Sunrise to M6

Thinking Design Thinking

Do you notice design?

Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns).


Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.

Paul Rand

In my posts this year on the future Productive Workplace I considered that the Design Mindset was one of the core 2020 skills. So it shouldn’t be surprising that in recent years many of the large technology vendors have sought to build a new design framework for their products.

Apple has always been regarded as the leader in design (I’m not going to comment on whether that’s deserved or not). For many years Apple has followed a model of skeuomorphic design. In technology it’s perhaps easiest to understand skeuomorphic design by an example; if you open an earlier version of the notebook application on an iPhone it looked like a physical notebook. The use of the physical notebook as a representation of a notebook function on an iPhone is skeuomorphic design.

Apple has been moving away from skeuomorphic design for a couple of years now. In changing its design method to something much flatter Apple are following a trend that Microsoft had kick started in the technology arena back in 2010.

Microsoft’s philosophy of Flat Design (or Modern Design) had begun as far back at 2006 with the Zune design, but it is based on an approach to design that goes back to the 1950s and 1960s.

Google followed Microsoft’s lead into flatter design by creating its own design language called Material Design in 2014.

IBM has been the most resent entrant (from the technology arena) into design languages with the announcement of IBM Design Language. Again this is a flattened design approach.

So why all of this change and why is everyone going flat? Well the answer to that question can wait for another time.


Concept of the Day: Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is the tendency of people to strongly prefer the avoidance of losses than the acquisition of gains.

In other words our psychological reaction to the loss of a £10 note is greater than our response to finding a £10 note.

There are all sorts of experiments to show this; the coffee mug experiment is one of the most famous. In this experiment every other student in a lecture theatre were given university mugs. The students without the mugs were asked how much they would be willing to give to get a mug. The students with a mug were asked how much it would cost for them to give up the mug. The students being asked to give up their mugs consistently valued the mugs as higher than those without a mug already.

A variance on this is to have three groups of people – one group given something like the coffee mug above, the second group given something of similar value but completely different like a bar of chocolate, the third group given the choice. After a period the groups are asked if they would like to swap for the other item. In all cases the number of people wanting to change is less than 10%. If you are given something and then asked to swap the likelihood of you keep it is 90%, if you have a choice between these same items the likelihood of you choosing one item is roughly 50%. Without prior ownership the value of the two items is perceived to be similar, with prior ownership the value’s item goes up significantly.

There are all sorts of situations where you can see this at work.

Anyone who has ever been involved in an office move will realise how difficult it is to get people to change where there is little perceived benefit to the move. People will use all sorts of guerilla tactics to stay where they are.

People, like myself, involved in technology changes will know how difficult it is to get people to see the benefit in new technology especially if they perceive that they are losing something at the same time. Microsoft dramatically underestimated the impact of loss aversion when they decided to get rid of the start button in Windows 8. It didn’t matter how much value Windows 8 could have given people they were losing something and that is what all the commentary focussed on.

Think about all of those piles of paper that you have in your house and ask yourself why you haven’t thrown them out? Loss aversion is a significant part of that, the fear of losing something important is greater than the benefit of having a tidy house.

In an earlier post I talked about the Council of No, one of the reasons that we create these organisations is loss aversion. We spend much more time trying to mitigate the risk of losing things than we do on the value of gaining things. It’s also one of the reasons that we create numerous checklists.

Loss aversion isn’t something that we can get rid of, but it is something that we should try to recognise and work around.

Building with Bricks

“Plans are useful in the sense that they’re proof that planning has taken place…”

“Plans are useful in the sense that they’re proof that planning has taken place. The planning process forces people to think through the right issues. But as for the plans themselves, they just don’t work on the battle field.”

Chip and Dan Heath

St. Annes at Sunset

Building an Effective “Council of No”

Organisations have various approaches to risk, for the most risk averse organisations it’s necessary to have an effective Council of No.

The aim of the council is to reduce all risk by minimising all movement because movement is a risky thing.

Building an effective Council of No can be a challenge so I thought I would give a brief guide to the members who you will need to give the appropriate level of restriction:

  • The Analysis Warlock – The role of the Analysis Warlock is to reduce risk by making sure that all possible analysis has been undertaken. The lack of a particular piece of analysis, no matter how irrelevant, is grounds to delay a decision and thus minimise movement.
  • The Accuracy Wizard – Accurate information is an absolute must for risk reduction. Any information that can be found to be in any way less than 100% accurate is too high a risk to enable decision making, 99.95% accuracy should never be regarded as good enough. Teams without the appropriate level of  accuracy should be sent away until they have the required accuracy. Remember, a delayed decision is as good as a No.
  • The Standards Overseer – Organisations have standard ways of doing thing. Any deviation from the standard way is in complete contravention of risk reduction and should be stamped out. Solutions should be made to fit with standards and it’s the role of the Standards Overseer to make sure that compliance is adhered to absolutely, any lack of compliance should allow a No statement to be provided. It’s also part of the Standards Overseer’s role to make sure that they find deviations from standards at the most detailed level.
  • The Process Bouncer – There is a process that needs to be followed, to the letter. Process is, of course, a vital tool to reduce risk, any misuse of or inability to follow the prescribed process is an easy No decision. The role of the Process Bouncer is to find the inevitable slippage in process rigour.
  • The Scope Coach – In every situation there are opportunities to inflate the scope.  Where opportunities or solutions do not have a large enough scope they should be encouraged to extend the scope. Once a scope has been extended to its breaking point it should then be reassessed by the Analysis Warlock and the Accuracy Wizard who are bound to find situations that are outside their sphere of comfort allowing a No position to be taken.
  • The Absent Gatekeeper – The role of the Absent Gatekeeper is, as the name suggest, to be absent but to be the only person with access to at least one of the locks on the door. The use of multiple locks on the door necessitates that all keys need to be available for a door to be opened thus enabling a persistent No statement to be maintained.
  • The Clarity Knight – There is always one more question for clarity that can be asked. While questions are being raised there is no need to move beyond a No position.
  • The History Repeater – It’s always possible to draw a parallel between a new solution and earlier poor experience. It doesn’t matter how tenuous the connection, the role of the History Repeater is to have enough history to enable those connections to be made. Raising previous poor experiences enables the addition of extra work for the Analysis Warlock and the Process Bouncer.
  • The External Person Advocate – There are always people outside the council who are going to be uncomfortable with the risk involved in a new solution, you hope. The role of the External Person Advocate is to know who those people could be in every situation and to raise those concerns within the council meetings. There is no need to check with the external person that they have the concerns that the Advocate is raising, the Advocate just has to be believable. These concerns are best raised in a situation where no clear route to resolution are identified. These actions will remove the ability for the council to close decision-making; a delay in decisions it as good as a No decision.
  • The Last Minute Alarm Ringer – If an opportunity or solution avoids all the road-blocks defined above the role of the Last Minute Alarm Ringer is to raise a concern of significant scale to enable a reset of the process and hence a restart of the revue cycle.

Please remember: without a complete team in the Council of No people will be able to get things done and that’s a very high risk approach.