Are you using Design Research to align agendas within your organization?

Design research is a crucial part of the service design process. It helps to discover and understand the needs and desires of your (potential) customers. Designing a service without this knowledge is… not very strategic to say the least. The need to understand your customers is obvious and we see that design research is greatly appreciated by companies as an effective method.

But understanding your customers is not enough to deliver a truly valuable service. What about the needs and desires of the people who have to deliver the service? Understanding what drives your co-workers, what goals they are trying to achieve and how you can align agendas might just be your key to deliver a service succesfully.

At 31Volts we use design research to help our clients understand the “customers” within their organization better. Unfortunately the use of internal design research hasn’t received the attention it deserves based on its business value. So I would like to take this chance to elaborate on one method that has been particularly successful in our projects; video-interviews.

But first some things you should know

There are two challenges (at least) when you attempt to understand your own internal organization. One of them is to set our assumptions aside. Based on our previous experiences with other departments (a.k.a. silos) we automatically fill in blanks in a conversation. Even though you might ask a sincere question to understand your co-workers, the chances are that you’ll hear a different message than what they are trying to get across (that’s also why co-creating with each other is much better than asking a question, but that’s a different topic). The second challenge you have to deal with are internal relations and sensitivities. People at the marketing department might not tell the sales people what they truly feel and think.

Design research methods have proven to be very well suited to deal with these kind of challenges. Discovering the ambitions, motivations and desires of your co-workers is really not much different than doing the same with your customers.

7 tips for successful video-interviews

One of our favorite tools for internal design research is the use of video-interviews. The main idea is very simple: You interview a group of co-workers and create a “documentary” which highlights the important topics that contribute to the success of your project. The reason video-interviews work so well is that, when done right, patterns emerge from personal stories and anecdotes.

The important thing to note is that video-interviews are a great way to find out which questions you should be asking. It’s not a tool that you should use to find the “right” answers. During a video-interview you discuss topics instead of going through a fixed set of questions.

Getting valuable insights from a video-interview requires a bit more than just turning on a camera and having a chat with someone. Here are some tips that should help you get the most out of your video-interviews:

  1. Choose your topics carefully: being too direct and getting down to the facts might give you an answer but it probably won’t help you understand the underlying motivations. Focus on understanding why someone is saying something. During video interviews it is useful to listen to what people are not saying as much as it is to what they are saying.
  2. Get the right group of people in front of the camera: you’ll want to have a nice balance between people from strategy and people from operations. These two groups will help you put their answers in the right perspective. Don’t be tempted to only talk to decision-makers, you also need a reality-check.
  3. Create a secure environment: it’s very important that you are very open about your agenda. Send an email prior to the interview that clearly states why you are recording the interview and what you’re going to do with the video. To have an honest and open conversation you need to make sure people don’t have to watch what they’re saying. If someone has real doubts beforehand offer them to review their own video after the interview.
  4. Start off slowly: you don’t want to rush into heavy topics at the start. Take the time to tell the story of your project. Explain why you invited the person you’re interviewing. Help them understand what their role is in the bigger picture and how you hope they can contribute.
  5. You need a beginners mind: one of the smartest things you can do is to have someone who is unfamiliar with the project but extremely curious (e.g.. an intern) to do the interviews. They will question every answer, aren’t afraid to ask the “dumb” questions and are less likely to be considered biased.
  6. Avoid video conferencing tools: tools like Skype should only be used as an exception. The obvious benefit is that they can save you a lot of time if you’re company is spread out in different locations. The downside is that it’s much harder to make a connection with the other person. You can’t control the physical context someone is in so it’s much harder to create a secure environment. Also the video and audio quality are inferior which will definitely show in your final video.
  7. Make the video exclusive: be very careful where and how you spread the final video. Putting a link online and spreading it within the company is probably not a very good idea. It’s much better to organize dedicated “screenings” where you invite a group of people to watch the video together. This gives you the opportunity to put the answers in the right context and you can learn from the discussion afterwards. Keeping the video exclusive also emphasizes the time and effort that went into making the video. If you want to put a video online that is sharable with everyone we advise to make a 60 second trailer!

Video-interviews are a great way to get started when you need to really understand your co-workers and give your project a head start. Once you get the hang of video-interviews you should expand your design research toolkit as soon as possible.

The verdict on internal design research

Internal design research is still an untouched topic and that should change. At 31Volts we have experienced how design research can contribute to the success of a project. You don’t have to be a service design expert to use design research tools in your next project. As long as you focus on people instead of your project you should get some interesting results.

What is your take on internal design research? Share your thoughts, ideas and examples in the comments below.

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Marc is co-founder of 31Volts and helps major private and public organizations to grow by designing services that cultivate a sustainable relationship with customers.

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