The Importance of Accessibility in Inclusive Design

Most people wouldn’t argue against the fact that accessible design is important. When you exclude or provide a poor experience for people with disabilities, you not only degrade the value of your product you also widen the equity gap between non-disabled/neurotypical people and those with disabilities or neurodivergence. It’s not hard to understand why you’d want to avoid that.

But what’s often missed in these conversations is a broader view of the real impact of inclusive design. People sometimes think of it as an ethical box to check or something that can be put on the backburner to address later while you first design for the majority. It’s seen as a “nice to have” and not a core need. Some people assume it will be hard to implement and only help a fraction of users. But many don’t understand that accessible and inclusive design very often helps all of your users. We’ve also found it makes for better designers who become trained to think more broadly and carefully about user needs. 

For the best-designed solutions, on any budget, accessibility can’t be an afterthought. 

Accessibility vs. Inclusivity

Let’s pause and define accessibility and inclusivity in the design world.

Accessibility means designing for the needs of people with disabilities. For example, creating options for visually impaired people, Deaf/hard of hearing, or with mobility constraints. The idea here is that you want everyone to have equal access to your product.

Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a broader umbrella. This means designing not just for those with disabilities, but for the broader spectrum of differences inherent among people — for example, people in different environments (which could involve different weather, different WiFi access, different cultural expectations), different minds (which could include accounting for different ways people like to process information or motivate themselves to complete a task), or different identities (which could include using gender-neutral words when talking about bodies/health). Inclusive design can also mean designing for people with temporary disabilities (like a broken bone) or a situation that changes how they move through the world (like having your hands full). With inclusive design, the idea is that everyone is different and living life differently, and you want as many people as possible to use your product successfully in as many situations as possible.

Why Accessible and Inclusive Design Help Everyone

If you’re a non-disabled person who’s ever used subtitles, taken an escalator, using voice commands, or appreciated an automated door opening and closing for you, you’ve engaged in something that, while critical for someone with a disability, also helped you be more comfortable or safe. While this isn’t the case for every feature designed to accommodate people with disabilities, it often benefits others. Take the following example.

Case in Point: Icons for Fast Food Cashiers

Recently, a major fast-food establishment client came to us with a problem. They told us they were having trouble getting the correct information from cashiers/order-takers in the front of the restaurant to the cooks in the back of the house. These miscommunications resulted in a lot of wasted food, much of which had been cooked in excess due to misunderstandings about demand. 

Our team investigated solutions and ultimately redesigned the order system; they considered differences among people that could affect their ability to use text-based buttons. What about non-native English speakers? What about those with reading difficulties? This led us to consider using icons for food prep communication, which bridged language/reading gaps while also helping those without such needs transmit and digest information quickly. And it worked — the company significantly reduced the amount of wasted food and lowered their overhead. Considering a variation in needs resulted in a better solution for everyone. 

Contextualizing Disability

Something that can help contextualize why designing for differences helps everyone is the social model of disability. This model states that what creates disability are barriers in society — not inherent impairments or differences. In this helpful explainer video, they prompt you to consider a world in which everyone moves around using a wheelchair. Door sizes, ceiling heights, tables, and desks are all structured to best support this population. Then, some people walk instead of using a wheelchair to move around. The town does not accommodate them or their needs, and suddenly what we might consider an “able-bodied” person is the one limited by the design of this society. Essentially, “disability” would disappear in a society designed to accommodate differences. 

And as we saw with the fast-food example, designing for difference doesn’t mean playing a game of edge-case whack-a-mole, which some product teams fear accessible design will be like. If you zoom out and think of a diverse array of people and the relevant angles of variance that inform how they’ll interact with your product, this often leads to elegant designs that support the needs of broader groups. 

Inclusive Practices Make for Better Designers

After all this, it’s not hard to imagine how designing for accessibility and inclusion makes your design teams stronger. Thinking inclusively prompts you to contend with the complexity and nuance in people who are inherently not homogenous, even if they do not have a classified disability. It spurs creative problem solving and a design ethic that can be translated to anything they approach. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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How Product Planning Can Make a Difference For Your Business

Every good product, service, and system takes planning — and it’s especially critical when you’re starting a new product line. While it can be challenging to sit down and make a robust, thorough plan in the throes of a time-sensitive and chaos-prone launch countdown, it’s a step that really pays dividends — in terms of customer satisfaction, profits, and time and headaches for future you as you build on your progress.

So how do you make a strong project plan? Read on for some of our ideas.

Start With a Deep Understanding of Your Users

Every good product is solving a material problem for a target demographic, audience, or niche. Though you certainly know the core problem you are solving, beginning with a robust understanding of your population not just as “users” but as full people with a spectrum of needs, values, and perspectives will serve as a well-tuned compass that lets you make strong, guided micro-decisions all the way through. 

Every project has twists, turns, and compromises. Inevitably, features need to be cut, plans need to be tweaked, and approaches need to be revised. In the thick of a project, everything can feel mission-critical, and unexpected roadblocks may stall the project altogether. But when you truly understand your users, you have a better sense of judgment for how to pivot and react to changes. You stay attuned to what’s critically important to solve versus what you can handle later. Your decisions are rooted in a rich understanding of the ecosystem you’re playing in. It’s common for research to get cut when budgets and timelines are tight, but this can leave you without 

Know Where to Trim

Anyone with a big idea has high expectations for it — we want our products to be fresh, innovative — even life-changing. And we usually want the debut to be perfect. 

While high expectations are a worthy goal we respect and share, we’ve learned the conventional wisdom holds: we can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good (and done). It’s tempting to hold onto our products until they are flawless, aligning perfectly with the mental model we have in our heads. But this is often a recipe for getting stuck, and only in retrospect do you see that the time would have been better spent releasing something smaller and then iterating with real-world data. 

Keep asking yourself:

  • What critical problems must the product solve for now, and which can be saved for later?
  • What is extremely important to get right in version one, and what can we release and tweak later on?
  • What are the most important things we need to be able to tell stakeholders about the impact of our product?
  • What do we most need to learn through this first release?
  • Where can we leverage something that already exists as a short-term solution, and invest in building our own at a later stage?

Test the Market As You Go

While you’ll learn a great deal after launching v1 of the product, staying connected throughout the development process can do a lot to guide progress and minimize surprises. It can be challenging to come up for air during an intense build, but again, this part of planning is almost always worth the investment.

Consider ways to gauge reaction before release, such as:

  • Surveys on product direction and key problems v1 will solve
  • Staying up to date on Google Trends to track demand for your product
  • Focus groups on product prototypes
  • Creating a “coming soon” landing page on your website to get pre-launch feedback and study interest/engagement 

Formalize Your v2 Roadmap

In the busy time before launch, it’s common to offhandedly comment on what you’ll address in a later version of the product. But because it’s not the priority right now, these ideas are often stored very informally as you focus on the immediate task at hand. Then, several intense months later after you finally come up for air to focus on v2, you’re stuck trying to remember and collect all these ideas, only some of which were written down.

Creating — and socializing — a product roadmap sheet while you’re hard at work building v1 can really do you favors down the road. The key is to make it very easy to add to — consider a slot for the idea (e.g. “social network companion to the app”), a slot for the rationale behind the idea (e.g. “4 of our interviewees expressed a desire to…”), and the expected impact (e.g. “would expect to boost engagement and the number of referral”). 

While of course, your actual roadmap will involve layers of processing as you consider things like the most important metrics to impact the short-term or the feasibility of each solution, having a list to go off of can help you not reinvent the wheel as you build on your progress, and also store ideas when they are fresh and directly connected to user/market feedback. A roadmap can also be good for team morale — if ideas they had that couldn’t be implemented in v1, or if concepts they invested in but got cut for the initial release, these ideas are not lost forever. It lets your team dream and invest in the product’s future without jeopardizing the short-term release.

Socialize the Planning to Maximize Your Team

A well-thought-out product plan can also have a significant impact on your team’s morale and effectiveness. The more people know what’s ahead and the steps that need to be done to get there, the more they can contextualize their role in the wider ecosystem and identify the skills and experience they’ll need to bring to the equation. You get better, more relevant work, you get ideas from them that you may not have considered on your own, and you also get more engaged designers that are aware of the impact of what they are doing. And the more you pull back the curtain on your planning process, the better set up these designers will be to lead their own projects in the future.

While there’s a time and place for “scrappy” in the product development process, we don’t recommend that the planning phase falls into that camp. With a careful, well-thought-out plan, you’ll have a better compass to guide with as you decide where to be scrappy and quick, and where to hone in so that the market loves v1 enough to clamor for your next release. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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Usability Testing and What You Need to Know

Usability testing is essential to creating any product or service. It helps designers and business stakeholders better understand what is and isn’t working from a user’s perspective. 

It can be difficult for a team to distance themselves from their work and the needs of the business, making it hard for them to spot errors or things that aren’t working well in the product. 

By having people who represent your users perform usability testing on your product, they will be able to give you an unbiased review of how well your product works with the audience it’s designed for. It also allows designers to fix cumbersome interface issues before a product is fully released to the market. 

What is Usability Testing?

Simply put, a usability test is a tool that a design or development team can utilize to ensure that their product or service performs the way it was intended to. Usability testing can occur as early as the initial design conception, during the production phase, and even years after a product or website has been released to ensure that nothing has broken or become outdated in the technology. 

The reason usability testing is so much more effective than simply allowing the designers to test it is because of direct user input that can be incorporated into the final design. 

User Testing vs. Usability Testing

While user testing and usability testing overlap in some instances, they each provide unique and valuable feedback to the design team. 

User testing, or what is now more preferably called generative research to not imply the user is themself being tested, will come before usability testing in a product’s lifecycle. This form of testing is used to understand the need for a product and its value to its end users as a means of solving a problem or helping them achieve a goal. Generative research can be performed through tools like surveys, interviews, or observation. 

On the other hand, usability testing is putting the product directly into the user’s hands, whether as a prototype or an actual product, so that we can test and measure how they interact with it. We can then use that feedback to iterate on the product, so we can test and measure its performance again with an improved design.  

When Does Usability Testing Happen?

Usability testing can happen at any stage during a product life cycle. In medical product applications, rigorous usability protocols must be satisfied to release a product (see IEC 62366-1) to ensure that they are safe for users according to human factors guidelines. In these cases, the stakes are high for good usability. Usability testing during a product’s design and development is often called formative. Usability testing that takes place directly before (or sometimes after) being released is called summative and is generally much more rigorous with pass/fail criteria that may inhibit a product from being released.

Formative 

Formative usability testing is performed throughout the design process of a product. It allows a design team to get feedback and iterate on designs rapidly while the product is still being designed. 

Formative testing is efficient because a design team does not need a complete product or even a working prototype to begin getting feedback. This type of testing can start with a prototype as long as the sketch is detailed. 

Formative testing allows a design team to test numerous different processes while a design is fine-tuned. For example, for a flight booking app, the process in which a person books a flight could be tested to see if the process flows well and makes sense, where tasks like making a payment are put on the back-burner. 

By getting input back from users early and regularly throughout the process, a design team can iterate on designs quickly and in a low-cost way. 

Summative

Summative usability testing occurs toward the end of the product’s design process. Once a full working prototype or product has been developed, it can then be placed in front of users to interact with what will become the final product. Some companies prefer to do this before a product is released. Others might do this immediately after.

While we recommend that designers perform formative and summative testing for their products, it is not always feasible. If you can only do one type of usability testing, then summative testing is essential. However, if this is only testing you have time for, be prepared that you may be rebuilding or redesigning more significant pieces of the product.

End-stage summative helps designers identify usability issues with the product,  especially problems that make the product too broken to be released. It often involves having users step through every task that the product supports.

What Should be Tested During Usability Testing

The answer to “what does usable mean?” usually differs depending on the product. Most products have different success criteria, use cases, and heuristics that must be tested. For example, we would not typically test a medical device the same way we would test the usability of a retail store, as each has a different set of usability criteria that must be evaluated. Usability tests determine how well a product performs the tasks it was created for or how well it helps users accomplish their goals. Some common things we test include:Task completion efficiency – How successfully are users able to perform tasks in the system? Where is there friction?

  • Usability issues – What are the causes behind errors that users experience? (e.g., labeling, signage, navigation, interaction design, etc.) How frequently do these issues occur?
  • Key performance metrics – How well does the system perform compared to benchmarks from similar services or previous product iterations?
  • Heuristic evaluation – How well does the system comply with usability heuristics in its domain?
  • User satisfaction – How satisfied are users with the product’s design? (these kinds of metrics are only viable for more extensive quantitative studies)

Are there opportunities for improvement that we’re missing?

These elements of usability testing are tied to formative and summative testing. There are also more tactical approaches to usability testing, such as comparative testing- how usable is one design versus another? In comparative testing, users will be shown different versions of a product, and usability is measured between both designs. Comparative testing is typical with larger sample sizes in unmoderated settings. 

Who Participates in the Tests?

One of the most significant differences in usability testing is whether the test is moderated or unmoderated. 

In a moderated test, a person representing the design team remains present for the entirety of the usability test, sometimes accompanied by a notetaker or representatives from our client. This allows users to give their feedback instantaneously as they are experiencing it and allows the moderator to ask questions as the test progresses. Typically moderated tests include a small selection of representative users and are recorded.

Moderators can actively watch the participant use the product and note where they tend to linger in the process, what parts seem to frustrate or give them difficulty, and what they seem to enjoy the most. Moderated testing provides the most value to a design team but usually means a smaller participant group within a specific time frame and/or budget. 

In unmoderated testing, on the other hand, the participant will typically receive a digital prototype of the product that they can use. They will narrate on-camera or potentially write a review of their experience afterward. Sometimes these studies are run with larger sample size. This can be efficient and cost-effective, provided that the test has been thoughtfully crafted and the participants are precisely within the user group. That said, the main trade-off here is that there’s not a chance to ask the user any questions during the test or dig deeper into questions they miss or answer shallowly.

The Importance of Continued Usability Testing

Usability testing continues to be beneficial even after a product has been released. This allows designers to see what people continue to enjoy about the app or website and what they are frustrated with and want to be improved. It allows us to capture valuable data from live apps and use that to see where users experience friction compared to how many continue to use it. Most importantly, continued usability testing enables us to iteratively explore, measure, improve and iterate on our designs based on user feedback. Continued usability testing allows us to continually improve the user experience, which leads to more satisfied customers that will be more likely to use our products in the future. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

We’re here to help! 

The Challenges of Enterprise UX and How to Overcome Them

UX Enterprise software is an essential component of most major corporations, but unfortunately, it often gets a bad reputation. Enterprise UX designs are frequently clunky, unattractive, and generally not as streamlined and productive as they could be. 

But they don’t have to be. Working with our clients, Grand Studio has collectively created more user-friendly experiences for everyone who uses the software, ultimately even changing how organizations view their enterprise systems. 

Challenge #1: Software seems unaware of the user’s needs

A major stumbling block of designing enterprise UX is that these systems are not created for the traditional consumer user. In typical UX design, researching the user demographic to better understand their unique problems and requirements is one of the first steps in the process. 

With Enterprise UX, that essential research process is much harder to gather. There is often a disconnect between how a corporate user would optimally function and interact with the software and how the company believes that they should increase productivity.

Additionally, because the system will be designed and created to improve employee productivity, there will naturally be more people involved in the design and implementation processes than there should be. 

In a corporate setting, managers, shareholders, and department heads are typically involved in any discussions or decisions pertaining to creating the enterprise UX design. This leads to many waiting for approval, changing the design’s aspects, and resubmitting them before anything can get done. 

To counteract this, we often recommend working in smaller groups rather than trying to include everyone at once. Ideally, the company executives who work the most closely with the employees using the systems should work directly with the designers first. This allows them to achieve their vision first before submitting a polished system for review.

Challenge #2: The rigidity of traditional methods

Enterprise systems are essential to the overall functionality of corporate software. Large organizations can’t run smoothly without an enterprise system working behind the scenes to enable all of their company’s activities. 

Everything from storing essential information on the company database to employee communications to automating simple tasks is performed through the enterprise system. This system is comprised of several integrated tools and programs that should run seamlessly to allow employees to perform their duties efficiently and effectively. 

Unfortunately, that tends to be the dream for enterprise systems rather than the reality. Many of these systems were implemented decades ago as legacy systems intended to last forever without considering look, design, or the employees who would be using them. 

While it would often be more beneficial and less time-consuming to scrap the old software completely and start fresh, that is rarely allowed due to integration issues. Instead, designers must work with the existing legacy systems to create a new, functional, user-friendly interface.

An intertwined complication that many designers run into with these legacy systems is pushback from the employees themselves. It is not uncommon for employees to lament learning a new system when the one they are using works well enough for their work, even if the old system may have glaring flaws. 

Luckily, all hope is not lost. To counteract these problems, we recommend interacting with the current users to determine what flaws they recognize within the system they have decided that they can live with, even if they aren’t optimal. Begin by creating solutions to these problems to establish trust and rapport with the team. This will open future doors to revamping the whole system. 

It is important to understand that these legacy systems won’t be completely updated and revitalized overnight. Updating any enterprise system is a lengthy, time-consuming, costly, and complex process. Results won’t be immediately appreciated, but small, incremental changes that don’t receive a lot of pushback are essential for the approval of larger changes that must be made. 

Hurdles: Flexibility of different design methods and skilled practitioners

Trial and error being able to respond quickly (user surveys)

Challenge #3: Collaboration resistance between the stakeholders

It is virtually impossible to get perfect results the first time that a new change is implemented. Any type of UX design takes experimentation and feedback from the users to work out the kinks and to ensure that the best possible processes are chosen and created. 

The downside is that this type of trial and error takes time, and time costs money that shareholders or large companies may not be willing to invest without understanding how the process affects the outcome. 

There is also a small risk factor to the experimentation process, as sometimes new design changes can break older parts of the software which can cause issues for the way the company does business. 

Combined, this can cause the decision-makers within the company to be reluctant to take any chances with the design, and they often opt for the safer but less innovative designs. This often causes lines to be blurred between what stakeholders want and what the users want.

An additional problem arises in that it can be difficult to prove that the money being invested is well-spent since there is little-to-no empirical data to show. This can also cause managers to attempt to micro-manage the process in an attempt to gain clout within the company, which just further serves to hinder progress on the design side. 

Some of these problems can be addressed by holding design workshops rather than traditional meetings. This can open the door for executives and stakeholders to ask questions about the aspects of design that they do not fully understand and improves communication between executives and designers. These workshops can also help build trust and cooperation between the groups which can enable some risk-taking and experimentation to take place in the design. 

Challenge #4: A Long Release Cycle

The final, and arguably largest challenge that enterprise UX designers face is the extreme length of release cycles. It can take years to design and develop a new enterprise system, particularly if the designers have to work within the confines of a legacy system. 

Enterprise design takes so long because the designers have to repeatedly integrate small changes that must be tested and learned from slowly to ensure that they do not accidentally break any of the old, attached programs during the development process. No one wants to ruin an employee’s ability to use the tech while trying to improve the process. 

Sometimes, this can cause new and innovative ideas and systems to become outdated, or even obsolete, by the time they are implemented. This leads to further enterprise problems down the line for the next time that the system needs to be updated. 

While this is easily the most daunting part of designing for enterprise systems, there are some ways to help streamline the process. Ensure that you have an overall plan for the direction of the new system and make sure that you are showing the next steps in the design process to the people that will be approving them before it is time to start working on them. 

By getting approval and validation ahead of time, you can minimize resistance and reduce some delays in the approval process. 

The Future of Enterprise UX

Enterprise systems aren’t going anywhere in the near future, so designers must learn to adapt to and overcome the challenges that these systems can provide. Luckily, we are much more aware of the importance of design and usability in addition to function than we were thirty years ago when many of these systems were first established. 

Because of that, we can work to ensure that the new systems that we are creating will be efficient, effective, innovative, and flexible enough to be changed and updated further down the line. 

In addition, it will benefit designers to become more data-aware to support their requests and changes. By proving the benefits of these updates with data to shareholders and executives, we can eliminate some major roadblocks in the design process. 

Finally, by working with the executives and shareholders and including them in the process so that it is no longer an unknown and uncertain process, we can foster trust and cooperation that will allow the process to become more streamlined. Once we begin to work together, rather than against each other, we can finally start to create the enterprise software that we imagine. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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The State of UX Design in 2022: What Lies Ahead

Since the inception of UX design in 1993, the field has been constantly evolving, changing, and redefining its core concepts. By keeping abreast of the latest trends in technology, communication, and what’s happening worldwide, teams can create products and solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the people who use their interfaces. 

Better Connections With Our Peers, Customers, and Users

Perhaps the most important change that our industry is observing is the emphasis on what users want to see. UX design doesn’t happen in a bubble; everything that we create has the opportunity to cause ripples of change in both the corporate world and everyday society. 

Because of this, it is essential for designers to have empathy, think ethically, and constantly be mindful of who their potential users are, directly and indirectly. 

Additionally, connection with our peers just as our customers allows us to stay current, relevant, and engaged in the constantly changing world of technology. 

At Grand Studio, we foster an environment where designers can always be learning something new – and we recognize that there is always room for improvement. By encouraging our designers to forge new connections and nurture existing ones, we empower them with a thirst for knowledge that will have them searching for new and improved ways to reimagine the world from a UX perspective.

Accessibility: Creating for Everyone, Not Just the Majority

There has been a much-needed societal shift in recent years toward expanding accessibility. In the past, the technology field used to design their products for the majority of the people that would use them and unfortunately ignored the rest. 

While there may have been certain inclusionary aspects to the design, such as speech-to-text options for the visually impaired, overall UX design was more concerned with being efficient and visually appealing. 

Although we were not immune to this shortcoming, Grand Studio has taken great strides to adjust the way we approach our process. While we have always made an effort to make our designs inclusive, we now include accessibility from the ground up. 

Through teamwork, collaboration and co-creation, we strive to ensure that no group is excluded in our designs and that we create our designs from the standpoint of diversity and inclusion.

We believe that one of the most significant changes that the industry will see this year is the inclusion of diverse, socially-aware representations in UX design. In addition, we see more companies beginning to focus on creating more accessible and inclusive designs from the framework up rather than waiting for feedback to incorporate it at a later stage. 

Data Accumulation and the Value of Data

Collecting and processing immense amounts of data is easier now than ever before. The problem is no longer in data acquisition but rather in determining what data is relevant and what is superfluous. 

As methods of collecting data continue to improve and, in many cases, become automated, it is up to the design teams to decide which metrics are essential for the development of new products, processes, and services. 

We foresee a greater emphasis placed on understanding the value of specific data and how that is determined. UX is crucial here to help bring in research methods and critical thinking on how various metrics or data points might impact the people involved in any data-enabled solutions or collections. Working jointly with business stakeholders to craft metrics that measure necessary elements and account for the human factors will allow for a better and more holistic view of incoming data. 

The Importance of Data Visualization

Although data visualization and accumulation are not new concepts in the technology field, we see an even greater emphasis on them in the future, especially given the trend towards more data. 

Having access to reliable, easy-to-understand data is arguably the most essential aspect of creating a new product or process for any company. 

User data shows how your staff or customers are utilizing certain products or systems, but it also informs you how they are using it and how often it is being used and gives insight into how those things could be improved. 

At the same time, the data that is being provided must be displayed in an engaging, accessible, and easily digestible way. If too much irrelevant information is included in the visualization, things will get lost in translation. 

For example, we worked with the world’s largest fast-food chain when they were trying to improve their efficiency on which foods to cook en masse vs. per order. They instituted a process that collected data on the items ordered most frequently, but the data collection alone wasn’t enough. They needed a visualization that enabled action, so their employees knew what to do with the data.

By showing the restaurant the data in a clear and digestible way, they were able to reduce costs and food waste while simultaneously improving the efficiency of their line staff and reducing downtime. 

No Code Technology Will Pave the Way to Greater Innovation

In recent years, No-Code technology has emerged as a solution to the lack of available developers in the technology field. While not prevalent yet, we see this as a way to enable greater access to creating applications, processes, and systems in the near future for designers. 

Currently, UX designers are only one-half of the equation for building UX interfaces. With no-code technology, designers can be less dependent on developers, which speeds up the process and drastically increases the potential skillsets available to designers without undergoing lengthy and often expensive training.

As this technology becomes more widely available, designers will be able to implement their ideas directly via graphic user interfaces that allow for drag-and-drop coding. Ideally, this will also reduce the possibility of coding errors that can derail the development process. 

Although there is still significant work on the No-Code front for it to be truly viable, we are excited to see what the future holds in this new frontier. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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How to Meet Service Design Expectations in the “New Normal”

Over the past few years, services across industries have gone mostly touchless and digital, removing humans as much as possible. We now have easier remote banking, contactless food delivery, telehealth access, and online shopping for all of retail. 

With a new normal establishing itself between the ebbs and surges of COVID, we have the ability to incorporate humans and in-person services again. But what we’re starting to see is this doesn’t mean we can scrap the digital and just go back to the way things were pre-pandemic. Nor do people want to keep living in a digital-only world. So how do we reorient our services to meet the expectations of our “new normal” users? 

Start with the service design process

The good news is that, from a design process standpoint, we can be pretty picky about where we need to be in person again. Despite some adjustment periods for many teams, the remote collaboration and investigation most design teams have been doing for the last two years have worked pretty well. Things like digital co-creation workshops and remote customer interviews have been super beneficial for engaging with customers in a space that can be less invasive than being in their home and less nerve-wracking or difficult to access/schedule around than an office or meeting space. 

That said, research is crucial to understanding users’ behaviors and desires. And fresh qualitative research can help you understand your customers’ new routines and behaviors and determine which parts of your service should remain digital, which require a nuance or complexity best served by offering in-person, and which points of the process should have multichannel access.

When it comes to how you do that research, it’s important to note that digital-only research can leave out customers for whom digital is not readily available, along with some observational ethnographic studies which are just challenging to do remotely. These scenarios are great reasons to incorporate in-person research modes again and ensure the full picture is considered for a service design. 

Takeaway #1: Return to onsite/in-person research to get detailed information on behaviors and context that customers may not be aware of to tell you about in a remote conversation, but couple it with remote interviews where you will get information to “color in” the observation. This will allow for the maximum coverage of user types and information. 

Creating a “new normal” service for 2022

When it comes to the actual service provided, it’s probably no surprise that customers have become accustomed to having digital options that they can access from home. And truly, many people like having these digital options that can either replace in-person services for greater comfort, convenience, or accessibility (like online religious services or remote workout sessions) or shorten their in-person time (like pre-registering for a doctor’s appointment before arrival). But for those same doctor’s appointments, some people prefer the in-person experience to the telehealth calls they’ve made do with for the last few years. And, let’s be honest: while online workouts are great when you don’t have the time to get that mental health break and also get to work, sometimes you might just want more of a community setting for your wellness moment.

Every business and every service is going to be a little different, in terms of meeting the expectations of 2022 users, but you can bet that some amount of multichannel solution will be in your future. Starting workshops now with stakeholders from various departments who work on the different channels and touchpoints will help you understand sooner rather than later the technical or operational constraints and business viability of continuing, removing, or adding to the existing channels. 

Takeaway #2: Get the right people “in the room” together to talk through everyone’s plans and capabilities moving forward. Use customer research to define which channels are most valuable and align the strengths of digital and in-person to specific pain points in a customer journey. This can help you define the right, holistic experience for your customers and ultimately, your business.

Got a service you’re thinking about redesigning?

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Digital Banking Trends – The Future of Banking

The rise of digital banking has been meteoric. As the world has become increasingly digitized and fast-paced, many consumers no longer have the time or inclination to go to a physical bank. 

Most traditional banking institutions have adapted to this by increasing their online presence and allowing the majority of transactions to be done through mobile apps, but it may not be enough.

Grand Studio has compiled some industry trends having helped several large incumbent bank clients navigate this transition, as the digitization of the financial industry continues.

The Rise of Fintech Banks

Traditional banking is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The services that they once exclusively offered are no longer exclusive. 

With the advent of Fintech solutions, retailers can offer their own payment plans, pay-as-you-go models, mobile payments, etc. which have reduced the need for using banks as a payment system.  

To adapt to this, many brick-and-mortar banks have added digital-first servicing touchpoints. Both incumbents and disruptors increasingly offer products and services outside of the traditional scope of consumer banking such as robo investment advice, budgeting, personal financial management, and various types of personal insurance products.

To continue to survive in the future, traditional banks will have to do more than just adapt to the challenges that are being thrown at them. They will need to embrace Fintech solutions to enhance what they are able to offer to consumers at a lower cost, or they will need to embrace and enhance the one thing that they uniquely have left – human-to-human connections.  

Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS)

Perhaps the most impactful change in recent years, and arguably one of the biggest reasons for a decline in traditional bank use, is BaaS. 

With so many non-banking institutions offering banking services, there is little to no need for the majority of people to go into brick-and-mortar banks anymore. Almost every banking transaction can be done online, through a mobile app, or at a traditional retailer. Grand Studio recognized this trend several years ago when we partnered with one of the world’s largest financial institutions to create an online and mobile banking platform to service a prepaid banking product that can be reloaded at many big-box retail locations.  

This has also led to a deluge of mobile-only banking firms that exist without any physical branches. The pandemic helped to spur the popularity of these banks as the need for contactless payments and peer-to-peer money transfers increased. 

In addition, these banks are often able to offer lower interest rates for loans, higher yields on savings accounts, and little to no fees attached to their accounts. 

The main downfall of BaaS, particularly in the form of mobile-only banking firms, is the lack of human connection. There are few, if any, times that a consumer will speak with a real person if they have a concern or problem. Instead, these companies tend to use chatbots to handle any issues that may arise, which can quickly become frustrating to most people.  

Innovation in Data Exchange 

Financial institutions collect a wealth of data about their customers and their behaviors in the course of normal business. It’s increasingly common for banks to offer consumers the option of aggregating accounts across institutions for the purpose of providing insights on budgeting and spending. 

Behind the scenes, institutions are increasingly thinking about how to modernize the systems of data exchange that powers international consumer finance. We’ve seen in recent days the power that SWIFT yields as banks in Russia have been partially banned from the consortium, except for SWIFT, but many of the messaging technologies that power SWIFT are decades old. 

We recently helped one of the largest financial institutions in the world to imagine how blockchain-based technologies might disrupt SWIFT and provide real-time data exchange and validation. The technology offers significant opportunities to improve today’s problems, like compliance with regulations regarding Know Your Customer issues, and also offers significant new opportunities that are built around secure, controllable, and instantaneous data exchange.

Through a collaborative design process, we helped our client design the onboarding process and interfaces that institutions will use to manage access to their data and exchange data with other entities on the blockchain.

From here, the possibilities are limitless. Open finances now allow for competition in curated marketplaces such as wealth management companies, in processes such as allowing alternate credit scoring/tracking companies, and in assets such as BaaS. 

Eventually, this all may lead to every company incorporating some level of Fintech to expand what they can offer to their customers and their employees. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Driven Service 

For years, most banks only offered access to human brokers and stock market advice to those wealthy clients that could afford the associated fees. This led to a stratification in the market as most young adults, making up the majority of the market share, were unable to participate in the stock market. Fintech disruptors have completely changed consumer expectations – where 20 years ago, you almost certainly would have to call your broker to buy or sell equities, you can now trade fractional shares from your phone.

Changing consumer expectations in the space are creating an increasingly serious challenge for wealth management services. While today’s (likely older) are accustomed to the human-driven experience, younger consumers may increasingly see having to work with a human to manage their wealth as a net negative, not a net positive. 

We recently worked with one of the biggest players in this space to understand consumer attitudes towards technology relative to their existing relationship with a financial advisor. We found significant opportunities for this client to double down on what was working (the feeling of personal support consumers get when they talk to their advisor) as they built out their long-term product roadmap. 

The pending purchase of Wealthfront by UBS is representative of one-way firms will be addressing this challenge. Wealthfront gives UBS a low-touch, low-cost (maybe even free) platform through which they can engage select customers to offer their high-touch personal advisory services. We expect much more product development and purchases in this space as the players in the space confront changing customer needs and expectations. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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The Impact of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

Healthcare wearable technology

Nearly 80% of people have utilized wearable technology to monitor their health and wellbeing, and in the past few years, that usage has more than tripled across consumers of all ages. 

These devices have been instrumental in revolutionizing the way that people monitor their health and wellness, and studies have shown that when people are actively aware of how their behavior affects their health, they are more likely to try to correct it. 

Part of the reason that these wearable technologies are so impactful is that they are personalized. Each piece of technology can be customized to your situation, your normal, and your health goals. Additionally, these gadgets are completely portable and can be taken with you everywhere that you go without a thought. A smartwatch or Fitbit stays on your wrist 24/7 except for when it is charging. 

This gives people a greater sense of ownership and it can help individuals place more emphasis on their health, their habits, and on making better decisions. We can all use help with that sometimes, and wearable technology is a fantastic, readily available reminder.  

How Grand Studio Has Helped Shape the Future of Wearable Technology

Within the past few years, we have worked with two major healthcare providers to design and guide development on wearable technology that has vastly improved their patient response times. 

The first company, a major medical device provider, asked us to help integrate an ASIC chip into their wearable biometrics that provided alerts to a patient’s medical staff for patients with high fall risk. This enabled the care providers to dispatch aid to a patient without having to wait for a cord to be pulled or a button to be pressed to alert them that their patient was in trouble. This wearable was essential in improving response times to potentially life-threatening situations. 

In addition, this device was also able to alert medical staff to patients that weren’t being as active as they should be. In circumstances such as knee or hip replacements, patients need to get up and move for physical therapy. It also helped tell staff which patients needed more help. 

Our other major project involved creating a blood pressure monitoring patch that connected to tablets to provide constant and accurate readings to both the patient and their clinical staff. 

We designed this patch with women who were pregnant in mind to help them manage preeclampsia and the symptoms and danger that came with it. The patch would alert the staff when a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate went too far out of range, and the staff would then be able to call the patient to document their symptoms and provide recommendations as to how to get their blood pressure or heart rate lowered safely. 

This patch allowed women to stay home longer without having to constantly travel to the hospital every time their blood pressure spiked or dropped, and allowed them to have more comfortable, and more importantly, safer pregnancies. 

Future Trend of Healthcare Wearable Applications

As wearable technology continues to become more affordable, accessible, and commonplace, more and more healthcare professionals will be placing more emphasis on their use. 

Currently, more than 50% of providers report that wearable technology is beneficial in patient monitoring. (1) They help monitor vitals, track medications, track sleep or lack thereof, and help follow how post-op recovery is going. For patients with diabetes, heart conditions, cancer, or any other long-term, chronic conditions, wearables can be instrumental in symptom management, ensuring that medications are taken on time and properly, and in alerting doctors of any potential declines in their overall health expediently. 

The ongoing limitation has been that there is no clear-cut or standardized method of getting that information to healthcare providers. At the moment, most wearables require that the information that is collected be manually uploaded to a provider’s website or data-tracking system, though we are working with our clients to find better ways to automate this process and minimize user error, technical issues, and security and privacy concerns. 

Despite this constraint, wearables remain an exciting potential solution to help in a key element of treatment: early detection. By providing health care providers with another tool that can help them detect, diagnose, and treat conditions, both patients and providers will benefit. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

We’d love to hear what you’re up to, and we always love partnering with groups looking out for the greater good.

3 Healthcare Trends to Watch

If the world’s had it rough over the past couple of years, our healthcare systems and the people who keep them running have had it even rougher. They’ve been responsible for treating huge volumes of contagious patients, battling medical misinformation along with population-wide fear and grief, and reinventing the very way care is delivered to minimize the risk of COVID transmission.

While we wouldn’t wish a repeat pandemic on anyone, it’s been inspiring to see the way healthcare has responded. Beyond their impressive resilience, healthcare has boomed with innovation and creativity.

Grand Studio had the opportunity to innovate alongside a few of them, including one of the largest private US health systems as they debuted a new ‘hospitalization at home’ process.

Check out a few exciting healthcare trends we’ve been noticing along the way.

1. An emphasis on physician mental health

We talk a lot about patient health outcomes — and with good reason. Patients, after all, are the “recipients” of healthcare, and healthcare organizations are often judged (and funded) based on those outcomes. But the person on the other end of the stethoscope also matters: not only is clinician wellbeing important in its own right, but it’s also associated with better patient health outcomes

It’s been horrific to see how working conditions during a pandemic caused providers to reach a breaking point, resulting in high levels of burnout and even suicide (an estimated 300 physicians die by suicide every year — a more significant percentage than the general population, especially among female physicians). But, although it’s come far too late, it’s gratifying to see this issue come more into popular consciousness. A 2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report even called physician burnout and disengagement “the most potentially disruptive forces for hospitals and health systems in the next 3 years.”

We’re eager to watch what happens as people put more attention on this issue. The room for innovation is vast — from tools and processes that directly support physician mental health to improvements in processes and care delivery that support a better, more efficient working environment.

2. Adding nuance to “adherence”

The issue of “patient adherence” is a familiar term in the healthcare space, particularly for anyone dealing with chronic conditions. Even once patients are given a diagnosis and a treatment recommendation, they don’t always (or even usually) follow through. A common point of difficulty is medication adherence, which is thought to cause 100,000 preventable deaths per year, and $100 billion in preventable healthcare costs. Beyond this, it can be frustrating for clinicians to see the same people struggling with preventable issues – a person with diabetes who doesn’t come in for tests, or a person with hypertension who doesn’t take their medications.

But instead of just writing these people off as “bad patients” who don’t want to get well, there’s been a surge in acceptance of psychological and systemic forces that keep patients from becoming better. Patient engagement has moved far beyond education to include tools that work with a patient’s motivation and state of mind to help them traverse emotional and logistical issues related to illness. There is also increasing awareness of the relevance of social determinants of health, or the conditions in which people live, as it relates to adherence and wellness.

The potential for technology to support this paradigm shift is also vast. We’re seeing more and more products that take culture, race, gender identity, sexuality, housing stability, and access to food/medications into account, and see better health outcomes for it. There are no “bad patients,” just people who haven’t yet been supported by the tools we have today.

3. Maturing machine learning

While machine learning has been getting buzz for years, it’s exciting to see the promise start to really deliver within the healthcare sector. Beyond helping with diagnostic accuracy, machine learning is beginning to help clinicians anticipate when symptoms get worse, track the spread of infectious disease, help patients make important behavioral adjustments that affect their health outcomes, and personalize a treatment regime based on a person’s individual characteristics, including their genetic profile. It isn’t just powerful technology, it’s enabling a more human-centric approach to care.

In sum, it’s been a tough couple of years, but creativity and hope are alive and well, and we can’t wait to see what happens. 

Are you innovating in the healthcare field? 

Keeping Calm and Connected Through Day-to-Day User Research

Moderating interviews can be a fun and challenging task. Between making sure you’re talking with the right people about the right things, capturing information, and decoding it, there is a lot to do! Sometimes interviews are over 30 minutes, some are interactive, some are short, pointed, five-minute intercepts.

In the last few months alone, Grand Studio has run research studies with one of the country’s largest e-commerce companies, one of the largest insurance companies, and one of the largest private healthcare companies. We’ve run dozens of traditional, one-on-one sessions and in-person intercept interviews. Even with COVID imposing challenges on how we safely run research, we’ve been busy.

Check out the best practices we learned along the way and how we plan to incorporate them into our future projects.

Keep calm, and put googly eyes on your computer

User interviews are an intimate experience, but it’s important to remain objective. If you’re one of those people who wear their emotions on their sleeve, or are genuinely expressive, interviews are a good time to slow it down a bit and let participants be the expressive ones. It’s natural for research participants to mirror the demeanor of their moderator (and vice-versa). If you come off as anxious or fidgety, they may do the same. 

If you’re like me, you have a resting “thinking” face- as if someone could put a loading wheel over it while your eyes drift towards the sky, processing information. This can become more apparent during remote interviews when all participants have to look at is our face whatever lingers in our backgrounds. It’s important to try not to let your eyes wander too much, as to avoid coming off as disinterested. As awkward as it might be looking at participants in the eyes (or into a computer camera), it allows your participant to know you are listening, which lets participants know your attention is focused on them.

Note: I put googly eyes next to my computer’s camera, just so I have something to look at during remote sessions. It gives the impression that you are looking participants in the eyes.

Embrace a state of listening to understand and dig deeper

It’s important to let your participant know you are trying to understand them, and often this is done by asking questions or for clarification. But too much participation can become annoying when a participant is trying to say something and they are cut off with a barrage of “yup,” “wowwww,” and “uh-huh” ‘s or premature follow-up questions. Sometimes a little silence goes a long way and gives participants time to finish their thoughts.

Ximena Vengoechea highlights connecting questions in her book “Listen Like you Mean It” as a good way to progress through an interview with clients. The idea is to listen and understand what participants are trying to say before responding with a new question. Some forms of connecting questions are:

  • Exploratory Questions: These questions usually start with ‘what’ or ‘how’ to help us explore a participant’s behavior (e.g. How would you approach…? What would you do if…? How do you feel about…?”
  • Encouragement Questions: These questions encourage participants to open up about a particular subject (e.g. Would you walk me through how you…?, Tell me more about…, What else?)
  • Reflection Questions: These questions invite participants to choose an option, and discard another, making room for reflection and elaboration on their selection. (e.g. Are you looking for something X or Y? Is it more like This or That? Is it a Must Have or a Nice to Have?)

The purpose of these open-ended connecting questions are to dive deeper into a subject, and ultimately get to the “why” of a phenomenon, which are used to help generate insights. Connecting questions are the opposite of close-ended disconnecting questions which often end up with a one-word answer (e.g. yes/no) and make it difficult to pry further.

Create your cadence: interview, debrief, adapt, repeat

Building a steady rhythm is great when conducting multiple interviews within a short period of time. But like many things, communication is super important. Keeping track of when interviews need to be run, how they will be conducted and recorded, who needs to be there, all with time to reflect on what should be done differently moving forward can become hectic. That’s where good use of technology comes into play.

It’s good to capture the audio and video for a session, and tools like Zoom have made this easy. Combine Zoom recordings with Otter and you will have entire research sessions transcribed automatically. This is a great way to dig up quotes or insights that can be discussed with the team later, and relieves moderators of the responsibility of taking notes. Having audio, video, and transcripts handy will make synthesizing research easier down the road, so keep all of your data organized! 

After you are done running interviews for a day, it’s a good idea to run a short debrief session to discuss what was learned that day. This is an excellent time to get started on synthesis, identify insights, and adapt your research approach if necessary.