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Journey Mapping for Startups


Journey Mapping for Startups

(Originally published on The Next 36 Blog)


As a spirited young entrepreneur, you are ready to take on the big challenges of the world. As you embark on this new adventure, you find yourself asking,  "how exactly do I uncover user needs?" In my role as a design strategist and startup founder, journey mapping has been an indispensable tool to get into the heads of users and uncover new opportunities.

What is journey mapping?

Whether you’re an entrepreneur at a startup or an intrapreneur in a large company, journey mapping can help you define your users' problem areas.

This method involves visualizing your user’s current experience from beginning to end, across all channels (online and offline). By following the entire narrative, you will come to understand the context in which your user makes their decisions - their goals, anxieties, pain points, and influences. These valuable insights are difficult to capture through one point of interaction. Uncovering them can help reveal unique opportunities for new products, services, or processes.

How do I create a journey map?

The above journey map is a simplified example of a college student’s roadtrip. It consists of several basic elements:

  • Stages of the user’s journey – Where does her narrative begin and end?
  • User feelings – Is she confused, frustrated, happy, or excited?
  • User actions – What is she doing – physically and mentally?
  • User thoughts – What is her goal? What questions are going through her mind?
  • User touch points (channels and influencers) – W ho or what is she interacting with?

Some ways to populate your journey map:

  • Personas
  • User interviews
  • Surveys
  • First-hand customer experience

In this example, we can see several pain points, including the frustration of coordinating a trip amongst a large group of friends. From this insight, an opportunity we could consider is “how might we create a better way to coordinate logistics amongst a large travel group?”. Knowing the shortcomings our user's existing tools, we can ideate a product/service that achieves this in a more simple, convenient, and inexpensive way.

Depending on the time you invest in research, the level of detail of your journey map will vary. The more information you gather about your user, the more opportunities you may uncover.

Visualization of a customer’s car rental experience

Visualization of a customer’s car rental experience

This method can also be used to envision future experiences, and be modified based on different scenarios

This method can also be used to envision future experiences, and be modified based on different scenarios

I’ve used journey mapping in combination with many other design methods to tackle challenges in industries ranging from sustainable agriculture, education, to finance. I hope you will find it a valuable method to add to your toolbox as you continue on your startup path.


Crash Course in Design Thinking at Western Canada High

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Crash Course in Design Thinking at Western Canada High

I recently ran a Crash Course in Design Thinking for Innovation for students at Western Canada High School, helping them gain the confidence to tackle real-world challenges through design.

It was great to be back at my old stomping ground, this time as an instructor sharing my UX design experience. During the workshop, students dove into the design cycle as they tackled a challenge within 90 minutes. Here are some of my learnings as a facilitator:

1. Find a school champion

Navigating a school system can be tricky, and finding a teacher champion who’s excited about your work can make logistics so much easier. My former chem teacher, Jason Arnot, gave me a big helping hand by talking to school admin, securing a space, and gathering interested students. We managed to pull it off with less than a week’s notice, but I recommend reaching out to the school far in advance of running the workshop to save you some stress.

(Meeting up with Jason and his lovely wife, Heather, in Beijing)    

(Meeting up with Jason and his lovely wife, Heather, in Beijing)


2. Make it relevant

Design thinking is a relatively new concept, and unsurprisingly, most students had never heard of it. Instead of diving right into an activity, give them some context with a few examples of how design thinking can affect their every day life. I chose a variety of case studies ranging from mobile apps to medical devices, including the PlayPump to illustrate the negative effects of poorly conceived design.

Students were especially excited after watching the IDEO Shopping Cart video, which I used to demonstrate each stage of the design process. They pointed out how cool it was to see collaboration within a team of people with such diverse backgrounds.

Aim to make this part of the workshop more discussion-based rather than a lecture format. Students tend to internalize concepts better when critical thinking is involved. In hindsight, it would have been better for me to show less design examples and prompt students to discuss instances of design in their own lives.


3. Choose the right design challenge for your audience

The Stanford provides some excellent workshop resources, including activity ideas and even a music playlist to set the mood. The facilitator notes come with discussion prompts, and workbooks can be printed to guide students through the activity.

I decided to run with the Gift-Giving Project where students are asked to redesign the gift-giving experience for their partners. I saw this as an opportunity for them to think beyond tangible products and consider service experiences as well. Turns out, designing a process can be a bit abstract, and some students misinterpreted this as “designing a gift”. I also noticed a few students struggling during the needfinding stage, unsure of what questions to ask their partners in order to dig deeper.

When working with younger audiences, I recommend using a simple product design challenge similar to the Wallet Project, and walking amongst the groups to provide stronger guidance through prompts or examples.


4. Create a sharing circle

The design cycle included needfinding, problem definition, ideation, iteration, rapid prototyping, and testing - all completed in 90 minutes. The fast pace forced students to ideate and build quickly. By far the best part of the workshop was when students got to share their masterpieces with the entire group. This was where students could see the real result of divergent thinking and build on top of each other's ideas.

Students gathered around a table covered with their prototypes, taking turns to explain their partners' unique challenges and how they tried to solve them. Some interesting ideas included a “No Gift Zone” face mask for a student who didn’t want to feel obligated to buy gifts, a present dropping service by drone (complete with pipecleaner arms), and mini bird sculptures made out of five dollar bills to take the awkwardness out of giving friends money. There were plenty of laughs and strange proposals (some of questionable legality), but all students were able to support their thinking and tie it back to their user.


5. Leave concrete takeaways

A design workshop is a whirlwind of activity and students can get caught up in creating their solutions. When debriefing, it’s important to reiterate the key concepts to leave students with high-level takeaways. What did they find valuable about the design process and how they might use these principles in their own work? How did early needfinding and rapid prototyping influence the direction of their ideas? The facilitator guide has several others you can draw from if you’re looking for inspiration. Don't forget to leave some resource recommendations and your contact so interested students can follow-up with you after the workshop.

I had a great time running the crash course with the students back at Western. It was a joy to watch them dive into the design process, and I hope they've gained the creative confidence and skills to become curious future innovators.

If you would like to request a design workshop at your school, you may reach me here.

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What Designers Can Learn From Poverty Fighters


What Designers Can Learn From Poverty Fighters

Originally published on Medium: What Designers Can Learn From Poverty Fighters

Redefining the Role of the Designer

Teaching organizations how to think like a designer is a daunting task, yet it is an exciting challenge we are facing more each day. As our work becomes increasingly synonymous with innovation and smart business, designers play a greater role in changing the DNA of organizations.

Consultancies like Adaptive PathIDEO, and Frog Design have already expanded beyond digital interfaces to creating end-to-end services, improving customer experience across all touchpoints. It’s not hard to envision the next step in evolution — helping clients achieve organization-wide adoption of human-centered design. Imagine the impact of financial, healthcare, and educational institutions that not only understand how to listen to their customers, but more importantly are able to create user-centric solutions to address widespread problems. However, the road will not be an easy one. These entrenched organizations are often hampered by complex internal structure, politics, and limited resources, making the internalization of human-centered design a difficult task.


Scene from “The Class (Entre les murs)

Scene from “The Class (Entre les murs)

Similar challenges are prevalent in most international development projects, including those led by Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). As an organization that strives to alleviate poverty in Africa through systemic change, EWB faces obstacles such as a fragmented landscape of service providers, complex bureaucracy, and a severe lack of resources. Despite all this, EWB is successfully disrupting the charity model of development by empowering local leaders to create sustainable change in their own communities. Its initiatives under this approach have received strong support from locals in Africa and organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Below are three strategies developed by EWB overseas volunteers that can help designers create long-lasting internal change within client organizations.

Note: Although I direct these strategies at design consultants, they are just as applicable to those working on internal design teams.

Engineers Without Borders—  Kumvana Progra

Engineers Without Borders— Kumvana Progra

1. Understand the Landscape and Empower Champions

In EWB’s agriculture initiatives in rural Ghana, volunteers and staff members have embedded themselves in local communities and developed partnerships with key business, educational, and government institutions. Their goal is to understand the landscape which stakeholders are operating within and empower champions in the community. EWB’s time spent in the field has given the organization insight into relationships between farmers, businesses, government, and NGOs, helping to connect farmers with investment capital, supplies, and new markets.

EWB also empowers locals to increase their effectiveness as changemakers. The Kumvana Program trains 20 young African leaders over 6 months, providing leadership training, work experience, and valuable networks to catalyze change within their own communities and organizations. EWB has recently taken this a step further by investing in ventures that seek to drive radical systemic innovations in Africa. These types of partnerships can take years to develop but have been essential in implementing sustainable solutions to poverty in the area.

Long-term engagements give design teams the time to understand internal dynamics of client organizations and identify champions who can carry the project forward. Knowing who to require buy-in from is an important part of successful implementation. Organization-wide adoption of design principles will not happen overnight, but can be gradually achieved through the success of continuous small initiatives. By shifting from the single project to an account-based model, consultancies can establish stronger partnerships with clients and be better positioned to influence strategic decisions. Design consultants should also consider how they can empower internal design teams to have a stronger voice in their own organization, possibly through training workshops or mentorship programs.

Co-creation workshop at Adaptive Pat

Co-creation workshop at Adaptive Pat

2. Create Internal Demand for Change

NGOs have built thousands of latrines in rural communities to address poor sanitation conditions — a leading cause of death in developing nations — only to find them turned into sheds and chicken coops. The challenge is a lack of community involvement and ownership over health initiatives. Projects involving behaviour change are often met with resistance from locals, especially ones imposed by outsiders. Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is a different approach that has seen promising results. A core piece to CLTS is participatory learning — inviting community members to learn about sanitation through live demonstrations. One example includes setting a bowl of rice near an area of open defecation. Community members watch on as flies land in the rice and feces, contaminating the food until it turns brown. Through CLTS, they internalize the connection between their current behaviour and the contraction of disease, often leading to internal demand for improved sanitation practises. Self-motivated communities that seek their own health solutions see a higher rate of behaviour change than ones subject only to external pressure. In Zambia, over 245 000 people are now living in “open defecation free” zones due to the CLTS approach.

Design consultants propose recommendations while implementation is often left to the client. Without the commitment from internal client teams, these projects may never become reality. Co-creation workshops that involve clients in problem identification and concept brainstorming are effective ways to create a sense of client ownership over projects. Educating them on the value of human-centered design can foster internal demand for its application in other business areas. Helping clients establish their own internal design teams can empower them to carry out their own design initiatives and ensure the existence of a user advocacy group.

Engineers Without Border

Engineers Without Border

3. Measure Outcome, Not Output

Over 40 000 rural water points and latrines have been built throughout Malawi to provide access to clean water and sanitation in rural communities. When measuring the output of development initiatives, the statistics are encouraging; however, the reality is that a significant portion of wells break down within months due to lack of maintenance. When measuring the outcomes of these initiatives, it becomes clear that the invested resources aren’t achieving the impact expected. EWB is working with government partners to implement a Decision Support System, mapping water coverage, monitoring the status of wells, and allowing decision-makers to identify more effective ways to maintain them. The mentality of measuring outcomes vs. output means that NGOs and local governments can evaluate the true impact of their initiatives and pivot when goals aren’t being met.

The success of a design project is usually measured by the output — the quality of deliverables and the satisfaction of the client — but rarely how deliverables have improved actual customer experience. Oftentimes, the client contact that gives the brief is not the client team to implement the proposal. Understanding why projects failed or succeeded in implementation can help design consultants improve the success rate of projects. This may be as simple as setting up a formal channel for project follow-up a few months after the client engagement ends. Outcomes to track may include the level of customer satisfaction, level of customer engagement, client team buy-in, or efficiency of service.

Although these lessons were sown from the maize fields of rural Africa, they are just as applicable in the open-spaced design offices in San Francisco. There are still countless systemic issues facing our financial, healthcare, and educational systems here at home. Design consultancies cannot fix these problems on their own. It requires a change in mindset from all individuals and organizations. Designers who dare to think big will not only be crafting the next innovative products and services, but also empowering others to do the same. As our roles evolve, we must also evolve our design approaches to suit the scale of our desired impact.