December 12, 2011
Last week Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, was in town and speaking at the Rotman School of Management. Being a huge fan, I went. For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about IDEO, a global consultancy, is ranked among the ten most innovative companies in the world. Their client list, which reads like the Who’s Who of brands, includes Apple, Microsoft, PepsiCo, P&G and Steelcase, to name just a few.
Of all the many interesting things he talked about in the 60-odd minutes he had, one of the most memorable — for me — was when he took us through a project IDEO worked on, for the Singapore government — and, more specifically, the ‘user experience blueprint’ that was at the very heart of the assignment — which was to simplify the process visitors to the country who need work permits go through.
It was absolutely brilliant. Simple. Logical. And I’m sure, in much the same way I was, everyone else who was sitting in that auditorium was also wondering why the process wasn’t designed this way in the first place.
This is definitely an over-simplification of a very disciplined, methodical and strategic exercise but, you could say, that what a user experience blueprint does is help executives or planners or immigration officials or whomever the client is, put themselves in their customers’ shoes. Experience what they experience when they need to avail themselves of your product, service, facility, etc.
In this particular case, a cameraman followed a girl from the airport (where she’d recently gotten off a plane) to the building where work permits are issued … through the front door, through the lobby, through the system. A tourist — tired — jet lagged — alone –intimidated — in a foreign country — looking at a foreign language — not knowing where to go, what to do, how to do it, who to ask. Finally, watching someone ahead of her going through the process and copying what she did — not knowing whether it was the right thing or not — but at that moment, it was her only alternative.
Sounds simple now. Sounds logical now. But it was done wrong for years and years and years.
And this is not an isolated case. There are similar scenarios everywhere you turn, in every corner of the world. Think about it:
- If corporate executives put themselves in our place and ‘experienced’ their complicated IVR systems like we do, do you think we’d be forced to spend upwards of 10 minutes pressing 1 for this, or 2 for that, or 5 for something else every time we wanted information, technical support, accounting, sales, repair or service?
- If taxi cab fleet owners tried their own service and were put on hold for 10 minutes every time they wanted a cab, then waited 20 minutes or so for one to actually show up, and then got into a filthy, smelly wreck of a car that had no shock absorbers left, that was driven by a driver who had no idea where he was going and who also never got off his cell phone — how long do you think it would take before improvements were made?
- Do department store management ever shop in their own stores? Do they ever wander around aimlessly, schlepping hangers and hangers full of clothes looking for a sales associate to help – or help you find a fitting room? Do they then wander around from empty service desk to empty service desk trying to look for a cash register that has an employee there who can ring up your purchases?
- And what about tourists to the cities we live in. What happens to them when they get off their planes? Are we making them feel welcome? Is it easy for them to find their way through the airport? To transportation? To their final destinations? Can they find their way as they try to navigate through our city? How easy is the subway for someone who comes from a foreign country? Could we be doing a better job?
The obvious is clearly not always obvious, is it?
I do have something cool to share, though. I volunteer at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Last summer I was asked to help with some research they were conducting. We were asked to intercept visitors and patients as they made their way around the hospital. Why? Because the administration wanted to know whether these folks felt it was easy or confusing to get around. Was it easy or difficult to find the clinics, doctors or patients they were looking for? Especially as it related to those for whom English is a second language. What could we do to make it easier for them?
I say “Wow”! As if the business of saving lives isn’t enough, this management team care about all aspects of the ‘user experience’.When you think about it, it’s not really that hard to imagine what your users go through. You just have to want to.
As for me, I want to work with IDEO.