How what we don’t know about each other is killing us

It’s no surprise that the environments, cultures, and contexts we work in largely influence what gets made and how. It’s surprising the fuel behind this is largely ignored. 

After researching innovation, collaboration, and design culture, I’ve concluded that it’s not how many white boards you have, nor how many post-its are on the wall. Collaborative IntelligenceIt’s the collective attitudes and relationships that exist in a room that beat out any other element in contributing to a healthy and productive design culture. Furthermore, it’s our ability to productively structure relationships based on people’s inherent strengths and tendencies that lead to productive design culture. This is under-recognized.

This doesn’t mean you have a bunch of people all on the same page constantly agreeing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and that’s the irony of it. It’s like a nuclear fusion reactor, holding together what wants to radiate in every direction is what constantly fuels our creative engines.

It’s creative abrasion – fueled by emotional intelligence, and more specifically, a nuanced concept called collaborative intelligence. Knowing how our own minds work, our own thinking talents, and collaboration preferences to better work with and think with others.

collaborative intelligence

Design is rarely an individual event. And there’s no denying that a great team can run laps around even the most proficient designers. Yet it’s slightly shocking that in our desires for immense design collaboration, we don’t recognize or identify what position we each play best.

According to Dr. Markova and Angie McArthur in their book Collaborative Intelligence, one of the first steps to building productive teams, is to have everyone recognize how your own mind works. Recognizing that our minds are in one of three states: focused, open, or sorting, and what triggers those states: seeing, hearing, or doing, is a fundamentally important place to start if we want to be better team players in design collaboration.

This is important because while talking out loud might help one person focus in on the problem, it could cause another to space out and go to big picture ideas. These two kinds of people often get upset in this situation because they’re pulling in different directions. However, once we recognize that different stimuli (seeing, hearing, or doing) naturally and unavoidably trigger different thinking modes, we can better understand and tolerate these differences.

teamwork in designTo be specific, this is a more nuanced perspective on psychology than whether someone is simply a visual or auditory learner.

Digging deeper, and to ultimately achieve a healthier design culture, we need to recognize the thinking talents we each have. Some of us have analytical or procedural tendencies. Or perhaps your strengths are in coming up with new ideas or building relationships. As Harvard’s Howard Gardner posited some years ago, we have multiple intelligences, and recognizing our strengths and weaknesses can better inform teams during collaboration.

Ned Herrmann, American creativity researcher, has surveyed more than 130,000 people and found that there are four primary “cognitive styles.” Left brained analytical and procedural, and right brained relational and innovative. “While we are born with the capacity to use all four of these cognitive styles, we we mature we tend to develop preferences.” (pg 108)

Looking into work done by Herrmann and the Gallop organization over 30 years, they found that the more people were able to use their strengths at work, the more the productive the company was. They identified 34 “signature strengths” and found that most adults have five:

Analytic: Making Order, Thinking Logically, Collecting, Seeking Excellence, Fixing It

Innovative: Innovation, Loving Ideas, Love of Learning, Thinking Ahead, Strategy, Adapting

Procedural: Reliability, Thinking Back, Getting to Action, Having Confidence, Focusing, Equalizing, Taking Charge, Precision

Relational: Optimism, Inclusion, Connection, Creating Intimacy, Peacemaking, Enrolling, Storytelling, Particularizing, Believing, Mentoring, Feelings for Others

Talents in All Quadrants: Wanting to Win, Humor, Thinking Alone, Goal Setting

“Herrmann’s findings were that 7% percent of adults have one cognitive preference; 60% exhibit two; 30% show three; and just 3% have equal preference for all four styles” (pg 127).

What all this means is that we’re all uniquely different with different talents to bring to the table. This isn’t a new concept, but to realize it with such precision is an opportunity to make this phenomenon more actionable.

>> So I pose this question: why don’t more companies, particularly those engaging in collaborative design, recognize, identify, and act on this information to create more productive teams, more idea sharing, and ultimately, more innovation??


  1. We’re all unique
  2. Working together well is super important for design cultures
  3. We know the ways in which we’re unique and how we compliment and supplement each other’s strengths and talents
  4. Even though this is super important, few people are doing anything about it



Markova, D., & McArthur, A. (n.d.). Collaborative intelligence: Thinking with people who think differently.


Having a Human Experience

Erik Stolterman Teaching
Erik Stolterman, author of The Design Way, teaching our class. ©byHuber

What does it mean to have “an experience?” And how can we as interaction designers understand this phenomenon and design for it with intent? This was a major component of our philosophical and project based class: Experience Design.

To start, we need to explore what it means to be human. John Russon writes about the human experience as being structured on interpretation, synthesis, and temporality. The way we interpret our experiences says just as much about ourselves and our values, and like music, experiences are comprised of many elements that must be viewed as both their parts and the whole. (Russon)

In Technology as Experience, McCarthy & Wright say every experience is comprised of sensorial, emotional, compositional, and spatio-temporal qualities. This reflects Russon’s perspective but adds more physiological components. And in his book Flow, Csíkszentmihályi speaks of the optimal experience as a state of total immersion in which time seems to almost disappear and we temporarily suspend our reflective self-consciousness. These experiences can be intrinsically rewarding.

To design for these paradigms is a worthy feat for technologists. As digital interactions continue to evolve, we’re able to create more human-centered designs, leaving behind decades of “crappy UX.” Being able to identify the core emotions and aspirations of specific types people you’re designing for is critical as interaction designers and storytellers. This provides a clear context in which your design concept can emerge.

To me, one of the lessons I’ve learned most in this course is that it’s not enough to simply have a great design if the way you communicate it is insufficient, uninspiring, or difficult to follow. Because we’re dealing with emotions, abstractions, and interpretation, getting others to share your perspective and rationale is imperative.

McCarthy, J., & Wright, P. (2004). Technology as experience. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

The Experience Economy

Maya Angelou said it best, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While one could argue this doesn’t apply to certain markets and industries, it’s certainly a perspective worth considering. Coming out of an era when economies of scale and a global manufacturing supply chain resulted in an overs94aturated competition for cheaper goods and services, it’s becoming apparent there’s more to providing meaningful value. In a market flooded with commodities and competition, a person’s experience is becoming the invisible measuring stick every business, organization, and platform is subjected to.

This idea isn’t new, it’s just becoming more important as a means of distinction in a crowded marketplace. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore published a book in 1998 titled, “The Experience Economy.”  In it they described the experience economy as the next economy following the agrarian, industrial, and most recently: the service economy.

While having a whole economy based on experience might sound grandiose, it’s certainly a factor in our day to day decision making of where to go, what to do, and what to buy. Therefore I’m an advocate of organizations taking more time than before to deeply understand their users and designing an experience that delights them, because not only is it part of a good business strategy, it’s also empathetic, thoughtful, kind, and considerate.Word_of_mouth_500

The biggest challenge lies in catering to different preferences across all touchpoints. On different preferences, take the example of a restaurant. A good waiter knows how to tailor a different and appropriate experience for: a couple on an anniversary, a girls night out, a first date, etc. With different touchpoints, take the experience of using Airbnb. Everything from finding where you want to stay and booking a reservation to getting the keys and interacting with the host accumulates to our perceived overall experience. It’s in Airbnb’s interest to increase the likelihood of each stage being enjoyable, even though something like how the host interacts with the new guests might seem out of their jurisdiction.

The ability for technology to learn our preferences, such as the Nest Thermostat, or provide the right information, at the right time, given our context, such as Google Now, are leading examples of designed products and services that take into account different preferences and touchpoints, delivering better experiences. These concepts were born from Insightful Empathy.



The Starbucks Experience

20122338003 mcdonalds-coffee

It’s funny, I happen to think McDonalds’ coffee tastes better, not to mention it’s cheaper. But the experience of going into a Starbucks is better. If feels chic, sophisticated, and enjoyable.

For Starbucks, the experience they provide is their strategy. From the very beginning, CEO and Chairman Howard Schultz saw this as the opportunity. The suede couches, slow music, and exquisite interior design all contribute to the experience.

Friendly baristas at the cashier play an equally important role. Starbucks’ keeps employees so cheerful by simply treating them well — offering health benefits and stock options, making the company one of the best to work for (CNN) and yielding one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry (businessweek).

The company is just as empathetic to its customers as it is to its employees. Recognizing the human factors in this business model is fascinating, as it would hardly swing with investors on paper: ‘We’re going to spend lots of money building fancy stores and paying our employees exceptionally well so more people buy our coffee.’ 

‘But you can get coffee anywhere. People want the best quality coffee for the cheapest price.’ As traditional economic theory would have it.


Design Thinking

It’s what got me into this mess. Design Thinking – and it’s profoundly simple yet forgotten way of unearthing insights. I feel late to the game, honestly. Businessweek published 16 articles on it in 2006  –  and I was just 17 years old.

Anyways, enough about me. I’m here to blog about Design Thinking about how it’s reinvigorating what our society produces. It’s fascinating to me because of it’s human-centered approach and what that entails.

I’m even more interested in how this can apply to social entrepreneurship. Imagine having grown up in America, travelling to South America and discovering a population of shoeless kids. Blake Mycoskie (founder of TOMS did) and solving that problem in a creative way.

Wikipedia defines design thinking as:

Design thinking has come to be defined as combining empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context.