It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond

A quick visit to a recent past: Part 1 by Nheeda Enriquez
September 23, 2009, 4:28 pm
Filed under: design research, empathy | Tags: , , , , ,

I’m off traveling for a week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit three “timeless” posts on broader innovation topics.  The first is about the importance of empathy in user-centered design.



Feeling your pain: the role of empathy
June 1, 2009

There’s lots of talk of the word “empathy” right now, whether it’s the selection of a new Supreme Court justice or, in the design + business circles, the release of the book, Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik.  Empathy is an important tool in a design researcher’s toolkit, as it forces you to see a situation from someone else’s point of view (your users, your co-workers, your suppliers.)  Immersion was one of the phases of our Innovation process at Wachovia, and we never failed to see something new each time we went out into the field to walk in the steps of our customers.

This past weekend, I brought that approach home as I found myself quickly losing patience with my boyfriend.  Brian broke his hand about a week ago, and I began to get irritated with tying his shoes or waiting for him to put his wallet away or attach the leash on the dog.  So for two hours, I borrowed his extra brace and sling and carried about my morning.  Not only had I taken the second hand for granted, I sure did realize how unsympathetic I had been.  Washing a pan or fixing my hair was a nightmare!

We’re always talking about putting customers first.  Sometimes it just takes a serving of our own medicine to remind us what that really means.  And then seeing the opportunities within those moments to inspire the next big idea.  Perhaps that one-armed dog collar is not a niche product after all.

It doesn’t take much to try it.  Here’s a lovely primer on ethnography.

Create a bigger pond to fish for ideas: Serendipity and innovation by Nheeda Enriquez
photo via wikipedia

photo via wikipedia

In an article for Charlotte Viewpoint about social media in Charlotte, I hinted at a downside of relying solely on one’s networks to mine through an ever-growing plethora of information.  We risk being too narrow in our interests and lose the potential to discover something completely new, whether that be a new author, a new product, or a new recipe for dinner.

Though sometimes it’s difficult, I always advocate trying new things just for the sake of it.  You never know when you might call that experience to inspire a new idea.

Everyone has their own way to introduce serendipity, but my boyfriend Brian has a painless way to do it at his own desk.  When he needs a diversion from a hectic workday, he’ll poke around wikipedia for a few minutes just to see what’s there.  They’ll have a featured article that’s different every day, and you never know what it’ll link you out to, and that helps create a bigger pond for you to fish ideas from.

Thought it’s old, I offer this Wired interview with Apple’s megamind Steve Jobs.  Towards the end, he describes the value of new experiences in innovation:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Easy, Medium, Hard by Nheeda Enriquez

A very simple, yet so often overlooked framework that I use is Easy-Medium-Hard.  Sometimes it’s just a really quick way to organize information and ideas into digestible chunks, and placing them on a relative scale to one another.  Here’s a few ways that I’ve used it lately:

  • Sorting ideas and concepts Easy ideas that can be executed within a year; Hard ones take considerably longer.   One innovation professional in town talks about his innovation in meat temperatures: rare, medium, and well-done.
  • Brainstorming Asking yourself “how might we make _______ easy for our user?”  (ie, Learn how to play one song, cooking a meal for 8 people in under an hour, etc.)  How might we make it harder?   By thinking about it in extremes, we cover a wider range and stimulate broader thinking.
  • Feature sets Everyone approaches an interface or a new piece of software from a different skill level.  Rather than bombarding each person with everything under the sun, tailor the experience to suit the consumer/user’s familiarity.  Hide the rest to eliminate clutter (and make it available if it’s needed.)  A wonderful execution of this is Google’s “Become a Gmail Ninja” feature.
image via google

image via google