Personas to guide your design process

The atmosphere was very relaxed and lively at the EXPO. At this exposition students from the faculty Art Media and Technology (Utrecht school of the arts) presented their graduation projects. There were fun and innovative things. One group designed an INStable. A table that shows how often each of the persons sitting there, talks in comparison to the others. Another group made a tool to facilitate the working process of a multi disciplinary design team. They used a method of goal directed design that was developed by Cooper. What I found particularly interesting was the use of personas. It is a method used by software designers but I see opportunities to apply it in other design processes as well (e.g. the design of learning programmes). This is how it works: you define different characters that represent users of your product. Each person in the team 'is' one of these characters. When making decisions about the design, you don't say 'well, I think we should make an extra module here..' but you look at it from the perspective of your character (you are the character): 'Jennifer would definitely need some extra support here, it would make her, being a starter in the field, insecure having no...'. I think this method could help in design to:

  • focus
  • come up with new ideas
  • make decisions based upon future users instead of on a particular designer's preference
  • stand strong when you come up with a radical new solution for something

Read more:

Interesting new weblog...









My colleague in South Africa Mark Turpin has started a weblog on learning and social capital in South Africa (an interesting combination with a lot to learn from). He makes interesting and sharp observations, it is great that his thoughts are now made public via this blog. The url is:

Inspiring Ideo Method Cards









I bought myself this cool box filled with cards. On the front of each card there is a picture that makes you curious, the back shows a method that can be used as a source of inspiration during an innovation project. Ideo is an organisation that helps companies to innovate. They explain their success as a design and innovation firm by their habit of placing people at the centre of the design/innovation process. These cards show some possible ways of doing that. The cards each belong to one of four categories: 'learn' 'look' 'ask' 'try'. And that's what makes these cards so useful and interesting I think: all methods actually rely on powerful research activities. Observing ('look') and Interviewing ('ask') how people do certain things, how they experience them, is just so interesting and it enables you to really understand new points of view. Analysing these results ('learn') will lead you to the design of an experiment ('try') that will help you to move along in the innovation process.

Although many of the cards are focused on the design of products, they offer interesting starting points for all kinds of research activities. They might be used as methods that help you in an innovation or design process, they might as well serve as a perfect toolbox for the innovative researcher. Some examples:

  • Narration
    HOW As they perform a process or execute a specific task, ask participants to describe aloud what they are thinking.
    WHY This is a useful way to reach users' motivations, concerns, perceptions, and reasoning.
    EXAMPLE In order to understand how food is incorporated into people's daily routines, the IDEO-team asked people to describe what they were thinking while eating.
  • Personal inventory
    HOW Document the things that people identify as important to them as a way of cataloging evidence of their lifestyles.
    WHY This method is useful for revealing people's activities, perceptions, and values as well as patterns among them.
    EXAMPLE For a project to design a handheld electronic device, the IDEO team asked people to show and describe the personal objects they handle and encounter every day.

We had a great time in Lille!








Lille is a beautiful city, and we had a great time at the conference! Here are some of my impressions:

  • It was great fun to present our papers at the conference in unconventional ways: We presented the three types of supermarkets we had found in our research, by reading three stories, each written from the perspective of the researcher visiting that supermarket. We invited people to choose for one of the three shops (family/student-house/firm) to work in. The family supermarket was the most popular shop (amongst women!).
  • We engaged the participants to get to know the design principles by asking them to fill out a small self-test. It is quite a challenge to work with a test like that with academics... They will usually never just fill out such an instrument, they would always reflect upon the items and the test itself as well... But there was no need to worry: we had a very interested audience and it was great fun to hear all their comments and ideas!
  • There was a nice session where we could 'meet the editors'. Two editors (Kenneth Bartlett of Advances in Developing Human Resources and Peter Kuchinke of HRD International) told us about their journals and the publishing process. My colleague and me are very enthusiastic to do a proposal for a special issue on knowledge productivity! It was so motivating to hear that these editors are open for all kinds of new plans and ideas. There are no restricting formats (except for quality of course!).
  • There were some good presentations! Not only content wise but also the way they were presented. One of the presenters, George Boak, had a nice way of presenting results: he divided the results-section of his presentation into 'the expected' and 'the unexpected'. I'm going to remember that one!
  • Maria Cseh gave her reflection on research that produces characteristics of 'innovative leaders', 'successful change agents' etc. These researches tend to produce endless lists of all kinds of traits that altogether remind you of a 'superhuman'. She said: "Isn't it strange.. none of my friends has all these characteristics, but somehow we can go along really well, how come?". It is very true I think that these traits will never in itself make someone succesful. It is always something that happens in the relation as well.


Innovation game was a success!

We developed a game for people to learn to work with the design principles for knowledge productivity in order to improve their own innovation practice. The game consists of a role-play in which people bring in their own cases. One group plays the situation and the other group observes and gives directions to the other group in order to create a breakthrough in the process. The design principles were used as a starting point to design interventions. It was great fun to work like this. One of the nice things from this game being not only a game but also part of my research, is that I did short interviews with all the participants afterwards. They were all enthusiastic and I heard many beautiful examples of how they used the things they've learned in the game in their own work. Other learnings:

  • Doing interviews after an intervention like this is not only contributing to my research purpose, it is a learning intervention in itself. I should do this more often after working with people.
  • The design principles appeared to be a useful framework to analyse what is going on and to decide upon next steps. They do not prescribe how that next step looks, but they give an indication of its direction.
  • Every participant filled out a small self-test before the start of the game. This appeared to be an effective and personal way to get to know the design principles beforehand.
  • The lessons learned by the participants were most of the time not new lessons. It were insights that connected to things they encountered before. This confirms the idea that learning works best when it connects both to prior knowledge and to a question the learner is occupied with.

Appreciative Living

My colleague Anja Doornbos, shares her experiences with 'appreciative living': "Appreciative Living...impressed me much. Jackie Kelm took us during her workshop on her personal journey to discover the beauty of appreciative living. It started ten years ago. She struggled with depression and during that time Jackie met David Cooperrider. He and appreciative inquiry inspired her to develop her personal approach to growth and change. She was very excited to share her story with us and did so joyfully. She inspired me to appreciate small things in the light of great dreams. I have used her cards with 40 quotes, questions and tips that help to excersise your 'appreciative muscle' on many occasions. It strikes me how people pick the right card every time". Of course I immediately ordered myself a bag with cards... and now I can't wait to find it in my mailbox.

Copenhagen rules!

I just got back from a great week in Copenhagen! The ECCI-team did a great job in finding a form for the conference congruent with its theme… The keynote sessions didn’t take place in one of those big lecture halls. Typically stuffed away somewhere in the back of the building because A) they’re too big to get a central place, and B) because you don’t need windows in them anyway since contact with the outside world would only distract the audience from its main task: listening to the voice of that tiny creature standing in the front and looking at these immense powerpoint slides projected on the screen above the creature’s head… The keynotes at ECCI took place in the entrance-hall, the central place around which the rest of the conference took place as well. The keynote speakers were standing in the middle, a perfect place to interact with the others. And they did… we’ve been dancing, meditating, reflecting etc. And still, some speakers don’t need much, they tell their story and it is great to listen to.
Here are some quotes that I took with me from Copenhagen:

  • Gulf-player Gary Player responds to a journalist who assumes that he is winning so much because he is lucky: “the more I practice, the luckier I get”.
  • Isn’t it wonderful to see skillful people work?!” (Jacob Buur)
  • If you manage knowledge, you don’t use it” (Bo Seifert)
  • Rolf Smith facilitates people in undertaking Thinking Expeditions. He compares these expeditions to climbing a mountain. What touched me was that he said: “Most accidents in mountain climbing happen just after the top has been reached, when people have started their way back. Why? Because they loose focus!
  • "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people"
  • So much of what we call management, consists in making it difficult for people to work
  • A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle"


To live in the question

Asking questions and being curious was mentioned quite often throughout the conference. Bo Seifert showed how the number of questions that people ask on a usual day, radically drops when age increases. At the age of 5, children ask 120 questions a day, at age 6 they ask only 60 questions a day. And at the age of 40, there are 4 questions a day to remain. What would that do for innovation? Research of Sanne Akkerman showed that asking questions about the questions, instead of answering them, is an important aspect of collaborative learning. Anne Kirah in her keynote added to this point that we have to learn to “live in the question”. We shouldn’t always directly jump to answers and solutions. The question itself is such a rich thing.


Brainsurfing! That means: first write down your own ideas individually. And only after that, do it together or with a group. This is what Bo Seifert (again someone I met at ECCI) recommends. I recognise this from my own work. When people get the time to think for themselves first, they use their own knowledge and they use what they think is important. This is in line with recent research on knowledge sharing that showed that knowledge sharing works better when people bring in the knowledge or ideas they have and that others might not have. This research also showed that people do not usually facilitate each other in bringing in this knowledge. Brainsurfing is an easy way to make a start with it.

Wish that I was there

Five of my colleagues are now joining the AI-conference in Orlando... Lucky them! Not only I miss them but also all the new insights and presentations at the conference. I am so curious how all these positive psychology and appreciative inquiry celebs are in real... Happily I found a kind-of-conference-diary at the positive psychology daily. It is probably nothing like being there, but still...

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