Why Design Thinking is Important to Collaboration

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B. Page

Summary Bullets:

• IBM’s Connect 2016 conference highlights industrial design and user experience (UX) excellence as differentiators in its Collaboration portfolio

• UX is important across all types of IT products and services, but is especially relevant to achieving success in enterprise collaboration initiatives

“’Easy to Use’ is easy to say,” as generations of programmers have heard and then learned – often the hard way.

This time-worn adage has perhaps never been more true than it is today, as the language of design thinking has crept into marketing-speak and as product and marketing teams target various “personas” within the enterprise and aim to enable various “use cases” via new collaborative apps, platforms, and workspaces.

This is a laudable development, and it is about time that design thinking has arrived on center stage in the collaboration platforms space (see IBM’s UX Handholding Drives Business to Digital Marketing Cloud Portfolio and Why Is IBM So Averse to Screaming About Verse and Other Innovations?). But it is much easier said than done.

Like my colleagues Charlotte and Tim, I was impressed at the level of commitment that IBM has made to design thinking in overhauling its Collaboration portfolio, as witnessed by the recent Connect 2016. IBM is not just paying lip service to the value of “design;” Big Blue is actually connecting the dots as to why good design, while not cheap, is a good business investment:

Collaboration tools are made to be used. If they are hard to use, people will not use them, and so the enterprise’s investment case in collaboration will not pan out. IBM’s attention to clean, design-friendly user experience in its new-generation collaboration tools such as Verse and Toscana, greatly enhances their usability. These are tools you like and want to use. That helps you collaborate more and collaborate better with your work colleagues. That leads to better business outcomes, which is the tacit promise of an investment in a collaboration platform.

The user, not the tool, is the focal point of design thinking. It is surprising how much time and effort is spent by engineers and product designers creating features and capabilities that just aren’t needed. In the Current Analysis consulting practice we have done numerous user experience comparison studies among products and services in the marketplace. One of the first things we ask users is: “what is it that separates the best products in this category from the rest?” The answer is never “more features,” and it is always “it’s easier to use.” When you dive down into what that means, it comes back to helping the user get their work done: the user experience.

We are entering an era in which the user experience (UX, to those in design circles) will be as important a differentiating criterion of software tools as feature/function capability has been up until now. More than simply analyzing feature sets and check-box capability lists, we will also need to look at how those features are implemented, and how easy they are to use, as a key attributes in evaluating software tools. Hats off to IBM for recognizing the importance of good design, and in making a significant investment (reportedly over $1 billion) in applying design thinking to the product development process across its business. It may be expensive, and it’s certainly hard to do, but ultimately good design adds value faster than it adds cost.

What do you think?

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