Re-focus Group

I love Tom Fishburne’s cartoons!

Don Norman and Roberto Verganti are asking in this articleCan design research ever lead to radical product innovation?“and they provide the answer Yes, but this is unlikely to occur through the methods of human-centered design.

Going on they say:

The more that researchers study existing human behavior, activities, and products, the more they get trapped into existing paradigms. These studies lead to incremental improvements, enabling people to do better what they already do, but not to radical change that would enable them to do what they currently do not do.

Of course they are not against research – for those who do not know Don is the “Norman” on Nielsen Norman Group – one of the biggest and most influential research institutes in the world and he helped to define what HCD is nowadays.

What I think is that disruptive innovations are not common and organizations need to know, get inspired and connect with people, so research is crucial. However, trapping people into a lab-like aquarium and watch a discussion while eat snacks will not be very helpful.

I have moderated many “focus groups” with a diverse range of objectives. From exploring a very abstract concept and its relation to transportation, to very concrete testing where was hard to tell what was prototype and what was a working product. For me the worst part was always the lack of context. Small comments that in a contextual situation (such as house visits) would lead to a conversation around a pan, a ring or a bible ended or simply never happened because the “hook” for the conversation was not there.

It is not new that “innovation” people hold some mixed feelings about focus grups, lately Gianfranco Zaccai from Continuum wrote on FastCompany that “Focus Groups Kill Innovation” and after a lot of negative reactions he wrote a more a more friendly article “Focus Groups Are Dangerous. Know When To Use Them“.

But why business and focus group live such a happy love story?

According to Jenn Schiffman and Defne Civelekoglu from Gravity Tank at their presentation Re-focus Group there are three main reasons for such love.

Cost effective – You can have a relatively big group of people coming to a facility and giving answers.

Time effective – You can interact with 16 or even more people in a single day, a lot compared to house visits for example.

Proven method – It is somehow traditional and known at the clients side. Way easier to understand than more less traditional methods.

Their proposal is to develop a more empathetic kind of focus group. Do it in other environments, having researchers, designers, participants and clients together in a more natural conversation. Use rough prototypes to stimulate conversations and so on. Have a look on Gravity Tank’s lecture and gather some tips for future focus groups.

The Refocus Group from gravitytank on Vimeo.

What do you think?

Any | The shapeless mobile phone concept for the year 2020

In 2009 I was living in Curitiba and kind of bored. I found a challange online to design a mobile phone concept for the year 2020. You know, 2020 is the new 2000 in the collective mind for when-cool-things-gonna-happen.

I invited Kleber Puchaski and João Moldenhauer to design it together. After a lot of emails, a good secondary research and few meetings we came out with this concept – please forgive all 2009-ish design style and poor my poor English.

This is just an exploration, a couple of ideas about how things might be in a couple of years from now. I really believe one of the “next big things” for the mobile world will be these “hardware apps”. The smartphone will not be a box with everything inside, but several devices connected that can be embedded in the same artifact or spread in one’s body.

That is my guess. Do you have any?

Updates and followup:

04/10/2016 – PoV videos might go mainstream with young people – Snapchat’s Spectacles: How Digital Eyewear Could Escape The Nerd Factor


Norman – Rethinking Design Thinking (again)

I like his catholic priest vibe.

In 2010 Don “Design of Everyday Things” Norman posted “Design Thinking – A useful myth” on Core77. Now he is rethinking design thinking. Apparently the process of revisiting his book and writing new chapters, bringing more examples and making stronger links to the business side of design made him reconsider the whole argument.

Bruce Nussbaum, a the big responsible for the presence of term design thinking (and by consequence design) in the business agenda in the last couple of years also wrote about design thinking been a failed experiment in 2011.

I think both have a huge point. “Design thinking” have reached such level as a buzzword that it kind of get us tired of it. As I have said other times when I got involved in arguments about design thinking been something new or not, if it is valid or not, bla bla bla. For me it was always about finding people who were doing a better design, more empathetic and human centered than the use of the term “design” (an expression even more misused than “design thinking”).

A more efficient keyword / #hashtag. Just it.

Don Norman talks about “the power of the stupid question” as the main asset designers have as outsiders who can challenge the status quo. In this sense I am really happy to be studying in a place where we call ourselves professional idiots – exactly because we learn to ask stupid questions for a living.

Meteors, Culture and Natural Selection

You are probably aware of the meteor falling in Russia this week. You probably also watched lots of high-definition videos of the fire-ball tearing the sky.

As me you probably thought “how did they manage to get all this footage?”. In summary,  because of violent roads, corrupted police and skeptic justice system, dash-cameras are a must have in Russia.

A compilation of outstanding Russian dash-camera videos.

As we sometimes forget technology are tools serving people. People inhabit certain contexts that are important for what they choose or avoid to use. These contexts are made of different factors, but the global/local cultures are crucial to understand why certain innovations arise, are adopted and kept, or vanish away. Therefore, the right innovation needs the right context to flourish.

Just like living creatures in nature, new products/services are trying to survive following rules that resemble natural selection. If in Darwin’s theory the environment plays a major role – with predators, mating rituals and food scarcity – at the innovation field the socio-cultural context is the “environment” determining who thrives an who vanishes. In this particular case the Russian historical, social, cultural, juridical and economical context are setting a stage where small digital cameras fit perfectly.

The good thing about it is that using tools from social sciences (such as ethnography) we can study these socio-cultural contexts using findings to design products/services to fit in these scenarios. Is as if species could plan beforehand how they should be to have better chances of success in a certain environment. True intelligent design.


Now that we had this deep impact on the culture of visual documentation, maybe the habit of 24/7 footage arise in other countries, both to better deal with lawsuits, or just to be ready in case pure awesomeness knocks at your door.

UPDATE: Why is it not happening in Brazil? 

With the famous corrupt police and technology adoption Brazil should be doing the same thing as Russia. Right? Maybe not.

I guess this phenomenon is not happening in Brazil because of the cultural context. Bribing is usually carried by the person committing the infraction, being the least interested on document it.

Talking about traffic fee for example. Usually the owner of the car is the one trying to get out of the situation. The driver would be the one using the famous “jeitinho Brasileiro” (Brazilian workarounds) to bribe the police officer avoiding a more severe fee.

As far as I know Brazilian corruption have a subtle, almost friendly spirit. A police officer will never openly ask a driver for money, instead what happens is a favor exchange. Starting with a small double-sense chit-chat to feel if the other side would prefer an “alternative solution”. This bribe is called “o dinheirinho da cerveja” or just “pra cervejinha“, which means just a change for a couple of beers (of course many times it is way more than that).

Roberto DaMatta is one of the most respected Brazilian anthropologists and wrote a lot about this behavior.

References – Catching up

Every now and then someone ask me for references on “Design Thinking”. This is an attempt to share some of what I gathered during the years and you can check for free in our beautiful interwebs.

First, I don’t care much about names and labels, for me all these terms are related to research about people and develop better solutions. So I don’t mind if you call it Design Thinking, Design Research, Applied Ethnography, Design Ethnography, Service Design, Innovation or magic. Most of these things drink in the same references so it is quite useful to have them together.


Materials to get you from zero knowledge to somewhere in this area.

Resonance – A short video showing why and how this kind of work is done. Very good start.

Continuum Resonance Video: Getting to the right idea from Continuum on Vimeo.


Design Research – Brenda Laurel – Great book. Can give you basis to start studying the field, quite accessible writing, few jargon and alike.

Bootcamp Bootleg – Developed by Stanford’s D.School it is a very clear, straight forward guide for this kind of innovation project, describing the most used tools in a very simple and accessible way.

Ethnography Primer – Publication made in partnership between AIGA and Cheskin (now part of Added Value), one of the first companies in the field. Very simple, clear and insightful. Also very competent showing how a designer and an anthropologist / ethnographer can complete themselves in a project.

In general the research phase aims to create empathy with those addressed by your solution, your clients, costumers or users (each field likes to call people differently, what can I do?). This video about empathy is pretty good.

It is very hard to talk about “Design Thinking” without talking about IDEO. In this TED talk their CEO Tim Brown call designers to think BIG, to go for bigger problems and get involved.


Research and Fieldwork

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer – Great source created by IIT guys, it is really good for those with few or no experience on fieldwork. Dori, the woman been interviewed most of the time is now head of the Design Anthropology master course at the Swinbourne University.

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

“What People Are Really Doing”. Another video from IIT. Extremely clear and enlightening.

What People Are Really Doing from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

Luis Arnal: Field Stories from Latin America – Quite funny lecture from Luis Arnal on how to perform fieldwork in Latin America (obviously, many of this observations are also valid for other places).

Luis Arnal: Field Stories from Latin America, IIT Design Research Conference 2008 from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

Jan Chipchase is one of the most famous “design anthropologists” in the world. Became a star in the field during his years at Nokia and now is part of Frog Design team. Make sure you check his website and blog. Lots of material and he is always posting.

Here he is at TED.

Jan Chipchase: Design anthropology – Another great lecture addressing the field work world with special attention to ethics.

(The second video is much newer the TED, apparently he manages to find time to workout. Well done Mr. Chip!)


Services, products, businesses and other output examples as shown as cases.

“Reassessing Information and Comunication Technologies and Development:The Social Forces of Consumption” – From Intel.

Keep the Change – From IDEO. One of my preferred cases to exemplify how ethnographic research can create great solutions beyond products and with meaningful impact in business.

Havaianas – This one is pretty interesting in the brand and product fields. IDEO working with the Brazilian flip-flop brand. You can see the case here, video with how the products work below.

Havaianas bags from IDEO on Vimeo.

Colorblind – A research from Continuum on how people perceive sustainability. You can have a look at their warm-up video and check the report here.

Sustainability by Design: Continuum’s Colorblind Project from Continuum on Vimeo.

Business focused

Roger Martin – Along with Bruce Nussbaum this Rotman School professor is one of the biggest defenders of the “design thinking” inside the business world. Very good lecture at the AIGA event in 2009.

David Butler : Redesigning Design – He is the design mind behind the most valuable brand on earth. In this lecture he talks about about how design is been approach by him and his team inside Coca-Cola.

Luis Arnal from INSITUM on insights in a more business-related vision of the field.

DRC X – 2011 – Luis Arnal from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.


More acid discussions on “Design Thinking”

There are a lot of love and hate around the expression “design thinking”. Here we have some articles against this term (personally, I don’t care much)


Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You by Peter Merholz. It is a post on HBR kind of fighting design thinking as a buzz word. Bare in mind that Peter was at Adaptive Path at the moment and “design thinking” is almost an branded offer from IDEO. Via Cuducos.

Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next by Bruce Nussbaum – He was one of the biggest supporters of “Design Thinking”, but with this article he claims that it has failed. Again, keep in mind that he still point out how useful it was for many reasons and try to sell a new idea – actually not that new – creative intelligence.

How to Lie with Design Thinking.

Be fully aware that most of this is joke and it is easy to lie with classic design too. What do you think is the porpoise of a beautiful render?

Dan Saffer: How to Lie With Design Thinking from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

This is it for now. This post will be filled every now and then.

Stay classy.

Practical Ethnography

Sam Ladner is writing a book to connect business people and social science professionals so they both can have a better perspective on ethnography applied in the private sector.

I just read her free sample and it looks pretty good. Well, actually it still a draft do it doesn’t really LOOK good in the design meaning of the word, but the content is pretty good.

Firstly I think the market urges for a material like this, at least in Brazil we have a lot of professionals from the business world looking for some consistent sources on how to apply “this ethnography thing” in their business. I know, we have a lot of articles from companies like Intel and Microsoft talking about it, but one never knows how much of it is true and how much was modified to look good in the eyes of the media. I also think it can be really useful for people coming from social sciences background to the corporate world.

I am maybe generalizing to much, but social sciences guys are usually left wing while business administration guys are as far as one can get on the right wing, right? At least this is how I feel about it. So in the end there is this very different cultural / world view background in both fields. For me it kind of holds them back from really join forces and produce together (you know… business men think these anthro-people are a bunch of commies and social scientists think that business guys are soulless people with $ $ marks in their eyes all the time). So we really need someone who speaks both languages to get them together.

Back to the book.

It is interesting how she talks about giving “colors” to the text with details and how she manages to do it pretty well with examples from projects. I think that in the final version she could use some design references Harvard Business Review articles. A good executive summary in the beginning of each chapter and a wrap up in the end of it as well. I also like the way HBR keep practical examples in boxes helping you to focus your attention.

I am really looking for this book!


Strategic Design Thinking – Day 5

Final day of lectures for this module!

Early in the morning we presented our 3D models for design processes (It was really funny, I’ll publish as soon as I get some pictures).

After that Tom talked about how to deal with workshops. Basically reinforcing the idea that today design is no more the black box with briefing coming from one side and genius ideas coming out of the other. More and more clients want to be part of the process, involving different stakeholders and developing collective solutions is more crucial than ever.

As I twitted earlier this week “Design thinking is designing with the external side of your brain“.

Tom showed pretty neat references on how to deal with workshops, like been aware of the space and how to better use it, knowing your participants’ backgrounds so you can adjust the tone of your voice / vocabulary and using templates / sheets so participants can synthesize / note down and you can document it more easily.

I am used to most of this because of a couple of projects I worked with at INSITUM (many workshops and creative sessions with users), but I really liked the way he presented. In fact the other days during this week I could see it applied and felt how it works.

The one thing we did a lot at insitum and he did not talked about is to rehearse workshop / sessions, at least crucial parts that can be more complex, hard to understand or execute and that could became a bottle neck for the whole activity. Maybe it is because Tom is so experienced and have facilitated so many workshops that he just don’t need this rehearse.

So if you are new to this “facilitation” thing I would strongly recommend you to test your workshop / creative sessions with a couple of friends or colleagues to see if they get the tasks easily, how long does it take to do it, if you need something else or can leave some useless part behind.

And don’t thank me for this lesson, thank Yoel Lenti.

Now we have a project for next weeks, lets see how it goes.



Strategic Design Thinking – Day 4

Today was the day to talk about Brand, Services and Ethics.

Firstly we had some historical perspective on branding and how it has changed since late 1800’s thought out 1900’s and how it is seen now.

Talking about branding? Talking about Coca-Cola.

They are HUGE and have passed though lots of changes over the years (you know, in the beginning it was some sort of remedy…), for decades they were as American as bald eagles, stars and bubble gum, but, you know, US is not the most friendly reference nowadays, maybe for this and many other reasons now Coke are more about making the world a happier place.

Be happy! Share these Cokes!

I really admire the work David Butler have done with the brand (as recognised by Fast Company in 2009). Great stuff going on there.

Maybe not by coincidence Tatil, which was present with 2016 Olympics identity in many parts of the presentation, have done some very interesting projects with Coletivo Coca-Cola in Brazil (this one is in Portuguese, sorry) you can check more about it here (this one in EN).

Basically the brand is helping disadvantaged communities providing education focused on helping these kids to become more employable, which is obviously perceived as an engaging attitude with a very positive feedback in the media and in society as a whole.

Also in Portuguese… 

Want to know a little bit more about David Butler work with Coca-Cola? Check this lecture he gave at an AIGA event in 2009 (he was on fire that year, wasn’t he?). “Oh Fernando, I would love to see his slides”. There you go.

Back to the topic.

Tom Inns presented a framework with 3 branding structures: Monolithic, Endorsed and Branded.

Monolithic would be defined by:

  • The single business identity 
  • For companies that want to promote a special idea about 
  • themselves. 
  • Very often operating across many business activities 
  • Because every product and service has the same name 
  • everything supports everything else 
  • Staff are very clear about what the company stands for 
  • Companies have a high visibility and a clear positioning

The very British example for this? Virgin! they surely have a special way to do stuff (apparently any stuff actually). I really feel attracted by the way they present themselves.

I think another great example is RedBull. They managed to create such a brand value based on performance, energy and youngness that it is easily shaped in different offers, from the energy drink to the media industry passing by an F1 TEAM! Come on, these guys are great.

The funny thing for me is that even without competing directly in many markets, I think as brands they are quite similar. I mean… Both have this special way to approach other areas by been very young, fresh and energetic.

Caring on there is the Endorsed brand defined by:

  • A multi-business identity
  • A large number of companies have grown by acquisition
  • They want to retain the goodwill of the brands that they
  • have acquired
  • But they want to superimpose their own management
  • style and attitudes
  • They want to impress certain audiences with their size
  • and strength, among these audiences they want to
  • emphasise uniformity and consistency
  • They frequently operate in different countries where
  • their reputation’s vary

I think it is valid for most of these brands behind other brands.

Good illustration of this is Procter & Gamble, offering from Mr Clean and Hair & Shoulders to Pringles (actually recently sold, but you got the idea).

Unilever is also a big umbrella of valuable brands. For me the most interesting is the paradox between some of their brands, specially Dove and Axe. Dove defends that all women are beautiful in their own way in this very modern-pos-feminism way, while Axe is all about using this product to became the ultimate bimbos womanizer. An Unilever promote both ideas. How awesome?

No. Those models ARE NOT that perfect early in the morning. Hail Photoshop.


Really? Check YouTube for more pearls like this.


And the third, the Brand based identity

  • Usually in pharmaceuticals, food, drink and other fast
  • moving consumer goods (fmcg)
  • Do not present their corporate face to the consumer
  • Based on the fact that consumerism is based on simple
  • symbolism
  • Brands have a life cycle of their own … independent of
  • the company
  • Brands from the same company might compete in the
  • same market place
  • Brands should be free to develop their own identities

The umbrella is there but far behind the stage, and usually one have no clue about the ownership. A great example is LVMH, owning lot of luxury brands in several different categories (fashion, drinks, jewelry and so on). Diageo is almost the same thing but focused on beverage only. Have you ever tried something from Diageo? No? Probably yes since they own Johnnie Walker, SmirnoffCiroc and even Guinness.

In the afternoon we talked more about service design and ethics, that Tom approached from a social / environmental perspective.

There is a lot of material out there about service design… I just define it as the design of things that are not things, which means processes, systems and other intangible offers.

Tom showed a little video to demonstrate it, but I like this one better:

About the ethics part… it is interesting how most of young people already have this eco/social concerns embed in their way of work. I think nowadays been environmentally and socially concerned is a commodity. Really, there is no space for you out there without this!

I think this is it for today.



Strategic Design Thinking – Day 3

Process! Process! Process! – Processes!

Another day, another process.

Today we talked a lot about process and the way we do things. Fisttly I liked because we were not talking about methods or how to fill up our tool boxes, but how to visualize the process a project usually pass through in such way that one can replicate it to other projects.

I think for me was a good reflection on my experiences and how I use to think / work.

Besides the fact that they were never my teachers in a formal way Kleber Puchaski (DesignIt BR) and Luis Arnal‘s (INSITUM)references came together in my mind today to visualize the process I believe I usually follow as a design researcher / innovation consultant.

Kleber describes design process in 3 bigger stages:

  • Discover – When we learn “what is going on”. As a more ethnographic designer I tend to learn from users, consumers, clients… “people” if I may.
  • Connect – When you take these pieces of information and make interesting connections to create new things. In my case I use the word Ideate because it sounds better to the way I end up doing things. Usually I start to generate ideas very early in the process, it doesn’t mean that I will fall in love with them in the first sight and never let it go, it is just my way to analyse and make sense of the collected data, sometimes re-analyzing the ideas to see what else they mean.
  • Construct – Turn these ideas into visually interesting concepts or even prototypes. I prefer to call it build because… well, for no especial reason, maybe because the word is smaller.

Arnal’s influence comes with these waves representation. As he believes (or at least presented in his paper during the master at IIT) I also think that projects just cant be really described by defined stages. Yes, things kinda hap[pen one after the other and stages depend on results of some previous work, but the thing is that they are not as sharp and defined as process are usually described, with boxes for example.

For me the real word is more like waves, were the horizontal axis describe time and the vertical axis the amount of work / efforts / resources were applied.

If you take this idea along with the most common payment system for consultancy and any other “knowledge labor”, worked hours, it makes even more sense.

So for me the ideal flow in a project would be something like this image:

I always try to spend a lot of time leaning about people and what they do. Even before leaning about “applied ethnography / applied anthropology” I use to work like this, sometimes my design professors though I spend too much time research and not doing things… C’est la vie.

I also like to bring more references than just what the fieldwork has to offer. Theories, TED Talks, literally ANYTHING that can help to generate ideas considering the challenge.

At the deliverable phase I am more useful shaping ideas roughly than going into details. But that’s why I feel such a victim of team work, I always need someone more detail-oriented than me to help building the finest deliverable.

In the afternoon we talked a lot about prototyping. For me this is really great and underestimated by most people. As IDEO’s Richard Eisermann say “If a picture paints a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures”. And it is totally true. However they are not talking about pretty clay models that look like the real products, they call prototype anything that can be used to test an idea. And early the better, as soon as you can have an impression and feedback (ANY impression and feedback) about the idea, more likely to make a better you are of making an assertive decision.

Let’s see what tomorrow will bring.

Process me.