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Smell you later? Design Thinking Meets the Senses


I thought it would be fitting to write about the senses and Design Thinking, having recently returned from vacation in Paris, France where my senses were in overdrive, while enroute to start a one month fellowship with the SAP Design Thinking team in Palo Alto.

Let’s first explore sight and the power of simple observation.  Here is a great exercise to warm up your observation skills that we were first introduced to by our Design Thinking coach Assistant Professor Niels Billou.  The following pictures were captured by someone during the ordinary course of one day in their life.  What inferences can you make about this person?  Are they a woman or a man?   How old are they?  Do they have children?  What do they look like?  What is their profession?  Where do they holiday?  What are their life’s aspirations?

Perhaps this is the picture of a 40-something American female nurse with two kids, who tries to make healthy choices for herself, but can’t help but go overboard in her cooking for family get-togethers that centre around enjoying sports – whether it’s her kids playing baseball or her family curled up on the couch watching some Sunday night football.  She obviously loves spending time with her family at the cottage she rents every year, but dreams of owning a family cottage of her own one day.  Sound plausible?  This exercise is great because there are so many different interpretations that can be taken from just examining the many details using just sight.  Now imagine you are an interviewer, trying to truly understand and empathize with someone, like how we do with Design Thinking.  What if we only relied on what we heard our end users say, and ignored other senses like sight?    

When conducting End User interviews (side note:  a good rule of thumb is to conduct end user interviews in pairs, one strictly interviewing, one silently recording), some recorders choose to use an Empathy Map (see photo below) to capture interviews, not only for what was said, but also for what the end user was feeling, doing, and even harder to capture in my opinion – what the end user was thinking during the course of the interview.  This Empathy Map really makes the recorder use all of their senses to truly observe the end user as they answer questions from the interviewer.  /wp-content/uploads/2013/05/empathy_map_213589.gif

We humans are complex, and to rely on one sense to understand someone would be like the mistake I almost made when determining my preference for unpasteurized cheese in Paris by just relying on my sense of smell – although pungent, Parisian cheese can be quite delicious. 

So as I start my one month fellowship in Silicon Valley at the SAP Palo Alto Lab, at the heart of our SAP Design Thinking movement, I hope to explore some of the intricacies around truly understanding end users from a company that has worked hard to redesign software experiences to enchant its customers (check out what’s new at this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW conference for some great new examples!).  And what if you were given the camera – what would you choose to capture in your everyday?  Follow me on my twitter account @Sarah_Sugoi to see some of my everyday in May in my small Palo Alto adventure. 

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