditional companies invented a model of, “We have a room, we’re going to replicate that experience all over the place and then we’re going to sell as many as room as is possible.” That’s the kind of value we’re talking about, that’s the kind of experience we’re talking about. Most of our clients come to us with the hope of innovating in their industry and coming up with the next great idea, but how to we find these opportunities? We can’t do them in the old way. We can’t just replicate what we know. We’ve got to come up with something we don’t know. What’s going to help us do that?
Slide: A Human-Centered Approach
Human-centered design, a human-centered approach is really that process that we have found that gets at those unmet needs and those opportunities. It’s an element of human-centered design and empathy that is the center of the approach. It is a systematic process, which is exactly the right process for deeply understanding people and the challenges they face, as well as the context in which they’re facing them. From this understanding we can start finding these new solutions.
Slide: How Do Most of Us Learn About What Our Customers Want?
But, how are most of us learning about our customers today? When most of our clients come to us they say, “Hey, we know a lot about our customers. We’ve talked to them, we have an idea about them.” We always say, “Okay, well show us what you know.”
Slide: “What types of voice of customer data do you collect and report stakeholders in the organization?” Forrester Research Chart.
Here’s a chart from Forrester Research about how most companies are listening to their customers today. As you can see from the chart, most of them are doing surveys and this is what we find with most of our clients. Now we’ve floated a couple of surveys, we’ve asked some questions, and look, here we have the answers.
But even with the surveys you can still see there are some problems here. Only 27% of respondents to this Forrester survey said that they expose their executives to customer one on one. You can see, people are doing surveys, they are doing some qualitative research, but that information is not getting to the right people who can make decisions. Only 18% said that they shared customer call recordings with their teams internally. Most of this stuff, most of the information we’re getting are from questions that we’re asking, and many of them are in a binary form.
All of us have gotten those surveys, you go to a doctor, you take a flight and you get those follow up response forms. Those actually drive me really crazy because I usually get feedback that there’s no possible way I can give through those forms because they’re asking me, “Did you like sitting in the waiting room? Did they call you by your first name?” Really are those the things that are most important to people? We don’t know. Those are the questions we’re asking. We really don’t know what’s most important to people.
Slide: The problem between “experienced” well-being versus “remembered” well-being.
The other problem with surveys and some of these traditional research techniques is that people really don’t remember what happened. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel winner in economics and author of “Thinking Fast And Slow”. Mr. Kahneman has done a lot of research around how people remember experiences. With a famous colonoscopy experiment, which I’ll get into in a minute here, he found that people remember only two things about an experience either the peak level of pain or pleasure, or how the experience ended.
He proved this with watching patients go through colonoscopies. Colonoscopies, the ones he was watching, took either between four minutes or they could take up to an hour and 15 minutes. What he found is that the people who had a really short colonoscopy but one that was particularly painful or that didn’t end well would say they had a much worse experience than the ones that had a colonoscopy for an hour and 15 minutes, that’s got to be a lot less pleasant overall than having a four minute one. They don’t remember each aspect of the experience. They don’t remember the whole thing, they only remember bits and pieces. At the end of the day we can’t necessarily trust people to tell us all the aspects of the experience that might be improved or things that we need to know to make things better. There’s really the difference between the remembered well-being versus the experienced well-being, we’ve got to remember that when we’re doing surveys.
Slide: Big Data
Another area where people get all excited is big data. Big data’s great. Big data actually is going to be an emerging area where we’re all going to start learning about trends, and information, and bits and pieces of data that we just didn’t know about before. It’s going to be an area where there’s a lot of great data coming at us. The problem, though, for those of us who work in product development is there are a lot of ways that big data can go wrong.
Some of the things we see a lot in working with our clients are picking the wrong optimization metrics to work with. Is it better to look at acquisition over retention? In many cases people are looking and optimizing for getting new people onto a system versus retaining people. Is that good or bad for the long term? Just how is a product going to perform in the market?
Another issue is focusing only on what’s measurable. Some things are harder to quantify through data alone. We can’t necessarily measure context or feelings, and we’re not getting data for it. There’s a lot of aspects of the product experience where you can’t measure things, and so if we’re only relying on data then we’re missing information.
Then we often have a short-term bias, especially in companies. Is it better to design your app to build trust with a hit to growth over building short-term revenue? Those are the things that if we are only looking at short-term outcomes, we may be missing some things. Data’s great, we like it, but there’s ways you can go wrong with it. It’s not whether we used it, and of course we are, but we also believe that the information gained with that human centered approach is going to make the big data and the information coming out of systems even more valuable.
Slide: Focus Groups are “Empathy Theater”
Also, many of our clients talk about focus groups and have done lots of focus groups. In our experience, I have a colleague and I love this quote, he calls focus groups “empathy theater.” You get a lot of people in a room at a conference table and you start asking questions. Often we find group dynamics take over, so generally there are one or two people in the room who start answering questions and then there are always leaders and always followers in any group. You don’t necessarily get the full range of opinions when you have a group of people in a room.
There are ways to do focus groups better than others, and we’ve seen some of them that work, and actually can get people together, and have them do exercises together. That may be more valuable. In general, focus groups will only get you a certain level of information.
Slide: Quantitative Data
Now quantitative data-when we’re doing human centered research we’re often working with very small numbers of people. We may do six to ten interviews around one particular grouping or demographics of people we’re trying to learn about, and we frequently have clients that are worried that there’s not enough information, enough people. The interesting thing is that quantitative data again gets into the realm of surveys and some of the same problems that you have with big data. With human-centered research, we don’t need lots of people, we just need to hear the right stories, and we need to pick the right people.
I’ll talk a little bit more about that later, but we look for extreme users, people who are on the fringes that we can learn more about so we can again get the right information. It doesn’t take a lot of input, it just takes watching people and hearing their stories, and then we can start seeing the trends.
Slide: So how can we more deeply understand our customers, users…people?
How can we more deeply understand our customers, our users, and the people that we’re designing for? Well, here are some of the main tenets of human-centered design.
The first thing is observation. Instead of asking questions, sometimes we can get the most information by watching people. There’s a great quote by Tim Brown of IDEO, “A good designer serves, a great designer serves the ordinary.” What’s going on around us? How can we understand the subtleties of why we do things certain ways? Observation is a great way to start seeing context and some of the other inputs that no one could actually tell you about. You can only see them by observing.
Slide: Learn to Listen
Really start learning to listen. Again, surveys aren’t about listening. Surveys are about trying to understand information that you already have a bias and want to hear. When we listen to people in a deeper way, we hear things that we don’t expect. We learn to hear information that is deeper, that gets at emotions. When we ask people to tell us their stories, we have a much better understanding of what’s really going on.
It’s much better to say, “Tell me about the last time you went to the doctor,” if we’re trying to learn about a healthcare experience rather than asking, “Were you satisfied with the waiting time in your doctor’s office during your last visit?” If you ask for stories you’re going to get much deeper information from people.
Slide: What? How? Why? Why? Why? – What are they doing? How are they doing it? Why are they doing it?
One of the constructs we use around asking and in getting stories is the five Why’s. First we say, what’s going on? Then we observe how, and then we ask why, why, why? What are they doing, how are they doing it, and why are they doing it? When we ask why more than once, we start getting at really that nugget of what’s going on. That’s a great construct to use when you’re going out and doing more human centered design and research work.
Slide: Watch for Problems and Work-Arounds – People don’t often recognize or acknowledge problems. It’s just the way things are.
Another thing that we do is we watch for problems and workarounds. Remember I said we want to go out and observe. People often don’t recognize or acknowledge the problems around us. They just can’t, they don’t see it. I have a great story from another of my colleagues who were doing some work around health information exchange that we were working on redesigning.
The health information exchange is different from the health insurance exchange in that health information exchanges actually allows doctors to pull up your information from health records whether you are in the city that you were born, in the state of Minnesota for example, my doctor could be in Minneapolis, but I could be up in Duluth. If I got in an accident up there they could pull up my health record and see all the information about my health history. That’s what the health information exchange is about.
Our folks happened to be down south in a town. We were at a hospital and one morning we were watching a pharmacist work with this health information exchange. They’re asking her, “How’s it going? Do you like the exchange? Is it working for you?” She said, “Yeah, it’s working, I use it every day. I get the information I need out of it.”
As she was talking to my colleagues, she happened to start opening three different laptops, and intrigued my colleagues said, “Hey, why are you opening three laptops?” Well it happened that the tool worked slowly enough that for her to get all of her queries run for her patients during the day, she had to open three of them and run queries simultaneously. We knew from the get go that the software was running slowly, that’s a problem. That was something that needed to be fixed.
Then, she also pulled out a clipboard and showed us some hieroglyphics that she had put together so she could cross reference information on each of the records that she was pulling up. Again, she had to consolidate information from multiple screens rather than being able to see it on one screen so that she could make sure that patients were on the correct medicine.
Just being able to observe these things, we saw that there were design improvements that could be made to the software information exchange that she could never articulate. That’s why observation becomes so important. If you just ask people how things are working, they don’t know that there’s a problem. They don’t know and they can’t envision that things are going to be different, so for them it’s important to be able to watch and to really see what’s going on. That’s where we really can uncover those unmet needs.
Slide: Seek Out Extreme User
I mentioned this earlier about seeking out extreme users. We want to find people that are on the extremes of use. For example if we are working on an existing product for example, and it’s been out in the market for a while or we want to improve it, there tends to be people who become power users. Those can often be people that are great to talk to, as well, as people who are new to the system and don’t know how to use it. We will often look at those two extremes to make sure that we’re designing for everyone in the middle.
Actually, we’re doing some work with a government health plan that actually met the needs of people who were homeless, so it was basically the default insurance plan for folks who didn’t have any other insurance in this particular market. We’re designing an online system for them to help them make sure that they got to their next stop and got the care they needed.
It was really interesting, we started doing some testing with these folks, and found out, and again no one in our team knew to plan for this before we actually started observing people. These particular people, who were going to use the system we were designing, some of them were functionally illiterate. They could not read. I had one gentlemen who was testing the system that said, “I really could only read a few words, and so if you could make things in pictures, it would be much more helpful to me.”
Again, we can’t imagine this kind of thing when we’re working in our own little conference room. You really need to get out and be with people, observe them, see what’s happening on the street, to be able designing well for them. It’s important to seek out people who are on the edges, in the extremes so that we can make sure that we’re designing for everybody.
Slide: Where Does Empathy Fit Into Your Development Process?
Where does empathy fit into your development process?
We believe it’s throughout.
Slide: At the Beginning: Observational Research
It’s at the beginning. We do observational research. Who are we designing the product for? What is their need? How will this product fulfill this need? Right from the beginning, and I think that’s where traditionally people say, “Yeah, we’re going to do some research before we start getting into the product development.” It doesn’t end there.
Slide: Prototyping [photo of person with two small lampshades up to his eyes like binoculars
We also believe in prototyping. We often do quick design sprints and then prototyping and testing iteratively so that we can start understanding if an idea’s going to work. Once we have the idea based on initial observation and we start developing product ideas around that, we’re going to continue testing.
I love this picture because you don’t need a high fidelity prototype or something that actually is the real thing that you’re testing. We believe in testing at the lowest fidelity as possible so that we can learn quickly and make sure that we’re creating the right thing. Prototyping is key. We could probably do a whole other webinar just on prototyping in and of itself. That’s another area where we can get a lot of good information throughout the development process.
Slide: After Launch or Rollout
Then it doesn’t end after launch or rollout. We’re going to continually gain empathy once the product’s in the market, you should be testing regularly and even have a regular test schedule so that you’re gaining insight about how people are using the product or service throughout that product or service life cycle.
Slide: Behavior Design
I also want to touch just really briefly on behavior design. Many of the best products and services actually are touching how people behave. We do a lot of work in the healthcare industry with people who are creating health portals to support people in changing their behavior around healthy lifestyle.
Slide: BJ Fogg Model for Behavior Change
We’ve actually been trained by BJ Fogg from the Persuasive Design Lab at Stanford. His model for behavior change focuses on motivation, ability and triggers all happening at the same time. You have to capture somebody on a motivation wave, you can’t motivate them, but then you give them an easy way to do the right thing, and you give them triggers so that they’re triggered to those things.
Slide: It’s very hard to answer questions about behavior without getting out in the field with people to see what’s going on.
How can we design without really understanding all of those aspects of behavior? When people are motivated, what can we do to enable them? It’s probably going to be different for different people. To me, if you’re actually getting into the area of behavior change, and many of our clients are or at least thinking about it, human centered design is functionally the only way I can see moving forward with designing for behavior change.
Slide: Take an Ecosystem Approach
Also, I would argue products are part of a bigger ecosystem these days. The company, the brand, the social network, the services infrastructure, and the distribution network all influence how a product is perceived. All of these things have to be understood and designed to meet people’s needs to work.
Getting a system working around a product is more complicated each day. There are more inputs and ways to get it wrong. Think about Uber for example, Uber’s an app, an employment model, and a service with implications for our regulatory and legal systems. All of these things need to work together in concert to make this app, this product work. As you know, they’ve been struggling with different aspects of this.
How can they? It sounds like they should be getting their act together internally lately. But this is the thing, it’s all of these things that need to align to make a product or service work. We need to think about it. Again, if we can take that human-centered approach, we’re going to get more right along the way and be able to tie it all together. Actually, service design is a great tool set around understanding the customer journey, and service design and human-centered design have to go hand in hand.
Slide: Knowing what’s going on with your customers from purchase through end of product or service life is critical: How they think, feel and how you can delight them.
Knowing what’s going on with your customers from purchase through product or service life cycle is critical, and I think that’s becoming more critical by the day.
Slide: Who Should Be Involved in Empathy Gathering?
Who should be involved in empathy gathering?
Slide: The Entire Team!
It’s our opinion it’s the entire team. At Azul Seven everyone knows how to research, they’ve been trained, and they do it. Our developers are involved sometimes, our account and strategy folks as well as the product people.
We believe in applied research. We don’t do research just to write a big research report and put it in big binder, and drop it on people’s desks. Research is applied research. We use research and we applly it directly into that product prototype or product design. That’s something we encourage. Why make a big report when the goal is to really get it into that the next product iteration. So the more people who are design the product are doing the research and then applying it directly to the design and develop, the more effective the research will be. That’s why we involve the entire design team in research. It’s not just a research function. It’s not just a research team. it’s everyone working with the product.
What are some of the metrics? I promised to talk a little bit about the value proposition on applying human-centered design and focusing on empathy and what this can do both for the product outcome and for team outcomes. There are some metrics. But this is also notoriously hard to measure. We’ve have a paper on the return on investment for human-centered design on our website blog if you’re interested in that, but here’s just an overview of some outcomes we’ve been able to find in the research and through our own experience.
Slide: In the last ten years companies that use human-centered (empathy-centered) design outperform the general S&P by over 200%. – The DMI Value Score Card
DMI, the Design Management Institute, did a big research study, and continued to do it over the last maybe five years around companies that use design and human-centered methods and how they perform in the market. It’s called the Design Value Scorecard. In the last ten years, companies that use human-centered, and I would say empathy-centered design, because empathy is the core of that, outperform the general S&P by over 200%. That’s a pretty good return in general for those companies. If you look at the report, it’s people you might guess, like Nike, Apple, Target. Those companies that really put design at the center of what they’re doing.
Slice: “User-Centered Experience Innovation…. results in organizational change to streamline and improve the performance of the entire organization.” – DMI
User centered experience innovation has another aspect that’s interesting. I’m going to read this quote from that DMI survey. “By taking a stronger user-centered approach to innovation, the role of design continues to evolve in these companies.” The companies they’re talking about are the ones that are out on the market. “They outperform them by connecting and integrating various aspects of the customer experience. This effort often results in organizational change to streamline and improve the performance of the entire organization. This appears to be an important and valuable role for design in many organizations.”
Slide: Empathy’s Impact
- Cost Savings
- better speed to market
- kill products or features that don’t work earlier
- Higher earning potential
- better alignment to customer/market needs
- better chances of learning a “secret”
Not only does it help for the performance of your overall organization, from just the pure market value, it also helps organizations improve operations. We’ve seen that through our own experience. In our experience, empathy’s impact tends to concentrate in a couple of areas. One is costs savings. We can get better speed to market because we’re doing the empathy research throughout the full product development life cycle. We can kill a product feature or the product itself if it’s not working. So we learn faster. We fail faster. Improving the speed of failure and success actually helps us make better decisions through the whole development process.
Then we also see higher earning potential. When we have a product that is better aligned to user’s needs, we really have a better chance of learning “the secret”. [what great product or service is no one developing?]
Slide: Empathy for All
At the end of the day, we believe empathy is important. Empathy for all. Empathy brings value from the market. You also get value within your own organization from better team performance.
Slide: When was the last time you watched your customers actually using your product?
If you take anything out of this webinar, I would like you to commit to watching a customer or user use your product or service in the next 30 days. When was the last time you watched somebody using your product? I think if nothing else, go quietly into your store or watch online or go talk to somebody as they’re working through your website, and listen and hear what they have to say. I think it would be a valuable effort for you.
Slide: Thank You! Presented by Lisa Helminiak, Azul Seven CEO
That’s the bulk of the webinar today. It’s really an overview of why we think human-centered design, and empathy gathering is really important for designing the next generation of your product or service. Now we’ll move into the questions area and take us a minute to get that all set up, and we’ll start pulling some questions that look like a lot of people want to have answered. Thank you very much, we’ll move on to the next section.
I think we have a questions that’s come in, asking to talk a little bit more about how we do our research. When we send out research teams, we generally do it in pairs of two. One researcher is taking notes, while the other researcher is asking questions. We’re able to have two people really observe people in the setting that they’re at, so it’s really one-on-one and face-to-face. That takes a little bit more time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it.
We mentioned surveys before too, we’re not against surveys. I think they’re great for certain things, for example, when you just want some clarifying answers. But surveys are not necessarily the way you’re really going to get information that you don’t already have. In surveys the way you ask questions is very important. We also know that people aren’t willing to do a lot of open-ended answers in surveys which limits what answers you can get. We’ve learned this from experience.
It’s just better to save surveys for those questions that are going to be simply answered. The types of observational research we are doing is best face-to-face or at minimum a phone interview. We often do phone research as an add on when we can’t get to everybody in person or maybe when it’s not as important to actually be in a person’s living room. It’s better to do phone research than no research.
All right, well I think that’s it for today. Thanks for coming, we’re going to do more of these, so watch the Azul Seven website. We recorded today’s session so we will be posting the recording so that you have access to the beginning if you missed that.
We appreciate everyone coming today! Thank you so much! We’ll give you back a few minutes of the hour to get back to work.
All right, thanks everybody!