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International Barcode of Life meets SAP & Design Thinking – A Real Life Software Development Example (Part 1 of 2)

Part 1 of 2 (because I can’t shorten this blog entry anymore)

(Part 2 of 2 can be found here)

I would still say I am a newbie when it comes to Design Thinking, having been thrust into this world almost two years ago. What I do think is hard for some to grasp is the idea that Design Thinking is a mindset and not a strict process to adhere to.  For some disciplines (e.g. engineers and computer scientists) this mindset may be confusing because it is not a concrete theory you apply prescriptively.  Consider – can you detail instructions on how to construct a work of art or similarly a software innovation?

But I can’t pretend that I too don’t empathize with the logic lovers out there (I did study math after all).  Therefore I dedicate this blog entry to those like-minded pragmatists who love to see applied examples.  So here’s how we used Design Thinking on our most recent collaboration project with the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) organization — 

(Disclaimer:  this is not a prescription for applying Design Thinking, but merely a highlight of how we applied to it to a development project within Emerging Technologies at SAP Waterloo)


Overview:  here are the Design Thinking phases we went through with a visual approximation of how much time we spent on each over the course of a month for reference throughout this post. 

So a long, long time ago, in a far-away cold place in Waterloo, Canada we met up with an amazing organization called iBOL (which I have already written about at a high level here).  We met and agreed upon the scope of the problem:  how might we engage people around the world with the rich, 10 years in the making, Barcode of Life data (essentially DNA barcodes of life on Earth). (Sidenote: Read more about How Might We statements from Stanford’s here).

Our multidisciplinary dream team (another important concept in Design Thinking) consisted of 6 people: a Design Thinking coach (I mentioned we were newbies, right?), a user experience designer, a graphics designer, a computer scientist (CS-er for short), a product manager (me), and a biologist from the University of Guelph.  

DT_BOL_20130611 - Day 4 onsite and interviews_96.jpgWe spent a lot of time conducting 360 degree research including a site visit to the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (see our bootie picture to the left) and led over 25 user interviews.  We selected people with different backgrounds and interest levels in nature (for example, hobbyists or travelers) and even visited an Elementary school to get feedback from children.  For each interview we tried to have two people present, someone to ask the questions and someone to silently observe what the interviewee said, felt, thought, and actually did (Sidenote:  read more about Empathy maps from Stanford’s here).  

DT_BOL_20130703 - Day x - Synthesis_174.jpg

We then synthesized the interviews by having observers read out their findings, while the rest of the team recorded pictorially (where possible) their insights on post-it notes.  From this exercise we noticed certain meta-themes amongst most of our interviewees.  For example, most everyone’s level of affectedness was directly correlated to their level of interest (i.e. someone was more likely to interact with biodiversity data IF they had an interest in it to begin with).  While some meta-themes were no-brainers (e.g. people often start at Google if they want to identify an unknown species), others surprised me (e.g., while someone may be SUPER passionate about a hobby they often think their interests are not important enough to share with others unless they are in their relatively small, closed network). 

And this brings me to the end of the Synthesis stage.  In Part 2 I will discuss what we did within Ideation (including personas and some wild ideas we had), Prototyping (including a couple of prototypes we came up with) and how we went about Validation (including user testing).  For those that can’t wait to see what the end result was (or like me likes to read ahead to emotionally prepare for upsets and excitements), check out some screen shots of our mobile proof-of-concept posted in Irfan Khan’s latest blog

P.S. Think biodiversity may not be your interest? Ever since I started this project I am now sensitive to all the cool biodiversity stories there are out there. I’ll leave you with a crazy one I just came across the other day – fungi that eats plastic.  Now we only need to DNA barcode it.  

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