Empathy Jam 2017

Two weeks ago I attended my first MeetUp event in New York, which was the Empathy Jam organised by The UX Lab. I didn’t know what to expect but I wasn’t left disappointed!
The goal of the day was to use our skill of empathy, mainly to understand people who will be affected by the effects of AI in the future. This could include people in the service industry where jobs can be displaced easily with the use of machines and AI. An example is the self-service checkouts now being rolled out by McDonalds which threatens the livelihoods of many employees.
In order to prepare ourselves for this task in user research, we were given a great talk about the intricacies of User Research by Brian Greene from Etsy. He broke it into two parts: 1. How to conduct user research and 2. how to synthesise your findings. The following were the points I found interesting:

  • “the product roadmap is already in the mind of the users” – I thought this really epitomises the importance of user research as you are extracting the information needed to create a valuable product or service for your user and only they know what they need. As UX professionals we need to tap into that.
  • Look at what people have done, not what they will do – by looking at user’s current patterns and behaviours, you can assume and ideate around how your product service will fit into them. While you may ask about a users’ future intentions, there is no guarantee they will follow through with that.
  • Act dumb! – if in conversation with a user and they say something such as “Do you know about XYZ?”, pretend you’re not familiar with it, even if you are. Listen and find out why they brought this up as it might lead to useful and relevant information. There might be a good reason it came into their mind.
  • What is enough research? –  Brian explained that this really depends on the stakeholders opinion at times depending on what they want. However, he also mentioned that you see certain patterns appearing repeatedly, you know that you are getting somewhere.


With that information now instilled in our minds, the team and myself set about coming up with a solution, which was based around the challenge below:
“How might we create tools and platforms that utilize AI for New Yorkers to learn and practice soft skills?”
Our first step was to brainstorm ideas and once we had an idea of what our solution might be (even though there were still high levels of uncertainty), we headed out to Central Park to talk to some “users”. With our collected research, we managed to identify that communication is an important skill in the workplace in order to work effectively and thrive, therefore we came to the conclusion that communication was a key skill for potential displaced workers if they were to success in another industry.
 The team synthesising our collected research.

In order to help these people build and improve their communication skills, we came up with a solution. A lot of service industry people for example work various hours, making it difficult for them to enrol in classes or training outside of work. We created a low fidelity prototype of an app, using paper and the Pop app on our smartphones,  that would allow users to input their location and time preferences for classes and from there they could choose their preferred classes. Our business model would include creating a partnership between educational institutions and organisations around the city. Once the classes were finished, the user would be enrolled in a professional network that would allow them to attend events such as mentoring programs and recruitment drives. The reason we included this was because people within the service industry might not necessarily be in a network of people who work in a skilled work force. This would then increase their chances of securing a job in an industry which would be much less susceptible to being automated by AI.
Most Civically Engaged Team (Source: https://twitter.com/empathyjam)

Our team ended up winning a prize for the Most Civically Engaged Team! We greatly appreciated this and all the work that was put in by all the judges and mentors on the day. I would love to thank my teammates, Luke, TJ, Hana and Mike as everyone worked together so well and made the day so fun. For anyone out their thinking of attending any of these events, I would recommend doing so as you are thrown into the work and learn so much in process.

UX Design in Minimum Viable Products

So for a minimum viable product (MVP), you are building the most basic functions of a product and none of the frills. The aim of this concept is to get the product out into the hands of customers as fast as possible, get feedback from the customers and further develop the product based on that feedback. It also confirms if you are focusing on the appropriate customer archetype and if your strategy is right.  By the ability of some portion of your product and discovering what meets the minimal customer needs, the MVP changes over time as your confidence in the customer archetype grows.  


However, does just putting out the barebones of a product lead to an unattractive design? And is that OK? I was curious about this decided to delve into a bit.


The MVP should ideally encompass all aspects of the product to a certain degree. The graph below illustrates this perfectly as it shows that the MVP isn’t just a building block or a separate component of the product, but an all-encompassing prototype.

MVP What it is

Author/Copyright holder: Eric delcroix. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It seems from my research that the MVP aesthetic depends on what your product is. As explained by Anders Ramsay, if you have a product where technology which is your key feature, perhaps a product that would be used by those with expertise in a certain area, you won’t be focusing on the aesthetic design. The only thing I would consider in designing is the process,  such as the sequence of steps involved and how they should be arranged.


For other products, you might actually want to give great consideration to the design or aesthetic, as you would expect to achieve on an eCommerce site. A user’s perception of a website influences their emotions and attitudes towards a website and if a user gets a sense that the site isn’t safe or isn’t invested in, more than likely they will go ahead and go to another site. To show how possible this is, at a service desk a ticket came in saying that they received spam email from one of the other departments. On closer inspection, the service desk found that it wasn’t actually spam email. It was what they considered to be “dodgy” design!  So with this mind, testing of the MVP of a new eCommerce site for example should focus on the aesthetic also.


In conclusion, it seems like this is a situation where it depends on the product in question and the users. Some will require more intense UX work and less for others for the MVP.







Design Thinking and how to implement it

Design Thinking (DT) is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions we might have and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent without an initial level of understanding. To fully understand how firms can use DT to enable the design of innovative products and services, I will discuss the main characteristics of DT, the DT processes and the tools used within the process.

Main characteristics 

Empathy – you must imagine the world from multiple perspectives - those of colleagues, clients, end users and customers; people first approach, notice things that others don't see

As mentioned above, DT is a methodology that seeks to get a thorough understanding of users. Advances in mobile technology and the shift from product-based economies to service-based economies are forcing companies to create new value propositions which inevitably impact the design of their business model. This can result in complex problems which cannot be resolved by using the analytical and strictly linear problem-solving people within organizations are used to. Due to this, Brown (2009) states that a mixture of analytical thinking (reliability) and intuitive thinking, which is what DT is based on, is what firms should be using.

Design Thinking Process

There are many processes out there that describe the DT process but are all based on the same principles of inspiration, ideation and implementation. For example, there is the d.School (established in Stanford) process:

  1. Empathise
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

And the Ideo 5 phases

  1. Discovery
  2. Interpretation
  3. Ideation
  4. Experimentation
  5. Evolution

I find the process by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to be practical as it outlines four simple but powerful questions that drive the design thinking process. As well as outlining a process, Liedtka and Pigneur also assigned specific tools to each stage. The purpose of this as explained by Liedtka (2014) was to reduce the anxiety of people embarking on the DT process.

What is?  

Explore the reality, and focus on the current problem that needs to be solved. This includes paying attention to what customers are struggling with, what frustrates them and what trade-offs they’d rather not have to be making. It’s also at this stage that design thinking considers the potential of value creation. As part of this analysis, we need to assess our own organizations capabilities and resources.

What if?  

During this stage, we start to consider new possibilities, trends and uncertainties. We start to envision what a desirable future might look like. This stage leverages what we’ve learned in the first stage to imagine these possibilities.

What wows?

This stage of the design thinking process takes the wealth of ideas generated in stage two and culls them down to a manageable number. We do so by looking for those that pack a potential “wow,” that hit the sweet spot of solving the customer’s problem elegantly while also offering attractive profit potential. This is an iterative process, utilizing the scientific method to work through hypotheses and potential outcomes.

What works? 

At this final stage, we take what we’ve learned from the analytical thinking we did in stage three and build a low-fidelity prototype. We then solicit customer feedback and use it to build a high-fidelity prototype. We can then take this semi-finished product to small groups of customers to see if they perceive sufficient value in it. At this stage, customer co-creation is a valuable way to reduce the risks of new product development, by enabling customers to help design it.

Tools to implement Design Thinking

Existing tools such as the Business Model Canvas (Isterwalder and Pigneur, 2010) and Value proposition canvas (Isterwalder and Pigneur, 2010) have been described by Kaland and de Lille (2016) as a basis to a discussion mostly to examine the current state or the desired state of the organization. However, they stated that these tools lack the ability to produce actionable insights to support an ongoing change process to transforming the organization towards becoming more user centred. There are many tools available now that can be used to help solve wicked problems, methods which are the very nature of Design thinking (Buchanan, 1992). For the purpose of this discussion, we will discuss the tools outlined by Liedtka and Ogilvie (2016).

  1. Visualization – by introducing ideas by drawing, it reduces the possibility of unmatched mental models when discussing the idea with a team. It provides scaffolding to create clarity that can be shared.
  2. Journey Mapping – this is an ethnographic method which maps out the user’s activity before, during and after their engagement with the product/service. The purpose is to produce a set of hypotheses for testing. Emphasis must be put on all aspects of getting the job done and the emotional and functional journey.
  3. Value Chain Analysis – Value chain analysis is the business-side equivalent of customer journey mapping. Analysis of the value chain offers ways to create better value for customers along the chain and uncovers important clues about partners’ capabilities and intentions.
  4. Mindmapping – used to represent how ideas or other items are linked to a central idea and to each other.
  5. Brainstorming – you must have a clear set of design criteria outlined in the first stage.
  6. Rapid concept development – assists us in generating hypotheses about potential new business opportunities. First stage involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, then to assemble them into a number of manageable concepts and finally to elaborate on the business design behind those concepts.
  7. Assumption testing –  focuses on identifying assumptions underlying the attractiveness of a new business idea and using available data to assess the likelihood that these assumptions will turn out to be true.
  8. Rapid prototyping – techniques allow us to make abstract new ideas tangible to potential partners and customers. These include storyboarding, user scenarios, experience journeys and business concept illustrations.
  9. Customer co-creation – incorporates techniques that allow managers to engage a customer while in the process of generating and developing new business ideas of mutual interest.
  10. Learning launches – In contrast to a full new-product rollout, a learning launch is a learning experiment conducted quickly and inexpensively to gather market-driven data.

The illustration below shows where each tool falls in the process.

DT Process


A good example of a company that uses design thinking is Airbnb. When they first started out, they had a lack of growth and an unhealthy revenue stream. After a brainstorming session with Paul Graham of Y-Combinator, they realized that the photos of the homes were of poor quality. With their gut instinct (integrative thinking) they travelled to a home in New York, took good quality photos and after that, they saw an increase in revenue. After that they implemented other DT inspired initiatives:

  • Become the patient: new employees stay at an Airbnb home and documents the experience (build on Empathy using observation/immersion techniques)
  • Be a Pirate: employees are encouraged to take a risk and build on small features and if it’s a meaningful contribution, more people are added to the effort (collaboration)
  • Ship on day 1: new employees are encouraged to come up with new features (experimentalism) soon after starting to get them to think fast and feel confident to attacking problems (optimism)

An example of an innovative feature by Airbnb is the wish list, designed to reduce the complexity of group bookings where it allows a group of people who are traveling together to choose places they would like to stay and allow them to choose as a group which one.

How can Social Media assist UX Design?

Social media has had major implications on our society since its birth. It has aided activism, such as the revolutionary wave in the Arab Springs in 2010;  contributed to major causes like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, with the ALS Association alone receiving over $115 million in donations in 2014; and the way we communicate between family and friends of course.

In the business world, more organizations are aiming to be more user-focused. Again, social media would have contributed to this as users/customers are more vocal now about what they want and need. If a product or service isn’t good enough, you will hear about it.

One of the leading career areas that is growing these days is UX Design, which assists in learning about users and building a product around them. My question is, if social media is such an influence on products and marketing, can it be used effectively to gather requirements? Here are a few ways social media can be used.


Insights into the market

Tools such as Google Alerts can help you stay in tune with the public perception of your product or that of your competitors. By using keywords, you can get daily, even hourly, updates of the articles and opinions of topics that are of interest.

Learn about your user expectations

Check your users expectations on social media. By using a Social Media Framework, you can determine what users expect from various platforms e.g. light and entertaining content on Instagram and YouTube and purpose driven content on the likes of LinkedIn.

Gathering users

Social media can come in very useful for finding users for testing purposes. From experience, just sharing a post on your own Facebook page will get a good response. I used this method to get friends and family to fill out a questionnaire for a prototype of ticketing system in order to determine the user requirements.

Driving feedback from marketing

Instrumenting an effective marketing strategy will obviously include implementing tools that will allow you to get feedback. Such information is useful for re-designing or tweaking your product. One example is coming up with a suitable hastag on Twitter that will allow you search the hashtag and see what people are discussing in that space.
While all of this can provide useful information, I would imagine that techniques such as interviews, verbal protocol and user testing will still provide useful and comprehensive information that allows analysts and designers to truly understand the users goals and processes. I do think that social media can be used as additional tools to these and provide feedback unique to the users online persona.

Why should you know about Blockchain?

Even with my curiosity and interest in Fintech, I have never really looked into the underlying technology that supports it. Seeing reports of hacking on the likes of JP Morgan and even closer to home of Bank of Ireland, I would assume the same technology isn’t used by fintech start ups.


Featured in the Sunday Business Post, Deloitte have announced that they are opening a Blockchain lab in Dublin. Blockchain happens to be the name of the technology that will potentially be the solid foundation of financial services in the future. As described by David Dalton of the Blockchain Lab of Deloitte, “(blockchain) is essentially a database technology but it has transformational and disruptive potential”.


Disruptive is one way to put it. Blockchain is a decentralised system as opposed to the centralised system used by financial service organisations nowadays. The name originates from the way the system operates. Blocks are made up of a number of transactions. A block is also linked to the preceding block, meaning if one had to make a change to a block, it would mean changing all of the preceding blocks also. This automatically creates a security feature in itself.


Blockchain was conceived by the unidentified pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto and was created for the purposes of Bitcoin. In a paper he published in 2008, he said Bitcoin was a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash”. By using the technology of Blockchain within Bitcoin, a user can transfer Bitcoin money to another user, leaving the sender with less money and the receiver with more. The transaction is performed without any intermediary and the “asset”, or money transferred, is now owned by the receiver. This sort of exchange would be slightly more complex with traditional internet technologies. Transactions or actions we do today are based on copies of information being sent. For example, when you send an email, a copy is made of that email and sent to the receiver. If that was money, it would mean, you would be copying the money and sending it to another person, in other words, performing counterfeit.


Below is a graph created by The Economist on how transactions in Bloackchain works.


The opening of the Blockchain Lab in Dublin and the prediction of Blockchain only being 5-10 years away from mainstream adoption by Gartner suggests a major disruption in industry. The technology has the potential to provide a more secure and trusting environment in industry due to its transparent nature. It will question intermediaries’ next steps. Some are already partnering with new firms to apply the needed technology to move forward. Others who will fail to make a move will fail to compete in this new landscape. That is why you should know Blockchain and who is leveraging the technology.

Fintech is….?


Many out there have heard of Fintech, but aren’t quite sure what it means. And yes I was one of those people, which is the reason I decided to delve into this topic a bit to find out what Fintech is.

Fintech Weekly described Fintech as “a line of business based on using software to provide financial services.”  But… all of the major financial institutions provide electronic services now, such as online mobile banking, contactless cards and so on. So why call it Fintech when it seems that this is just an evolution of the financial industry?

There is another way to look at this. The major institutions in the financial and banking industry deal with what is relevant to their business, which is providing financial services to consumers and corporations. Therefore, their core competencies don’t lie in the area of technology. Due to this, the stars aligned and created a new opportunity and space for fresh growth. This is the where entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to create the solutions for “easing payment processes, reducing fraud, saving users money, promoting financial planning” for the all the financial institutions that lack the staff or competencies to do so themselves. It doesn’t end there either, as all modern day businesses need to operate online and need to process payments online and manage their finances. Fintech companies are catering to their needs also, which highlights the vast opportunities out there for them.

Fintech has created a whole ecosystem of companies that provides and caters for financial services. The following are the areas within this ecosystem.


Even for an industry as conservative as banking, they have no choice now but to adapt and adopt new technologies to cater to their customer’s needs. More and more banks are forming allegiances with tech start-ups in order to expand their knowledge and understand the developments. Companies that are prevalent in online payment are PayPal and now Stripe, that provide online payment systems.

Security and Authentication

Security was always a concern for financial companies in the physical world, especially in retail banking, where they had to take many precautions to keep the money they collected safe using methods such as safes and security personnel. The same cautiousness must be applied online and there are numerous of up and coming companies that provide anti-fraud technology and biometric security. Security is a growing market, which is estimated to grow to $170 billion (USD) by 2020.


Like any other modern day companies, banks and financial institutions need to manage their clients and client management software solutions are used for this purpose. These solutions are also useful at the start of the lifecycle as they ease the regulatory onboarding process. Such processes are often manual and strenuous and by having the appropriate solution in place, they can improve the efficiency of the process and ensure that all regulations are implemented. Since the financial crisis that started in 2008, there was a call for regulation reform and as outlined by the IMF, a more system-wide approach is required to compliance and regulation. Fintech companies are able to facilitate this need which has helped the growth for the likes of Fenergo and Corlytics that provide software solutions.

Funding and trading

The likes of LinkedFinance has cut banks out of the picture altogether and are based on a peer-to-peer lending platform. LinkedFinance adopts a crowdfunding approach and all borrowers are vetted and declared creditworthy before being allowed to ask for a loan. The fact that the majority of peer-to –peer lenders operate online, results in lower overhead costs and the ability to provide the service at a better rate than traditional institutions.


Cryptocurrency is an alternative currency that is exchanged online. It differs from traditional currencies due to the decentralized control of the market. In order for online e-commerce sites to accept cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, they require a payment platform that can process such currencies such as Coinbase and Bitnet.


Gartner BI Magic Quadrant 2016

businessman with financial symbols coming from hand

The Gartner Magic quadrant is provided by the US-based research and advisory firm of Gartner. The quadrant is a useful resource for businesses to gain a better insight into a market and its particpants.

In the area of analytics, we can see that the market is moving at a quick pace. While the market is getting crowded, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to differetiate themselves among competitors. With this increase of supply, this might result in the decrease of prices and and an increase in uptake of business intelligence and analytics services.

As always with the Gartner quadrant, the vendors are evaluated based on their vision and the ability to execute. Tableau remains as one of the leaders and is gaining momentum with its organic growth. Microsoft and  Qlik have also remained as leaders, with  Microsoft coming along nicely by improving their vision. QlikView is also sitting comfortable in the quadrant, while providing their service with an agile and interative mind set.





What’s Changed: 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms



Are Enterprise Systems the source of competitive advantage for those who implement them?

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are software tools are used to manage enterprise data. It allows for organizations to automate and integrate the majority of their business processes. It produces many benefits as it allows common data and practice to be shared organization wide, to produce and access information in a real-time environment, and establish a common set of applications supporting business operations.

ERP systems came into prominence in the 1990’s. At that time, those who had implemented an ERP were enjoying the benefits of the system as the majority of the market had not implemented. However, ERP is considered to just be another tool that is necessary to stay in the market today, and is just another cost to the business. By definition, a competitive advantage is sustained after rivals in industry unsuccessfully try and imitate a strategy. An ERP system does not create a competitive advantage by itself. As highlighted by Fosser et al. (2008) “the real value is not the ERP in itself, but the way managers exploit it.”


Therefore, an ERP can’t be a sole source of competitive advantage for an organization. The utilization of the system can be conducive to the creation of competitive advantage. A paper published by Accenture by Hall and Harris (2007) describes how an ERP system can be used to gain uncommon competitive advantage. One advantage it creates is making data far more visible to create prescriptive, data-driven questions. Top performing companies exploit the link between enterprise systems and the distinctive capabilities to realize more value from the ERP. As Prahalad and Hamal (1990) stated in their research, core competencies are the root of competitive advantage as they are intangible and more difficult to imitate. ERP systems can only create a temporary competitive advantage as it is easy to replicate.

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