Have you ever been given a physical tool to help you complete a task when what you really needed was information or support?
Imagine the junk drawer. Do you really need to purchase a fancy divider to organize your junk? Or to download an app to track which junk is where? Or would you benefit more from Marie Kondo or a life / clutter coach?
It’s easy to design a product or service that meets user needs – but through the tunnel vision and format that fits the background and expertise of the designer. Yet we all want to be the best stewards of the end user. Using a systems design and management approach will help you and your company drive meaningful and successful experiences into the lives of customers and end users, devoid of any one discipline’s expertise.
Successful solutions are “Desirable, Viable, and Feasible”. Since you are likely reading this because you believe in human-centered design – let’s agree that the process begins with the user - the inspiration for design and the enabler to the viability of the business. With this in mind, the following is an overview of 10 steps in a systems design and management process that will enable you to design the most meaningful solutions for the people who will use them and successful solutions for your company.
1. Holistic design team
With an approved project in place, identify a creative team that together represents the whole system including experts in the design of physical products, digital products, services and business models. The whole team should be involved in each step, with the expert taking the heavier role at the appropriate time to keep expertise front and center, yet a consistently balanced and holistic view.
2. Find the opportunity
With this diverse team, identify prioritized user needs and / or pain points and which are most important. Map out the market forces to understand how you are competing in the industry as a business. With that all in mind, confirm or reframe your problem or opportunity statement so you know you will be chasing the right problems and opportunities.
3. Map the experience
Explore how you might address desirability by mapping the current user experience. Then transition to imagining various ideal future state experiences to highlight and structure promising new approaches. These should be macro view experiences, not super detailed. These experience approaches should address user needs as absent of format (physical, digital, service) as possible.
4. Business models
If the project allows for considering new business models, explore business models that inspire new ways to address both the needs of users and alternate approaches to be a winning force in the marketplace. This will ensure you are thinking big early and provide the context in which potential product or service solutions may live. If a new business model is not an option, then the existing business model will serve as the structure for product and service solutions to come.
Service design and business model design often go hand in hand since the backstage support needed to enable service solutions (like people, processes, partnerships, from the Five P’s of Service Design) overlap heavily with a business model. Exploring them concurrently will provide the most creative firepower to inspire both. Using your (macro level) ideal future state experience map, explore more detailed experiences by creating a service blueprint to define both the frontstage (customer-facing touchpoints) and backstage (invisible support and infrastructure to enable the experience) steps in the experience. We offer workshops on these design methodologies to help teams move forward.
6. Test & define
Test the most promising experience(s) and business model(s) with users and your business to understand desirability, viability and feasibility. With this information, your team can evaluate the emerging solutions and allow for neutral, well-balanced design decision making. At this point, a design strategy should be formed with enough detail to define the design sandbox in which physical and digital solutions will begin taking greater shape.
7. Interaction model
Create an “interaction model” of the most promising user experience. This involves defining the framework that captures each touchpoint or moment of interaction within the user’s process and what it is intended to do and communicate. For example: Interaction A = evaluate the volume of biologic fluid to be collected from the patient. Interaction B = confirm the volume of fluid to select. You’ll notice at this framework level that the model does not indicate whether the information or touchpoints to accomplish these tasks are physical or digital. This model is a framework to inspire exploration, not requirements to constrain it.
8. Physical & digital
Using your interaction model, explore potential digital and physical solutions for each touchpoint. The various approaches to embodying information, features and functions for each interaction should include a variety of combinations of digital and physical embodiments, which will allow for comparison and a better understanding of user and technical tradeoffs.
9. Test & decide
Test the emerging options with users to understand preferences and usability and evaluate the feasibility with the implementation teams. This will allow your creative team to make balanced, informed decisions about what will best meet the user’s needs and deliver the best user experience possible. This is in contrast to what happens so often – designing the cart before the horse –- or finalizing physical solutions first, and in turn, boxing in the digital solutions and making for a subpar user experience.
With a broadly inspired and fully informed recommendation, document the strategy and design with all the accompanying solution(s) to recommend a desirable, feasible, and viable user experience.
A systems design process takes time, money and a lot of effort, but it is also scalable and not all steps apply to each opportunity. You should evaluate your particular situation and consider these a guiding approach to check yourself and your team to avoid tunnel vision. In all cases, the human-centered design approach to iteratively exploring, building, and testing emerging solutions should be as rigorous as the project will allow. Make a case for the solutions by gaining alignment and buy-in all along the process to enable the best ideas to thrive until the end.
So, if you only have one kind of design expertise at the table, go find the rest of your design partners. While designers are curious and tend to be optimistic in how far their skills can stretch, a broader team of design experts will be more successful in the end. And as a bonus, it’s a lot more challenging and fun, too.
Design is table stakes today but approaching an opportunity with a systems design approach throughout the process will allow you to diverge early and begin with the bigger design and innovation sandbox, ultimately giving your company a competitive edge to deliver what users value most.
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