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  • Final Report Summary - RENAISSANCE (The Renaissance Project: Towards a strategic orientation and associated toolkit to support global UCD that is appropriate and accountable to local culture)

Final Report Summary - RENAISSANCE (The Renaissance Project: Towards a strategic orientation and associated toolkit to support global UCD that is appropriate and accountable to local culture)

Project context and research objectives

Companies strive to develop products en masse for a global market. The challenge for companies is to maintain product quality, consistency and profitability, whilst ensuring that products meet and respect local and cultural norms. When technology design contravenes expectation, a product will fail, which can be disastrous not only for a company’s profits but dangerous in safety critical situations, and a potential source of structural instability in complexly interconnected sensitive industries such as finance.

It would be naïve to suggest that giving a design team tools to support decisions will inevitably ensure good and successful products and services. Tools are often developed independently of a rich understanding of company culture and without a clear operating strategy. Design decisions often have to be justified and evidenced to overcome business stakeholders who have personal opinions about design. Indeed companies are often described as now being marketing driven, meaning that design can be compromised for branding, style or packaging. A decision may have been made early on in the design process, whilst later in the design process the reasons for decisions can often be lost, leading to a compromise in design or at the very least, in design coherence. This is particularly concerning in light of consumer products having become increasingly intelligent, moving far beyond their utilitarian beginnings; ensuring great user experience is now equally important to selling products as promoting great functionality and usability. Corporations are striving to push even greater technology advances into the home, with aspirational visions of the smart home having re-emerged.

These challenges are particularly interesting and distinct in service companies in comparison to the historic and well-documented processes in product companies and large manufacturing industry. The World Wide Web has become a primary location for service companies to offer products in many countries. To ensure a company has a single face, there is often a perceived need for a global design strategy to be in place, for all of the company’s operating countries to follow. Product companies often produce a single design that is delivered to many countries in identical packaging. For both, country boundaries cross cultures and language and ensuring that design is appropriate necessitates not only a strategy but also appropriate tools capable of respecting nuanced variations in context in which products and services will be consumed.

Research aims and objectives:

The Renaissance Project aimed to establish the first steps towards a strategic orientation and associated toolkit to support user-centred design that is appropriate and accountable to local culture. There are three main research objectives: i) to capture information related to knowledge management strategies for UCD; ii) to establish a toolkit to support appropriate design in disparate cultures; iii) to disseminate this knowledge within industry and academia.

Approach and data collection:

To meet the first two objectives five related research activities took place:

Activity 1) A theoretical and empirical exploration of design strategy
A retrospective auto ethnography was conducted to identify current practices in relation to strategic design for one leading global telecommunication company (Cycom). The data was supplemented with suggested strategies based in the academic literature. This was presented to the head of Cycom’s global team based in London and to each of Cycom’s many operating countries in a strategic workshop regarding user-centred design approaches for Cycom’s global design strategy. This presentation was well received and a need identified for digital tools to support the collection of data surrounding peoples’ behaviour, practices and routines in situ of the context that a product would be delivered. In particular, if this research could be conducted using mobile telephones then it would be suitable across a large number of countries that do not have landline infrastructure. Such a system would provide benefits to the global design team to share findings across cultures and support design to culture

Activity 2) Support for the development of a research tool
To develop tool to support appropriate design in disparate cultures, additional funding was sought from the Technology Strategy Board and a strong relationship brokered with an ambitious small-medium enterprise in Leicester, Bulb Studios, who were keen to adopt a user centred approach to design. Funding facilitated the development of a research tool to collect insitu data surrounding consumer behaviour, practices and routines. Over the course of the following two years the product was developed and a user centred approach to design adopted within Bulb Studios. The success of this technology led to the formation of a sister organisation, CrowdLab, to facilitate market and design researchers in their study of people, practice and routines through the new technology CrowdLab.

Activity 3) Empirical research of organisation growth and adoption of UCD
To further achieve the first objective, an on-going longitudinal ethnographic study of the rapidly growing organisation, Bulb Studios, was conducted. As a part of this data collection, CrowdLab, noted as a radical innovation was developed and followed from inception through to commercial success. 28 interviews have been conducted with employees alongside thick descriptions and images taken to enrich data. In this period of time, UCD has been adopted in the organisation under the more commercially sensitive guise of ‘Customer Centred Design’. This has led to knowledge regarding the use of UCD methods within projects and how this has supported project and organisational successes.

Activity 4) The evaluation of digital technology for market research and design practice
In addition to the initial 28 interviews with Bulb Studios employees, interviews have been conducted with CrowdLab’s network of clients that they work with in London and now across the globe, to meet the second objective. Research has been conducted through a series of interviews with market and design research professionals. This research has applied and theoretical outcomes. First, the research supported the development of the CrowdLab which can be utilised towards the fuzzy front end of design to capture knowledge of user preferences, activities and attitudes. Second, interviews with the network of clients has provided insight to the working practices of researchers now that digital technology provides researchers with the opportunity to collect masses of data synchronously and asynchronously through a wide range of channels in comparison to historic approaches predominantly consisting of face-face and paper methods.

Activity 5) Project dissemination
Please see section two ‘Use and dissemination of foreground’.

Over riding outcomes and summary:

Following analyses and interpretation of the data for the four components of the research, the main outcomes derived can be summarised as follows:

1. Through empirical and theoretical work the need for greater support to research in situ emerged.
2. Research contributed to the development of the CrowdLab, a research tool which facilitates data capture in situ. This product is commercially successful and has won industry awards.
3. As part of the development for the CrowdLab, the adoption of UCD within Bulb Studios has been studied as a longitudinal case study. This research relates to wider social theories of management and design practice.
4. Research as part of the development for the CrowdLab suggest a changing landscape for user centred design, market research and design research practice.

The interpretation of the data suggests that to collect data to support efficacious design the immediate approaches considered are in-person and face-face/researcher-subject methods. These consist of interviews in person or via telephone, focus groups, observation studies conducted in situ and paper-based diary studies. Digital technology now provide a mass of data providing researchers and designers many opportunities to gain insight that have previously not been possible. This enables research to be conducted across countries simultaneously as part of a single project, for example, to collect data continuously throughout the day for families, to capture reaction to sporting events across the globe, and to study the stresses of working practice.

Digital technology poses both challenges and opportunities for researchers in dealing with data for user centred design. Whilst there is a great interest in talking about the opportunities of big data, the Renaissance project has focused on vast amounts of rich data about individuals that researchers and designers have to now consider, this is not considered big data, as it is not macro level data of large populations. Collecting such data at a micro level will afford greater insights to behaviour, practices and routines for personal lives and working practice whilst paradoxically giving designers more to consider and making design considerations more complex. An analogy may be drawn to the recording industry. For decades analogue recording of professional musicians has been conducted by specialist recording tools (equivalent to research methods), in a studio with a highly skilled sound engineer and producer (equivalent to researchers). Digital recording technology now allows the music producer to manipulate sound in ways that were not previously possible leaving the producer with the dilemma of compromise, for example, how much time is spent on making the perfect sound, what is the perfect sound? Similarly researchers must also compromise in design, the abundance of information available within design is not a new challenge but the vast quantity now available is potentially an Achilles heal.

Potential impact and use:

The Renaissance project as a part of Green and Lilley’s other research has been submitted as a case study for societal impact to represent the University of Leicester’s School of Management for the Higher Education Funding Council For England (HEFCE) Research Excellence Framework 2014. For this purpose the impact of the research has been documented and evidenced as follows:

• The CrowdLab product led to a separate company being developed which produces research applications for mobile devices. They themselves are worth £1.5million and have created their own research partnership with the University of Leicester.
• In April 2012 it was reported that Bulb Studios had more than doubled its staff numbers from 8 to 18 whilst turnover had increased from £700,000 to £1.2 in the three years of the research. Staff numbers are projected to increase to 20 with a greater turnover of 1.5m by December 2013.
• In parallel, CrowdLab’s staff numbers have also grown to 9 people. Key players in both companies corroborate that the research conducted by Lilley and Green contributed to this success. 'Fanlabs', the pilot product from Green and Lilley’s work with Bulb, was the central plank of Sharp's international advertising campaign around the European Football Championships in 2012, with the product name prominent in the idents deployed by Sharp in their sponsorship of ITV's coverage of the tournament. Bulb Studios also won the Innovation Award at the local newspaper Business Awards 2013.
• Adopting a UCD philosophy throughout the organisation and product development lifecycle has brought knowledge and expertise in UCD systems development to Bulb Studios which has improved the product in terms of ease of use, efficiency, user satisfaction, quality, and indirectly enabled access to a larger client base.
• UCD as an intervention has had an impact on management and worker practice and has had a positive effect on organisational culture.
• Knowledge of the many techniques and methods required to support UCD design across a plethora of products have been vital in expanding the company’s portfolio.

In addition, the University of Leicester is exploring the use of the developed technology for social science quality assurance in educational settings and in clinical trials.

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