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.

De-Risking Software Investment with Usability Testing

By now, most of us have interacted with a doctor or nurse via video. COVID’s increased demands on medical professionals, combined with the need to prevent community transmission wherever possible, have accelerated an already-developing practice in the delivery of medical care: remote patient monitoring, or RPM.

Clinicians are presented with many technical service options designed to help bridge this “white space” between office visits. Grand Studio recently helped a large hospital network evaluate RPM vendor candidates for their RFI process, and usability testing offered an important set of criteria for this evaluation.

An emerging technology with profound usability implications

Care delivery modalities are often dependent on comprehension and adoption from both clinicians and patients, and our client understood this before we even had to suggest it. 

Clinicians can find themselves short on time and presented with a long list of biometric data to quickly assess and address. They may be accessing this data during busy clinic hours or between surgical procedures. Missing or misunderstanding something important can have serious implications for the patient’s wellbeing. Good interfaces will amplify clinician focus and mitigate their fatigue.

Patients may be familiar with digital technologies in general. Still, their ability to learn new interaction modes might be challenging when focusing their attention on coping with a health condition, especially a condition that may be new to them. Also, because many of these applications reside on a smartphone, it’s fair to assume that patients will be distracted when interacting with these interfaces.

We knew that context of use for all users would be critically important for our RPM solution. We decided that ranking the offerings against foundational and accepted usability rubrics would allow us to objectively assess how patients and clinicians might interact with this technology. These rankings would provide the decision-makers with a non-biased set of acceptance criteria to consider when choosing a technology partner.

Step 1: Measure for fundamental heuristics

The market for RPM solutions is large and varied. As with any technology industry sector, some products are more mature than others. Additionally, some solutions were removed from consideration due to no fault of their own – they may be too narrow in their utility, too difficult to integrate with sibling platforms, or too general in their functionality.

We were presented with a collection of eleven vendor demo videos to evaluate. Grading on a curve, we scored their clinician-facing dashboards on commonly-accepted foundational rubrics.

  • Orientation, context, & wayfinding: How easy is it for users to find what they’re looking for?
  • Visual hierarchy & module differentiation: Is it clear that some things are more important than others?
  • System feedback/confirmation of action: Does the software validate the user’s actions?
  • Constructive failure & mistake recovery: What happens when a mistake is made? Is it easy to correct?
  • Affordances & interaction cues: Are interactive elements intuitive?
  • Language & terminology: Does the system present commonly accepted terms?
  • Three of the eleven scored very well, four were well below average, three were unacceptable, and one of the vendors was dismissed for other reasons.

Step 2: Test the finalists with real users

Testing software with real users is an essential part of any usability evaluation. No matter how much research you do and how deep your professional expertise is, you’ll never be able to consider real people’s comprehension patterns and work habits.

To simulate a real clinical scenario, we collaborated with our clinical partners to create a “dummy” data set with 100 fictional patient records. Each patient was given hypothetical biometric readings for blood pressure, blood glucose level, heart rate, respiration rate, weight, fall detection, and SPO2. We also mapped these patients to a small selection of conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, and hypertension. Finally, each patient was assigned to one of eight doctors and one of five monitoring nurses.

The vendors were given these datasets, and the three finalists were asked to stand up a “sandbox” environment to support our task observation exercises.

With the help of four monitoring nurses and one care coordinator, we asked these testers to execute a series of tasks within each finalist platform. Watching these users closely and interviewing them for feedback after completing the tasks yielded interesting and clear results.

The dashboards were evaluated on both general and feature-specific sets of heuristic criteria, allowing for some overlap with the first round of scoring. We measured the systems for the following feature-specific heuristics:

  • Dashboard clarity: Are the contents of the clinician dashboard presented in a scannable way?
  • Dashboard filter sets: Can the user reduce and refine the contents in the dashboard in an intuitive and content-relevant way?
  • Patient details: Are these details clear and contextual, presenting the clinician with both a single measurement and trending data presentation?
  • Alert clearing & documentation: How easy is it to clear and document the clinical details when a patient’s biometrics are out of range?
  • Patient contact: Does the application provide functionality that enables text, phone, or video contact with the patient?
  • Clinician contact & collaboration: Does the platform support secure patient information sharing when a patient case requires escalation to a physician or collaboration with a nursing peer?
  • We also evaluated each of these offerings from a patient point of view, emphasizing program onboarding and user comprehension. 
  • Onboarding & guidance: Is the patient provided a clear and easy-to-use introduction to the software?
  • Next-best action clarity: As with clinicians, many of the patient’s tasks need to happen in sequence. Is that sequence clear?
  • Troubleshooting & support: How does the platform support users encountering technical challenges?
  • Biometric reading context: Patients are often confused by their biometric readings. Does the interface provide helpful context for understanding this information?
  • Wayfinding & signage: Is functionality clearly marked?
  • System feedback, reminder cues, & task validation: Patients also need confirmation of their actions in the application. They may also need scheduled reminders to take biometric readings. Is this functionality clear and flexible?
  • Clinician interaction functionality: Does the system provide a means of interaction between the patient and the clinician?
  • Physical space needed for devices: How much physical space does the kit take up? 
  • Portability of devices: Are the kit devices easy to carry, or is moving them challenging?
  • Device consistency & ease of connectivity: Do the kit devices and interfaces feel like they’re part of a suite of products? How easy is it to connect them with each other, personal smartphones, and the web?

Findings: One vendor scored much higher than the others

Remote Patient Monitoring offers a great example of the value of human-centered design. Each of the platforms we evaluated is built around technologies unavailable only a few years ago, technologies that will fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered in the near future. Many of the systems we evaluated failed to deliver that technology effectively because the interface and product design did not adequately support the real people, clinicians, and patients, who would use these new tools.

Given these stakes, the role of usability testing was elevated in prominence. The testing results were clear – one of the eleven vendors stood out as a clear favorite.

While the usability testing was only one important piece of the vendor evaluation process, it ensured that user needs were considered, helping to facilitate onboarding and adoption as a result.

Growing Culture in a Hybrid Workforce

Let’s face it; hybrid work is here to stay! But, if you aren’t convinced, a recent report discovered that 83% of the 9,326 workers surveyed say they prefer a hybrid model — in which they can work remotely at least 25% of the time.

At Grand Studio, we want to create an environment where everyone feels supported to execute their best work, and while we are still refining our hybrid model, check out how we have kept our retention at 100% and the 6 key pillars that allowed us to grow our culture, even during a global pandemic.

Act As One and Trust in Transparency

When we were together, a kind of electricity sparked in the office, whether we were collaborating on a client project or getting into heated discussions over the Fast and Furious franchise. When the pandemic hit, in all honesty, we were terrified that this magic we had as a studio was going to fizzle out. Instead of letting this happen, we started to make sure that we were living our values; heck, there was a whole rebrand to support our true purpose and mission.

When we become intentional about our values, leaders act with them in mind and bring transparency to the organization’s goals, employees become more invested in the success, and you can celebrate wins together.

We did this by virtually continuing our state-of-the-studio bi-monthly meetings, adding more transparency around business development; we shared out pay bands and reworked our assessment tool to foster growth and equity.

To keep that spark and magic we have to keep doing the work. We continually revisit our values, refine our goals and hold each other accountable.

Communication and Information

Creating a strong culture with a hybrid team is about consistency within the communication, tools, and information. The flexibility of hybrid work is a huge draw, so establish norms and expectations around teams and collaboration.

No two companies are the same, so customize your communication to suit your needs- asynchronous, synchronous, or hybrid- keep it consistent!

We were fortunate to have remote clients and were already working in asynchronous tools, so the transition to hybrid communication at the start of the pandemic wasn’t much of a change. Our most significant pain point was learning how to collaborate more effectively remotely and lead better hybrid meetings.

Inclusivity and Visibility

With people in the office and others remote, there needs to be an effort with visibility, not only leaders being accessible and seen and checking in with everyone on the team and empowering them to do the same. In addition, ensure that the whole team is equipped with the right technology to maintain productivity remotely.

Some easy changes to help with inclusivity with remote teams scheduling regular team meetings, allowing time blocks on your calendar to be available to others and leaders, holding back your opinion in team calls. When you open up and allow others to have a voice, you create diversity in thought and allow for other perspectives.

At Grand Studio, we gave everyone a home-office budget so that everyone had an adequate space to work from, and we rolled out a new team onboarding for projects that allowed us to get to know each other on a more personal level, as well as working styles. We also have set meetings that allow for different time zones and foster an environment that encourages all perspectives to be shared.

Mental Health and Psychological Safety

The pandemic drastically changed the landscape of work, and while you may focus on the new challenges of managing people remotely, don’t forget that layer that might not be as visible to you- your coworkers struggling with caregiving, sorting out their working arrangements, working with all the other impacts of a global pandemic.

While the pandemic has been challenging, it has given us a real opportunity to find empathy in our workforce and come back to treating people like humans. Don’t forget to check in with your team to ensure that they feel supported and have your respect and trust. When you create an environment that values mental health and has a culture that fosters psychological safety, people feel free to collaborate and feel safe taking risks, enabling rapid innovation.

At Grand Studio, we did this by setting clear expectations, letting everyone know that their mental health is essential, offering support through our leaders and benefit offerings, and making sure that we were having check-ins with everyone once a quarter to talk not only about work but get to know them more and find out how we can better support them. One of the most impactful things is having a leadership team at the studio that isn’t afraid to be open and vulnerable; we share our struggles and create a safe space for others to do the same.

Rethink Recognition

High Fives are a thing of the past; having a hybrid or a remote team means you need to rethink how you celebrate and acknowledge your team! So bring it back to your purpose; what are you looking to recognize? Recognition can help bridge the gap between groups and remote employees and allow opportunities to celebrate each other, even if you are not physically together. Also, praise doesn’t just have to be from leaders, peer to peer recognition creates a greater sense of camaraderie, fosters trust, and encourages collaboration in hybrid teams.

We rolled out Awardco, a recognition platform that lets the whole studio recognize each other and live our values while adding the benefit of monetary rewards that can be used for purchases or redeemed to different charities.

We saw a 57% increase over five months in employee satisfaction with recognition! This small change allowed everyone to start recognizing each other publicly and gave everyone a chance to celebrate in Slack!

Find Time For Fun

I know that zoom fatigue is real but find those times to connect over something other than work online. These fun non-work activities can be as simple as a virtual coffee chat or a half-hour to play some games together.

March 2020, a pizza was sent to everyone’s home on a Friday night to take the stress off of feeding themselves and anyone in their house, and it has become part of our culture every month since! We love posting pics on Slack and getting into The GreatTopping Debate (you can get in on these heated topics on our IG)!

This list is just the beginning of exploring the future of hybrid work. One great way to know that our hybrid culture is working is that we aren’t hesitant about making changes to improve it. Although hybrid work is new, and growing a strong culture is challenging, improvement should be an ongoing conversation!

Want to learn how we help companies build clarity out of complexity?

We’re here to help! 

Forward-Thinking Design Systems

In the chaos of the everyday, it’s often hard to step back and assess whether your organization’s design system is really working. But coming to the realization that it could be better, and then making the decision to change things around— well, that’s overwhelming.

Where should you start? 

The benefits to reevaluating, maintaining, and evolving a design system are straightforward – creating efficiency for your team, consistency for your users, and the ability to scale for your company. However, the organizational impact of a design system is what’s hard to master.

Don’t worry! Grand Studio has a few ways to battle organizational complexity when redesigning, scaling, and maintaining a design system, based on what we’ve learned over the years.

Future-focused decisioning

When reevaluating a design system there are often multiple products and regions to take into consideration. When we redesigned the design system of the world’s largest basketball league our design team was tasked with the challenge of unifying domestic and international digital products across web, app and OTT platforms. Like all design systems, this system had to scale to meet the needs of a number of teams with differing outputs. We ran a design and development audit on the existing products as a way to keep track of styles and components and to understand the context in which these elements are being used. Once we had an understanding of the existing styles and components, future focused decisioning became a key player to fill any gaps and prioritize key components. To build a scalable and sustainable design system your decision making must ensure flexibility, rather than rigidly structured for the needs of a single product. A design system will change, so we should design with product evolution in mind.

Quality and Development

In order to scale, the team needs defined and reliable workflows, including handoffs between design and development. A design system in itself helps facilitate designer-developer collaboration by establishing a common language within the team. So you’d hope this would make handoff smoother, right? When design systems are large and unwieldy they become a challenging tool for disparate product teams. We work to establish a streamlined and precise design system that can deliver a clear and transparent handoff process. Our goal is to edit back and create a single source of truth for multiple products within one system. The best way to create a common language within the design and development team is to explain how components behave and include code samples. This complete explanation goes beyond a set of tooling and creates precise handoffs that are codified in the design system.

Governance

To introduce and implement changes within a design system, there’s a need for solid change management. When evolving design systems, we work closely with our partners throughout the design process to not only focus on building consistent user experiences across the entire product suite but to give them the tooling to champion the design changes. We rely on our partners to be internal champions, in order to facilitate buy-in across multiple departments and product teams and to ensure the changes are used properly by all adopters. 

While design systems are essential in developing evolving products that are scalable their frameworks are complex. Simply put, design systems will fail without the commitment to maintain them. Updating your design systems requires focus, commitment and openness to doing things differently. We focus on working with our clients to recreate the fundamental building blocks, the right tooling, and methodology that will create conditions for adoption and scalability.

Want to learn how we help companies build clarity out of complexity?

We’re here to help! 

The Death of Personas

Nearly ten years ago, we were asked by a large financial services company to help their innovation group spread the gospel of human centricity. Over several years and many product design projects, we created dozens of empathy artifacts, most notably several different generations of personas. These personas were beautiful objects with big photos and many personal descriptions of our character’s desires, motivations, and frustrations.

We don’t make personas like that anymore. Back in the day, we needed personas to promote user empathy for our business and product partners. Now, empathy is baked into product management practices generally, and the hard job is understanding how to connect user understanding to long-term product strategy. 

Instead of personas, these days we make more action-oriented user understanding artifacts.

Behavioral Models

Instead of personifying a single user, we describe the intent and/or mental model of classes of users. When we designed experiences for international basketball fans, it was farewell “Julie,” hello “fans who follow players, not teams.” These models discard personal detail in favor of describing their behaviors in relation to our product, and we often end up mapping these models on a 2×2.

Jobs To Be Done

We do a lot of design for professional products, often where there isn’t a choice to use the software; it’s a job requirement. In these cases, personas are completely inappropriate: the personal qualities of any one user are far less important than identifying the users’ JTBD. Once we’ve identified these, we can then classify our users by the similarities and differences in their jobs, which helps us plan and design our software. We find JTBDs pair well with service blueprints where we articulate individual actors’ jobs throughout the service experience, or as individual job maps where the actions can be directly tied to a user’s goal.

Representation Matrices

When we envision or design big enterprise software, there are inevitably users that can be categorized in many ways, including by role, seniority, geography, language, country. A representation matrix helps to identify and organize users across matrix verticals (e.g., “every vendor in Asia”) or horizontals (e.g., “every vendor that supplies raw materials”). This, in turn, helps to identify the user qualities that matter most to our design and product management decisions.

In all cases, these tools are designed to give a strategic output. Rather than helping teams build empathy per se, these are meant to help make hard decisions about what our products should or shouldn’t do. Honestly, making these tools is quite a bit more challenging than making personas. Still, it’s also clear that they better represent the increasingly mature role of HCD in product management and strategy.

Want to learn how we help companies build clarity out of complexity? 

We’re here to help! 

Introducing the New Grand Brand

Welcome to a new rebrand and a new era for the company.

Three years ago we officially renamed Moment Chicago as Grand Studio and became a new company. We had little time then to reflect inward on establishing our mission and values as a new brand, so we very quickly pulled together a new logo and brand guidelines. From that point onward, we were off to the races solving some really tough design problems for our clients.

Throughout this time, we have come to sincerely appreciate our company culture as the key driver for making our studio a wonderful place to work, and also what differentiates us as excellent design partners for our clients.

Today I am excited to introduce a new chapter for Grand Studio, one that leverages the best parts of our company history and looks forward to embracing the unique culture we want to share with everyone. Our culture is one of curiosity, support, transparency, and collaboration to find the best solutions to design’s hardest problems. It takes a team to move the needle forward for our clients and their end users. And we do all of that with a positive energy and a bit of fun as well!

APPROACH

Our process was an introspection of our core beliefs and values as a company 

In the past few months, we embarked on a journey of rebranding Grand Studio to achieve better standardization across all of our project teams and to facilitate the next chapter in our company’s future. While the name Grand Studio would remain, we sought to reassess our values as a company, change our styling from top to bottom, and refresh our website. Above all, it was a chance for our whole studio to reflect on how we wanted to evolve together as one culture moving forward.

Branding & website studio workshop

We had help from a great Chicago design partner, PinPoint Collective, and they established the roadmap for helping to turn our introspection into tangible company values and branding directions. We are thankful to them for their guidance and design work to bring all the tangible elements of the rebrand to life!

MISSON

We are determined to change the world through design

Our mission is a reflection of the high level of support and guidance we offer to our clients:

Grand Studio’s mission:

We seek to help others create clear paths and tools for success with the guidance of design thinking.

To offer the broadest and best in design perspectives, we assemble many uniquely qualified minds around one shared goal: to turn complexity into clear opportunity and reimagine technology as a pathway toward making lives better.

We come across ambiguous strategy projects that we shepherd toward designed solutions, however getting there is a journey with our clients, using design thinking methodologies as our compass. Our role in that process is to create shared understanding between stakeholders, to build momentum toward problem solving through design artifacts, and to collaborate on a new vision for how technology can support business outcomes. We do not simply add a coating of UI design at the end of the process and call it a website or an app — we instead help our clients to confidently shape their strategy, validate through user research, and bridge those learnings to design concepts so that the end result (be it a website, app, service, conversational interface, you name it!) connects to desired outcomes for business, users, and technology alike. We are determined to embrace complexity in today’s technology projects toward building sustained clarity for everyone involved.

VALUES

Our core values join us together

While our mission serves as a north star for everything we do at Grand Studio, our core values inspire us to act with purpose and integrity:

Grand Studio values are a unique reflection of our culture and what we bring to every project, how we conduct ourselves with each other and our clients to build success. When working with Grand Studio, we are all energized to bring our very best regardless of the transformational design challenges in front of us. We do our best to make collaboration an inclusive, enjoyable partnership.

LOGO

The new logo expresses a dynamic shift

Our logo has gone through a significant transformation:

We are looking to rely solely on our wordmark and move from a more serious tone to a friendlier one. We believe this change brings a dynamic energy that is representative of our fast-paced culture and the personality we bring to projects. We consider ourselves to be professional, humble, and approachable in everything we do.

COLORS

Our color scheme reflects a mix of simplicity and delight

We’ve moved from a multicolor brand to a cleaner black and white with a touch of green accent:

Green, or Jade to be exact, for us represents a culture of growth, nurturing, and collaboration. In determining what “felt like Grand Studio” to us, when we considered our core values — we kept coming back to the color green and nature as well as authenticity. Grand Studio teammates are supportive, caring, and poised to cultivate an environment of learning and growth in each other’s careers as well as our clients’ endeavors.

WEBSITE

A refreshed website brings it all together

Our new website is not only home to our unique culture, but a step toward our company’s new future:

Our rebranding welcomes all clients new and existing as well as design candidates and industry professionals. It will be home to our project case studies (at least the ones we can publicly talk about!) and the learnings we can’t wait to share with the industry. More importantly we believe it emphasizes our mission to embrace ambiguity and build better clarity in our work.


SPECIAL THANKS

Thank you to all who have made our work possible over the years and to everyone at Grand Studio who helped us turn the page on a new chapter. Today marks the next step in our journey!

Effectively Managing Stakeholders Through Uncertain Times

One of the things we at Grand Studio love the most is a good problem to solve. The most interesting problems for us are the elusive ambiguous and complex problems that are packed with the most uncertainty. Indeed, the more challenging the problem, the more rewarding it becomes to solve it.

Keeping our clients confident as we move through the rough and tumble of the uncertain problem space and delicately into the solution space, in a way that brings delight, is a part of what makes our jobs interesting as consultants.

Uncertainty can creep into a project at any time, like a heavy fog resting over a vast valley. Thankfully, we’ve found there are often some common questions that, once answered, can clear the fog and get us all seeing the path clearly again.

What problem are we trying to solve?

Understanding project goals probably sounds obvious, but this becomes more important especially as new stakeholders enter a project. When there’s uncertainty about what we’re doing and why, the purpose of a design engagement can become totally lost.

Something that works well for us is a conceptual model that can morph through a project. Basically, some model that’s understandable enough for anyone to grasp with a little voice-over so it can bridge any information gaps related to goals and scope.

Another alignment exercise is going through the process of creating strategic principles for a project. These high-level principles are often used to help stakeholders and designers align on what a product should do to satisfy business and user needs. If you and your stakeholders can agree on these, then you can reference them in the future to inform your design decisions.

Goals, scope, and principles might shift (hopefully not too dramatically), but at least you will have this tool in your back pocket to help communicate what they are and why.

What do we know, or not know?

It’s good to identify early on in a project what information you have and what information you need. A lack of information can lead to a situation where you have more questions or assumptions than answers; moments like these can feel overwhelming and can cause unnecessary uncertainty for everyone.

Set time with stakeholders to transfer knowledge and better understand the problem space, identify the questions you still have, and how you plan to answer them. You will probably find that your stakeholders will have their own questions that they wish to have answered as well!

Maintain an inventory of any lingering questions that you have. Over time, you can use these questions to keep a pulse on what you still need to learn. Document answers to those questions, along with any follow-up questions you might have. The more questions you can find answers to, the better.

Illustration of a man and woman having a conversation

Who do we need to speak with?

Uncertainty runs rampant when we have a lack of information (or worse, misinformation), and there is often a vault of knowledge that someone somewhere has is in their heads, or in a document. Part of a design consultant’s role is facilitating the conversations that need to happen to make that information available.

Interviews with users, experts, or other stakeholders are great ways to gather information and answer questions. In some scenarios, a workshop can be an interactive way to tease out information. We’ve also found that some interviewees respond well to an email or survey with a generic list of questions. A lot of it depends on whom you are speaking to and the nature of the information you need.

Invite stakeholders along for the ride when you are seeking out information, and give them space to ask questions of their own. Giving them space to contribute to the final design of a project can help them feel valued and invested in a solution. If stakeholders cannot participate, regular share-out reports are great ways to keep folks informed about who we have spoken with and what we have learned, and how these findings impact our designs.

When should we discuss _ ?

Communication is the secret sauce that ties all of this together~ too much of it might inhibit your teams ability to make progress, or worse, annoy the heck out of your stakeholders. Too little communication might make your stakeholders feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or out of the loop. Setting expectations and working relationships early on can help facilitate this balance.

Uncertainty can creep in really fast when there’s a lack of communication, or poor communication. No communication at all can be really damaging to a relationship. A stakeholder might urgently want to discuss something- perhaps a big change at their organization, a change in requirements, or a new strategic initiative- so opening up space for those conversations is important to making sure everyone is on the same page.

Stay flexible, and remain transparent about what communication styles are working or not working, and tinker accordingly.

How should we deal with change?

At some point during a project you might find that the goals have changed, you have new stakeholders, your requirements have changed, or your communication cadence is no longer working. More often than not, change becomes associated with uncertainty.

Things will change during a project and being flexible enough to adapt to those changes with the right strategy is a big part of successful consulting. Be transparent with your stakeholders about what changes have been made that might effect the project objectives and scope. Have fun with change and find ways to spin it into new opportunities.

Have fun!

The final piece of advice I can give for design consultants is to have fun. Make your relationship with your client a partnership–keep it collaborative, interactive, and ask questions. Make spending time with your team the highlight of their week!

Remote Workshops: Design & Facilitation

Our work requires collaboration with clients, and this is best done in person. Since that hasn’t been an option for a while, we’re all developing new ways of getting the information and feedback we need from our client teams.

When you’re designing in complex enterprise spaces, you’ll encounter a common problem: No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, or how focused your research is, you’ll never know as much about the problem space as your client. Knowing this, our team took a co-authoring approach with our client team on a recent project to collaborate most effectively, particularly in the wake of remote work and COVID-19.

It took us a while to narrow in on the best approach for our dual teams, but ultimately, a combination of focused, structured homework assignments and collaborative workshops was the solution. Hopefully some of these tactics will save your team some time and headaches.

Illustration of four figures representing potential workshop participants. Three have checkboxes next to them while one does not.
Not all participants may be available, interested, or right for a particular session. Image by Noun Project and Dave Roth.

Participants

Who attends, when and how becomes extra important when dealing in scenarios that are more out of your control as a facilitator. In general, we crafted and used these heuristics to get as successful a meeting as possible.

  • It’s important to have the right people in the workshop, but just as important to limit the group to people who are essential. For our project we found that 3–5 clients was the sweet spot.
  • Understanding the client-side hierarchy, areas of specialization, and domain ownership can be tricky. As we became more familiar with one another it got easier to politely ask the question “who owns this decision?”
  • It’s almost impossible to collaborate with a client team that is either unwilling to engage, or unclear on their role. In order to bring clarity to roles & responsibilities, we just spelled it out — “we’re looking for feedback on these pieces today, and this is the form we’re hoping that feedback will take.”
Icon of a pencil on an open notebook
Homework is a powerful tool for collaboration and preparation. Image by Noun Project and Dave Roth.

Prep work / Homework

People are usually drawn to read what they see on the screen, so preparing them ahead of time is a big help. In order to accomplish this we would let them know what we’d be talking about ahead of time, how it fit with the larger project plan, and why it mattered.

In early July we started giving the client team homework that typically took the form of minimally-designed spreadsheets to be filled out ahead of time and sent back to us in time for us to transcribe their answers into a Miro board. This is likely to have helped in three ways:

  1. The client team was thinking about the problem space in a detailed way ahead of time
  2. The client team saw their thinking in the work we were discussing
  3. It shifted the conversation from “what do you think?” to “does everyone agree with these points?” This shift to establishing alignment accelerated our process dramatically.
An illustration of a map showing the path from a red x to a green x
Know where you’re going. Image by Noun Project and Dave Roth.

Setting expectations through context

At the outset of each workshop we set the context in three ways:

  1. The goals of the conversation
  2. A listing of assumptions that informed the workshop
  3. A clear articulation of how the workshop fits into the larger project, and what will come next

Along the way we would also remind them of comments and decisions they’d provided earlier.

An illustration of a screwdriver, wrench, and hammer
Choosing the right tool is everything. Image by Noun Project and Dave Roth.

Tools & Methods

Our early workshops were designed to be participatory in Miro. We had limited success with this, and found ourselves devoting a fair amount of time to explaining the platform.

  • The remedy for this was to document their homework in Miro just before the workshop, and to bring it to life during the workshop with active conversation and documentation.
  • We used Figma for a few workshops, and while this worked fine it didn’t feel as fluid as Miro. In the end our toolkit was Excel, Miro, and Zoom.

Behind the scenes we made some important decisions about the choreography needed to support the workshop:

  • One person to share their screen, limiting screen hand-offs
  • Collective note-taking either in the Miro board (if the client likes to see this happening), or in a separate document (if the note-taking is distracting)
  • Scale the Miro board for maximum visibility and focus on Zoom
  • Timebox workshop activities ahead of time
A line connecting the numbers 1, 2, and 3, with 4 next
Don’t forget to connect where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Image by Noun Project and Dave Roth.

Connecting the workshop to next steps

During our early workshops the client team would often get hung up on the “why?” of the workshop, and the time it took to justify our workshop methodology became counter-productive.

Later in the project we shifted to a “just trust us” approach, and this worked well. In order to set their minds at ease with the time we were asking of them we were careful to connect the workshop results to next steps. One of the ways we did this was to close each workshop with a high-level review of “what we decided today.”

Following this listing of “decisions made” we would take a look forward, and share our thoughts about how the results of the workshop would inform or drive the work-to-come. We found that this reminder was often needed multiple times during the workshops, but would help to orient the entire project team in the most important tasks in front of us.

  • Inevitably issues came up that were important but had to be set aside. In order to be sure we were keeping track of these ideas and concerns we created a “rabbit hole” document that we shared with the client team.
  • Finally, we made it a point to refer to the workshops when presenting our recommendations. These recommendations took the form of detailed spreadsheets documenting visit types, and end-to-end diagram illustrating activities, participants, and outcomes, IA, and wireframes.

Every client team is different, and every project presents unique challenges. Having said that, these insights are likely to find their way into our next series of remote work sessions, regardless of the client team or project.