Design Thinking with Martin Waite.
We spoke to Marv about design thinking and how it can be used to help people.
- Martin Waite
- 20 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 31 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today I'm joined by Martin Waite from Hive IT.
Marv: Hi there.
Tom: Welcome on Martin, or Marv. It feels wrong calling you Martin, I'm so used to calling you Marv.
Marv: Yeah for the last 20 odd years I've been know as Marv, it just happened overnight and then it stuck.
Tom: So do you want to start off by introducing yourself a little bit, how you ended up getting into working in design and user research and what you do at Hive as well?
Marv: Yes so yeah, welcome everybody. I'm Marv, I'm the design director at Hive IT. So I've been involved in design for quite a long time now. I studied product design back in the day, so I think I started at Brunel University in 1994, graduated in 1998 and came out with a product design degree.
Unfortunately there were very few product design jobs in the UK at the time, so I was looking at ways of, well looking at what was out there at the time and I was sending off a lot of CVs all over the place.
I thought wouldn't it be great to actually get something online. I'd heard about the internet, didn't know that much about it. So I started discovering ways of getting stuff online and the first task was to get my CV online.
I started doing that, I quite enjoyed doing it, one thing led to another and eventually I started getting into the web design industry, moving away from 3D products into 2D products online essentially.
Using exactly the same principles I'd learned at university but turning it into the world of web design. From there I worked at various different companies, small and large, and eventually ended up working with a few people at a company called Technophobia.
Then Hive is kind of a spin-off of a few people from Technophobia, so Johnny is the MD, involved in kind of sales and marketing essentially. Myself, involved in the world of design and Duncan who's very much a developer.
So we had a very sort of strong core skill team where we felt we could sort of handle small and large things together or as a team and it gave us a lot of flexibility to move forward and expand the business into what we've got today.
So 20 odd people at Hive, so it's great. So it's almost nine years to the day that we all started together. So yeah, exciting times and it still keeps growing so it's still all good.
Tom: Yeah, brilliant. Did you ever envisage when you were at university that you'd be getting into working online so much?
Marv: Not necessarily at the time, it wasn't something I considered.
It's something we touched upon at the time but it was still very much in it's infancy. Back then there was the first sort of dot-com bubble which did burst quite rapidly, sort of in the very early 2000s. But what I said earlier was you could take a lot of the principles we learned at university, core design principles, and turn that into lots of different industries and so it was a very nice transition into the world of web design as well.
So that set me up really well and a lot of techniques I might be talking about today are kind of core skills that any designer picks up as well. So it's not something special to the world of the internet or whatever.
These core principles can be flexible and used for lots of different scenarios which is really good and powerful as well.
Tom: Yeah, brilliant. And that leads us very nicely into design thinking.
So let's start off with what is design thinking because I know you've been running quite a few workshops on this.
Marv: Yeah, I see design thinking as basically a design process starting off from an idea. There might be a problem to be solved, you might have an existing product or thing that might have some issues or you might be starting from scratch.
But how do you sort of move along the process, the production process, to getting something tangible out of it?
So it's all about having this process that you can stick to. Design thinking has become almost a facilitation technique whereby as a designer or even a facilitator you can sit down with the right people and get something tangible out of it quickly.
So what's quite easy to do in the world of design is I could come up with an idea, you could come up with an idea and you think it's the best thing since sliced bread and you become quite blinkered to that and you might tell your friends and family about it.
Your friends and family kind of wanting to please you a lot of the time. You're not always getting truthful answers back saying "look I'm not quite sure about this, it feels wrong."
What design thinking is about is bringing people together. So you're not working in isolation, you're working with other people, you're communicating your ideas, but it's not designed by committee. It's a flexible structure that allows people to almost work together as a group but thinking individually and bringing ideas together rather than kind of one focal person taking control over everything.
And we've all been in situations where you've heard about design by committee where nothing ever comes of it. It's a lot of meetings and it's quite frustrating for everybody involved and it goes nowhere.
Design thinking is a way of just facilitating design process in such a way that you get something tangible out of it in a very short period of time as well. So there's some really powerful tools to use.
So I keep talking about facilitation but facilitators have a lot of tools they can use from their toolkit to help people and get the best out of people and get those ideas to really come to light.
Tom: Can it be quite flexible as well?
Marv: It can be very flexible. There's hundreds of design sort of toolkits out there for facilitators to get whatever you need out of the individuals you're talking to.
And a good facilitator can flex those tools and know what tools to use to get the best out of people as well.
Because sometimes you can be sat with people who are not familiar with design processes at all and they've never done it before.
They might be kind of asking "Why am I sat in this workshop, what am I going to get out of this?".
But if you've kind of got key decision makers or senior managers from a client you might be working with.
But the tools and techniques we use are kind of, in some cases, almost like fun games to try and get people thinking in such a way. And they are not serious workshops, they're kind of, they are quite light and easygoing,
But you get something quite serious out of it at the end of the day.
So it's not a heavy going kind of workshop. It's a fun kind of day or a couple of days to get ideas flowing from people.
Tom: Yeah and talking about those workshops there, who would you say they are aimed at or who are they for? Like who are they benefiting?
Marv: So as I mentioned earlier, there's a whole variety of different people. So there might be a company that has a particular problem they're trying to solve.
There might be academics that kind of come up with design ideas and want to move it forward. There might be a company that's trying to change some of their processes.
So it doesn't have to be a web product. It doesn't have to be a 3D product. It could be a process as well.
What it's about is highlighting issues. You might have what we call a user journey. So there might be certain parts of flow of something that's not quite working as expected.
It's all about highlighting what those issues might be and turning those issues on their head. How could you change those issues into something positive?
And if you're trying to develop a brand new product, you might be looking at something really quite obscure. You're like a day in the life of you going to work and you might highlight some issues along the journey and that might spur a particular idea or a concept or something that sparks another idea.
And it's kind of going on a voyage of discovery. What's great about these workshops is you don't always know what the answer is going to be at all. And some of the answers that come at the end of the day or the week, whatever it is you're running these things over, might be very, very different to what you might have imagined at the start of that journey.
So it is a journey. You don't always know what you're going to get out of it. But it's always quite exciting seeing what you do get out of it.
Tom: Yeah. Do you go through similar problems throughout the workshops or are they new as well?
Marv: Every workshop is quite different. You can start off with, let's say, you try to solve a problem for X.
You'll probably come up with lots of different answers each time you run the workshop. And that's the beauty of it.
You come up with something quite unique each time. So you never know what you're going to quite get out of it sometimes. That's the beauty of it as well. So what we're trying to do when we're running these workshops is and as a designer, I find it quite hard to do this, is kind of almost solutionize ideas too early in the process.
And I find it quite hard just to step back from that. It's all about having all the ideas come in from all the people in your group.
It's a really good idea to have people from lots of different disciplines in your group. You don't need many people.But you need enough variety of different thoughts and perspectives to get the best out of these ideas and move forward from that.
Tom: And at what point do you think about the user in the process, like at what stage?
Marv: The user is kind of central to everything. That's probably the first part of what we're looking at, considering who our end users are going to be.
We quite often call them personas. We try to map out what this person, who this person is, what their thought process is, what their current pains might be with a particular process, or what they like doing and understanding that.
Sometimes you might not know this. Sometimes you might have to assume who these people are. But if you're dealing with an existing product, product owners or the senior managers, stakeholders that you might be dealing with, might have a very good idea of who these persona types are and understand them in quite some depth.
So it's like you don't always know what you're dealing with, but that doesn't matter. And part of this design process is that I don't have to be an expert in the subject matter. It's all about me as a facilitator, bringing out the best of people and visualizing what they're thinking.
So I can see all the ideas kind of flowing. I can act as a funnel to sort of drive the ideas down a certain way to get something tangible out of it at the end of the process.
Tom: Yeah. And I think getting something tangible out of it sounds like quite a sort of important part in a way, in that you can do that in quite a short space of time.
Marv: Yeah. And that's what it's all about as well, because quite often with failed design processes, you might have something that's very clever at the end of the day, but you can have a kind of a very, very advanced system.
But if people can't use it or don't understand why it's there, it could be a failed product.
So this is all about failing really quickly, trying out ideas, getting them in front of end users, testing them and iterating and that's what it's all about.
So getting to a point where you can test a very simple prototype in front of the real end users, not just your friends and family.
You want know all the problems up front. You want to find these and iron them out as soon as possible. And I want people to be very cruel about any early designs and not be precious about them at all.
I want people to rip them to shreds essentially and then work up from that and not do it other way around once you've got a finalised product and people don't understand it or don't get it, this is all stuff you should have ironed out really early on in that process.
Tom: Yeah, is that one of the main benefits in that you get to help people avoid making mistakes and like spending loads of money on something?
Marv: Exactly that, yeah. So if you're moving into development or engineering a product before it's been thoroughly tested with the end users, you're gonna set yourself up for quite a big and expensive fall sometimes.
And quite often if you're working with the clients, sometimes senior stakeholders might have a mental model of what they want to do. They know in their own minds like what the solution is and they're almost dictating to the rest of the team what they have to go off and design.
And then they spend several months, even years, developing this thing only for it to fail again.
What this does is allow you to test assumptions. So let's say you as a senior manager come to me and say, I want a new chair. It's gotta be blue, it's gotta be leather, it's gotta have this, that, and the other.
We go off and do some research with our end users, use these design processes. We come back and say, look, we've tested it with our key user types. We found that we need to modify a few things and we could do this, that, and the other. And we can prove to you why something might not work in your original way.
And it gives us the tools and ammunition to actually mold something to a better solution, as it were, rather than just basing something on somebody's assuming something is the way forward. We can test all that with valid data, essentially.
And we can test it really quickly and we can come back and give valid reasons. It could be overruled, that's fine. We've kind of, we've tested the market, as it were. We know kind of which direction to turn for the best.
Tom: Yeah, and you've run quite a few of these workshops now, with Hive, how have they been?
Marv: Yeah, they've been great. So we've done a few workshops now with Sheffield University, working with academics in various ways to help people kind of move forward in the design process.
So helping those individuals who are coming up with ideas and also helping the academic staff learn how they can help their students along this journey as well. So teaching them the basic tools and techniques to help them along the way as well.
So at Hive now we have a team of four people who are UX specialists and each one of us can go out there and run and facilitate these workshops. So, you know, we mentioned there that we've done it with Sheffield University, but we also use the processes internally as well on normal projects.
So a lot of our projects run through a stage called discovery. And that's what this is all about, understanding who's going to be using whatever it is they are designing or producing or adapting, and then moving through this process.
And we always prototype something, get it in front of the end users and test the assumptions. When I say assumptions, it's kind of, it might be a design assumption about something, we'll trial it, test it, move forward, iterate it and improve it.
And that's what the process is all about. So we can move pretty quickly and get to something that has, from a design point of view got quite a solid foundation. We're confident then when we hand it over to our engineers or software developers, whoever it is, we've got something that has that sound foundation that we're confident in moving forward.
Tom: Yeah. And do you think through the workshops, people learn the skills that they can then use again in the future, maybe with a different product or service?
Marv: Exactly that, yeah. And I think that's what it's all about.
As people do this, sometimes they can't see the reason for doing it at first, but once they get into it and buy into it as well, it becomes quite a simplistic process.
It's not rocket science, it's just having the right people, the right frame of mind to sit through these workshops and get something tangible out of it. So yeah, it's really valuable. And people who have done it have kind of commented afterwards that it really makes sense. It really is the way forward.
And you can see with clarity where your ideas are going. Sometimes you start the week thinking, I know exactly what I want to do with this thing. But you might find through the workshop, it takes a bit of a U-turn, it goes somewhere else, it goes in a different direction. It's not where you expected it to be, but you found a whole new universe of opportunity that you hadn't even thought about before. So it's all about bringing that to the fore as well. I like people to remove the blinkers from that idea and you see the wider picture and you see other opportunities that you might not have even thought about before.
So it's really powerful stuff and in a short period of time you can open up to this whole new world of vision essentially.
Tom: Yeah what kind of skills or learnings do you think people take on in particular? Is it about having more of an open mind and being more flexible to changes in the product or identifying maybe the user's needs earlier on in the process?
Marv: I guess it's highlighting all those issues. I think central to everything are those end users. Whenever I'm talking to end users either through usability testing, testing prototypes or doing something that we call contextual inquiry where we're looking over the shoulder of users using an existing product let's say, sort of describing how they're using something, even the environments in which they're using something, just taking all that, having a holistic view of that end user.
Perhaps we can highlight things that when you're back in the managerial meeting some of the managers might not have even considered or had no idea about how people are actually using their end product. So it helps kind of bring everything together and get everything on a clean slate basically and you can work from that.
Tom: So how can people sign up to these design thinking workshops?
Marv: So you can look on our website at www.hiveit.co.uk and you can email us at email@example.com as well.
Tom: Okay brilliant. I feel like I've learned so much in a short space of time there about design thinking.
Marv: Yeah I didn't really go into any detail of the kind of the toolkit or anything like that but that just gives a very sort of high level sort of introduction to the world of design thinking and yeah we can go into further detail if anybody's interested in any more of the kind of specific workshops and what you might get out of it as well.
Tom: Yeah yeah and there's some really good examples like the one with the airplane getting through...
Marv: Yeah you can imagine any set scenario. So say going on holiday, often the most painful part of that is kind of going through airport security.
So what are the ways in which you could sort of turn on its head? How could you make airport security the best part of going on holiday? Start thinking in slightly different ways. So turning things on their head and sort of looking at those areas and it might sort of lead down a sort of a path of yeah exploring different ideas and things that might make life easier for people in certain scenarios. Things like that.
There's lots of things in the medical world that you could sort of waiting in waiting rooms and the boredom of doing that. How could you sort of change that that scenario, that circumstance things like that.
So yeah there's lots and lots of different things and yeah the scope is almost endless for using this technique, you can use it in anything really.
Tom: Yeah yeah I remember when we discussed making a video about design thinking and we were like how should we do that and it's like ah maybe we could use design thinking to create a video about how to make a video about design thinking.
Marv: Exactly that and if you've got any processes that you're doing in your line of work you can use the same techniques as well to kind of find out any issues you might have in certain processes you use as well. So yeah it's a very very flexible technique.
Tom: Yeah brilliant. Okay final question then.
So the one I ask every guest. What can people do to make things better and you can interpret this however you like.
Marv: I guess using processes like this you can see things from a very different perspective. So as I say leave all your current preconceptions behind. Don't solutionize anything. Look at the evidence and sort of move forward from that and I think seeing things with a different perspective kind of opens up this whole new world of opportunities. It's a really kind of powerful thing and again also listening to people who are going to be using whatever it is you're creating. Spending time with people and understanding how people think from a different perspective as well is a really powerful tool to have and you can see things in a different light.
So yeah it really kind of opens your eyes and as a designer I find that really powerful. Quite often in the past I've been kind of getting information from user researchers and kind of trying to analyze data but if you're actually sitting there with end users yourself I find that things translate. I can understand that and I'm kind of in their mindset. It's not just me reading a report of what I need to do to fix something. I can see very clearly from somebody else's perspective and yeah it's another powerful thing, another powerful kind of vision tool to have.
Tom: Yeah and I imagine you can sort of ask more questions in that way as well and sort of really get into more depth and understanding of the users.
Marv: Exactly yeah.
Tom: Yeah brilliant great answer.
Okay well thank you so much for coming on.
Marv: No problem. Thank you.
Tom: I really enjoyed chatting and I've learned a lot so yeah and thanks to anyone watching or listening or reading this podcast today and I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.
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