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Posts from the ‘Ideas’ Category

The Case of Design Sprints

August 14th, 2016

I’ve been following up on the design sprint quite intensively in the past few months, particularly because one of my clients agreed to have it after we offered it, because they didn’t know what to do with their product, and needed our help to jumpstart a revamp. Secondly, I’ve been in a volunteer in a national-scale movement to generate a new spring of startups through a series of mentoring sessions, and finally, incubation.

As a designer, I am sure loving the idea of spearheading design in every possible opportunity, especially the idea of integrating design in the core of businesses. I must say I agree that one of the ways for it is through design sprints. However, I must say that we shouldn’t explicitly conclude that the only way to enforce design thinking is through design sprints, nor the idea that it is just another “gimmicky” effort for make-believe.

A specific counterargument I’ve had about design sprints revolved around the idea that any method or process is useless. You know, that “anti-process” movement. Especially, when you “talk to only five testers in the end,” versus the idea of rolling out a feature or minimum viable product over thousands of users, or doing A/B testing in a quick successive way. That design sprints are a “waste of time”, because “we’ve kind of decided what we want to do.”

I must say this to you: Design sprint is only one method of many. It sprung up lately because it is a very lean activity to jumpstart and validate an idea. As you know, idea is cheap, because most of them are assumptions, and we need to validate those assumptions.

The argument against design sprints

If people argue that “it’s a waste of time” and think they’d rather launch the product first and see the feedback from the people who use the product, then I’d say, be it. Launch your product, and see.

Especially, if you have the time, energy and money to do it.

I suspect Google isn’t trying to force everyone to use design sprints, but I perceive it as a way to democratize design so that everybody in the company, regardless of their roles, can contribute to the design decision. For many years, designers have been in the “sit-in” and silent role. It’s a position where other people constantly question why a design decision made.

Imagine this situation: a CEO comes with a brief for a product concept. He constantly blurbs out amazing data and facts—combined with his enduring experience, most likely 15 years in the “industry”—that this product idea will make the next big thing. Sure, he got that investment money and ready to roll. He just needs everybody below him to see his wisdom and look up to him, and do as he says. The engineers, the designers, the PMs, the business guys, all come in and are obliged to take a nod to the Big Vision.

The “resource” team would do their “magic” and roll things out as the Big Vision tells it. No questions should be asked.

The product launches, after millions of dollars spent, and somehow, it delivers, but only in mediocre scale. What went wrong? “My team is terrible,” I believe that would be somehow in one of those train of thoughts by the CEO.

This is where design thinking should come in and hopefully save the day. The CEO could ask everybody to assess his Big Vision and try to see what would work better. Better yet, the idea by the team then will be validated by the users quicker. From 10 possible directions, they could narrow to 3, and their chance of failure is reduced, or at least, they are trying to answer a better question.

Now, if the CEO doesn’t mind spending millions of dollars to validate his idea, then by all means, skip the design sprint part. I am not going to argue against your business model.

Design sprints have been designed to reduce the wide varying answers for the very basic business & product question: will this work for my customers or people who will use my product? It will not produce the correct one, nor the God-forsaken the destiny of your product, but it will help you reduce your choices into the better ones. Nothing guarantees success!

The 5-day format is also designed so that it can be executed in a short period of time, with the most-readily available tools and space, and with the most compact composition of participants as possible. It is just the right size. It is basically a solid answer to the worry that “design thinking takes a lot of time and my company doesn’t have the time or resource to do that.”

Why is it so structured?

Designers and engineers probably think the way the sprint is structured look very rigid, because they’re used to thinking quickly, acting quickly and the most dangerous thing of all: jumping into solutions and conclusions before understanding the problem. I believe, this also applies to businesspeople as well.

Design sprint is designed so that we can all follow the proper problem-solving flow, one thing at a time, so that we find clarity every single day. It is pushing people outside their comfort zone: the easy way, the jumping-t0-solution way, the non-fussy way. Dive deep into the problem, and let it sink over nights. By the end of the sprint, we all find a common understanding, a common clarity.

It is also structured in a way that it accomodates every single type of personality. Every meeting that I’ve been always focused on the extroverts. The worst meetings are when the bosses are the extroverts. The bad meetings are when one of the staff is an extrovert and he pushes his thinking to everyone. With a voice. So loud. Cutting every conversation. This is truly bad for the team.

Design sprints have varying dynamics of ideation: sometimes it’s speaking, sometimes it silent work, sometimes it’s zen voting an idea. Or, call it “brainwriting” if you will. It makes sure that everybody gets listened to. Nobody gets in a way, regardless of their position in the company. A VP of Engineering will not push his opinion against designers just because he talks louder.

I am thinking that while design sprints are not perfect, and that there are many other methods, they are quite versatile and adaptable. If the team is not comfortable with 5-day duration, I’ve seen cases where people do it in 3 days. Although, I must say that, if your team is just starting a design sprint tomorrow, I’d highly recommend that it will be the 5-day one, and see whether the pattern fits your team. If your team is experienced enough and can think through quicker, 3-day sprints are fine.

Just make sure one thing is being done: validating with customers. Without this, your sprint is just another “self-satisfying” session with no purpose to serve the people who will use your product.

Unless you don’t care about the people who will use your product, or you just have a lot of money and time to burn.

Stop Caring about the Analytics

May 16th, 2015

I have two blogs. One is this, and the other one is a travel blog — which I think is doing quite okay.

I installed analytics in both, with Jetpack for WordPress. Well, honestly, I have removed it temporarily for this blog because of some server issue before. But I have a hard time deciding to put it back.

Once in the past I was obsessed with stats. That was something that propelled me to produce new content and improve the quality of the content. When I used to have comments in my blog, it was even worse. I gauged post quality by the number of comments.

In the heyday of web design, you had page hit counters and a remotely-hosted stat site that detected demographic information of your site’s visitors.

It does apply to my tweets, too. I have my personal Twitter account and the travel blog’s Twitter account. I would obsessively check the follower count, the favorite list — whether someone, somewhere have favorited my stuff and how many times. Then, once in the lame past of my tweeting history, I also signed up for a service that detected when a user on Twitter has unfollowed me and it will notify me. I was that paranoid.

Then, came the silly Klout score.

I was dead obsessed about these things.

I decided then not to care about things like those anymore. There are several reasons.

First, obsessing about analytics takes away my focus on creating quality content. Or at least, genuine content. A content that is true to yourself, and one which you do with the ways you believe in. The mission is to have the constant motivation and trajectory to increase the quality of your content without worrying too much about what people say.

Second, analytics is mediocrity. If the content or product is genuinely good, people will come to you no matter what the analytics say.

Third, analytics is “business tell-tale”. It’s everything to do with selling & convincing. See point 2. Good content or product don’t need convincing. You can have fewer audience but greater potential.

You can have analytics tool installed or whatever, but don’t spend your time on that every night. Spend your time creating good content and product instead.

Meetings Can Be Better If

May 13th, 2015

  • People don’t bring laptops and phones in. Just do sketches. Emails and internet are distracting.
  • No PowerPoint is involved. Alright, Keynote slides are fine. Or even better, just still images.
  • We all keep it lean. Just 5 participants maximum. Odd numbers are best, so in case we go democratic, we can outnumber the rest.
  • It’s done in day-time, before lunch.
  • We keep it short. One hour is the max.
  • We have action plans thought before. Brainstorming for hours isn’t a thing.
  • We plan it a few days before, but not weeks before.
  • We think that the discussion can be relatively longer than a short email.
  • We really need see faces.
  • Internet connection is best — only for conference calls. Anyway, conference calls are painful. So, I’d rather skip them. Do emails instead.
  • They’re actually replaced with emails or digital communication tools or whatever. (Can’t stress enough.)
  • Each participant is given equal or appropriate time to express themselves. Meetings often benefit only extroverts.
  • Prepared. Meaning, each participant is briefed on the subject of meeting and they’re asked to write first-hand solutions to be discussed further. Nothing is worst than coming empty-handed and spend 1 hour talking about nothing.
  • We have whiteboards or stick-its, of course. See point 1.
  • We lose the projectors and replace them with monitors (big ones). Projectors are shitty.

Why traveling is important for designers

May 27th, 2013

Designers thrive on experiences. We use our sense in equal proportion to our problem-solving logic. There is simply nothing more important than for designers to open their minds and senses into the widest possible experiences.

When asked, “What do you do to keep yourself updated and educated?”, a designer can simply say that they buy design books, attend design lectures or seminars, discuss with fellow designers, or some even go further in their education by getting short courses or a complete master’s degree.

While I agree design education is important, there is more than just the design discipline to get one’s skills polished. Practice is equally important, but so is reading a wide array of topics and themes, discuss with the larger communities–not just design communities, meet a lot of people, maybe finish a different kind of degree or formal course, and if you feel adventurous, even go places. Yes, the actual kind of travel.

Travel teaches designers multitude of design soft skills that they will not get in the textbooks. It teaches problem-solving skills, time management, understanding how specific community views and solves problems, and will expose you to a world of different visual culture. It’s all about understanding people, and people are the forefront of our work. We design for people, not for theories.

So, if you have the time, take some days off and venture to a place (or places). The greater the differences in the destination than your home city or country, the better it is. Expose yourself. Risk yourself.

Reviving City Tourism through Digital Apps

February 10th, 2013

Tourism in Jakarta is in an ironic state. Number of visitors are growing from 2002 and 2010 and city government revenues are climbing up from 2009 to 2010 by 14% according to Badan Pusat Statistik, but these are not enough to compete with Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Singapore, the three top city destinations in Southeast Asia.

Speaking of traveling Jakarta, we don’t see an immediate response from travellers when they are asked about the highlights of this particular destination. Could it be its museums? Parks? Shopping centers? Landmarks? If you ask the same questions to travellers going to Singapore, they would easily answer it. Even, with almost the same breadth and urban problems, Bangkok sounds more appealing.

If Jakarta wasn’t designed or intended for tourism, could it be helped a little, considering the fact that it is the second largest international port of entry to Indonesia after Denpasar?  Twenty percent of annual foreign visitors to Indonesia stop by Jakarta before exploring the rest of the nation. Could we at least make it more exciting for this twenty percent to spend quality time in this dense urban sprawl, even for a short 24 hours of stay? If then we’d say it should be exciting, could we make a detour from the luxurious shopping malls and find more authentic experiences? Could we at least make it more informative or enlightening? Is there the other side of the spectrum?

Jakarta has a long history. It spans from the 4th century and experienced a major development and urbanization during Dutch colonialization when it was called Batavia for three centuries. After the Indonesian independence, it was handed over to our hands and experienced rapid growths in just under a half century. Population multiplied nearly ten times from 1950s to the new millennium, from around 1.5 millions to 11.7 millions. The inhabitants are a mix of ethnics as a result of the influx of migrations, even from outside the city, or even the nation. Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Sundanese, Javanese and hundreds of thousands others flocked to Jakarta in the name of a better life or fate. This is simply the most diverse city in Indonesia.

As a result of the long history and diverse population, the resulting mix is fascinating: fusion cuisines, diverse cultural showcase, “a new kind” of language or dialect, intercultural marriages, historical vestiges from the Batavian era, and many more. They are definitely some interesting aspects to inform our visitors, those we already know for many years but still fail to harness. We are busy coping with our own problems. Could there be a solution?

Enter the world of digital apps. The advent of mobile devices has shed a new light on city-based tourism. Digital apps run on mobile devices, and many of these are related to helping the travel community find their own ways in a city. It can simply be a self-running travel guide with audio narratives without internet connectivity, or a new kind of social travel app that lets you share what you find on the way with your friends and families through a 3G network.

However, many of these city-based and location-based apps are designed for commerce, which means they are often more into digital classifieds, directories or aggregates–helping you find the “nearest coffee chain” or “best clothing bargains”–based on an automated algorithm.

We have to carefully pick the ones that are tailored for tourism, and even more, ones that promote actual & authentic local experiences. A few names exist in this area that provides curated and researched reviews, which includes major publishers like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Moon or National Geographic; independent ones like Travelfish, Creative Tourist, GuidePal, Trover or Spotted by Locals; or city government sponsored projects.

Unfortunate but apparent, many Indonesian-based apps and websites don’t provide enough time to curate and edit their own contents, and more often than not, leave these into the jungle of crowdsourcing.  The key here is technology can help, but it needs human touch: selective curation. Too many of a time, we have seen apps or websites with crowd-sourced information with content quality that falls below standard and quickly becomes trash. It is important to strive for a simple-working mobile travel app or website with a content that is well-curated and professionally edited. The careful editorial process a printed book also needs to be applied to the content of digital apps.

I amsterdam” is particularly inspiring in this regard. With the help of Amsterdam Tourism & Congress Board (ATCB) and Edenspiekerman–a world-known design agency–the city government of Amsterdam developed an interactive city exploration application that helps visitors understands lesser known attractions, in a total number of 140 locations. The collaboration puts physical signage systems adjacent to each attraction with short paragraphs and QR code printed on them. These signages are made from handmade ceramic tiles to withstand outdoor conditions and reflect a Dutch identity. People without a QR code-enabled device might read the short paragraphs, while those with an enabled device can scan the QR code through an accompanying “I amsterdam” app that will tell you more about the specific attraction, a unique story that you might never heard of. Altogether, it weaves a more detailed story of a city than you would ever imagine. If sounds or videos are added, touring a city independently can’t be more immersive than this.

Another good example of simple city touring application is Guardian’s Streetstories app featuring the King’s Cross area in the city of London, United Kingdom. Available for Apple iOS and Android devices, it takes users on a focused independent tour at King’s Cross, an area in central London with a mixed history and an important rail hub. It doesn’t tackle the whole city, but it tackles the specific area in a very detailed manner. Visually on the map, we will see several colored circles. In manual mode, when clicked or active, these circles will play the story relevant to a street, a building or any place. In automatic mode, a feature called “Autoplay” will track our location via global positioning system and plays the relevant audio guide automatically. We can imagine walking on the routes and begin listening to the story as we walk pass by a building or a street. The audio will fade away when we leave that particular area.

The third example is a bit different, yet is still related to travel. “” is a Singapore-based transportation directory that automatically calculates the shortest and best-fared routes on a public transport from one point to another, in the Singapore island. While not catering specifically to attractions, it helps guide travelers in their own preferences.

Meanwhile, an independent Manchester-based travel website called “Creative Tourist” created a special city guide app that caters to museums and art galleries. In this simple iPhone app, users can view basic information of a museum or gallery such as history, opening times, contact and events, as well as going on a recommended trail from a select few.

Now, imagine having any kind of those apps in Jakarta. With selective curation and editing of the content, we could leverage the lesser known attractions. Imagine an app that lists off-the-beaten path culinary spots, a strip of shopping bargains in a local market, public festivals organized independently, and the list goes on. An app can also be utilized to show the best way or trail to enjoy Jakarta’s museums or historic streets. We can put signages printed with QR codes to let users learn more about a fun story of a building or a market. Create city-scale game that asks visitors to shop fruits specific to Indonesia–or cakes specific to Jakarta–and collect digital badges. The possibilities are endless. 

These rich mosaic complement the already popular ones like historical sites in Kota Tua. It might be worth trying to avoid completely the major commercial attractions like Dunia Fantasi, golf courses or shopping malls to make way for introducing more authentic attractions. It might also be a great idea to focus solely on the historical sites and aspects of Jakarta, which have always been in our hindsight but never came out as the main stars. 

Applications for tourism in Jakarta can be done in several ways: independent or through the city government. If developers aim for money, they could sell this app or content, or provide a teaser version containing a set of limited information. If the city government is still willing, they can do the same like the “I amsterdam” campaign and invest on creating a self-guided app or other interactive system that facilitates independent exploration. While Jakarta is not convenient to explore on foot, we can localize the attraction by area, or create a recommendation for excursion by car or taxi. 

Why should we use digital apps? This is definitely not the only solution, but one that can partially save Jakarta. We aim mainly for educated, young to productive age visitors. A large number of these visitors would possess a smartphone and are independent explorers. Digital applications are also centrally maintained, and with a way to hook the apps into social networking sites, it will likely find attention.

Bike commuters are happiest

February 4th, 2013

Commuters who bike to work are the most satisfied with their morning travel, according to a new study by Portland State Urban Studies Planning Graduate School. The study concludes that commuters who walk to work were almost as happy as cyclists, the least happy being solo drivers. Considering that 76.6 percent of Americans drive alone to work, the findings should resonate with most of us.

(via Outside Online)

A blend of science and art

February 4th, 2013

Bill Moggridge said:

[Academia is] all about explicit knowledge. And design, by definition—along with the other arts like poetry or writing—is mostly not so explicit. It’s mostly tacit knowledge. It has to do with people’s intuitions and harnessing the subconscious part of the mind rather than just the conscious. And the result is if you try and couch the respectability of a professor or some form of research grant in terms that are normal for science, then it looks very weak. And so you have to have a different attitude, really, in order to see the strength that it could offer or the value that it could offer. And that’s a big difficulty both in academia and in terms of foundations.

(via Brainpickings)

Content first

February 4th, 2013

This is what we’ve always done: we build our shrines. We build our shrines sometimes before we even have content. We build our shrines before we know what that content will look like.

We love our shrines. We love crafting them, sanding them, staining, and lacquering them. We craft and then fill them with our precious stuff–words and images. And then we think, Ah! I need to add those pieces of lint, those little doodads in the corner: the share button and email button, the like and +1 and retweet buttons. We stick them in the corners of our shrines because we built our shrines without them, sometimes before they existed.

(Craig Mod in “Our New Shrines“)

Promoting Responsible Travel for Jakarta

April 19th, 2012

It is a frightening imagination for people spending their time traveling Jakarta to walk around in the city to visit its attractions, where distances are far, pedestrian facilities barely match the standards, environmental quality horrible and insecurity prevails on the streets.

It is also not in an outsider’s quickest thought to say that the best of Jakarta lies in one of its museums or parks. What are the best things that Jakarta has to offer? The locals might know the best eateries or that small local markets selling recommended goods, but other than word of mouths, how do we get the information to be related to city? More importantly, how do we get these to appeal to foreign travelers?

Jakarta is already a city with a lot of problems at hand. Urbanization, and subsequently, overpopulation is a serious issue. Being the mother of all problems, it quickly sets pace to other growing problems affecting the environment, social life and the economy. They impact the qualities of the “attractions” we try to offer to travelers.

Take these issues and try to package Jakarta as an attractive invitation to discerning travelers. Suddenly, a huge, if not impossible, homework needs to be done.

With Badan Pusat Statistik logging in over 1.8 million travelers in 2010, growing more than 50% since 2002, it might not be as much as Bangkok or Singapore, both at close to 10 million annually according to Euromonitor International, but still a sign that number of travelers is growing. It surpassed the target in 2010 of 1.4 million. Government revenues from this sector also increased by 14% from 2009 to 2010.

Even when the numbers are growing, most international travelers seem to skip Jakarta and find something beyond in the larger Indonesian archipelago. Jakarta accounts for around 20% of total foreign travelers coming to Indonesia. However, 20% is quite a modest share. There’s still something that can be done.

Browsing through the travel guide racks in one bookstore in Jakarta, I skimmed all the titles trying to find travel resources on Jakarta. There are some popular periodicals. One book or two about nightlife and culinary highlights. Lonely Planet doesn’t even publish a guide about Jakarta anymore, or probably none of them reached here. But why?

Looking online, I found that searching “Bangkok Travel Guide” gave more than 50 million results, while “Jakarta Travel Guide” gave only around 13 million results. Of course, numbers alone don’t make up for the quality. So, I consulted some web sites. Jakarta-Tourism.go.idsounded like the best place to go for a one-stop shop for everything tourism in Jakarta, but most of the pages failed to load, and the English needs some good revisions. The best ones that I found were a WikiTravel’s page, and some Lonely Planet resources.

Why are we behind? Unfortunately, there is nothing to blame on the publishers or the content providers. The city probably sets itself to its own fatigue, or we’ve been setting up false expectations.

Are we resorting to simply branding Jakarta something like “Enjoy Jakarta!”, in a similar effort to brand Singapore, for instance? Do you think travelers enjoy Jakarta? Do we really know what Jakarta really has to offer, and in return, what kind of tourism does Jakarta need?

In my opinion, Jakarta does not need similar tourism branding that sets false expectations. Instead of setting a “stage” of mediocre attractions competing with other Asian cities, we must begin to think about our genuine assets: people, culture and history.

Travelers normally come with expectations, and we need to set them right. The best way to do this is to bring out some honesty. I am not saying that we should let poverty astray and feature this on a travel brochure, but to take that as a background information. We need to find our real strengths and make those a selling point. It’s all about setting the right expectations.

How do one learn more about people, culture and history of Jakarta? We need to put them first.

We need to promote a habit-changing effort, both inwards and outwards. The effort to promote Jakarta tourism needs to be done not only about the way we invite people in, but also about the way the inhabitants understand their own city.

Government needs to prioritize the preservation of historical sites, cultural events and invest in the people. We also need to create an environment where it is possible for travelers to go around a living ‘museum’ that Jakarta is in an enjoyable way. The real deal is out there, in the streets, not inside shopping malls and the luxury of tour buses.

In line with this, there is an increasingly growing number of supporters for responsible travel in the world. Responsible travel is a kind of tourism that puts itself inside the ethical framework, with thoughts related to the impact of tourism to the local environment, culture, business and laws.

There are many ways in which responsible travel for Jakarta can be promoted. One of these is to create a promotional media in which we guide travelers to visit places that hold historical or cultural values, help them navigate through the least-polluting possible means of transport, advise them on the best shopping places that help local businesses. Walking tour is one manifestation of this, and while at that, travelers enjoy sights, sounds and smells that would be otherwise left out when they travel inside the air-conditioned buses. Harsh as it may sound, we can make this as practical as possible, and using digital devices and the interlinked networks of the Web, this can be a fun experience too. Going digital, we will also engage the younger audiences, educating and preparing them to be life-long responsible travelers.

Responsible travel is definitely not the only answer, but it helps complement the other side of the spectrum. It is a start of something good, a movement for better Jakarta initiated by the travelers.