By the end of the booklet, you synthesize a new portfolio of daily activities and understand that successful days can be very different from each other.
Shoot for timelessness!
We delivered the booklet in a full-blown design sprint in 30 days and reached 5000 users in just 6 weeks. When we were in the middle of testing a product, Fanni, my colleague had a casual conversation with a retired professor of sociology (emphasis on the professor, not on the retired). She was so interested in the product that she sent the MVP version to four of her senior friends and organized a focus group to gather feedback. After release, the product has a similar effect on Hungarian Olympic athletes stuck at a training camp as well as young moms stuck at home with their children. Why did the product resonate with these user groups? Why did all of them start recommending it to friends?
They had experienced similar situations before. Seniors during retirement cope with helplessness and depression as their occupational activities cease from one day to the next. Moms after giving birth again, cope with depression and feel the pain of missing out as their daily activities become unilateral. For athletes, the sacrifice of losing activities as the Olympic Games approach can be quite stressful.
These people have all coped with problems quite similar to what everyone was forced to face during the COVID-19 outbreak, as daily routines were trimmed down by the lockdown situation. The global crisis synchronized the “jobs-to-be-done”, “needs” and “wants” of the population. Suddenly, everyone had to deal with the same issues. However, these issues existed before and some people were quite familiar with it.
We just had to step back during product design and think about how we can formulate the product in a way that it fits the COVID situation perfectly but doesn’t mention it at all. This product strategy decision gave way for those user groups to bond with the booklet quickly.
A crisis can help in management: urgency
The design was triggered by the Hungarian lockdown in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. As product design researchers, we were committed to diving into the human reactions to the pandemic, which started to demand our attention more and more. It became apparent to us that needs were synchronized globally. All the designers and experts were quite motivated to help solve this problem. Our needs were synchronized on yet another level.
In my experience, a product manager in a time-to-market race situation has to pay attention to two qualities of teamwork. You need to create a sense of freedom to let the design team dive into work with all of their creativity, but you also need a sense of urgency and pressure to deliver in time. The crisis aligned the “needs” of the design team who all wanted to take part in solving this global problem. The urgency was coming from the fact that with each day we spent without releasing the product, thousands suffered from the human side-effects of the lockdown.
A crisis can help in management: freedom
A sense of freedom had also developed, in its unique way. After research, the value proposition and product strategy design of the booklet, along with the skeleton of the exercise sections was designed in a 5-day design sprint. We involved 3 volunteers in the design team, who participated driven by their own motivation to apply their knowledge (in psychology) to a global problem.
During a design sprint, we would spend five days locked in the same room working together. But not always together. Some sections of the design workshop must be done in a “nominal group” paradigm. Each member would dive into the same section of the problem on their own, making notes of the insights and ideas they uncover and preparing to share them. Taking time to do a nominal exercise is crucial if you want to unlock the creative value coming from the applied knowledge of each group member. In-depth connections can be discovered if all the expertise in the team has the room to dive in the problem deep. This technique also tends to smoothen out differences in vocality and shyness.
In the online design sprint, everyone was able to do these nominal exercises in their comfortable home environment, undisturbed by the other members of the team. We were physically unable to compare notes, check out each other’s progress and experience other forms of implicit peer pressure. When I say “dive into”, I’m talking about a state of flow (ideally). Flow is an individual experience. Each of us has their own sets of rituals to self-induce a state of flow. Being at home, in full control of our well-known environment worked out perfectly.
As everyone was involved on a voluntary basis, it was much easier to be absent. Everyone felt authorized to miss a meeting or two to take a recreational break or attend to some other task. They didn’t have to experience making an excuse and leaving the room physically, which would feel like “abandoning the team” in a physical situation. And anyone could jump in whenever they wanted. This way, we always had 3-4 designers working on the product for the whole week and we finished the MVP.
Suggestive communication: relief-driven product
The second key factor that I would like to outline is the communication style of the booklet and the brand itself. As events unfolded, people were forced into the confinements of their own homes and one change in their behavior was pretty apparent: social media use skyrocketed. Social media has its own narcissistic way to facilitate these kinds of problems.
For the average white male such as myself, the home-lockdown situation was framed as a unique opportunity of self-discovery, self-development and presented the idea of a person who listens to scientific podcasts while ironing their clothes and becomes a master baker or yoga guru by the end of the situation at the very least. Social media starts to regulate me, joining the layers of national and municipal regulations. It starts to prescribe a very specific quality of behavior when I am already fed up with being told what to do. We aimed to fight this toxic narrative with the instruction philosophy of the exercises and the brand narrative. We strived to create a healthier, alternative framing for the situation, following the principles of suggestive communication.
Suggestive communication is a field of applied communication stemming from the domain of hypnotherapy. It is a set of communication principles originally developed for nurses and midwives on how to instruct women during the process of giving birth. It is the science that describes the difference between “Everything is alright” and “there is no problem”.
With our instructions, we aimed to follow two principles of suggestive communication:
- Acknowledge difficulties of the context
- Lend the user a sense of control.
Let’s see some examples! The core of suggestive communication is about lending control to the user. You make your meaning of the situation you are in. You decide what to do, no one is forcing you to do anything. Empowering people in a similar tone unlocks a self-determined energy to drive action. This is one way to communicate: “it’s okay, you are on your own, free to speak (write) your mind!”:
Some activities were admittedly hard. We took the route of how psychologists guide clients to adaptive coping: they teach new ways of thinking, show new perspectives. Flexible thinking comes from learning new ways to see the world. The exercises offered several different perspectives on the same core problem. We knew that some of these perspectives will be hard to take on first. So we added some supporting comments to help them acknowledge this strain:
Timelessness, urgency and freedom and relief-driven design: these are a few takeaways that we learnt about design during this project. And one more thing. The way design thinking training programmes sell design thinking might seem a bit artificial, not fitting to a business environment. In a startup environment, we see a lot of solutions looking for problems. This project gave us reassurance that a completely blank page can be filled with end-user data which can be shaped into a new product in one month. Quite empowering. This article is the extended version of a talk I gave at 24 Hours Of UX, a grassroots UX extravaganza on June 10th 2020. Watch the Hungarian section of this fantastic worldwide event here, brought to you by UX Budapest!