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Tips for Planning and Facilitating Successful Workshops

Whether it’s a kickoff workshop to align the team and develop a game plan or an ideation session to come up with creative solutions after a round of user research, we find ourselves running a lot of workshops here at Traceable Change. Based on our collective experience, we thought it would be fun to share some of our tried and true tips for creating and running a successful workshop.

 

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE

Know your attendees

It’s important to know exactly who’s attending your workshop so that you can cater the information and activities to them. For example, the way you structure a workshop for a group of designers may be vastly different than what you would do for a group of high level executives.

Limit the number of attendees

The larger the group, the harder it is to ensure that everyone is actively engaged in the workshop (and not responding to emails on their laptop).  Typically, a good goal is to have no more than 20 attendees. Even then, plan to break people out into groups of no more than 5-6 for hands-on activities.

Knowing your audience also comes in handy here, as it’s useful to assign groups ahead of time. This minimizes time spent choosing groups during the actual workshop and also allows you to ensure each group is well-rounded in terms of background knowledge, skills, and personality types.

 
 

 

PREPARATION AND PRIMING ARE KEY

Create a detailed agenda

Planning and structuring your workshop ahead of time cannot be overstated. To make the workshop run smoothly, you’ll want to spend time thinking through exactly how you want the workshop to unfold, including how you’ll start and end the day, each activity you’ll complete, and how you’ll transition from one activity to the next.

As you’re planning the workshop, it also helps to start with what you want to walk away from the workshop with, and then design backwards from there. This ensures you’re always focused on and working towards your overarching goals.

Model activities so attendees know how to participate

Although workshops and design activities are becoming more commonplace, don’t assume your attendees have prior experience. Often times, you’ll need to provide some guidance on how to participate and flex their creative muscles. One of the best ways to do this is to present them with a few initial examples of what you’re asking so they can better understand what’s expected of them and have a jumping off point.

Choose fun, but appropriate, warm-up activities

As groan-inducing as icebreaker and warm-up activities can sometimes be, they serve a really important purpose. Similar to modeling activities, these are a great way for attendees to get their creative juices flowing and enter the right mindset (be it sketching, brainstorming, collaborating, etc.) before launching them into the actual content-related activities.

One of my favorite activities to prime people for a brainstorming session involves having them list ways that kittens are like refrigerators. I love this exercise because it shows how many ideas you can come up with when combining two seemingly unrelated things and helps get people thinking creatively. Plus, kittens!

cat-refrigerator1.gif

 

SET A SOLID FOUNDATION

Set clear expectations and goals for the workshop

Attendees should know what’s expected of them and what the overall goal of the workshop is right from the start. Having a shared vision will help keep everyone on task and (hopefully) minimize tangents and unproductive side conversations.

Agree on a set of ground rules

As mentioned before, many of your attendees may be new to brainstorming and other design activities. There are some standard ground rules that are helpful to set (one conversation at a time, withhold judgement, etc.) to help make sure people are on the same page with how to be a good participant.

It’s also good to create some new ground rules together. These can be related to things like overall workshop goals, user needs, or attendee behavior. As consultants, we find this especially helpful as it gives us a better sense of the company culture, including what’s important to them and how they work together as a team.

 
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Establish alignment up front by with evidence and education

In addition to clearly defining the workshop goals, it’s important to kick things off by actually bringing people into the problem space and presenting tangible, data-driven evidence.

Our favorite way to do this is through user research findings, because it helps keep users top of mind and ensures no one has to guess what it is that users might want or need when making decisions. However, if research findings aren’t available, there are usually analytics or other secondary research that can serve a similar purpose.

Taking the time to ensure everyone has a shared vision of the challenge at hand will not only better establish the purpose of the workshop, it will ultimately result in a greater output.

 

KEEP PARTICIPANTS ENGAGED THROUGHOUT

Pay attention to timing, be able to improvise and keep things moving

Even though you’ve spent time developing the agenda and planning out all the activities, things won’t always go exactly as planned. A good facilitator is similar to a good DJ - they should be able to read the mood of the room and improvise as necessary to keep things moving.

For example, one activity I like to keep in my back pocket for when attendees are having a hard time making decisions is dot voting. This is a quick, effective way to come to an agreement and move forward without having to waste time and mental energy on a debate.

 
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Being able to improvise activities as a facilitator is something that becomes easier with experience, but don’t feel discouraged if you’re just starting out! There’s a myriad of great resources out there to help you build a strong activity library.

Build in breaks

Workshops can be exhausting; they require a lot of mental energy and focus, so building in multiple breaks throughout the day helps sustain everyone’s energy. Additionally, this helps prevent people from checking email or doing other work during the actual activities, as they have a designated time to do those things.

Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, it may even be a good idea to break a workshop out over multiple days instead of trying to cram everything into one really long day. This also has the added benefit of allowing attendees to absorb and the information and reflect on it, so they come back the next day refreshed and even more focused.

Don’t forget the snacks!

My general life motto is that there’s no problem a warm cookie can’t solve. So heed my advice and don’t forget to fuel your attendees with treats!

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MAKE IT MEANINGFUL

End the workshop by providing a sense of accomplishment and a clear plan for how to move forward

Workshops are a big time commitment and it’s often a struggle to get all the right stakeholders in the same room at the same time. As a facilitator, it’s your job to make participants feel like their attendance was worthwhile and they’ve made a good investment with their time. The best way to do this is by ending the workshop with an outline of actionable next steps and a follow up plan.

Remember, the workshop isn’t the end goal, it’s simply an important part of the problem-solving process. Always keep a clear view of goals, outcomes, and next steps, and you will have a successful and fruitful workshop experience!

 

Go forth and facilitate, friends. You’ve got this!


 

Jillian Larson is an experience designer and strategist at Traceable Change. In addition to rallying folks for some fruitful ideation, Jillian can be found eating her way through Chicago and hanging out with her cat.

 

2018 Chicago Auto Show Highlights

 
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It was my favorite time of year where, conveniently for me, all my beloved car manufacturers were together under one roof. That’s right, the Chicago Auto Show was back! And Traceable Change went to check out the show experience, design trends, and new technology.

The experiences identified last year, manufacturers providing comfortable lounge seating, unique entertainment options, and promotional gifts to keep attendees immersed in their exhibits for as long as possible, were present and even more prominent this time around. What caught our eye this year was the abundance of interactive experiences, the exchange of data in order to participate in those experiences, and the use of virtual reality among brands.

 
 State Farm Lounge

State Farm Lounge

 Toyota Digital Postcard

Toyota Digital Postcard

 
 
 Honda Fidget Spinner Prize

Honda Fidget Spinner Prize

 Volvo VR Exhibit

Volvo VR Exhibit

 

INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCES WERE EVERYWHERE

In addition to admiring my many (can’t have just one!) dream cars at the show, I found myself participating in a variety of interactive experiences that were thoughtfully crafted by the different manufacturers to create lasting brand impressions on attendees.

There were the traditional test drive courses at Toyota, Jeep, and Kia, plus a live dyno demonstration of the Ford Mustang GT. Jeep’s off-road obstacle course was a must, and well worth the long line we had to wait in. Though we hoped to experience the steep inclines and rocky terrain of the track in the new Wrangler Unlimited, we ended up in a luxuriously appointed Grand Cherokee and enjoyed the live demonstration of its features and capabilities.

 
 Ford Mustang Dyno

Ford Mustang Dyno

 Jeep Off-road Obstacle Course

Jeep Off-road Obstacle Course

 

Gaming had a strong presence amongst the exhibits as well. Volkswagen actually modified two of their Golf GTI cars to become life-size video game controllers that participants used to race each other around a simulated track. This setup was not only a childhood dream come true for a former PS1 Gran Turismo enthusiast like myself, but also an opportunity for attendees to spend time in the cockpit of the fan favorite vehicle and build a lasting memory with the brand.

 
 Volkswagen GTI:  https://youtu.be/0lnmxhCWNUI
 

Honda also created an opportunity for attendees to connect with their brand through a curated, interactive journey, initiated at a giant kiosk in the middle of the booth. After providing their information, participants were given a wrist band to tap at each check point and mark completion of each step. Highlights of this journey included a HoloLens (headset) overview of the new Accord that drew attention to new vehicle features by superimposing bold 3D graphics onto a real car and the Dream Machine photo canon.

 
 Honda Journey Smart Band Sign Up

Honda Journey Smart Band Sign Up

 Honda Journey Checkpoint

Honda Journey Checkpoint

 

The Dream Machine is a little hard to explain, but you can see below that it’s essentially a tablet attached to back of a whimsical canon. After selecting a vehicle with your preferred features and taking a selfie on the tablet, a composite animation was created and “shot” onto a large display screen. When you fired the canon, a circular puff of smoke came out and traveled up to the display screen where, upon impact, the animation magically appeared for everyone to see.

 
 Step 1: Select a vehicle

Step 1: Select a vehicle

 Step 2: Take a selfie

Step 2: Take a selfie

 
 
 Step 3: Shoot the image up onto the display screen

Step 3: Shoot the image up onto the display screen

 

Capturing images of attendees alongside products was a trend this year among other brands, as well. Toyota, for instance, offered digital postcards where attendees could have photos taken with their favorite vehicle and have the image sent to their email to commemorate their auto show experience. Toyota also created a mural sized mosaic of an Olympic athlete by turning photos of attendees into the individual tiles that formed the image. This mural was particularly interesting because of the sense of community it created, requiring attendees to build the image together and act as a small piece of the larger puzzle.

 

Toyota's Digital Postcard Booth

Toyota's digital postcard booth
 

Toyota Photo Mosaic Mural

 
 Step 1: Take a photo in front of the mosaic

Step 1: Take a photo in front of the mosaic

 Step 2: Enter your data

Step 2: Enter your data

 
 
 Step 3: Receive a polaroid to commemorate the experience and your mosaic square to add to the mural 

Step 3: Receive a polaroid to commemorate the experience and your mosaic square to add to the mural 

 Step 4: Add your mosaic square to the mural 

Step 4: Add your mosaic square to the mural 

 
 

DATA WAS YOUR TICKET IN 

Most of these interactive experiences required attendees to provide several personal data points as currency to participate.  I was frequently asked to provide my name, contact information, zip code, and, in some cases, even my opinion about the brand and their products.

 
 Honda Journey Sign Up

Honda Journey Sign Up

 Jaguar Sign Up

Jaguar Sign Up

 Jeep Obstacle Course Sign Up

Jeep Obstacle Course Sign Up

 

In the moment, I was focused on accessing the activity and didn’t think twice about giving my information away. Yet, as I reflected on the experience, I wished brands/manufacturers had been more transparent about how they planned to use my information. I have some assumptions, but setting expectations during the sign-up process would have been preferable to being left wondering after the experience.

In addition to the lack of transparency, it felt tedious to enter the same information over and over again for each activity. By the last data entry point, I was ready to abandon the experience altogether and go get a latte instead. I would recommend a more streamlined data collection process, such as the wristband model Honda used that required only one data collection instance to access all the activities within their booth.

 

VIRTUAL REALITY (VR) PROVIDED NOVEL EXPERIENCES

One of the most notable trends this year was the presence of VR, which offered attendees new and immersive ways to experience different products. There was a wide spectrum of VR experiences across different brands/manufacturers, from giving attendees a look around the cockpit of a concept car to providing full driving experiences.

 

 
 Jaguar's VR Exhibit A

Jaguar's VR Exhibit A

At the Jaguar booth, attendees were able to experience the interior of the new, all electric, I-Pace first-hand, despite the vehicle not being physically present at the show.

 
 
 Volvo's VR Exhibit

Volvo's VR Exhibit

Volvo sat attendees in beautiful Scandinavian furniture and used VR to exhibit two of their more progressive vehicle features: collision avoidance and autonomous driving.

 
 
 Ford's VR Exhibit

Ford's VR Exhibit

Ford’s VR experience demonstrated what it was like to drive around town in their new Transit Connect van with autonomous features.

 
 
 Chevrolet's VR Exhibit

Chevrolet's VR Exhibit

Chevrolet’s comprehensive set-up combined VR with a responsive seating system that gave attendees a more realistic first-hand driving experience.

 

Virtual reality is a great technology to employ in the auto show setting as it gives attendees a feel for the vehicle and/or feature without the unfavorable (for some) dealership experience. Yet, it felt like some of the experiences, especially those that didn’t provide a first-hand perspective, could have been achieved by simply watching a video as opposed to strapping on a bulky headset. Using VR in an intentional way demonstrated the value of the technology versus feeling gimmicky.

First-hand VR environments also have a huge potential to positively impact the shopping and buying experience at dealerships, as the VR set-ups could be used to help onboard customers to new vehicle features and build a sense of trust and comfort with new in-car technologies such as autonomous driving or collision avoidance. Experimenting with these new features and technologies for the first time in a virtual environment, as opposed to a real car, could alleviate safety risks and the fear of the technology failing.

 

APPRECIATION FOR BEAUTIFUL AUTOMOTIVE DESIGN

Lastly, I’d like to give a nod to a few of the new models and style treatments that caught our eye and kept us talking long after the show.

 
Lexus LS Door Panel

Lexus LS: We loved the hand pleated fabric and glass detail on the interior door panels. – Link to see more

 
 
2018 Mazda CX-5 - from Mazdausa.com

Mazda CX5: The dramatic intersection of the bonnet, grill, chrome trim, and headlights was beautiful, and slightly reminiscent of the latest model BMW 3 series.   – Link to see more

 
 
2019 VW Arteon from VW.com

Volkswagen Arteon: This replacement/upgrade to their outgoing CC model has a striking presence in-person. I highly recommend checking it out at your local dealership. – Link to see more

 
 
2018 Honda Accord from AutomobiliesHonda.com

Honda Accord: It’s gorgeous, has a great presence, and just won Wins 2018 North American Car of the Year. – Link to see more

 

Till next year! Or until I visit the next dealership…we’ll I’ve already visited two since the Auto Show, but we’ll talk about that soon!

 
 
Gino Fiore

Gino Fiore is one of the founders of Traceable Change.  In addition to visiting auto events in his spare time, you can find Gino test driving new cars at one of many Chicagoland dealerships. 

 

Teaching UX in Paris

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Recently, I had the honor of being invited to teach design methods at Ironhack Paris, a boot camp focused on helping professionals shift their career paths to user experience and web development.  

 
 Ironhack: https://www.ironhack.com/en/locations/paris

Ironhack: https://www.ironhack.com/en/locations/paris

 

Teach user experience in Paris???  Yes, please! 

I arrived in Paris and eagerly hit the ground running.  The Ironhack boot camp was located at WeWork, and as to be expected from a WeWork facility, the space was breathtaking!  It was the perfect setting for a truly Parisian ambiance, with its Art Deco architectural details, curated designer furniture and rose gold hardware.  The complementary gourmet coffee, infused water, and cider positively added to my working experience as well. ;-)
 

 
 

The entire Ironhack leadership team was nothing short of amazing.  They were very thorough in helping me get situated and fully prepared to have a successful week.  Then came time for the moment I was eagerly awaiting: meeting the students!  Despite being in the middle of a lesson that day, everyone took a moment to kindly introduce themselves to me, and I immediately felt a strong connection with the group.

 
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One of the most exciting aspects about teaching a boot camp course is the diversity of professional backgrounds.  The UX students had experiences in marketing, engineering, graphic design, and finance.  As the week progressed, it was exciting to learn how their previous experiences influenced the way they approached project work and problem solving. 

I had such a rewarding time working with the Ironhack students, and the week went by in a blink of an eye.  Teaching in a boot camp setting was completely new for me.  The ultra-fast pace and the sheer amount of materials to cover forced me to rely heavily on my time management skills.  It was also a great exercise in being concise and identifying only the most critical points to focus on.  We covered a wide range of topics, from UX strategy blueprinting, empathy mapping, and problem statements, to rapid prototyping, and design validation techniques.  
 

 
 

Reflecting on my experience at Ironhack, I was left with some valuable learnings, topics I plan to keep in mind and techniques I can use as I work with and mentor students in the future.  Here are just a few of them:

Above and beyond textbook methods and techniques, the students were very interested in learning collaboration techniques and building soft skills.  

With the diversity of professional backgrounds, many students wondered what it would be like to work a highly collaborative environment.  They were particularly interested in learning:

  • How do you navigate a difference in opinions and come to a consensus with designers on your team? 
  • How do you integrate various stakeholder objectives and opinions when designing a product? 
  • How do you get team members motivated and excited to be a part of an initiative? 

Sharing my own professional experiences provided students with “real word” examples, which can (and often do) deviate from textbook learnings.  

I have found this to be true in almost every mentorship interaction, but the desire for hearing about how user experience manifests in the “real world” was amplified this time around.  In the spare time I had between lesson plans, I answered questions like:

  • What are the challenges to working in user experience?  
  • How often do I use frameworks like user journeys?
  • How often do I actually get to sketch and paper prototype products?
  • What’s the difference between working as a consultant at a firm versus in-house? 
  • As a consultant, who do I typically work with on the client-end?

Always end my feedback with advice and encouragement! 

Especially in a boot camp setting, but certainly in any classroom learning environment, it was important for me to remind my students that the course work is fast and meant for exposure, not for immediate mastery.  There was a sense of calm and relief when I pointed out the fact that they’ll have time to practice and apply their learnings on the job, and that just like the design process, we are constantly iterating and refining our knowledge, skills, and craft.


The experience at Ironhack is something that will certainly rank amongst my list of most memorable and rewarding.  There were aspects of my experience that were very reminiscent of my day-to-day routines at Traceable Change.  We started each class over coffee and discussed where the students were in their projects and how things were going.  I also started each class by playing some brain music—Bossa Nova, but was quickly and unanimously shut down when I tried playing *NSYNC.

My time at Ironhack ended as how I imagine all Parisian endings happen – with a spread of French pastries and candy.  

 
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My students also surprised me with a bottle of French wine covered in with UX-themed Post-Its and handwritten thank-you notes.  I wish them the best of luck and hope to cross paths with them in the future.  À ta santé!

 

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Gino Fiore is one of the founders of Traceable Change.  In addition to his recent collaboration with Ironhack, Gino is a design mentor at Designation Labs and a program coordinator at UIC connectID.

 

Using the Design Process to Streamline my Wardrobe

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To say I’m not a morning person would be a laughable understatement. 

My inability to move at a non-glacial pace in the morning has plagued me from a young age. Over the years I’ve adopted a few time-saving tricks to help me get out the door faster, but my lack of brain power in the early hours makes decision making of any kind a serious struggle. 

In a recent attempt to reduce the mental workload in my morning routine, I decided to try simplifying my wardrobe. I figured it would not only be a fun excuse to go through all my clothes (and maybe do a little shopping), but would keep me from agonizing over what to wear each day. Minimalism and decluttering techniques have spiked in popularity the past few years, so I had no shortage of resources to choose from. In the end, I settled on a book called The Curated Closet because it promised a clear-cut, easy to follow method for streamlining my wardrobe. 

 The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. Source:  https://anuschkarees.com/curatedcloset/

The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. Source: https://anuschkarees.com/curatedcloset/

Excited to declutter and learn some new organizational skills, I dove right in. However, as I started going through the process I began to see similarities between how I was approaching my closet and how I might approach a design problem. As it turns out, The Curated Closet process has a a lot in common with the UX design process.


STEP 1: UNCOVERING PROBLEM AREAS
The first few chapters of the book are about doing a deep dive into your current outfit choices to pinpoint the areas where you want to see improvements. This involves documenting what you wear for two weeks, then logging what you did that day and how you felt about the outfit. 

The first lesson I learned? I’m terrible at taking selfies.

 
 

After the two weeks are up, there’s a questionnaire that helps you identify outfit patterns and dig in to your biggest hurdles and motivations. The author then asks you to reflect on your answers and come up with a few personalized goals that will set the course for how to move forward. I had to really spend some time with these questions and they did a great job of helping me understand why I dress the way that I do and where I should be focusing my efforts.

IN UX DESIGN, WE CALL THIS THE DISCOVERY PHASE
In design, you should always begin with a discovery phase like this where you focus on getting to know the user or subject. Similar to documenting outfits and filling out a questionnaire, designers may use ethnographic observation, diary studies, and/or an in-depth interview to better understand current behaviors, preferences, and underlying needs. Through analysis of this research, designers are then able to glean insights, identify opportunity areas, and develop design goals and principles that will shape their design approach.

 

STEP 2:  EXPLORING OPTIONS AND SEEING WHAT STICKS
After learning what I needed to work on and creating my style goals, my next task was to look for outfit inspiration. My objective was to find outfits, individual pieces, and style vibes that appeal to me, and then identify patterns in the images I selected. Clearly, I’m drawn to long layers and a whole lot of neutrals.
 

 My style inspiration board.

My style inspiration board.

IN UX DESIGN, WE CALL THIS CREATING A MOOD BOARD
Gathering inspiration is also a common step in many creative processes, which the author acknowledges. Many designers will search for best practices and ways that others have addressed similar problems to help spark ideas. Diving into specific interaction patterns, organizational layouts, and color palettes can also help inspire and guide a designer’s approach. 
 

 An inspiration board I put together when designing a mobile dashboard.

An inspiration board I put together when designing a mobile dashboard.

Next, I needed to make my style ideas tangible by getting into a store and trying things on, without the expectation of buying anything. The goal here was to experiment with the aesthetic I had come up with and differentiate between what I liked in theory and what I actually liked on me. From there, I could adjust my vision to make sure I was focusing on style elements that I knew worked. This experimentation phase was a key part of the wardrobe building process, just as the ideation and prototyping phase is key to any design process.

IN UX DESIGN, WE CALL THIS IDEATION, PROTOTYPING, AND ITERATION
Ideating and prototyping are hugely important because they allow a designer to quickly get their ideas out, see what’s working, and refine their approach before making any final design decisions. Trying clothes on in the store was like testing a low fidelity mockup of my wardrobe – I could try out my concepts and get immediate feedback before investing too much time, money, or effort on a solution that wouldn’t be successful in the long run.


STEP 3: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
After testing out my fashion hypotheses, the next step was to create a detailed style profile that pulled everything together. The profile was a summary of all the patterns, colors, silhouettes, and materials I had identified as elements of my style throughout the process. 

IN UX DESIGN, WE CALL THIS CREATING A STYLE GUIDE FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Designers will often create similar profiles as a design is developed, in the form of a style guide or pattern library. These are documentations of the agreed upon visual language, including when and how to correctly use different colors, typography, iconography, and interaction patterns. Style guides help maintain consistency for products because anyone working on the design can refer to them when making design decisions. 
 

 Example of a product style guide from Atlassian. Source:  https://atlassian.design/guidelines/product/foundations/color

Example of a product style guide from Atlassian. Source: https://atlassian.design/guidelines/product/foundations/color

Now that I had my guide, it was finally time to start clearing out and rebuilding my wardrobe. Step one was to go through my current closet and assess each item based on how well it fit my new style guidelines. In the design process, this is similar to a content audit or heuristic evaluation where a designer analyzes the current state of a product to identify high and low points of the experience. 

From there, I could determine where the biggest gaps and under-represented areas of my wardrobe were and create a prioritized roadmap to help me tackle my wardrobe overhaul one step at a time. 

 

STEP 4: ADAPTING AND EVOLVING OVER TIME
Because life and personal style aren’t static, the last few chapters of the book cover how to continue making smart clothing decisions and updating your wardrobe over time. After all, it would be a shame to do all that work and not know how to move forward with it. 

IN UX DESIGN, WE CALL THIS HAVING AN EXPERIENCE STRATEGY
In design, creating an experience strategy helps mitigate the lack of direction that can occur after the initial design is developed. Experience strategies outline design principles and a long-term vision that ensure future design decisions are rooted in a strategic vision and not made arbitrarily. 


In the end, it turned out that I had the necessary skills to curate my closet all along. I may not have learned any new techniques, but it did make me think about how I can apply design processes to other challenges in my everyday life. Next on my list? Figuring out how to stop hitting the snooze button.

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Jillian Larson is an experience designer and strategist at Traceable Change. In addition to applying design thinking principles to her everyday life, Jillian can be found eating her way through Chicago and hanging out with her cat.

 

Headspace: Mindfulness in the Tech Era

 

Meditation. Just sit still, do some breathing, pretty soon you're totally relaxed and transcending the chaos of daily life. Ta da!

 

If only it were that simple.

 

As a well-intentioned, easily-distracted, somewhat anxious person, I’m not great at developing intentional habits. And true meditation is a discipline, a lifestyle and a daily practice, which requires serious effort and training. Luckily, technology has something to offer those of us who don’t have time to dedicate several years to a Buddhist monastery.

There are lots of apps dedicated to meditation. Most offer soothing sounds and imagery, which are nice but not exactly life-changing. For someone truly seeking peace through meditation, wading through this technology can be exhausting.

Enter Headspace. Headspace is meditation made simple through an app that trains your brain. It is holistic experience design at its best, because it redesigns your mind and your lifestyle - just as the true practice of meditation is meant to do.

Here’s the story of my foray into meditation and how Headspace helped me actually get a grasp on this "serenity” thing. It comes down to a few key design elements that encouraged me to stay on my journey.

 

Minimize the commitment. Because meditation is something that needs to be practiced daily, I first had to develop a new habit. What is the first thing to derail a new habit in-the-works? For many of us, the slightest obstacle will do. Well, Headspace saw me coming a mile away. To start, the only task is to open the app and look at an orange dot. I dare you to become overwhelmed by this. (Trust me, I have tried.) Then, a progress page automatically loads and points you directly to your assigned session, which has been updated in your very simple linear day to day timeline. I can tell right off the bat that, as simple as it looks, extensive effort and attention to detail has been put into designing this experience.

 
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Keep it simple. I love the timeline design! There seems to be a frenetic drive to build technology with customization, personalization and options galore – after all this is what we are told millennials demand. Headspace earned major points with me by NOT giving me options. It really shows its expertise and value by keeping me on a single track. This guidance-focused design allows me to trust the process and keep focused on my daily practice. It also demonstrates my progress, motivating me to keep going.

Educate along the way. Folks, I am successfully sitting still for a full 15 minutes these days. How did I reach this milestone? The session guidance is designed fluidly with enough - but not too much - instruction. Each day the flow of mindful activities is consistent, building on one another with new tidbits on how to use or understand this practice. The real key here for me is that these methods are backed by science, by solid psychological and neurological research. When new methods and tips are introduced during the meditation, I recognize them, and it is explained to me exactly how they change my brain, my behaviors, and my outlook. This makes everything real, and actually builds a very strong trust that drives me to keep practicing. There are no secrets, just a solid education as your practice matures.

 

Create notifications that augment the experience. The Headspace experience doesn’t stop with the daily meditation time. You also have the option to set up “Mindful Moment” messages, or as I call them “Reminders to not be a crazy person”. At first glance, this seems to be a feature that merely sends periodic cute messages. I wasn’t quite sure what the value was until I started receiving them. They actually extend my learnings from my morning meditation into the day. They bring me back to a mindful state for a moment, which is a huge part of maturing my meditation practice. I quickly realized this add-on feature is intentionally-designed to help grow my ability to be mindful throughout the day. 

 
 

Anticipate other user needs. Beyond the foundational first 30 days, Headspace offers many paths, depending on one’s individual areas of need or focus. They have one-off meditations for common, anxiety-inducing situations, such as fear of flying. There are even appropriately named SOS meditations, which are very short meditations for those “I’m going to blow my lid and need an emergency reality check” situations. All meditations are enhanced by extremely useful animations that explain the methods and benefits of your meditation practice. Some even feature videos from the founder himself.

 
 

The Headspace app has a lot to offer, but to me the most impressive aspect is how intentionally and simply the core experience was designed. From opening the interface to the guided meditation to carrying your skills into the day, this app provides an exceptional experience. After 60 days, I have noticed significant improvements in my ability to chill out and see things clearly. Perhaps the most shocking part is that I am eagerly continuing to develop a lifelong habit with surprising ease. Headspace is an exciting example of how technology can not only speak to, but shape the human experience.


 

Whitney McKedy is one of the founders of Traceable Change. When taking breaks from searching the globe for new experiences, she might be found studying Hindi and knitting way too many scarves during frigid Chicago winters

 

Global Research: How One Cultural Taboo Redefined an Application

Designing a successful experience requires knowledge and consideration of human context. 

The Goal – Designing a Relationship

When Traceable Change teamed up with Varian Medical Systems, a global provider of technology for treating cancer, we were trying to understand what it means to experience and manage cancer across the world. We knew that qualitative global research would be essential to achieving our end goal - designing a portal that streamlines the complex system of cancer management, allowing everyone involved, from patients to physicians, to have a common touchpoint.

Already having a grasp on the broad trends across target markets, our partners at Varian wanted to learn more about what it really looked like to be in a cancer patient’s shoes during this experience. Given the intimate nature of this tool, we needed put our boots on the ground, so we put together a research study comprised of focus groups and one-on-one interviews across the USA, England, Ireland, and India.

 

Welcome to India

From the moment we dropped our bags at the jarringly isolated business hotel in Bangalore and hopped on an auto-rick, we knew India was going to be a new world for us, and we were excited. Friendly strangers waved enthusiastically and offered us dessert on a banana leaf from the entrance to their temple. We haggled with street merchants. We quickly learned to dodge the beautiful chaos of cars, bikes, rickshaws, and cows that made up a typical day of traffic. We followed a tip from friendly silk merchants to delicious masala dosas at a well-hidden local haunt.  Our first day in India fueled our excitement to engage on a personal level with our research participants.

 

 

Empathy as Strategy

Because India was an emerging market for our client, discovery would be the most important phase of our research. As in Europe and the US, our discovery research consisted of one-on-one interviews in which the moderator listened to the patients’ stories. To be truly empathetic designers, we needed them to share their struggles. Once we understood their feelings and experiences, we transitioned into exploring how the tool and its features might improve their lives and their relationships with their care teams.

This one-on-one interview model worked well in the US, England, and Ireland, where the conversations became intimate and emotional quickly. Participants cried as they told their stories - a much-needed release while expressing the gravity of their situation. These rich narratives sparked an empathetic inspiration for our efforts and ideas.

India was different. The patients were more reserved, and the moderator was challenged to build the session into a raw experiential dialogue. This was not surprising. In a culture where using an informal pronoun can be a glaring violation of propriety, we were sitting there trying to forge a highly intimate relationship in a matter of minutes…all in front of a one-way mirror.

We began to realize that, in the world’s most crowded, bustling country, these were people that suffered in solitude - living behind the curtain of a painful taboo.

Our participants taught us that in India, you don’t share your cancer diagnosis. You manage it as privately as possible. Only a few women with whom we spoke felt they could share their burden with their husbands and their children. Our male participants even more rarely shared their illness, even with their wives. They were fighting a terminal battle, and they were alone. They had no access to support groups, and even if they had, they wouldn’t choose to join due to the risk of exposure.

 

 

Therapy in Community

One proposed feature of the new tool was meant to offer a “support system” of online resources and remote collective support. The idea was to create a sense of online community so the weight could be shared between patients that truly understand the struggle of this terminal disease.

Prior to coming to India, this feature concept seemed like a “nice to have” but not a “need to have”. In the US and Europe, very few research participants expressed a need for this. These patients already had support systems in their families, friends, communities and care teams. Before India, we planned to minimize - or even eliminate this concept - in favor of other features.

When we mentioned this concept of private, anonymous, online community support to our Indian participants, they lit up and leaned forward in their seats. Conversation finally picked up. In these moments we realized a surprising cultural divide between our Indian participants and our US/European participants. For the first time in our conversations, the patients were hopeful and enthusiastic. Most of these people had never dreamed of a support system like this, and the mere suggestion of this resource brought much needed relief.

It was in these moments that I felt the true importance of global research.

We have learned through our work with Varian that oncologists recognize support systems as an essential part of treatment, and discovering new ways to address this need in quiet communities can help lighten the burden for patients and care teams alike. Had we not sat down face-to-face with the patients of India, we would never have known that one concept deemed inessential in western countries could critically impact the quality of life for Indian cancer patients.  

Global qualitative research is one of the most fulfilling parts of my work. It is also essential for robust and enduring product design.  The most impactful and transformative design decisions are driven from an empathetic, in-depth understanding of experience in context.


 
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Whitney McKedy is one of the founders of Traceable Change. When taking breaks from searching the globe for new experiences, she might be found studying Hindi and knitting way too many scarves during frigid Chicago winters.

 

 

Varian Medical Systems is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment innovation, and Traceable Change has been privileged to partner with them on a number of initiatives in the US and across the world.