Working groups are sometimes considered the backbone of advancements in research and design. This is the place (and time) where professionals analyze critically their theories, methods, and tools. Furthermore, businesses and media turn to them for expertise on challenging and novel problems.
At the same time, working groups are not parts of specific institutions or businesses. Instead, they are volunteer activities conducted besides daily work. Consequently, it is often difficult to recruit members, acquire funds, and realize projects.
Unsurprisingly, when I started coleading this international research working group by the German Society for Media Studies, the group had few members, and few projects were being realized. The working group focuses on visual media, their design, and ecological contexts, which are central topics today. For that reason, I set out to increase public perception, thus, number of members and activity of the group—while maintaining quality of the outcome. Together with my coleader, we succeeded.
I used a variety of methods to increase perception, membership, and activity of the group, for example, networking during peer events and direct communication with stakeholders.
I designed the official website, including search engine optimization (SEO), and established an automatic e-mailing system for user retention. The website is used for publishing high quality content, which I managed and edited.
I fundraised, marketed, and hosted international conferences on topics concerning visual media and design. Finally, I stimulated members to realize their own projects, with my support.
Universal design, that is, design that enables all users, in all usage-context to interact successfully with a system, is an important topic at least since the 1970s. In addition, intuitive design has attracted considerable interest since the year 2000. In that context, driving factors are the increased connectedness of people’s lives, the globalization of markets, and the rising consideration of people with disabilities and elderly people worldwide.
In light of this situation, a joint research project by numerous German research departments and companies was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2.3 mil. €). The goal was to develop a user interface prototype that facilitates intuitive interaction of all users, irrespective of their knowledge and capabilities. This prototype consisted of a single interface for a heating system with which the user interacted through speech, gestures, virtual keyboard, and visual representation.
As a part of this project, I developed a human-centered design process for designing universal and intuitive visual representations. I validated and, subsequently, conducted the process, leading a team of researchers and designers, to produce prototypes. The project was a success. Evaluation studies show that the prototypes are superior to established products, and they can be considered universal and intuitive.
Many processes to produce and evaluate designs exist. However, in general, they are neither precise nor scientifically grounded. For that reason, they are dependent on the experience of the designers. This can be a drawback because designers, researchers, and businesses might lack the required expertise. Consequently, the results might not be optimal.
To solve this problem, I developed a human-centered design process grounded in scientific research. I drew on semiotics, embodied cognition, visual perception and research through design, in other words, on scientific theories about cognitive processes and designerly practices. In addition, I raised empirical data, in various online studies, with more than 2,200 participants, to validate the process and to arrive at scientifically underpinned methods and guidelines.
Finally, I addressed all steps of the design process, including comprehensive explanations of the empirical methods, procedures, and their outcomes. The result is a validated process that can be performed by other designers, researchers, and businesses for designing more universal and intuitive products. The process has been published internationally.
95% of new products fail, according to Harvard Business School. Of course, many reasons for this exist. However, in recent years, in particular three approaches have been established to remedy the situation.
This first is User Experience (UX). UX focuses on how users experience and interact with products. To do so, UX introduces appropriate methods during user studies, design, and evaluation. This contrasts with previous design processes in which expert teams created products without evaluating if assumptions about users and use contexts were correct. The second approach is agile development (e.g., SCRUM). Agile processes organize the work of product teams, focusing in particular on collaboration, self-organization, flexibility, and small but continuous progress. Finally, Lean UX is a structured approach that strives to bring UX and Agile together.
With this in mind, I introduced UX, SCRUM, and Lean UX in several settings with up 65 team members and 10 teams of which most had not prior experience with the approaches. I evangelist the mindset and taught the principles, methods, and tools. The teams evaluated these settings as excellent. Finally, I guided the teams in creating successful prototypes.
UX, SCRUM, and Lean UX are rather clearly structured frameworks. For example, Lean UX sprint circles include hypothesis generation, ideation and prototyping, minimum viable product (MVP) production, and testing. However, to successfully perform such processes, it is important to internalize the principles and required elements.
To achieve this, I begin by conducting workshops and providing information and topics for discussion. Subsequently, I introduce and explain more detailed methods, for example, for UX design, user story mapping, ethnographic studies, and design studios and, for agile development, retrospectives, reviews, and maintaining the product and sprint backlogs.
For the mindset, however, it is important to facilitate the rituals that are involved. That is, it is crucial to continuously emphasize learning and creativity over fear of failure and repetition of unverified assumptions. This can be implemented, for example, by providing collaborative workspaces and creating clear, but not cumbersome, documentation of the processes, problems, solutions, and results. Most of the time, it is not possible to keep that documentation in place (e.g., on a whiteboard) because complete design processes might take several months. For that reasons, online collaboration, in addition to on site facilities, is advisable.
Finally, in the process, it is important to define measurements for success (i.e., definition of done, acceptance criteria, KPIs etc.) to enable the teams to strive for a goal. Bringing these elements together allows teams to design satisfying products in fast and frugal ways.
As a manager and university teacher, I worked with many people from various, international backgrounds, for example, designers, researchers, and engineers. In particular, challenging and also rewarding were situations in which I supported them not only in completing work tasks but in achieving personal and group goals.
Throughout the years, I was able to guide students, coworkers, and employees in overcoming their problems, completing master’s degrees, pursuing career paths, and realizing projects, like documentary films, social media marketing campaigns, and websites. I am grateful for the experience, and I am motivated by the opportunity to help others achieve their goals.
Transparency and communication might be the most effective ways of solving problems. Through discussion, we can create empathy, reflect critically, and work together. Subsequently, we are able to define clearer goals, provide structure, and even find more fine-grained solutions, like timelines and milestones. Not least, by collaborating, it is my goal to create a more positive attitude towards tasks and life in general.