What Is #Strategic #DesignThinking and How Can It Empower Designers?

What should the role of the designer be in today’s times of complexity, unsurity, and frequent change? What is Strategic Design, and how can it empower the designer beyond traditional practice? Are designers a group of technicians and artists who produce products and artefacts for short contracts? How can they fulfill more essential roles of big picture projects? Designers are often set into roles of minor problem solving and yet their training and expertise allows for a wider set of potential influence. Strategic Design thinking suggest that if designers could communicate and employ their skills more effectively, they can position themselves in order to influence a bigger picture.

How can strategic design thinking produce innovative projects that affect big picture issues?

Such are some of the questions the Helsinki Design Lab, a design research initiative funded by the Finnish government, posed throughout its advocacy for Strategic Design Thinking. The ambition of this research group was to identify and codify the design strategies and vocabulary developed within innovative case studies. Each of studies dealt with complex conditions, as many important issues today are entrenched in systems and networks of several intersecting elements. The intent of this article is to investigate how Strategic Design might be applied to the design and development interests of the freelance Toptal community.

Strategic Design requires a certain vocabulary in order to communicate the values of the design practice. Much of these values have to do with becoming involved in the background and organization of projects, rather than the forming of the product, or outcome. Any successfully designed project, whether its an interface, building, or luxury car, is really a product of all of the underlying systems behind its making. This means the bureaucratic context,the financing, the company history, et cetera.

design1

Often the success of any design product is really a representation of the underlying organization.

The vocabulary describes the specific skills of designers that enable the practice to affect projects in such a way that no other field can. The vocabulary can be condensed into the four categories which will be defined in this article:

  • Stewardship
  • Vehicles of Change
  • Glue
  • Legibility

This synopsis of Strategic Design Thinking is presented as a vocabulary rather than set of tools, as there is no 10 step guide on how to be a good designer. Instead, how can designers understand their skillset, and employ it in such a way that can transcend traditional practice. Not there is anything wrong with simply producing minor products, but the designer who can influence big picture issues is invaluable. This thinking may apply to visual designers, as well as interactive designers, or developers .

There is no 10 step guide on how to be a good designer.

Although the Strategic Design initiative focuses largely on social issues and public projects, there were also case studies of businesses that showed major benefit from certain strategies. Some of the case studies which designers produced solutions for were: the transformation of the UK government digital services, a 90 day plan for the reconstruction of a flood devastated Constitucion City and all of its social infrastructures, or the forming of a new Danish business registry.

Since Strategic Design largely considers a social moral obligations of designers to produce products for a greater good, it may not seem to apply in the context of a freelance design blog. Yet, much of the understanding of Strategic Design Thinking questions how designers can produce, or communicate greater value as a professional. Thus, more value could mean generating productivity for a client, solving a social issue, or generating cultural value.

Strategic Design could apply to the freelancer designer as a way to offer value to their clients in a way no other designers may be able to.

What is the Difference between Strategic and Traditional Design?

Strategic Design Thinking is critical of the traditional methods of design that focus on the crafting of products and solutions to problems without investigating the surrounding conditions or context of a project. Often designers may find themselves crafting the details of a project that has a flawed basis, or is known to have little effect in a bigger picture. It is only through the process of the project that the designer begins to see the progression of decisions that led to a position where all that can be done is to apply lipstick to the pig.

design2

This is a result of how designers are often trained in the technicalities of how to solve problems, rather than how to question and understand the basis of the problem and questions being asked. As well, designers are also not paid to question the brief of a client, or enact the necessary investigation, but only to produce the product that is being requested.

There are rarely opportunities for designers to question the briefs of their contracts – yet it can be the most critical point of a project.

Generally, the designer client relationship involves the solicitation of the designer to produce as outcome. There is little opportunity for the designer to really question if the outcome is right for the circumstance, as well as ensure that the designer be paid at the end of the day. There is an anecdote of an architect who was hired to redesign a congested school. Rather than proposing a building, he reordered the schedule of the bell, and staggered the dismissal of classes. He saved the school millions of dollars. This suggests a potential paradox of criticizing a project brief in such a way, as the architect likely was unable to log very many hours. That being said, shouldn’t it be the duty of the designer to offer the truly honest solution, especially if it means avoiding the cost of an entire building?

Now all of this is not to suggest that a designer shouldn’t understand how to produce the outcome and the necessary crafting of the details, but that the designer must understand how to design at multiple scales. Or understand how the outcome will affect multiple scales. The success of Apple under the guidance of Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives is a perfect example. The duo was able to understand how minor details, such as the sound a button makes when pressed, communicates an overarching concept representing the qualities of the brand.

Thus, in order to specifically implement Strategic Design the proper vocabulary must be in place. The four sets of skills for the strategic designer to communicate are:

  • Stewardship
  • Vehicles of Change
  • Glue
  • Legibility

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Stewardship

The idea is hardly the beginning.

Often the conception of a brilliant idea for a project is the easy part. The majority of the work comes from understanding how to actually go about producing an outcome. Specific vocabulary is essential for the strategic designer communicating the value of their work, therefore stewardship is specifically in place of such words as ‘execute’ or ‘implement’, which suggest simple step by step processes in the production of a project. The strategic designer must see a difference between the design of the product and its delivery into the world. The designer should the process of carrying the project through to reality as an opportunity to extend their value. Designers are not just the craftsmen of products, but stewards to ensure the performance of the project.

The steward accepts the conditions of reality, and leads their client with surety that things inevitably change for better for worse, as their project will endure and be better for the change. The traditional designer may expect their product to work beautifully in the vacuum of a testing platform, but will ultimately be unprepared for unexpected obstacles, or new constraints on the path to realisation. The strategic designer’s ability to confidently pivot in times of flux or uncertainty will not only avoid the potential collapse of a project, but potentially open new design opportunities and outcomes.

Glue

If composer writes a piece, and the violinist plays it, what is the ‘music’ of the conductor?

Almost any project will have a whole series of competing values, potential outcomes, and skilled contributors that must all be coordinated together in order to form a cohesive vision for a project. Often the client, or other contributors do not have the time or interest to investigate and understand the layers of a project, or the potential values of all of the minor outcomes of a project. Historically, most often client see projects from the single point of view of money. Today however, the contexts of decisions and their respective outcomes have too much bearing on social or ecological impacts that underlying factors cannot be ignored. Designers however are very accustomed to the necessary balancing acts required to negotiate budgets, platform constraints, aesthetics and performance. The designer must act as the ‘glue’ necessary to bind the separate elements in order to deliver a collective vision.

The notion of role of the glue might be also be analogous to the role of a conductor in the symphony. Some may ask, what is the ‘music’ or ability of the conductor compared to the skilled musicians or the composer of a piece. Yet it is the duty of the conductor to understand the technicalities of playing the violin, as well as the intent of the composer in order to bind the two elements in order to produce the magic of the symphony. Often the designer does not necessarily need to perform as the skilled technician, but instead the curator who can see the values of all the constraints, conditions, contributors and outcomes.

One of the Helsinki Design Lab case studies was the improvement of user experience for the Danish business registry, successfully resulting in saved money and time without entirely overhauling the infrastructure set in place. Although the obvious outcome for a casual observer is the project increased efficiency, there were several small outcomes that the designers curated in order to produce even greater change beyond the brief.

During the initial studies of the problem at hand, the contracted designers Mind Lab produced several hour long audio recordings of their interviews of studied users. The recorded negative experience of users were then edited down into snippets of a couple minutes, which were just enough to convey an emotional understand of the issues at hand. These files were so versatile that they could be played in meetings, design charrettes, or workshops always to great effect. The recordings have since gone on to provide a useful archival tool for future similar projects. Now, this outcome seems minor to the client who sees in the end a smoothly running service.

Yet this supplementary outcome was an essential tool and will provide future benefits. This is the result of the designer’s ability to curate the quality of the content at a minute level, while understand the potential of the big picture implementation of the outcome within the context of the complicated project.

Vehicles for Change

Quite often the vision of a project aspires beyond the resulting product for the strategic designer. This is not to say that the artefact is unimportant, but that it acts as a hook for more strategic outcomes than itself. In Dan Hill’s book for Strelka Press, “Trojan Horses and Dark Matter”, he identifies the Strategic Design outcomes for the Low2No architecture project that the Finnish innovation consultancy Sitra worked on.

Essentially, the Low2No building is a project that aspires to produce strategic design outcomes which may be replicated in the future following its completion in order to extend the impact of the project beyond itself. In summary, the building project requires several changes to policies and infrastructures that are so entrenched that they required significant incentives. Some of these potential desired outcomes were the intent to provide new futures for the Finnish timber industry, the development of new tenancy models, the construction of communal environments, and implementation of ‘smart’ city services.

The ambition was to use this first building as a model for hopefully repeatable outcomes in the future. However, these outcomes hinged on the ability to make the building out of timber, which conflicted with existing fire codes. These fire codes would be difficult to change without the real pressure of the project at hand. The recent develop of new timber technology made these codes obsolete however, thus the codes were changed under the pressure of the project and the building was carried forward. Although the matter was a construction detail which would often be critical for most building projects, it in fact allowed for a much bigger project to unfold. Therefore, despite the importance of the design thinking required to carry out the tangible first building, the strategic design thinking formed a greater approach which will create a much wider network of systemic change in Finnish construction.

Now, this case study may seem difficult to apply to most freelancing web developers/designers who would prefer to carry out simple contracts, or doubt that their clients would be interested in hearing the designer’s desire to implement more general social change. Yet, consider that your clients may have the same underlying constraints or ambitions that require a strategically implemented Trojan Horse to undertake. How can a website be representative of a wider organizational culture within a company?

Legibility

What is the benefit of innovative practice if no one can follow its lead? Once a successful project is implemented, how might its development be communicated to the world, such that its impact can continue to grow? For the projects that are carried out within complex contexts, how can the deep understandings of a background be translated to future contexts?

Perhaps through the forming of educational precedents, can the value of the designer continue to be reinforced. If the complexity of an undertaking, as well as its systemic effect is made clear, the skillset of the designer will be further understood by future adopters or clients. As well, perhaps the designer will be able to re-apply their own strategies to future clients, and such the legibility of the past project is essential to explaining the confidence and ability of the designer for the conditions. Especially within a network similar to Toptal, perhaps the ability to share and represent work can lead to future collaboration, or further progression of outcomes and ideas.

The Strategic Design Vocabulary is not necessarily a step by step guide on how to be a better designer, but it intends to develop a thought process in questioning what the designer can offer beyond the production of outcomes and artefacts. How can we assert the value of the profession as something not just necessary, but fundamental to the process of innovation and cultural generation.

This article was originally published on Toptal

 

Don’t Let Network Outages Ruin Your Business

In today’s increasingly wired world, network outages — both limited and total — can deal a devastating blow to your business. And if your business is a small one, it is probably less able to cope financially with the consequences of such outages than would be the case with a larger company.

Organization

Whether you lose the link between your headquarters office and an outlying branch office or experience a loss of connectivity throughout your business’s operations, each outage has repercussions that may have a lasting impact on your company.

Consequences of Outages

In its overview of the potential damage that a network outage can cause, Hughes Network Systems LLC lists some of the likely consequences a business might experience:

  • No longer able to access the applications and data they need to do their jobs, your employees sit idle and your company’s productivity grinds to a virtual halt;
  • The reputation of your business takes a hit when existing and prospective customers as well as suppliers cannot engage with your company’s employees in a meaningful way because access to relevant data has been temporarily lost;
  • The loss of sales of products and services that would otherwise be transacted results in a direct decline in revenue. Depending on the magnitude of the network outage, future sales may also be negatively affected;
  • In your business’s efforts to work around the network loss, your company will experience unbudgeted expenses associated with the rental of equipment, hiring of temporary staff, travel expenses, and overtime costs.

May Put Data at Risk

Network outages can sometimes expose your business’s sensitive data to outside hackers who gain access during a period when the system’s security defenses are temporarily disabled.

Although the vast majority of data losses associated with network outages are temporary in nature, some network failures may result in the permanent loss of data that has not been backed up on an outside system and thus unaffected by the outage.

While the actual dollar costs of network outages vary widely based on the size of the company and its network, NetworkComputing.com reports that network services’ company MegaPath estimates the average cost of downtime at $212,200 an hour.

For companies that are web- or network-based, that hourly figure can soar to dizzying heights. During an August 2013 network outage that lasted between 30 and 40 minutes, Amazon.com lost between $3 and $4 million.

Human Error a Factor

The Main Cause of Network Outages and How to Prevent It,” a posting on the blog of BackBox.co, offers some interesting facts and figures about the role that human error plays in triggering many such outages.

“2013 Cost of Data Center Outages,” a survey conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Emerson Network Power, examines the root causes of network outages among the 67 data centers covered by the survey. The report also offers comparisons between the primary causes of 2013 network outages and those reported in an earlier 2010 survey.

UPS System Failures

Despite the confidence-inspiring nature of their names, the failure of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems accounted for 24 percent of all data center outages in fiscal 2013. That represented a significant decline from 2010 when UPS system failures were blamed for 29 percent of all outages.

Accidental/human error accounted for 22 percent of all data center outages in 2013, down slightly from 24 percent in 2010.

In a disturbing sign of the times, cyber-attacks, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, were blamed for 18 percent of 2013 outages, skyrocketing from only 2 percent in 2010.

Weather-Related Outages

Network outages caused by extreme weather events showed no change from 2010 to 2013, accounting for 12 percent of outages in each of those years.

Outages caused by water, heat, or computer room air conditioning (CRAC) failures made up another 12 percent of 2013 outages, compared with 15 percent in 2010.

Generator failures caused 7 percent of data center outages in 2013, compared with 10 percent in 2010. The failure of IT equipment accounted for 4 percent of 2013 outages, down slightly from 5 percent in 2010.

Given the negative impact network outages can have on your business, what are you doing to stay connected?

About the Author: Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.

Visualize Big Data for Your Business

As more businesses adopt big data solutions to manage and analyze their data, you need to jump on the big data bandwagon, too, if you want to stay abreast of your competitors.Big data can be greatly beneficial to businesses, but it will not reach its full potential unless it is properly visualized.

Here is a look at how you can visualize big data for your business.

Benefits of Big Data

Big data is more than just a vast and varied collection of data; it can help you boost your business intelligence and perform certain tasks more effectively and efficiently. If you are not leveraging all the information that is available to you, you may miss out on opportunities to improve your business insight and achieve greater value.

A big data solution enables you to:

  • Discover new data patterns and relationships that have an impact on your business
  • Gather more accurate and detailed information to enhance decision-making
  • Predict outcomes and trends more precisely
  • Gain a better understanding of the preferences and buying habits of your customers
  • Develop products and services that can better meet the needs of your customers
  • Identify and fix operational problems more efficiently

Understanding Big Data Visualization

datavizBig data consists of an enormous amount of information, and it can mean different things to different people. As such, it can be difficult to make it comprehensible to human beings. Big data visualization is the act of making big data easy to understand and analyze, and it enables you to gain clear and valuable insights from your data.

According to an article entitled “Visualization for Big Data”, David McCandless said that data is like new soil and visualizations are the flowers of the plants that are planted in the soil. When big data is properly visualized, it can be an effective tool for conveying critical information that can lead to better decision-making.

Using the Right Big Data Visualization Tools

Big data visualization involves using the sizes, colors and positions of abstract elements to convey information. In order to be really actionable, it should provide an appropriate amount of interactivity. It has to be well-designed, user-friendly, comprehensible, approachable and meaningful. As technology changes, new tools are constantly being developed to harness the value of data visualization for application across different industries.

Examples of data visualization tools that are widely used today include maps, charts, diagrams, pictures, infographics and videos. These tools can vary significantly in terms of effectiveness, depending on the type of information that you are conveying, the audience that you are presenting the information to and the objective of the presentation.

Businesses are gathering more data than ever before, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to manage, analyze and visualize their data. Information is only powerful when it is comprehensible. Using the right big data visualization tools will enable you to derive maximum value from your data.

About the Author: John McMalcolm is a freelance writer who writes on a wide range of subjects, from social media marketing to Cloud computing.

 

 

Best Shopping Cart Plugins for Your Business

Building an online business involves more than just setting up a website.

It is essential that you have the necessary features to provide the most pleasant and safest online shopping experience for your customers. This means that you need to get a good ecommerce solution that suits your business needs.

Businessman pushing shopping cart

Here is a look at some of the best shopping cart plugins that are available in the market:

Shopify

Shopify is a reliable and secure shopping cart plugin that comes with a wide range of useful features, and it integrates more than 50 payment gateways to enable you to accept payments with credit cards and PayPal.

It uses your local currency and sets tax rates based on the locations of your business and customers. Additionally, it provides a fast and easy way for your customers to calculate shipping rates, and it facilitates connection with fulfillment services such as Shipwire and Amazon Services, making it possible for you to fill and deliver orders from the warehouse with just one click.

Other notable features of this shopping cart plugin include mobile-optimized shopping cart, CMS and blogging platform, social sharing, abandoned shopping cart recovery and free SSL certificate.

Shopify is certified Level 1 PCI compliant, and it is available in a 14-day free trial version.

GetShopped

GetShopped is one of the first shopping cart plugins developed for WordPress, and it has become increasingly functional and reliable over the years.

This popular shopping cart plugin can work with any WordPress theme that is standards-compliant, and it is very easy to install. It is 100-percent customizable, giving you absolute control over the appearance of your online store. It also offers a streamlined checkout, which can help increase your sales by minimizing the number of pages between products and checkout.

Additionally, it has flexible shipping rate calculators, and it integrates with a wide range of shipping service providers for real-time rates.

GetShopped allows your customers to make payments through many trusted payment processors, including PayPal, Google Checkout, Payment Express and others.

Cart66

Cart66 is a solidly-built WordPress shopping cart plugin that is specially designed with the best interests of ecommerce business owners in mind.

It offers outstanding integration with WordPress API, and it can be used for selling all kinds of products, ranging from physical products to memberships. It is one of the safest WordPress ecommerce solutions, providing a high level of security for your products, customer data and other information.

Cart66 also makes your online store PCI compliant, which means that you do not have to get your own SSL certificate.

1ShoppingCart

1ShoppingCart is an all-in-one ecommerce solution that provides a simple way for you to build your online store.

It is easy to set up and maintain, and it comes with a 100-percent customizable storefront design. It offers an extensive range of useful features and tools to help you manage and grow your store, including built-in email marketing, auto-responders, mobile compatibility, social sharing and others.

Nowadays, businesses are investing more time, effort and money to create a better shopping experience for their customers.

Installing a good shopping cart plugin is one of the things that you can do to stay abreast of your competitors.

 

About the Author: John McMalcolm is a freelance writer who writes on a wide range of subjects, from social media marketing to Cloud computing.

Social Skills Necessary Today in Customer Service

analytics-logicProviding good customer service is the key to keeping your existing customers happy and gaining new ones. In recent years, an increasing number of businesses are using social media to boost their customer service.

According to a report released by Gleanster, about 73 percent of companies that took part in a survey said that customer service is the main reason why they invest in social media monitoring.

Here is a look at the importance of social media in achieving and maintaining good customer service….

Why Use Social Media for Customer Service?

Build Personal Relationships with Customers

Social media enables you to interact on a more personal level with your customers, making them feel like they are communicating with a real person, not just an organization or object.

By interacting with your customers more regularly, you can show them that you are concerned about them and want to know their opinions about your company and products. This can help you win their trust.

Respond to Inquiries More Quickly

If you take too long to provide information or assistance for your customers, you may displease and frustrate them, and cause them to stop buying from you.

Social media makes it possible for you to respond to inquiries, requests for assistance and complaints more efficiently. You can achieve a higher level of customer satisfaction by implementing a 24/7 customer assistance service.

Get Feedback

By encouraging your customers to provide feedback via social media, you will have a better understanding of the appeal and effectiveness of your products and services.

You can use your customers’ feedback to make improvements to your current products and services or create new ones to meet their needs more fully.

Monitor Customer Satisfaction

The information you gather on social media can help you determine whether or not your customers are pleased with your products and services.

By reading your customers’ requests, comments and complaints, you will be able to develop a more effective business plan, marketing strategy and customer service program.

How to Use Social Media to Enhance Customer Service?

Social media is a great platform for carrying out a wide range of customer service activities.

To keep your customers interested in your company, you need to provide new materials for them to read or view constantly. These materials can come in the form of blog posts, articles, news, photos or videos, and they should contain interesting and useful information.

Also, you have to make a point to respond to your customers’ requests and inquiries as quickly as possible. If you are planning to develop a new product, you can use social media to get ideas from your customers.

Getting your customers involved in product development does not only help you create better products; it can also make them feel more important.

As much as a positive customer service experience on social media can benefit your company greatly, a negative one can ruin your online reputation and result in loss of customers.

As such, you have to make sure that you plan your customer service strategy properly before you implement it on social media.

About the Author: John McMalcolm is a freelance writer who writes on a wide range of subjects, from social media marketing to online reputation management.

How Can We Use Big Data?

target If you haven’t already read, “Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification,” you should!

Cluster Analysis – a classification technique that partitions a diverse set of objects into smaller groups so that objects in the same cluster are more similar to each other than to objects in other clusters.

A/B Testing – a technique in which a control group (A) is compared with a test group (B) to determine what treatments (changes) will improve a given objective (typically referred to as the conversion rate.) Conversion can be any success condition. Multivariate testing is a variation of A/B Testing that lets a business run several A/B tests at the same time.

Crowdsourcing – outsourcing work to a distributed group of people who aren’t known ahead of time.

Predictive Modeling – refers to a set of mathematical model-techniques created to best predict an outcome. It goes farther than clustering by trying to predict what a group might do under certain circumstances based on current and historical facts and data.

Sentiment Analysis – applies natural-language processing and other analytic techniques to large quantities of source text material to identify and extract subjective information.

Stream Processing – the continuous and real-time analysis of data streams from a variety of sources.

Outlier detection and similarity search – outliers are deviations from the norm. Outliers can help identify problems, lend insight to your product-design process, and expose bad behavior.

Cohort Analysis – by dividing users into cohorts, businesses can compare the relative value of each cohort. Example – source – where did they come from or date of acquisition – when did they join

How are Businesses Using Big Data?

Microsegmentation – big data takes existing data that can be collected and inferred about a consumer and then supplements it with online browsing behavior, shopping patterns, social-networking activity, mobile access, and more data based on actual user behavior to create microsegments.

Targeted advertising and cross-selling – microsegmentation enables businesses to craft the perfect cross-sell/upsell offer to close or expand a sale in real time.

In-store behavior analysis – real-time navigation analysis can provide insight into customer behavior.

Real-time pricing optimization – retailers can change their prices dynamically to reflect demand.

Social-media monitoring – social customer relationship management (SCRM).

Recommendation Engines – predict things that customers might be interested in.

How are YOU using Big Data in your organization?

Process documentation: It’s important

If one of your employees is out of the office unexpectedly, would someone else be able to take over for them? Do you have documentation for your key processes?

planThere are several reasons why documenting processes are important.

Your employees go on vacation and you need to pick up the pieces for what they do when they’re not around.

Your employees will leave your company and you’ll be left holding their bag and you don’t know what’s in it.

 

 

How do we judge good documentation?

processhttp://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-does-your-process-documentation-measure-up/

As Tracey Halvorsen points out:

Documents can be exciting, inspiring, and creative forms of expression. Documents can be “living” data, intended to be evolving road maps that can empower a client team long after the vendor has left and the project deliverables have been handed over. Documents are often the foundations that survive the longest and inform the next iteration of thinking. They are building blocks that should inform the future, not create problems or bottlenecks for the present.