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Feeling Sure about Uncertainty September 23, 2009

Posted by milimittal in Design Thinking.

I am in a rut. I don’t quite know where I am in the design process (am I even in the design process?!) with our start-up, MyChef. It feels like we are in the design process because we’ve gone from problem-selection to ideation, then to observation, then back to problem-selection, ideation, frameworks, imperatives and back again – but I don’t feel all that comfortable in the absence of linearity, so I am unclear as to how close we are to implementation. Though I am a creative person who loves to characterize myself an ‘outside the box thinker,’ loves to paint, draw, dance and sing, I can’t get outside the trap of linearity. It takes me a lot of effort to be comfortable in a world without clear direction.

What strikes me most about this week’s readings is the simple notion that if you spend time with your customers- observing them, talking to them, you have a much higher chance of a) finding a problem that actually exists, b) innovating and creating a solution that works and c) selling the thing – you’ve already got a set of customers ready and waiting that you have talked to! It seems very simple and yet is overlooked by some of the biggest companies day in and day out.

The MyChef team recognized that this past summer (after having defined a problem and solution that we knew very little about) and conducted several focus groups and interviews with people we envision as our future customers. The readings (and Sara) emphasize the importance of observation over interviewing due to the customers’ own lack of awareness, and I completely buy-in to that concept. I struggle, however, with how to actually observe our customers’ thought processes and planning decisions. Perhaps I need to think more creatively on this one.


1. Katie Swinerton - September 30, 2009

It sounds like it’s time for some ethnographic research and a rapid prototype – just the things to get you out of the rut!

2. Sara Beckman - November 28, 2009

You have zeroed in on the reason why many companies still don’t engage in deep observation of customer and user needs. It is far easier to describe than it is to do. And, many people feel uncomfortable with the notion that they are intruding on other people’s lives in the observation process. So, the question becomes how do you make others comfortable with your “intrusion”, and how do you best ask questions that allow you to get at what is going on in their minds?
Michael Barry, who teaches “needfinding” at Stanford and is partner at design firm PointForward, does a great job of describing some of the ins and outs of doing interviews and observations. He suggests that you start by making the interview feel like a conversation, that you slowly build rapport with the person before diving in, and then that you be sincerely curious to learn about the nuts and bolts of that person’s life (as it surrounds the issue you are examining). Pretending that you are from another planet and are visiting Earth for the first time can help you avoid applying your own mental models to the interpretation of what you are seeing. He also advises patience with the process. You may have to observe for some time before you begin to see patterns emerge that can provide you with insights.

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