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Efficient service design: 17 steps to consider

Are you a designer? Do you feel like that service design brief hit you in the face with a three-pound hammer? No worries. You’ll manage just fine. This article might help you with that. We’ll go through the universal user steps that we consider in almost any customer journey. Also, we’ll cover a few key research questions to ask during each user step.


Note that not all service designs will have an impact on all user steps. And note that not all user steps must be performed by the same user. And now that I think about it there’s a whole other bunch of notes. But let’s not go there. That’s content for a future blog post.


Guess that’s enough for an intro. So let’s hop to the universal user steps and the corresponding research questions you should try to answer.

Before use

1: Discover

The first step in any customer journey is that someone -let’s call her Lisa- must get aware of a user problem. During this step, Lisa can also learn about your value propositions to solve the problem. Lisa isn’t necessarily your end user though. Maybe her kids are. Key questions to ask yourself as a service designer are:

  • Who should be the discoverer? (e.g. Lisa, her husband, her kid, her doctor,..)
  • What should be the discovery environment? (e.g. a hotel room, a social media platform,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to target marketing messages to specific user groups)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to understand the your value proposition)

2: Acquire

This step is about getting access to the product or service. You buy it. Then you get it -or at least you get a document as proof that you own the thing. This step can be physical (the sales guy hands you your new shoes) or digital (you get a mail, thanking you for purchasing that concert ticket). Key questions for service designers:

  • Who should be the acquirer? (e.g. Lisa, her boss,..)
  • What should be the acquisition environment? (e.g. a desk near the entrance of the event)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to provide proof of owning a valid concert ticket)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to acquire concert tickets)

3: Transport

Your solution may need to be relocated. Say Lisa bought a washing machine. That thing needs to get to her place, scratch free preferably. Ask yourself this:

  • Who should be the transporter? (e.g. Lisa, a UPS guy, an FTE from the company that sells washing machines,..)
  • What should be the transport environment? (e.g. Lisa’s car, a UPS van, a cargo bike,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to absorb shocks on a bumpy road)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the risk of damage during transport, lowering the effort Lisa needs to put in, minimizing the transportation time,..)

4: Store before use

Lisa ordered her groceries online. These products need to be stored at some point, regardless of whether the groceries are delivered or take-away.  
  • Who should be the safekeeper? (e.g. a grocery store FTE, Lisa, her neighbor,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (e.g. a separate storage space in the store, a cooled reusable box at the front door,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to stack multiple boxes, to keep groceries cool for a few hours,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the space needed for storage)

5: Install

Let’s get back to the washing machine. Lisa needs to have this product installed before she can use it. The installation is all about getting a solution in place so that the user can start using it. Again, the one doing the installation isn’t always the end user.

  • Who should be the installer? (Lisa, the delivery guy,..)
  • What should be the installation environment? (e.g. a tiny room on the 5th floor)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. a step-by-step guide, troubleshooting,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of actions/technical knowledge/handyman tools/skills/.. needed to install the washing machine)

6: Set up

Okay, so the washing machine has power supply and is connected to the water pipes. Now someone needs to configure the machine. You know the questions by now, don’t you?

  • Who should be the configurator? (e.g. Lisa, a tech person, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the configuration environment? (e.g. an app on your phone)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to set sound volume, clock settings,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the set-up time)

7: Learn to use

A user needs to learn how to configure, use and maintain the solution.

  • Who should be the learner? (e.g. Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the learning environment? (e.g. an app, website, a display on the washing machine, a classroom,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to give feedback during use)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the learning efforts)
During use

8: Prepare and confirm

This step is about making the solution ready to use. Someone must hit the power button of that washing machine, feed it with washing powder and some fabric softener maybe. Also clicking ‘start washing’ is part of this step.

  • Who should be the initiator?
  • What should be the preparation environment?
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to alert the user if (s)he forgot to add washing powder)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing room for human errors, like forgetting to add washing powder)

9: Execute and operate

This is when the end user actually uses your solution to get something done. That ‘something’ is the user’s reason for using your solution. Lisa wants clean clothes. That’s why she uses the washing machine. The end user is not always the consumer. Maybe Lisa has a laundry business and she uses washing machines to clean clothes for her customers. In this case Lisa is still the end user of the machine, but her clients are the consumers of Lisa’s services.

  • Who should be the end user? (Lisa, Lisa’s customers,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to source water)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of clothes one can wash in a single go, minimizing the time needed to get clean clothes,..)

10: Monitor

During this step Lisa gets feedback from her washing machine to check if the machine is running smoothly or if something is wrong.

  • Who should be the examiner? (Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the monitoring environment? (an app that comes with the washing machine, an on-machine display, a remote display in another room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should measure temperatures, humidity levels, vibration patterns,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of relevant data for the examiner, minimizing the risk of long/costly repairments,..)

11: Conclude

Now we’re ending the usage of our solution. This is Lisa taking out the freshly washed clothes.

  • Who should be the one ending this step? (Lisa, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to call someone to take out the clothes, to turn itself off,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk that humid clothes stay in the machine long after the washing process has ended)
After use

12: Clean

Let’s drop the washing machine example for a better one. Lisa also owns a motorcycle. She enjoys taking it for long rides on the curvy roads in her country. But she also loves the cleaning process. Wiping the dirt off that retro bike provides her with and a meditative sense of awareness and fulfilment.

  • Who should be the cleaner? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the cleaning environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine that need regular cleaning, the ability easily access cleaning tools that speed up or ease the cleaning process, the ability to withstand detergents,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk of high maintenance bills, maximizing the enjoyment the user gets from cleaning the bike,..)

13: Store after use

After Lisa has cleaned her bike, she looks at it with satisfaction for a few seconds. Time to store the machine until the next ride.

  • Who should be the safekeeper? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the house,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to withstand rainy and cold weather, the ability to withstand theft,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of space needed for storing the bike, maximizing the feeling of certainty that nothing will happen to the bike,..)

14: Upgrade

Users may want to replace parts of a product or add new stuff to it. This can be software or hardware upgrades. Lisa picked the latter. She likes the original looks of her motorcycle, but she did purchase a windshield to upgrade the riding comfort.

  • Who should be the upgrader? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the upgrade environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to install third-party components)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of possibilities for adding third-party components)

15: Maintain

You could say that cleaning the bike is also maintaining the bike. You’re right. Maintenance goes a little further though. It’s checking the oil, maintaining the tire pressure or even changing the tires -okay, that’s upgrading if you will. See how these user steps can blend into each other sometimes?

  • Who should be the maintainer? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the maintenance environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine, the ability easily access maintenance tools for common maintenance rituals,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the amount of maintenance needed, maximizing the ease of maintenance rituals,..)

16: Repair

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Lisa filled her Kambukka thermos flask to the brim with hot coffee, puts on her helmet and pushes her motorcycle off the driveway. She only plans to return once the sun goes down. But the damn engine won’t start. She checks the battery and the start relay. Nothing wrong there. Fuck that. This is where her technical knowledge on bikes ends.

  • Who should be the one to repair the bike? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the repairment environment? (Lisa’s garage, a professional garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to access every single part of the bike, the ability suggest what’s wrong with the bike,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the lifetime of each part, minimizing the amount of repairments,..)

17: Dispose

Fast forward to 2040. Combustion engines aren’t allowed in nearby city centers anymore. Lisa cannot drive or sell her bike anymore. She took good care of her bike but the thing has finally come to an end. In 2040 we cannot dump a bike on some graveyard. We should disassemble and recycle as much as possible.

  • Who should be the disposer? (Lisa, the seller of the bike, the manufacturer of the bike,..)
  • What should be the disposal environment? (e.g. a local drop-off point)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to disassemble into single materials)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of materials that can be recycled)
Phew! Thanks for making it till here. Hope that means you got some value from this article. Maybe save this tab for future reviews or jot some stuff on a piece of paper to remember the framework. Those 17 steps are almost always worth considering as a service designer.
Good luck with your next service design!


Dark patterns: what are they and which types exist?

So what are dark patterns? Essentially, they’re manipulative UX/UI designs in an app or on a webpage that trick you into doing something you did not intend. Dark patterns trigger you to click, book, subscribe, buy or to just keep on scrolling like an addict.  
While it’s clear that these tricks are beneficial to the companies to make more money, it’s also clear that they’re often harmful to the end users. Dark patterns can make people addicted to an app, or lure them into spending cash they should have kept in their wallets.
Now let’s have a look at the 12 different types of dark patterns you may have fallen victim to in the past. These types have been identified by Harry Brighnull, who also coined Dark Patterns as a term back in 2010.
Pattern 1

Trick question

You fill out a form and there’s a question that tricks you into giving an answer you did not mean to give. The question seems to ask for one thing, but when read carefully it actually asks for something else.
Trick questions are often in the checkboxes at the end of a form when you’re signing up for a new service. You’re already tired of entering your details and are not paying too much attention to these two last questions anymore. The first question is one that you want to check to avoid a cluttered inbox. But the second box should remain unchecked if you don’t want all the spam. If you don’t read both questions well, you end up getting annoying marketing mails from random companies.
Pattern 2


A very common one. Misdirection draws your attention to something so that you wouldn’t notice the other thing that the company doesn’t want you to see.
You’re booking a room for tomorrow night in Berlin and in the order flow you get to see this page. How kind of the hotel to let you pick the floor level you’d like to be on! But the option to choose your floor isn’t for free. You get charged an extra €10 if you pick a floor. So while the entire screen feels like choosing a floor is just part of the default process, you should click the small text in the bottom right corner to dodge the extra fee. Many people will not read everything properly and just end up paying more.
Pattern 3


This dark pattern makes a person feel bad for opting out. You often see examples of confirmshaming when you’re about to decline a special offer, delete something from your shopping cart, or when a site or app tries to convince you to subscribe for the newsletter.
You’re on this website that offers you a free e-book on growing your own food. Sure thing you are somewhat interested because how else did you get on this website? When you get this pop-up you can either give your email to claim that free document, or you can close the pop-up. But there’s no little X to click. Instead you see a clickable phrase that is designed to make you feel bad for clicking it. You probably don’t know much about growing veggies. So clicking ‘No thanks, I already know everything about growing vegetables’ feels wrong.
Pattern 4

Sneak into basket

You’re in the process of buying something online and at some point an extra item is added to your basket without your conscious consent. This often happens if you did not check or uncheck a box. To make it even worse that extra item in your basket sometimes only becomes clearly visible a few pages later. Luckily this dark patterns has become illegal is some EU countries.
Say you’re booking a hotel room and you’re in a hurry. You don’t take the time to read this sneaky part carefully and leave that box unchecked. That means that in a few moments, you’ll see an extra €15 on your checkout bill for the ‘free’ cancellation fee you do not really need.
Pattern 5

Roach motel

This one is extremely dirty. It’s when you can very easily get into a situation -often it’s being subscribed- but it’s made very hard for you to leave that situation. Maybe you just wanted to buy some headphones but the webshop sneaked a subscription to a DJ magazine into your basket. You should have carefully read the small letters and uncheck a box to decline the magazine subscription. But you didn’t. A few weeks later you get this unfamiliar magazine delivered to your doorstep. Maybe it’s a free trial? One month later you get another one. You check your bank account and notice that you’ve made 2 payments of €12 to some unknown recipient. Time to find out how to unsubscribe and possibly reclaim that money!
After a long search on that webshop and making some calls, you find out that the only way to unsubscribe is to send a paper letter to Brussels. That means owning a printer or going to a print shop, writing down stuff in ink, going to a post office to put that paper in an envelope with a stamp on it and have it sent to Brussels. And wait until that letter gets on the right desk and someone takes the time to help you out. And then check your bank account as this is probably the only way to verify that the subscription has ended.
Pattern 6

Privacy Zuckering

Yup, this one is named after that guy from Facebook. Privacy Zuckering happens when you share more information about yourself than you wanted to share. Your shopping behavior, your sexual kinks, your mental health and the places you like to go to are known. This data is all captured and traded without much regulations between companies behind the scenes. The data brokerage industry may have dramatic effects on your future quality of life. It could affect your chances of getting a loan or a job for instance if your bank or interviewer has bought some of that information about you.
If you want to use a store card to claim special discounts, chances are you need to agree with some terms first. The store is then allowed to gather data on your shopping behavior and sell it to other parties. Say you’ve started to buy less meat. That’s valuable data about you for companies that produce meat alternatives. They want your details so they can target their ads to you.
Pattern 7

Price comparison prevention

This one prevents you from making an informed purchase because you cannot compare the price of an item with relevant other items. Instead, you get to see items that are unrelated or that are somewhat related but hard to compare.
Say you want to buy apples. What’s the better deal here? Should you buy loose or packaged apples? It’s hard to know because you cannot really compare a fixed price of the packaged apples with the price per kg of loose apples. And what’s that pear doing there? Wouldn’t it be better to show another type of apple instead?
Pattern 8

Hidden costs

When you only get to see the extra costs you have to pay once you’re at the checkout, you’re the victim of hidden costs. You’ve committed to purchasing an item by adding it to your basket and you went through the entire process of getting it delivered. You created an account and entered your address, payment details and what not. Okay. All that work has been done and you’re one click away from ordering. That’s when the hidden costs are mentioned. Fuck. There’s no way back now.
Tomorrow it’s Mother’s Day! You want to surprise her with a luxurious breakfast, delivered to her house. You feel the breakfast box you select is fairly priced at €39,9. But if you knew from the start that you had to pay that extra €10,5 you maybe would have opted for the flower shop around the corner.
Pattern 9

Bait and switch

So you’re clicking or tapping to deal with something, but your actions result into the opposite outcome of the one you wanted. You were lured into performing the wrong action.
You’re paying a little monthly fee to access your docs in the cloud. Now you get a message like this one. It clearly says that you’ve almost used all your available storage space. Wanna upgrade? Naah. You don’t feel like paying that extra €24 a year and you’ll just take some files to another storage location once this cloud service says is cannot take in any more of your documents.
So what do you do? You click the top right corner to get rid of this stupid pop-up. That’s the wrong move because you’ve just confirmed that you’re fine with the upgrade. Check out the small text. It says that your plan will automatically upgrade once you’re out of storage space. If you don’t want to upgrade you need to click the little link above the big yellow button.
Pattern 10

Disguised ads

Pretty self-explanatory name. These are ads that don’t look like ads. The purpose of this of course is to make people click more ads because this generates money.
This news site shows you several articles but one of them is not actually a news fact. The third article about Shopify is an ad that just looks like it’s news. That’s great for the news site because many people are triggered to click the ad, thinking they’ll get some valuable content on the next page. And for Shopify it’s also a way to get more people subscribed. Mind that I only made up these news facts.
Pattern 11

Forced continuity

Hey, why not try this great stock analysis tool for free for a month? Sure! But after a few hours you feel like the tool cannot really offer you the value you’re looking for and you return to your old ways of working. After that month has passed you are silently becoming a paying customer for the tool and each month a fixed amount gets taken from your credit card. Only after you’ve noticed the weird bank statements you find out what’s been happening. Now you’re facing the challenge of stopping these automatic renewals. That’s rarely an easy thing to do.
When you’re about to register for the free trial of this stock analysis tool, you’re asked about your card details already. That’s a bit strange if you don’t need to pay for anything yet. But as this is a standard procedure and you’ve done this tons of times before, you may as well continue. Everything is shouting that it’s free and incautious visitors won’t be triggered to click the little button to check out the billing info page.
Pattern 12

Friend spam

Sometimes you get a message from someone you know a little and the message just feels a bit weird. You get an email or a chat message from this person who’s recommending a product out of nowhere.
In this case, the person who’s already playing the game (let’s call him Luke) may have connected his social media account with the game because he was promised a better social experience. Doing so, Luke grants the game access to all the contacts he has sitting in his social account. The game then sends messages to these contacts as if it were Luke sending the messages. This way, the game hopes to convert people like Sarah into customers. It always works better if a friend recommends a product instead of the producer advertising the product. Nowadays many people recognize it’s just spam. Sarah may not be a gamer and she may have not been talking to Luke for years. But spam messages are getting smarter and harder to recognize. If spam starts to talk like your best friends about relevant topics, you’ll need to be extra wary.
So there’s that. A list of common dark patterns, originally listed by Harry Brighnull. Hope this ups your prudence as a daily online roamer. But I also hope this makes designers mind their responsibilities. Want to learn more on dark patterns? Here's another helpful article.
A small change in your UX/UI design that you made without any bad intentions can still affect people’s lives is ways you’d not have thought about. Take care!


What is mind mapping and why is it good for your creativity?

Visuals are the means, not the end goal
I understand why many people misinterpret creativity. It’s probably because visualisation is often an important element in the creative process. But the visualisation must not be the output of a creative process. It IS the process. It’s a means to structure your thoughts, connect ideas and to convey your thinking process to someone else so that he or she can join and contribute to your process.  
It doesn’t matter how beautifully you can visualise your thinking. The only thing that counts is that you can visualise your thoughts on a piece of paper or a screen. Don’t write, visualise. Because people process visual information 60.000 times faster than text, a visual is so much better for us to come up with new ideas. That’s why mind mapping is by far the best creativity tool for anyone who’s afraid of drawing beautiful pictures. The technique enables visual thinking without the need for any visual skills.
But also people with good visual skills like mind mapping, for example Da Vinci. The technique has been around for a while and is still not outdated today - for good reason. It’s been proven that mind mapping boosts our creativity, productivity and memory.
What’s mind mapping?
It’s a thinking tool to visualise your ideas and info by using words, images and visual-spatial awareness. The tool helps people to hop on different thought paths and put them all together in one space.
This way, mind maps are a representation of what’s happening in our brain. We have an idea and build upon that idea towards another idea space. From that one idea, our mind naturally generates related ideas. This is represented in the mind map by the branches. These branches are your thought paths that show how an idea or a piece of information is linked to another thought or to other info. You can just let your mind wander and capture all thoughts and ideas you come across along the way by using the structure of a mind map.
The map is just a picture of what you were thinking, but the real-time visualisation supports more creative and complex idea generation because your brain is now supported by what your eyes are seeing. Essentially, you don’t need to remember everything you’re thinking so that you have more processing power left to come up with new ideas and ‘dot connections’.
Free your thinking
When you’re creating a mind map, try to think like a child. Children can imagine the wildest things. Adults tend to only suggest ideas that are ‘not crazy’. Don’t be like the grown-ups. Write and jot down all the crazy things. The ideas you feel are too much out there, can often evolve into great ideas after you’ve reworked them a bit to fit in the real world. Mind maps are a great tool to look for these crazy ideas, to explore them profoundly and convert them into doable concepts.
See the bigger picture
Mind maps allow you to see the bigger picture. After you’ve mapped out all sorts of information and ideas, you can literally take a step back and look at the whole thing in front of you. You can see the branches that should get more of your attention still and you can search for the flaws in your thinking.
Step over the creativity hurdles
In any creative process, you’ll feel stuck at some point. A mind map is a great tool to get past that point because the tool forces you to think broadly instead of diving into one specific thinking path. Because you limit yourself to using just keywords instead of a detailed text, it’s easier to connect multiple branches to that one keyword. This stimulates you to think of many paths and explore ideas you’d not have found without the map.
The map should be a visual thinking tool, so add enough images. This helps you to process information better and find more creative connections between your ideas. Mapping everything brings you in a creative space, showing you all the different connections you could make. This is an ideal place for creativity to thrive.
All the ideas you put on your mind map are often more valuable than an idea you have on some Post-It or in your sketch book. Why? Easy. It’s because the ideas on your mind map are connected to many other thinking paths. It’s these connections that’ll help you to work out a way to turn that idea into a tangible concept.
So apart from being a great tool to boost creative thinking, the mind map is also an ideal place to source ideas that should be brought to life. Give it a try and boost your creative mind!


10 UI design rules to carve in stone

The birth of design principles
Designing new stuff is a messy process. No news there. Luckily, designers can learn from each other’s projects and share what aspects of a design have led to successful results. Other designers can then try out assumed success factors and confirm their effectiveness, or change and improve them still. Doing so, designers together write design principles. Those principles can then become a bit like game rules. Rules to maximize the chances of success for whatever you’re about to design. That’ll make your messy design process a little easier.  
Design principles can be specific, like the ones on designing voice interfaces or virtual reality apps. Some principles are even company-specific to speed up the team’s decision making. The design team of a toy brand for instance will know how strong the toy’s construction must be and what the level of intuitiveness should be.
But you expected to read 10 generic rules of thumb on UI design. So let’s scroll down. Note that the following list is not composed by us at Achilles. All credits and thank yous go to the famous usability researcher Jakob Nielsen, and his teams. We merely added some examples to clarify the rules.

Show the system status

An interface must always inform the user about what the system behind that interface is doing. When users know the status of the system, they know what effect their actions have on the system and they can anticipate on what to do next.
Think of your printer. When you order it to perform a print job by tapping the green button, the interface must give some sort of feedback to clarify its status. Maybe the display says that your print will start in a few secs, with a progress bar underneath the message. The user then knows that his action -pressing a button- has the desired effect and he knows that the next step for him is to just wait till that sheet of paper rolls out.
The more predictable the interactions are for your user, the more that user will trust your product and your brand. Think of a print job of +100 pages. A trustworthy printer could inform the user that there’s not enough paper sitting in the printer to complete the job, asking the user to add more sheets before starting the print job. This way, the interactions with the printer are more predictable to the user because he won’t be surprised that the print job just stopped halfway.

Speak human

We are designing for people from flesh and blood, so we must make sure that our designs speak human. That’s words and natural sentences instead of code. Also the non-verbal language must feel intuitive to the user. Red is for danger, turning clockwise on a knob means more decibels or lumens and a smiley face says that all things are fine. These concepts are universally understood. As designers, we must respect these verbal and non-verbal agreements in order to build intuitive products. People don’t want to grab the f*cking manual every time they want to use a product.

Provide an exit

Design your product or service so that users have the freedom to make mistakes. Because they will. It’s best to always allow your user to easily undo and redo actions, and to exit without messing things up. This gives users the confidence to use your product and avoids frustration. Think of how unproductive you would be without Command-Z when writing a story on your laptop. Or how frustrating it would be if you could not cancel the print job on your printer after you realized it's printing the wrong document. Always offer your user an easy exit or a way to go back a step.

Copy the industry standards

At Achilles we’ve designed drinking bottles for a brand called Kambukka. People have used drinking bottles before they purchase a Kambukka bottle. If our bottle would open by turning the cap clockwise, users would be confused because all other bottle caps in the world must be turned counterclockwise to drink. So it’s a no-brainer to copy what the industry has been doing.
Copying standards also count for digital products and services. A standard in the app industry is to provide a ‘go back button’ in the top left corner of the screen to go back one page. Then your app better copies that feature to stay in line with all other apps. Also try to stay consistent within your own product. That means your ‘go back button’ should always appear in the same way on all relevant screens.

Avoid costly errors

I’ve said it already. Users make mistakes when they interact with your product. Mistakes can happen because the user cannot understand the interface, or because the user was not paying attention for a moment. You must perform user tests during the development of your product to discover where and when people make mistakes, and how costly the mistakes are. Found an often-occurring and costly user mistake? Then redesign the product so that users must confirm an action twice.
When a person wants to create an account on your digital platform, she must enter a user name and a password. She might write her password in both fields because she did not pay attention enough, thinking the second field was meant to rewrite her password for confirmation. If this happens, a well-designed registration page would show a pop-up (in red with a danger sign or so), informing her that her user name and password are the same. That’s to prevent her from making a costly mistake. She now has the chance to return and rewrite her user name before actually hitting ‘create account’.

Don’t make users remember information

Relevant information should be visible or easily accessible to the user. Don’t force him to remember information from 3 steps before. Imagine you design a cooking app for instance. You first let the user gather all the ingredients. Once that’s done, the user can hit ‘start cooking’ to follow the steps. Halfway in the cooking process you instruct your user to add the soy sauce. Don’t expect him to remember how much soy sauce was needed. Include the information in the description of that cooking step, or make sure the information is just one tap or swipe away.

Shortcuts and custom interfaces

A novice will not want to deal with all the expert features or ways of working just yet. So don’t burden your new users with all that. But people who already know your product will want to use shortcuts and a custom interface to e.g. speed up their productivity. Someone who mastered Photoshop and mainly uses it to render car exteriors will have learned what tools, windows and libraries he needs to access most. He will have set up his custom interface and shortcuts accordingly to fit his specific needs and way of working.

Remove irrelevant stuff

Your digital interface should only show what’s relevant at that moment. By removing irrelevant info, the remaining relevant info gains visibility and the user will find it easier to use your product. A webstore won’t show you the payment options until it gets relevant. It first lets you focus on what items to order because that’s the only thing that matters at that phase in the journey.
Removing irrelevant stuff can also be applied to the physical world. Your coffee machine may have a reset button that you can press if the software of the machine would ever get stuck. That little reset button is irrelevant to your daily routine and should not sit next to the cappuccino button. Better place that reset button at the back of your machine. It’s an irrelevant button that only makes your daily coffee routine more complicated and prone to mistakes.

Error messages and solution suggestions

A display that says ERROR43//45.v won’t be helpful to most users. Instead, pinpoint what the current problem is all about in a language that your user will understand. Then explain what the user must do to solve the problem. Always support your error message and solution suggestions with enough visual support so that people notice the error and understand what to do.
Back to the printer example: When your machine runs out of ink, the system will have to notify you first. You’ll hear a beeping sound to notify you and the display will clearly indicate what the problem is -that there’s no black ink left. The display then shows you how to solve this problem. Maybe you get to see a little animation to clarify how to replace the black ink. Once you’ve replaced cartridges, you hear a satisfying bleep and the display shows a big green button with ‘resume printing’ on it. See how all this works better than ERROR43//45.v?

The f*cking manual

Manuals. Yuck! Sure thing there are not many people who enjoy reading them. So strive for a design that doesn’t need a manual. But in some cases you cannot avoid them. Then, still aim for a compact manual that’s easy to find online -because who likes to search boxes and drawers for a paper manual-, easy to navigate and to understand.
That’s it. The 10 UI design rules that Jakob Nielsen described decades ago. They all sound very straightforward right? I know. But it doesn’t hurt to get reminded about them once in a while. So write them down or save this webpage. Whatever works best for you. Just make sure to remind yourself of design principles like the ones you’ve just read. They’ll help you to speed up your design process, decision making and increase your chances of a product success.
Good luck nailing your next design challenge!


5 ways to innovate using simple math

The popular approach
You’ve been told to look outside if you want to come up with innovative solutions to your problem. You need to combine seemingly unrelated insights into surprising new ideas. You should look for opportunities where no one has been searching before. You must connect the most distant, most unrelated dots with each other to reach breakthrough innovations. Yadi-yadi-ya.
Say you’re a bike manufacturer. Asking yourself what you can learn from game developers like Nintendo can help you to innovate. You could improve the physical control buttons on the bike computer for more convenient navigation through the digital interface. Or you could gamify personal cycling goals maybe. This radical approach to innovation can lead to highly creative ideas.
But what if you could also innovate by looking not for solutions in other industries or knowledge areas? What if you could innovate by looking at what’s right in front of you? That would be easy, right?
The math approach

A different approach to innovation

It is easy. It’s called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). This thinking technique was born in Isreal in the ‘90s. SIT is a simpler version of the TRIZ approach that Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller proposed half a century earlier. With SIT, you only consider 5 easy thinking methods for creative problem solving. They are easy because all 5 methods look at what’s ‘inside the box’. What does that mean? That there’s no need to look at other industries or unfamiliar solutions. All you need to look at is the product you are trying to improve. Break it down into different components and reshuffle them.
SIT is fun because it forces you to come up with solutions within a given frame -the box if you like. There are only so many elements in your frame that you can play with to find new ideas. These constraints make it fun to ideate, and it also provides a much-needed focus. With open innovation, you can look all around you for solutions. The limits that SIT sets will help you to take multiple looks at the few elements in your frame. Another benefit to SIT is the speed at which you can generate relevant ideas to improve your product. A classic brainstorm encourages wild ideas, resulting in a big pile of Post-Its with random ideas that are often no direct answer to the problem you try to solve. SIT gets you the relevant ideas right away.
Simple math
Looking for solutions inside the box is actually very similar to easy mathematics. Here are the 5 ways that you can innovate with SIT. Nothing but simple math.


Are there elements in your design that you can get rid of? Many innovations are based on this method. Think of iPhones. Designers removed physical buttons and audio jacks. The first removal was a direct added value to the end user, while the latter was a clever way to boost AirPod sales. Also the digital interface of iPhones got redesigned by removing elements. Graphics got simpler and user steps are reduced so that users can get a job done with fewer taps or swipes. Or think of Apple Pay, which makes payments more convenient by the reduction of steps a user must perform. Just to say that removals can also be applied to service design.


This is the opposite of the first method. Here, it’s all about what you can add. Is there something in your design that users might want more of? Maybe your user wants more cable length, battery life, pixels or more data storage? Staying within the Apple ecosystem examples here; Apple sells consumers an expensive phone with shitty storage capacity. But for a marginal extra cost, users can double that capacity to get a fair deal. It’s a dirty technique to convince people to spend even more on a phone, as opposed to a world in which Apple would have true value for money already on the entry-level models. The key takeaway here is to understand what existing product features your users want more of. It is not about adding entirely new features, but about increasing what’s already loved. It’s adding storage capacity rather than adding a bulletproof, strawberry-tasting coating to your phone.


Break down your problem or product into smaller parts that you can easily reshuffle to find new ideas. Nintendo divided the Switch console into different parts instead of launching it as just one product. Doing so, the designers created more playing scenarios and products. A trilogy is another example of this technique. Sure, you can create just one game, book or movie. But why not increase the total (perceived) value by releasing three -or more- separate products? The teams behind The Dark Knight or The Matrix understood this. Or think of divisions in the user steps of a customer journey. An example of this is the separation of steps in online shopping; A customer can buy sneakers right now and pay at a later date. Sales go boom.


Think of what jobs you can combine in one element of your product. When I look around here at home I already see quite a few designs that use this design technique. The power button on my headphones is also the button to check my battery level and to start the Bluetooth pairing. My right earcup has a touchscreen to a.o. skip or pause songs, fast forward and backward in song, to manage my volume, its noise-cancelling feature and to take calls. Or take my sofa. It’s not only a sofa. You can also turn it into a double guest bed, and it has extra storage space underneath it as well.

Rework relations

Products often have predictable relations with other elements (external), or with the product itself (internal). An example of an external relation is your laptop reacting to the light intensity of its surroundings. As your office gets brighter, the screen of your laptop does the same to guarantee readability on the screen. An internal relation could be that the screen brightness goes down again because your battery is almost dead. It’s the laptop reacting to itself. Look for what relations exist and try to redesign them. You may want to create a new relation -like the screen brightness feature- but maybe you want to break an existing relation. A predicable relation you could break is that of liquids entering the inside of laptops and broken laptops. How could you design your laptop so that you don’t need to worry about anything if you want to get some work done in the pool, or when working outside on a rainy day?
So there you have it. That’s SIT. Give it a go. You’ll find it feels counterintuitive if you want to innovate, but then you’ll notice how much fun it is to use these simple thinking methods to come up with innovative ideas. While open, cross-industry innovation is important, it’s not too wrong to innovate inside your box from time to time. Good luck and enjoy!


The true source of success for your innovation projects

The old view
What names come to mind when you think of historical innovation starters? Perhaps you think of Nikola Tesla, Tamara de Lempicka or Archimedes. When we think of the great mind of the past, we often think of people who were solo innovators. They found new insights or worked on innovative creations without any interventions of other thinkers.  
The new view
In today’s world, we cannot say that great innovations come from individuals. Breakthrough creations are typically the result of many people’s creative contribution. One person’s brain on itself is an awesome machine. Cannot deny that. But still there are many limitations to what that one brain can perform, as opposed to the strength of many people’s brains working together. Minds working together -let’s call it the Internet of Brains (IoB). That’s the unique strength of our species and the main driver of innovation.
Dr Muthukrishna (London School of Economics) and Dr Henrich (Harvard) describe three types of innovation sources that we can find in the IoB: serendipity, recombination and incremental improvement.

1 Serendipity

Many innovations are just lucky accidents. Post-Its are an example of that. Someone at 3M accidently found an adhesive that seemed useless at first because it only stuck lightly. A few years later, another scientist at the company saw an opportunity to use the adhesive to create sticky bookmarks with it. This later became the Post-It we still use today. Post-Its, popcorn, Velcro,.. None of these inventions were planned. No one proposed a design challenge, but these accidents all turned out to be valuable.

2 Recombination

A new idea or a new design is always built upon knowledge you derived from others. Creativity is only the combination of pre-existing elements. Take Darwin. He would not have made his discoveries if he did not have access to previous writings from scientists before him.

3 Incremental improvement

Your smartphone is probably better-performing and it has more attractive features compared to the model you owned ten years ago. The same counts for your car, your headphones or your coffee machine. None of these products are designed from scratch. Their development takes knowledge from previous designs and combines this with e.g. knowledge on newly discovered technological improvements or societal trends.
The IoB is what enables these three sources of innovation to exist. The more connected that IoB is, the more innovative the creations of the people who take part in that IoB. A poorly connected IoB may be a family of which the members rarely communicate with each other. Chances are that their family gatherings are boring, uncreative events. On the opposite, think of family members who constantly make calls and share input on their Whatsapp group. They can easily organize creative family parties and activities because the family supports a constant stream of ideas.
Apart from the level of social interaction, also the ease with which ideas can be transferred (socially accepted to freely share, accessibility of info,..) and the deviations in info shared (how much does a copy differ from the original) play an important role in how innovative an IoB can be. A few deviations naturally are beneficial to innovation because variety gives room to serendipity, but too much variations can make the innovation process inefficient again.

Your collaboration setup

Your collaboration setup is what matters the most in order to innovate. To unlock the full potential of the 3 ingredients for a productive IoB, select the right people that make up your IoB and what roles they’ll take. Everyone has their own way of thinking and working, so everyone can provide another type of input to contribute to your innovation project. Aim for an IoB that consists of both organizers, learners and builders. People can shift roles as they like, but make sure that your innovation team has these roles covered at all times.
Moving ideas forward is what makes the organizers tick. They like to bring different people together and they want to spark others’ creativity. Organizers are well aware of the bumpiness of an innovation track and they can overcome the unavoidable obstacles that lie ahead.
These people get their energy from gathering information and insights. They may like to explore new cultures or industries, they perhaps want to observe people to learn about potential product or service improvements, or they might enjoy learning through trial and error (e.g. rapid prototyping).
The builders get to work with input they receive from the learners, and they are stimulated by the organizers. Builders typically have a deeper technical understanding of matters, so they can move past the first MVP a learner has made.
Innovation does not come from an individual who’s working undisturbed in her studio. It comes from the Internet of Brains. Minds working together under the right conditions (social connectedness, idea loyalty and idea deviations) and within the right team composition will result into more ‘lucky accidents’, more idea combinations and incremental improvements.


Innovations 2020

Moonbird: A handheld tool for personalised breathing exercises

Research has proven that personalised breathing exercises can improve the wellbeing of people with stress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleeping problems. Moonbird asked us to develop a handheld device that will guide the user through their breathing exercises by providing tactile feedback.    

Ellio: Next generation speed pedelec that replaces the car

With Ellio, Intu-e-Drive aims to develop a bicycle that could be a full-fledged replacement for a car, a high end speed pedelec that’s safe, reliable and intuitive to ride. This is achieved through a series of innovative features: a 2 wheel drive system, automatic gear changes, autonomous braking, a powerful battery and intelligent control software. This bicycle is an innovative mobility solution that takes away the uncertainties of being on the go.


A-Stay is a stay for all kinds of people, with all kinds of reasons. Whether you’ll be having a loooong, short or undefined stay. It provides a lot of authonomy and freedom to their visitors. In this process, the identification of visitors is crucial to succes. Achilles designed a stand alone check in & recognition system that ensures an easy but accurate identification of the visitor at every touchpoint, allowing him to enjoy the full scala of services on demand.  

VRkeer: Increasing children’s safety in traffic with Virtual Reality

Most people think of Virtual Reality (VR) as a tool that is made predominantly for entertainment. In this project, our client wanted to go even further, by using this tool to bring traffic education into Flanders’ classrooms. Aeroplane and Achilles joined forces with “Virtual Learning is Reality” to create VRkeer, a virtual traffic education game in which children encounter a series of traffic scenarios that contain vital safety lessons and directions. The game required a dedicated set of VR hardware that was easy to transport, setup in classrooms, and used by children.

Hiron: Travel light, drive smoothly and enjoy!

In 2020, Fiets! decided on an extension of their product range by introducing their own new bicycle brand. Achilles Design was asked to define the positioning of this new brand. On that basis, we developed a whole brand identity. We created a name, a suitable logo and the graphic interpretation of the new brand, as well as the appearance of the bicycles and guidelines for their assembly.

Perfect Moose: hands-free recipe for the perfect microfoam

Milkfoaming takes a lot of skill, time, feel and practice. Perfect Moose is the smart, automated foamer which takes over for the busy barista, rescues the untrained and gives your customers a true treat worth coming back for. Using any liquid you like.

Iventri: The intelligent training for your body

We all know physical exercise and a healthy diet can help us to loose weight, but unfortunately we can't choose which areas of the body will burn more or less fat. In general, parts of the body with high blood circulation (like face and chest area) are more likely to burn fat than others (like the waist). The iVentri waistband creates an alternating overpressure and under pressure on the skin around the waist, to stimulate the local blood stimulation. By wearing iVentri during a training session, you will much faster get rid of those love handles.


3 book tips on innovation and how to read them

How to read books to better remember them

First quick tip: To better remember the content of a book, you’ll find it’s easier to pick a book on a subject that you think is fascinating. That said, here are 5 techniques that you can use to better recall what you’ve read.  

1 Relevance reading

Read what’s relevant to your life at this moment to better remember the content of a book. Want to start building your own campervan? Read a book on vanlife. Your next client will be a fintech scale-up? Read a book on fintech.

2 No notifications, only notes

Leave your phone elsewhere. Don’t get distracted and fully focus on what you’re reading. The only thing you should be doing is reading. And taking notes. Scribbling insights while you read helps you to better remember the content because you’re feeding your brain with new cues for recalling information. Pro tip? Write your notes in blue ink. Studies have shown that writing in this color is best for remembering your notes.

3 Linking information

Your notes can make you think of other things you know. Work on connecting what you’ve just learned to what you already knew. Making these new connections between new and old knowledge is key if you want to better remember your new learnings.

4 Recap it

Finished your book? Take a moment to recap it by describing the most important insights on just one or two pages. In a few months or years when you look back at that summary, you’ll remember the entire book by just looking at that brief recap.

5 Use it

Your recently added knowledge will be better embedded in your long-term memory if you use what you’ve learned. What insights can you directly apply to your life? Apply them. Don’t see any insights that you can directly apply? Make sure to at least share your knowledge with someone who might directly benefit from your knowledge. By explaining, you make sure that you yourself understood the content and that you repeat it once more to deeper embed it in your memory.
Good books can be read just once. But if you just finished a great book, you may want to put it on your ‘must read again-shelf’. You’ll pick up that book in a few years, when you’ll have developed another mindset. Your reread will not just be a rehearsal of valuable knowledge; It will be an extra win because you can read it with a new mindset. This hands you new angles and insights you did not discover during your first read.
There are about 20 books sitting on my ‘must read again-shelf’ right now. Some are novels, some are on psychology. But you wanted 3 on innovation. Here they are:
1 Change by design – Tim Brown
In this book, the CEO of IDEO writes about design thinking. This was 2009, when design thinking was a fancy term everyone started using without truly adopting it. Today, the hype has passed and more companies finally start to question how they’re structured and how they operate. That’s why I find this classic book on design thinking is even more relevant today than back in ’09.
2 Ten types of innovation – Larry Keeley
This one I pick up at least once a year to remind myself about the many innovation types (product performance, profit model, brand,..) that you must consider when innovating. Often, the biggest value opportunity does not lie in improving the product but in branding, or another revenue model. My background in product design naturally steers me to think of product improvements before all other types of innovation. Picking up this book from time to time helps me to always approach an innovation project with an open mind, instead of the mind of a product designer.
3 The ten fases of innovation – Tom Kelley
This is a great book to link with both of the previous books in this list because they stress the importance of innovating not only the product, but the entire company. This book by Kelley focuses on innovating your company and its culture by matching the 10 types of people/roles you need in your organization. At Achilles, we’re growing fast. We’re shifting roles and we’re welcoming new Achillians all the time. This book helps me to identify what team roles are still lacking in an innovation project and what colleagues could help us out.
These are only some of the books that are relevant to me. That’s why I have them on my special book shelf. But I feel they apply to a wide audience, including people who are not designers. Hopefully you’ll learn something valuable from one of these books.
But what’s more important is that you read your books with purpose. If you read 5 books a week, you may feel proud, but you will learn close to nothing. Then you better read 5 books a year, and read them well.


What does it take to design a desirable bicycle?

It's certainly correct to say that this initial attraction is heavily influenced by the looks or aesthetics of the bicycle. You either love it or you hate it, we all find ourselves attracted to objects that move us emotionally. But to sustain and nourish this emotional connection into true desirability, there should also be inherent functional value. For instance, a minimalistic urban fixie bicycle might look intriguing but won’t convince you in your search for a grocery bicycle.
In fact, making a bicycle truly desirable is a conscious balancing act between aesthetics and engineering, looks and functionality. This balance is defined by the following four aspects:
Four aspects
1  There should be an emotional connection, a feeling of attraction at first glance.
It may sound buzzworthy, but the looks of a desirable bicycle should grab your attention within a timespan of five seconds. Because it takes less than five seconds for emotions to form. These are intangible forces to be aware of. Knowing what does and does not contribute to a strong emotional response requires a keen eye and extensive design experience.
2  The appearance should accurately convey the purpose and performance of the bicycle.
The way the bicycle looks, or its aesthetics, will evoke certain expectations about its purpose and performance. Just from looking at the bicycle the cyclist should be able to imagine the role it will play in their life. Imagine the shapes and curves of a time trial bike that express speed. Only after there’s a match between a cyclist’s need and a bicycle’s promise, desirability comes into play.
3  The conveyed purpose and related performance should be inherently there.
The cyclist’s expectations need to be met during the first ride experience, otherwise the cyclist will decide against the bike. Consider a sturdy looking integrated rear rack with a load capacity of only 5kg, disappointing and rather useless for carrying groceries. Any initial setback will be very hard if not impossible to revert. A designer needs to be aware of this substantially decisive ‘feel-factor’.
4  Only a positive user experience leads to sustained desirability.
Once a cyclist has purchased a certain bicycle, its performance in itself will be the key driving factor of sustained desirability: its ease of cycling, its robustness, its overall handling, comfort, safety, ease of maintenance, etc. all contribute to the joy of cycling, owning, maintaining and holding on to the bicycle for a long time. Any disappointment will be shown by the layer of dust it’s covered under, ageing in the garage.
In order to land on a truly desirable bicycle design, all four aspects need to be taken into account. You will find that some designs are more successful than others in this regard, it’s easier said than done. Throughout the development process there are 4 challenges that arise:
Four challenges
1    Working with intangible concepts.
Empathy is a core characteristic of an industrial designer, to get a good grasp on the needs, desires and expectations of the user. And to capture the right emotions that a client wants to evoke with their brand and product. These are intangible concepts, making them hard to clearly grasp and define, yet they cannot be tossed aside. They’re the vital starting point of every design process. Achilles Design has multiple tools and techniques to capture and work with these intangible concepts.
2   Formulate fitting design drivers.
These intangible concepts get translated into design drivers that relate to both the engineering and aesthetic requirements. This process is based on both practice and experience. In essence you’re describing and prioritizing the key properties of your bicycle. These should steer you in a dedicated direction and serve as a guide throughout the development process. All of the design drivers need to be present in the final design. At the end, they will make the difference, they will turn your bicycle into something your target audience truly desires.

What makes a bicycle truly desirable is very dependent on the user expectations and the needs of the targeted cyclist. If a design doesn’t strike the right chord it might be that the designer has missed some of these marks or that the design simply wasn’t intended to speak to you.

3   Find the right balance.
Engineering and aesthetics requirements are often contradictory. It’s therefore key to get the priorities straight at the beginning, these will guide you towards the right design decisions throughout the development process. Ideally you want to look for those design solutions where engineering goes hand in hand with aesthetics, but sometimes you’ll need to compromise. This balancing exercise is further complicated by the interconnectedness of things. To illustrate, selecting a more powerful and therefor larger motor will change the proportions in your frame silhouette, forcing you to revisit previous design decisions. In practice the search for the right balance is a highly iterative process.
4   Maintain this balance throughout the development process.
The industrial designer is uniquely positioned to both define and safeguard this delicate balance between engineering and aesthetics. Throughout the development process of the bicycle multiple stakeholders come into play: suppliers, manufacturers, distributers, etc. Each one working within their own preferences, restrictions and capabilities. During a development process, unexpected things may pop up that have implications on the design. For example, when a section of tubing needs to be altered because of sourcing issues or when a material finish proves to be too costly, the designer needs to come up with an alternative solution. To many, this iterative process of defining and revisiting may sound exhausting, to us it’s second nature.

The design process of a desirable product should always start with the clear identification of the needs, desires, and expectations of the user. It’s a constant balancing exercise during which conscious engineering & aesthetic decisions need to be taken. The right balance is found when these needs and expectations are both conveyed and fulfilled in a compelling way in the final design of your product.

Do you need help with a similar approach?


5 examples on how UX design is all about psychology

A great UX is designed around how people think.

It sometimes just takes a simple, low-cost design modification to drastically boost conversion rates and recurring user ratios. The best UX designers are familiar with the hundreds of human thinking patterns that can be used to create better-performing products. Keep in mind that when designing a UX based on these psychological patterns, you hack people’s reasoning patterns without them being aware of it. Influencing people through these hacks thus should always happen ethically and responsibly. At Achilles, we’ve set up a special course on ethical design as well. If you want to learn more on how to apply ethical design to your own business to create more value for multiple stakeholders, click here. We’ll now share 5 examples on how UX is all about psychology and about nudging your user to show the desired behavior. Can you spot the least ethical example?
1. Limit the amount of options a user has
When you limit people’s freedom, they will react negatively (Zemack-Rugar et al., 2017). So you don’t want to offer too few choices to your user or to force him/her to act a certain way. But you also don’t want to maze users with too many choices either because this increases the time and effort a user needs to make her/his decision (Nikolov, 2017). Booking a hotel on Airbnb could be way more streamlined if Airbnb actually anticipated what you’re looking for. Instead of scrolling through all options, Airbnb could suggest a handful of options by knowing already what you would want to spend per night, by knowing you want a King size bed and a gym nearby, and that you want to live in a young and vibrant area. It is better to already personalize and provide a targeted selection proactively. Key takeaway; Don’t ask the user to make too many selections her/himself. Already anticipate what the user wants and display a selection of all options.
2. Don’t force users to do something, but suggest them instead
Let’s stay with the example of Airbnb here. The platform nailed this technique pretty well. Users are not forced to select any dates or the amount of guests, but they still get to see places to stay. Airbnb just suggests that it is better to select dates and the number of guests to see accurate prices per night. Getting an accurate price is a good reason for the user to enter the dates and the amount of guests, so the user will enter her/his preferences without feeling forced to do so.
3. Users copy the behavior of other users, so use social proof to steer behavior
When people don’t really know what to do or choose, they follow the behavior of others (Cialdini, 2006). For this unknowing user it is easy to think that the right thing to do or choose, is to just copy others. The more people have shown a certain behavior before, the more an individual thinks it is right to follow the others.
4. Users value something more if it is scarce
Scarcity is a trick to boost conversions (Cialdini, 2006) and it is often scarce on purpose, just to increase the perceived value. This technique is often used is a sneaky way to create more revenue. An example of this is an expensive limited edition bag that is as costly to manufacture as the generic edition that is reasonably priced. But scarcity can also be used to stimulate good user behavior by leveraging actual scarcity, instead of faking it. A great example of real scarcity to steer good user behavior is found in the UX of Uber Eats. Here, users can share the delivery costs with others if they order fast. The timing of deliveries really is scarce and this can be used ethically to convince users to order a dish. A user that orders right now, will get it delivered at a lower price because (s)he can share the delivery costs with another user. A win-win for both users, but also for Uber Eats because users are better convinced and deliveries can be more streamlined.
5. Users want to stay consistent with their past behavior
People think of new tasks as something negative. To lower that negative feeling and to convince people to perform the action, make sure their initial new task is very small. Once your user has performed that one small task, you can ask your user to do a slightly bigger task that is linked to the smaller one. Your user will want to stay consistent with his/her past behavior and will now be more likely to take the rest of the tasks (Cialdini, 2006).

Did you spot the least ethical UX? It was the one on social proof. This UX steers an uneducated user towards a purchase that might not be best for her/him, while the other examples reduce mental effort for the user in a less intrusive way. These are just a few examples to explain how knowledge of behavioral economics is key to UX design.

If you want to learn more on this topic, just reach out to us and together we'll explore opportunities to improve your own digital products.


How to apply gamification to your own products?

Both products get the same job done -making you tea- but the first infuser is functional and will provide you with tea, no questions asked. There’s no story involved, no emotional connection. The second infuser however is a tiny person that bathes in your cup, contemplating or just chilling a bit while your tea is getting ready.

A. Designed to improve behavior

This handy gadget and many more like it are designed with more than a passionless function in mind. They are designed around human motivations, adding fun and engagement to the cold functions. Most gamified products have that extra layer to make the functional activity more appealing. In this example, the gamified infuser leads the user of the product to drinking more tea. While drinking more tea has a modest impact on a person’s life -some would argue this-, there are many activities that do have a big impact. That’s why gamification can be a powerful tool when applying it to products that we use to complete important tasks.


Games are fun and engaging because we design them to be. When we talk about gamification, we learn about engagement techniques that make games so much fun. We then apply them to other products like car dashboards, language learning apps and tea infusers.

Yu-Kai Chou has studied the engagement techniques used in games to create a framework (Octalysis) that we can use as a starting point to gamify our own products. The framework starts with the 8 Core Drivers that make games engaging. These Core Drivers hook us in different ways. While some drivers engage us through motivation and empowerment, other drivers have an addictive and dirty side to them. Let’s explore all drivers for a moment.
8 core drivers
1     Meaning
This is the feeling of being ‘the chosen one’ (special, gifted, lucky) to do something. If a players feels as if (s)he is the one that must perform a task, (s)he will spend more time on e.g. supporting other players, or being active on a forum. The fun tea infuser could use this technique as well. It would e.g. be cool to find a little letter in the infuser when you open it for the first time. The letter could say “Dear tea lover, you made the right choice. You understand the importance of tea moments throughout your days. Help us on our mission to spread tea drinking around the world by inviting others to do the same!”
2     Accomplishment
The player is challenged and feels satisfied when (s)he has overcome the hurdle. The players is motivated because (s)he feels the progress (s)he’s making is paying off (e.g. scoring high on the leaderboard, earning a badge,..). Remaining with the tea example here, you could congratulate tea drinkers for finishing their can of tea leaves for instance. One idea is to print a refreshing and rewarding message on the bottom of the can. Something like “Dear tea drinker. Great job on finishing this can! This means you have sustained your healthy tea drinking habit! We wish more people were like you.”
3     Empowerment
When the player feels engagement because (s)he is able to use his/her creativity to find a solution to a problem or challenge. It is important to not only feel creative, but to get feedback on that creativity. Players want to immediately see the results of their creativity. The tea company could build a community around tea drinking, asking customers to upload their design of a tea mug. All designs get feedback from the company and from the community. The winning designs could get produced as limited edition mugs.
4     Ownership
The feeling of ownership over something can also be a strong driver of engagement. When you feel ownership, you want to increase or improve what you possess to become more wealthy. So a badge earned becomes a trigger to earn even more. You could tell tea lovers that bought an infuser something like “The infuser you own is called ‘Chillout Charles’. But there’s also ‘Focused Fred’ and ‘Healing Helen’. Why not get Charles some friends so he can have a proper tea(m) meeting?”
5     Social Influence
People get engaged by social interactions like friendship, rivalry, and even envy. A friend knows how to play the piano? You’re triggered to acquire that skill now. Someone in your cycling group bought a new, fancier race bike? You’ll feel like buying one too. Social Influence is a driver that also includes engagement based on being drawn to familiar people. That’s why chats in games work well. Players want to feel close to others who share the same interests. Tea lovers could unite on a social channel that’s initiated by the tea company. Tea lovers then use that to post pictures of their tea moment or collection, they can react on each other, like, forward, share,..
6     Scarcity
Playing ‘hard to get’ in dating works because you seem more desirable, engaging potential partners to invest more time and effort in building a relationship with you. The same goes for rewards in games. A game can postpone a reward or make some rewards very exclusive so players want them even more, keeping them hooked. Remember Helen, Fred and Charles? Well, there’s also a very rare 4th. For every 10.000, there’s one ‘Mysterious Maggy’. She’s 100% gold, worth €5.000. Every tea can you buy from us has a code on the inside, giving you a shot at winning a ‘Mysterious Maggy’.
7     Unpredictability
Players don’t know what will happen next and this on itself is enough to boost engagement. That’s why most people like to see a movie they’ve never seen before over a movie they remember well. Not knowing what will happen seems like an innocent driver, but it is the same driver that leads addicted gamblers to waste their money. Tea lovers could sign up for the tea newsletter. Once in a while that newsletter contains a coupon for a free product. But you never know when there will be one of them in the newsletter and what the gift will be. Better keep on reading that weekly newsletter now.
8     Avoidance
This driver keeps players in because they are afraid of losing something if they stop playing. A gamer might risk to lose his status or miss out on an one-time opportunity (scarcity) that will be shared at some point in the upcoming days (unpredictability). Missing out on that must be avoided at all costs. Our tea company could engage customers with this; “Up for a challenge? Post a picture of your tea moment each day for 30 days and receive a free tea assortment”.

B. Scoring your gamification

Now that you know about the Octalysis model by Yu-Kai Chou, you can start scoring your design. A social platform that used gamification techniques can review how well it scores on all drivers. This can uncover imbalances in your gamification, leading to actionable design steps.  
You go through your design and list all the game mechanics you used next to the corresponding drivers. The amount of mechanics listed next to a driver, and their strength both add to your overall score on that driver. Say your platform score is the one depicted here. This is a pretty clear sign that your users deserve more positive motivators and more intrinsic motivation. The platform uses many strong game mechanics that trigger negative feelings and there are not enough positive motivators. Or if there are many positive motivators, they surely aren’t strong enough. You don’t need to score on all 8 drivers, but making sure you balance out your drivers is key to create positive and engaging products.
Positive Motivators and Negative Motivators

The best gamified products will stimulate users to take on their activities (i.e. using the product to reach a goal), and make them feel good about themselves afterwards as well. That can be done with all drivers, but it’s adviced to not use too many negative ones.

Negative motivators don’t give us that same energy. Instead, we keep playing because we obsess over not losing something, because we want something that is hard to get or because we don’t know what happens next. These negative motivators keep us engaged, but we won’t end up feeling good.

Mapping the Octalysis on a journey map

It is even better to use this model on a journey model to get a better picture of your pain and opportunity areas. It might be that the biggest room for improvement lies in one or two specific user steps or phases, where the gamification mechanics are too imbalanced.

Left Brain and Right Brain
The drivers in this model of Yu-Kai Chou are mapped based on left- and right-brained characteristics. All drivers that are based on social relations and creativity are depicted on the right. Drivers that are based on logic, possession and calculations are depicted on the left. You could say that the left-brained drivers run on extrinsic motivations, while the right-brained ones thrive on intrinsic motivations. As we all know, extrinsic motivators only work for a little while. Intrinsic motivations on the other hand are more sustainable because the reward is in the activity itself. So if you want to create products that remain engaging over a longer period of time, focus on right-brained drivers.

Now it is up to you!

The funny tea infuser was a fairly simple example of gamification. But when we’re talking about digital products, or about physical products that have a digital interface, we must be aware of the many different drivers and how to balance out our game mechanics to create great gamified products. That means they must not only be engaging, but they must also create a lasting positive impact on both productivity or desired behavior of the user, and on the emotional state of the user during and after the use of the product. Easy to say, hard to do. Crafting a balanced gamification takes time, multiple user tests and iterations. At the same time, it is such a powerful tool that it is worth the effort. A product use that was previously seen as a chore, will become something users actually want to use. Your users will become more productive, and your business gets to benefit from a larger user base. Want us to help you gamify your physical or digital product?


How running out of ideas will eventually get you more creative ideas

Studies have shown that creativity -the most desirable skill in the future workplace- is pretty easy to master. So how can we become a creative? How can we be that never-ending source of innovative ideas? Creativity won’t happen by just putting yourself and some people in a room with a whiteboard and some Post-its. That’s when you are not comfortable with being creative. Don’t just sit and wait for creative bursts to help you out. You’ll be waiting for a long time. The good news is that you can train yourself to become creative. The quality of your creative output increases with the number of attempts you perform (Jung et al., 2015). The more output you create, the more creative it will be.  
If you ask a friend to design you a logo, she probably won’t satisfy you with the resulting design if that’s the first logo (s)he has ever made. She could put days into that one design and it would still be -pardon me- crap. Another friend who has been designing logos for years would design you a better logo without any effort. The bottom line? The quality of a design is not determined by the amount of effort one puts in. It’s experience that defines how well something is designed. You need creative experience to be a great illustrator. The same counts for creativity in any other field of expertise. You can come up with more creative ideas through practice. The more ideas you generate, the more innovative they will be and the less effort you’ll need to come up with these creative ideas.

A. Creativity as a habit

Here’s another classic: “Creativity is like a muscle that you can train.” It’s true though. You can train that muscle, but it’s also important to keep it in shape. As kids we all had a strong creativity muscle, and some of us have given up keeping it in shape. But like any bicep, your creative mind can get strong again. It’s just a matter of consistent training. You’ll need to schedule in training time for your mind, just like you would block an hour for your Tuesday morning run. Run creativity sessions on whatever topic or skill works best for you. Creativity comes in all shapes and colors. If you want to become a better logo designer, design logos. If you want to become a better writer, write. Just ideate and create some output. And don’t force yourself. Even 10 minutes on a Sunday morning is already enough. But then do it every week. The important thing here is to build yourself the habit of training your creativity. Do it regularly and you’ll notice how more creative ideas will come to you naturally, leading to better-quality work. Keeping the routine is key here. Here are some tips that help you build this habit.  
Start small
If you want to get creative with 3D software, don’t plan your first session to take up your entire weekend. Just start off by reading about what software would work for your goals. Maybe watch 2-3 tutorials and leave it there. Downloading the trial version and going through some of the beginner’s features is for your next session. Keep those sessions short enough so that they don’t take up your energy. Energy-draining sessions are the reason why many habits fail. Once you get familiar with the software, you’ll need to invest less energy and sessions naturally will become longer.    
Pick a time
Since sessions don’t take up much of your time, you should easily find a fitting spot in your agenda. But make sure your mental state is all set for the training. Maybe you thrive early in the morning? Then that’s your time to get creative. There’s no universal time to be creative. Just feel at what time of the day you typically are focused and at what time your agenda allows for a creative session. Any time is fine, but make sure you find a fixed moment in your week or day to regularly practice.
Pick a place
Creativity often gets a boost with a change of scenery, but to start your habit it’s helpful to pick a dedicated spot in your home that you’ll only use to practice on your creative work. If you don’t have a separate room to reserve for just one dedicated activity, try to move a chair or get a tiny desk that is only yours, for you to get creative. It should be a comfy spot that has everything you need to instantly start your session.
Mess around
Creativity happens if you don’t force it too much. Before you start working on your creative project, just play with the features of your 3D software for a bit, without trying to build a specific model. Or write some lines of random stuff before you take up your novel writing or code session. By allowing yourself for some aimless practice, you provide yourself time to get into the creative state needed for your project.
Tell others
Tell friends and family about your new habit. Once you’ve told them, you feel a slight social pressure to proceed with your habit. This technique will not work well for everyone, but it might give you that extra push you need to get through the first few weeks of habit building.

B. Let the creative juices flow

So you’ve set up your creative work station at home. Now it’s time to get the ideas out. Where do we start? Here are three different ways to get the creative juices flowing. You may see them as individual techniques, but also as a sequence of steps.
1     The relaxed mental library
Feed your brain with new impressions. Take a walk in a neighborhood you seldom visit, go to a museum, explore new movies,.. A mind that is filled with all sorts of different inputs can take memories on very different topics and link them to form highly creative ideas. So if you want to write a creative script for an action movie, don’t just study action movies. Chat with a watch maker, enjoy a ballet, click a playlist on Spotify you’d never click,.. Adopt this lifestyle and let your mind process all impressions you’re feeding it. To get the creative ideas out, you just need to relax. Maybe for you that means taking a walk (then don’t forget to take your notebook with you) or taking a shower.
2     Ideation boundaries
Creativity can come from limiting the area in which you can ideate. If I ask you to design a building, it’s hard to start drawing. If I ask you to design a floor plan for a luxurious restaurant with an open kitchen, you know where to start. If I ask you to design a better bike, it’s hard to start brainstorming. If I ask you to design a better bike for deaf people who want to safely travel in crowded urban areas, you feel it’s easier to come up with ideas.
3     Go wild
Dare to think of ideas that seem nuts and impossible to implement. Those crazy ideas pull you into a whole new ideation field and make you think of how that impossible idea can be turned into a more realistic one. When ideating new bike designs, you could e.g. ask yourself what a bike would look like if a person could only have one bike in his life. Wondering about such questions can lead to radical bike innovations.  

C. Generating many ideas

So far we’ve covered the importance of your creative habit and that this is the starting point for generating many ideas. As you know, more ideas means better ideas. Now let’s focus on how to brainstorm to get many ideas and how to go on with your ideas.
The 8 idea phases
  1. Scope: Set limits to the problem area or challenge you want to work on. You cannot generate ideas before you define your scope.
  2. Research. Get to know your problem or challenge by looking up relevant content.
  3. Ideate. Use ‘the relaxed mind’, ‘ideation boundaries’, ‘go wild’ or a combination of these methods to generate many ideas. Many ideas, because that’s the road to better ideas. With each new idea, you can polish and combine previous ideas to get better ones.
  4. Select and create concepts. Out of the large idea pool, select a handful of ideas that you feel are valuable and turn them into a concept. This can be a fake door landing page for a new service you wish to launch, or a sketch of a new bike you want to design.
  5. Get feedback. Show or explain your selected concepts to others. Ask them for feedback and if possible, also look at facial expressions and body language when they provide you with their feedback.
  6. Polish. That feedback from step 5 is most important. Use it to refine your concepts or to select other ideas (step 4) that may hold more value.
  7. Repeat step 5 and 6. Do it several times, until you feel certain about the value of your concept. If no one gets excited about any of your concepts, return to step 1.
  8. Launch it. Your concepts have no value if you don’t turn them into launched products or services. Go on, add value to the world and make people smile.
Just don’t forget to keep on ideating and to share your ideas with others for feedback. They’ll in return share new insights with you so you can keep on ideating, turning old ideas into better ones. In the beginning you will run out of ideas. That’s normal because your mind holds very few old ideas to start building new ones upon. Running out of ideas is a good thing. It should happen often. Very often. Until it does not happen anymore. When you get to that tipping point, radical ideas will emerge.


What you need to bring an innovative healthcare product to the market

Areas of expertise

The first thing you need is a multidisciplinary team that covers all the different areas of expertise. For startups, this is often impossible, and they need to look for external services to complement their skills. If you take this external route, look for teams that are flexible and can work well together with your team. Look for a team that has an extensive history in medical products and other fields. They can provide a wealth of expertise and experience in various areas that even some medical device manufacturers may lack internally. This will ensure you look at your project from different angles and transfer solutions from other fields.


Experienced design firms have tried and tested development methodologies that will guide you through the whole process. They know where the pitfalls are, and can work according to the required ISO standards.

Start from the user

Established healthcare companies have the necessary expertise to market their products in-house. For startups this can be a challenge. Even the best designed product can fail if it is not brought to market the right way. At the start of the development, product marketing and branding must already be part of the thinking process. This is the only way to make sure they will reinforce each other and avoid unpleasant surprises at launch.


Medical products are not stand alone anymore. Many products are connected to platforms and exchange data with patients, doctors, and caregivers. This requires new insights and disciplines to design frustration-free user interfaces, secure data protection, and interconnected products.


Additionally, some healthcare is shifting away from hospitals and other medical environments to patients’ homes. Connected smart products collect medical data and make it available for patients, and doctors, in real time, to make the right decisions. This not only makes the development of products more complex, with smart censors and high connectivity, but also demands a complete rethinking of how healthcare services are delivered. These products become product-service systems that require a service design expertise to make them successful on the market.


Finally, when you have your minimal viable product, proof of concept, and final prototype, you must be able to produce it in a consistent error-free way. Thinking about this is not something you start with after the design is finished. Design for manufacturing should already be part of the design process from the very beginning. Production and product cost need to be taken into account at the very start of development.


Finding the right partner to produce your product is also essential, and if you start early enough, a good partner will help you in the last stage to go to production.

Go to market

Established healthcare companies have the necessary expertise to market their products in-house. For startups this can be a challenge. Even the best designed product can fail if it is not brought to market the right way. At the start of the development, product marketing and branding must already be part of the thinking process. This is the only way to make sure they will reinforce each other and avoid unpleasant surprises at launch.

How does Achilles face medical design?

At Achilles, we advance healthcare through people-centered design. We prototype early and often, to ensure we keep the people we design for at the heart of the process. By putting ideas in the hands of users from low-fidelity paper interfaces to 3D-printed prototypes and high-level immersion VR, we systematically identify improvements and preventively exclude risks without compromising our intuition.

We believe better health is achieved by engaging people at every stage of their health journey. Our cross functional team — consisting of biomedical engineers, designers, usability experts, and a doctor — work across disciplines to integrate people’s needs with responsible technology and sustainable business models. We strive to establish innovative healthcare service solutions that drive business value by advancing the standard of healthcare.


Clean-Air Project BESIX

Wat beoogde je met dit project?

Bij Besix zijn we ons heel erg bewust van de waarde, het belang, van goede luchtkwaliteit. Uiteindelijk is een goede luchtkwaliteit iets dat ons allemaal aanbelangt. Maar voor ons was het de vraag wat wij als aannemer kunnen doen om de luchtkwaliteit te verbeteren. En vandaar zijn we een aantal jaren geleden een zoektocht gestart naar verschillende technologieën en methodes om dat te doen. En daarbij zijn wij op mos gestoot als een natuurlijke efficiënte fijne stoffilter. We hebben vrij snel besloten om met mos een soort slimme modulaire wand te maken om fijn stof uit de lucht te halen.

Wat doet de moswand exact?

In ons moswand zit een geïntrigeerd ventilatie systeem die van buitenaf de vervuilde lucht aanzuigt en doorheen de panelen duwt. Vervolgens word die door een soort overdruk door een vochtig membraan geduwd met daarop het levende mos. Die elementen samen nemen het fijn stof op, nadien wordt dat omgezet in ofwel biomassa bij het bos ofwel afgeregend door het irrigatie systeem.

Waar ligt de expertise van Besix voor de moswand?

Bij Besix hebben we eigenlijk heel veel technische experts, dat gaat van waterzuiveringsspecialisten tot stabieliteitsingenieurs.  En hun ad hoc expertise heeft er eigenlijk voor gezorgd dat we een goed basisontwerp hadden voor de moswand. Van dat punt vetrokken we om die te optimaliseren. Op termijn zou het de bedoeling zijn dat wij productie, onderhoud en installatie (eigenlijk alles) binnen Besix beheren.

Waar is de moswand te vinden?

Een aantal maanden geleden werd onze eerste moswand geïnstalleerd; als een pilootproject op een werf in Leiden in Nederland. Het voordeel hieraan was dat we daar veel konden experimenteren met de set up van onze wand en kijken wat er nog moest veranderen. Wat  er wel goed werkte en wat niet. En in de toekomst streven we er natuurlijk naar om nog meer zulke projecten te kunnen implementeren.

Hoe hebben jullie het aangepakt?

Voor dat pilootproject in Leiden? Dat begon eigenlijk als een soort standaardproject voor Besix. Als  eerste stap moesten we de fundering letterlijk in de grond steken om dan de structuur te creeeren waartegen de moswand dan zou bevestigd worden. En dan zijn we samen met Achilles gaan kijken hoe we dat best konden doen. Er is nog een heel bijkomend proces geweest om de elektronica en de ventilatie en dergelijke op een  goede manier te installeren. Op het einde was het natuurlijk alles testen en kijken of het werkt en het mos uiteindelijk in leven blijft.

Waarom Achilles?

Bij Besix hebben we eigenlijk niet echt de kennis in house rond productontwikkeling. Vandaar dat we gedurende het proces, van idee tot fysieke uitwerking, een externe partner zochten en we hadden daarvoor Achilles gecontacteerd. En eigenlijk qua attitude en aanpak was die klik er vrij snel. Ik denk dat Achilles net als Besix heel ondernemend is; in die zin dat ze zich niet laten tegenhouden door het grote aantal onbekende variabelen in het proces. Daarom hebben we een heel goede samenwerking gehad. Van het begin tot het moment dat we een prototype hadden en zo verder.

Hoe verliep de samenwerking met Achilles?

Achilles heeft er voor gezorgd dat we het productontwikkelingsproces in z’n geheel zo consistent mogelijk konden aanpakken. Ze hebben o.a. de lead genomen in het mechanisch ontwerp maar ook wat elektronica en programmatie betrof. Er was een nauwe samengewerking met Besix zelf en onze andere externe partners. Op die manier konden we eigenlijk in een soort van co-creatie project samen één product realiseren. Dat was aangenaam.


Don’t know how to validate your assumptions?

So you want to design something that will generate both revenues and a loyal customer base?

Then we have a great set of validation techniques for you. First of all, you need to know that not all validation techniques are useful during all stages of the design process. At Achilles we cluster our techniques, based on four types of assumptions;

The problem

The first type of assumptions you need to get rid of are the ones about the user problem you want to solve with your design. Before anything else, you need to know if that problem is actually a problem and if it’s big enough for you to spend your resources on solving it. To test problem-related assumptions you have to reach out to potential users and ask open questions about facts rather than opinions. Postpone solution-related research for now because you are still focusing on the problem instead of how to solve it.

The target audience

Secondly, analyse your market well. Before you start building your solution, you need to be sure that enough people are waiting for it. Apart from calculating your market size, you should also find out what characteristics define the people within your target audience. Figure out who’ll benefit most from your solution, how to reach these people and if they can provide you with enough revenue to sustain your business.

The product

By now, you have identified a pain that is large enough for a clearly identified target audience. This is the time to ideate solutions and test if they actually solve the pain. Find ways to validate (part of) your product ideas as quickly and as cheaply as you can. Don’t build expensive prototypes to test the details yet, make quick and dirty prototypes that are just good enough to test the right assumptions – and iterate fast.

The readiness to buy

Now that you know what solution can solve the user pain, you should focus on the viability of your solution by testing out how much revenue you can generate. How many people will want to pay for your solution and how much are they willing to give you? The trick to get better validations here is to not just ask people if they would pay for your solution, but to ask for actual commitment from that person as a way to validate viability. Look for genuine readiness to buy.

How to validate that genuine readiness, and how to validate all other assumptions you may have across the four big stages will all become clear once you get familiar with our free ‘Assumption killers’. This 60-card deck contains the various techniques that you can use to validate the many assumptions you’ll have during each stage.

Have a look at the many validation techniques to pick from.

Download your free card deck

Want us to help you identify and validate the right assumptions across your design process?


How to come up with creative ideas for your next sustainable solution

Our generation may well be the first to comprehend and experience the almost irreversible damage our species has done to our planet. Blaming our predecessors for that won’t solve it. The responsibility is not theirs anymore, it is ours now, and that responsibility weighs more than it has ever before. If we don’t act now, it will be too late; The earth will soon reach a tipping point and start warming up itself at an exponential pace, resulting in a world we don’t want to (and cannot) live in.  

The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck'

There’s not one golden solution to this wicked problem we face, but every improvement counts. That’s why we want to share one of our latest tools with you. The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck’ is a set of cards that we developed together with OVAM (the Public Waste Agency of Flanders). Every card in this deck describes a principle on sustainable design, with an example on the back of that card. We’ve been using these cards in workshops with our clients to come up with ideas for more sustainable products, services or business models.
We’ve seen proof of how this inspirational card deck, combined with a structured brainstorming session results in actual starting points for the development of innovative and sustainable products, services and business models.

After this fun workshop of 60-90 minutes, you get a selection of ideas that are turned into concepts and that are ready to initiate a sustainable project for your business.

You’re free to use the cards the way you like, but here’s how we use them as an ideation tool in group exercises:

Step 1

Form teams of 5-6 people.

Every team gets a card deck and every participant within the group gets 5 cards and 5 minutes to read them individually to get informed and inspired. After this, the first team member picks his/her favourite card and shares it with the team.

Step 2

The team now needs to come up with at least 5 ideas on how to turn their current business/product/service/operations more sustainable, inspired by the card. Every idea gets doodled onto a Post-it and pasted in a row next to the corresponding card.

Step 3

The next team member can now share his/her card with the team and the team performs another brainstorming round to come up with a selection of at least 5 ideas. Repeat this process until all team members have shared their card.

Step 4

Now that your team has at least 25 ideas (5 sets of 5 ideas), the team tries to find creative connections between ideas across the different sets. The goal here is to at least create one idea that is a combination of at least 2 ideas from different sets.

Step 5

The team now formulates a clear idea definition and elaborates on the idea by describing a.o. the impact or expected outcomes, the needed expertise to implement the idea, potential challenges, stakeholders,..

Step 6

Each team gets to pitch their concept to the other teams. Count for 2-3 minutes per pitch.

Now it’s up to you!

Have fun with these cards, print them out and put them on your desk, share them with colleagues and start building a more sustainable business as soon as you can.

Want us to help you through the ideation and development of your next sustainable product, service or business model that fits your innovation strategy?


The key do’s and don’ts of Design Sprints

A Design Sprint is typically a five-day innovation process, designed to find answers to critical business questions by applying design thinking, prototyping, testing and validating innovation ideas with clients. If organised well, Design Sprints can deliver insightful innovation ideas that can show the direction of more fundamental innovation designs.

1. Experience helps.

Not only do you get better at something by practicing it, you are also typically better at running innovation workshops when you know what it takes to implement innovative ideas. Having gained experience in multiple workshops or sprints, you might also discover hacks and tricks that reduce time and effort and increase effectiveness.

2. The composition of the group is critical.

It is important that the client contributes constructive people with experience but also ambitious newcomers. Next to that, it is typically not promising to have either ‘blockers’ or ‘dreamers’ in the room. A combination of a certain sense of reality as well as ambition is important. Moreover, other sector expertise is valuable in order to reflect on entirely new ideas and to introduce best practices that have not yet broken through in the client’s industry. The kind of expert you invite differs from workshop to workshop. When the theme requires insights from the consumers perspective, it might be interesting to invite a market researcher or sales person, while other workshops might require an engineer or app architect to provide technical insights.
Throughout the years of practice, we have learned a great deal about the do’s and don’ts of facilitating such workshops, and we have learned that there are a number of critically important success factors.

3. A good idea counts for 30% of business success or less.

At least 70% of business success is in the execution, i.e. the design of business processes, and the avoidance of stakeholder pain points – all are actual design challenges, often involving disciplines such as service, digital, and product design. This reality is again part of the necessary expectations-management.

4. Sufficient preparation and post-processing time are key.

The better a facilitator understands how the client organisation ticks, the more promising the outcome. Group dynamics can be very different as well. Some groups need to be triggered by examples; others churn out idea after idea. It is important to understand the key challenges of the sector and the client’s in particular, and it is valuable to have a good idea of cutting-edge innovation and the main trends in the client’s industry. That’s why a good amount of preparation time is important. Don’t underestimate processing time either. Gathering all of the insights, data and ideas produced during the sprint, making sense of them and connecting all the dots is a time-consuming job.

5. Group members should be individually focused on innovation ideas, not just in the group.

Group dynamics can destroy the freedom of idea-sharing. Too dominant people, be it due to their seniority level or their personality, can stop creative people from speaking out freely. It is therefore important to get the best ideas out of everybody before any group dynamic influences ideas into certain directions. Every group member should therefore list a number of ideas before sharing them with the group. One way to do this is through brain writing, where you put each challenge on a large sheet of paper and let each participant brainstorm ideas for a couple of minutes. The paper then gets passed down to the next participant who can build on the ideas of the previous participant and so on. Limitations can also lead to a more creative outcome. E.g. if somebody were to ask you to draw something, you might find it difficult to come up with something. However, if somebody would ask you to draw five different landscapes, it would probably lead to more creative ideas.

6. Frequent market validation cycles quickly reject non-starter ideas.

Market validation is always critical. A business can think of the most innovative ideas; if the market turns out not to value these ideas, the idea is worthless. It is important to quickly run market surveys or to implement quick digital market validation tools to understand how possible customers react to certain ideas. To keep the direction of innovation market-relevant, non-starter ideas should not be further pursued. Market validation should be done in multiple phases of the design process: analysing problems, needs, wishes, verifying larger concepts, selecting specific product or app features, etc.

7. Follow-up and implement.

Many external consultants know how to create a buzz in the client organisation for a handsome fee – but then what? Leaving the client organisation after having created some innovation buzz will often result in business depression rather than business innovation, which is not valuable for the organisation in the long term. After making plans, other consultants are often hired to implement these plans, quickly coming to the conclusion that the plans need substantial rework to be implementable. This is a frustration that is avoidable if you run innovation workshops with the mindset of having to implement the ideas. The reality is that client organisations need guidance and support during the whole process of innovation – from ideation to implementation.
Hence, our mantra: design thinking is not a skill – it is a mindset, and an important sculptor of that mindset is actual design experience.


A tangible introduction to jobs-to-be-done

Before diving into what user needs are, let’s talk about this clever illusion. Some might see a duck and others might see a rabbit. It has to be brought to our attention that a different interpretation of this image exists. This illustrates the differences in our perception of what we see, hear or sense in any other way.

Now think about the last time your team and you were well on the way of defining a new product or service. When trying to capture what user needs could be addressed, chances are that your team encountered a problem similar to this rabbit-duck illusion.

For example, a team that is tasked with a spatial design might discuss whether the user need is to make a street car free or child friendly. Although they seem similar, they could lead to a vastly different design. But are these interpretations really describing a need? To make matters worse, we also tend to use different languages to describe problems we encounter. Most of the times, there is no real consensus of what a user need is and how to structure or formulate it effectively. This confusion produces a lot of fuzzy buzzwords: delights, fears, pains, gains, desires, motivations, value propositions, benefits, expectations, requirements,...
The result is that teams end up with unclear objectives and even more interpretations for the problem space.
But let’s step back. What is this team actually trying to accomplish by stating “car free” or “child friendly”? Drilling deeper might reveal that the actual goal is avoiding risk by reducing the probability of an accident between a human being and a vehicle. Or improving health by reducing the amount of exposure to harmful exhaust gases. These statements should feel more precise because they express an overarching value (e.g. improved health) that could be met with a change to the current state (“reduce fine dust”). This way of stating challenges is what we call “jobs to be done”.
We don’t randomly use a product, we use it because it helps us accomplish something.
When was the last time you used Waze? Why did you use it? Often, users aren’t using it just to receive directions. Instead, the idea they are sold on is that by using Waze, you’ll always arrive on time. Or stating it differently: we temporarily use it (“hire”) to fulfil a job of helping us get to appointments on time.
If you analysed the features Waze is offering, you would quickly notice that most of its features are fully tailored to fulfilling that goal. Connecting to your agenda to reduce the chance of leaving your location too late. Suggesting new routes to reduce the loss of time on congested roads. Or reducing the risk of picking departure times that are often associated with increased travel time.

Now imagine that you’re on a holiday in the Alps.

It is nice weather and you want to explore the unknown landscape either in your car, your motorcycle, your bike. Would you still “hire” Waze to help you accomplish that? Chances are that you’re not planning to be on time somewhere. You’re probably looking for something that “helps you experience the unique environment”. A product could increase your exposure to a maximal amount of different flora, fauna and landscape elements to do that (e.g. Geocache). Or it could help you do that by increasing the amount of exposure to road dynamics such as height changes, sharp turns (e.g. motorcycle).
This exercise demonstrates that by making that “job” the unit of analysis, we can drastically improve our problem identification and problem solving skills. It is a language teams could use to lift the veil of ambiguity surrounding user needs. The detailed descriptions of the kind of value a user is looking for and how performance could be measured, enable team to work on innovation challenges more effectively.
Want to know more about identifying, constructing and validating these jobs-to-be-done? Stay tuned for our second part.


User satisfaction as a priority

User satisfaction as a priority

To be clear, functionality is very important, and a good designer should be absolutely obsessed about optimizing it. However, products do not just have to do their job. They may have to do their job – no matter what. Extreme exposure to harsh environments of dust, rain, salt, vibrations, sun or ice requires a very different design approach than a product for use in ambient climate conditions.
Whether a solution is a product or a service or a software interface – or a combination thereof – a good solution always supports the natural flow of existing processes, like they were organic parts thereof.
Naturally, aesthetics are a very important part of good solutions. Good solutions create good user experiences and therefore have to support the user’s satisfaction – also visually. Here again, a good solution is a solution that upgrades the user in his environment and that enhances a user’s experience, including his interactions with others, and the process flow he is part of. Good solutions have to enhance the experience of a user in a given process, and the best solutions are like an organic part of an intuitive process flow of a user, like they were a natural part of life.

Car of the future reevaluated

Take another example of a design challenge that has enormous relevance for the future: the design of a self-driving car’s interior. At the moment, car manufacturers are thinking of a self-driving car as a conventional car that can also drive without requiring the permanent attention of the driver. The main job of a conventional car is to give the driver driving pleasure while offering comfort to the passengers. To date, the ability of a car to accelerate powerfully is seen as a key attribute of driving pleasure. Acceleration power is therefore also very strongly correlated with the price of a car and hence with the margin that car manufacturers generate on selling cars. One could therefore say that the factual main job-to-be-done is to give the driver the illusion of controlled superpowers, to enable him/her to move fast and forcefully over longer distances.
If you think of an advanced, truly autonomous, self-driving car as a living space during which you spend the time needed to get from point A to point B, acceleration power is a factor that is rather not wished. Instead, a self-driven car should enable you to do all kinds of things, except enjoying the activity of driving itself, as you are not the driver anymore. The jobs-to-be-done of a self-driving car are substantially different from a conventional car: they include the prevention of car sickness, the enablement of work, entertainment, relaxation, and video communication – just to name a few. Perhaps you want to be able to stand, walk, enjoy a hot meal, or exercise. You certainly want to be able to sit, lie, and sleep. You want to give your car simple instructions such as: “Leave the highway for the next restaurant”, or: “Wake me up 10 minutes before arrival.”

User needs determine design solutions

It is crucial for a designer to totally re-think the design requirements around a very new future user experience. It is not unreasonable to expect that newcomers to the car industry could shake it up like the iPhone shook up the traditional mobile phone industry. The key reason is simply that relevant new functionalities could be so numerous that the classic core competency of car manufacturers of enabling comfortable or dynamic driving will only play a minor role in future mobility. The enablement of actually spending quality-time in a car by doing all sorts of things will be the main value driver of the car industry of the future. This will be made possible by a substantial increase in a car’s functionality, i.e. the jobs-to-be-done of a car that is self-driven versus driver-driven will increase significantly, and the enhanced functionality will be a major differentiator for car manufacturers.
Designers should always be ready for deeply transformational design solutions that reach far beyond incremental product renewals.
Needless to say, but the client reality is often different and by far less transformational, as certain best practices, brand identities, and sticky user habits suggest that gradual product evolutions are businesswise less risky than rapid revolutions. However, the expected rise of the autonomous car industry is an example of dramatic shifts in user experience, and hence the car industry is very likely to face unconventional competition from newcomers – implying that larger design steps are needed to accommodate the new needs of the user.


Don’t waste your time and money on an innovation workshop

It takes a lot more than a wall full of post-it notes to find a useful idea that is worth pursuing, let alone bring it to the market.

It’s easy to come up with a bunch of loose ideas if you’re not invested in the game, and your job stops after finding an idea. Most workshops recycle old ideas that are laying around, or they generate spontaneous ideas that do not stand up to a reality check. Innovation is not a thing that you can purchase just like that. True innovation is a combination of many factors such as mindset, culture, processes, teamwork, and timing. The workshop craze also gives you the idea that finding the right idea is the most important component of innovation. Finding an idea is only a small portion of the process. Much more important is timing and having the right team to follow the idea through to market, and that doesn’t necessarily mean only your own people.

So how can a workshop help us to be more innovative?

Innovation workshops can only contribute if they are part of a well-planned innovation roadmap and strategy, in an organisation that has embedded innovation into their cultural DNA. Innovation is not a single event; it must be an ongoing effort. Modern day problems/opportunities are being complicated by new technologies, changing markets, changing expectations… it is too much for a few workers within a company to handle all the different aspects and to have expertise in all the necessary fields. Open innovation and collaboration offer a solution. The most successful innovative ideas are born out of cross-border and cross-sector team collaboration, and they only succeed if they have time to be sufficiently developed  

Collaboration and time are the keys to success.

Don’t ask a consulting agency to do the innovation for you. Instead, ask them if they have experience in collaboration in long-term relationships with multidisciplinary teams. Ask if they have successfully brought ideas to the market. Ask if they know how to take a deep dive into your markets. Perhaps most importantly, ask them if they have experience in understanding what users and customers need or desire.
There is nothing wrong with organising a workshop, as long as you do not consider it as a one-time event that will bring you that golden idea.
Embed innovation in your company as a culture and an attitude that is always present. Involve people from every level in your company in innovation-thinking. Embrace open innovation and collaboration, cross company and with external agencies.


A design agency as a partner for transformational innovation

Impact of innovation

The wealth creation that is brought to society by transformational innovation is often misunderstood by that society itself, as transformational innovation typically starts with disruption – which mostly translates into initial job losses. These days, the broad adaptation and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in every day’s life is as disputed as formerly the introduction of the spinning or harvesting machine. People understand that these inventions will initially bring about major job losses, and it is psychologically difficult for most people to feel comfortable with permanently changing rules and job uncertainty. In my perception, only a minority of people embraces innovation, disruption, and – to some extent – the consequential uncertainty that comes with what the future may bring.

History vs today

To put things into historical perspective, 500 years ago, 73% of the French population worked in the agricultural sector – compared to less than 3% nowadays. The situation is comparable in other European countries. Rapid job losses in the sector started after 1800, when the emerging industrialization gained traction. In essence, 70% of total employment had to look for another source of income over the centuries. Or to put differently: 70% of the French working people were able to contribute wealth to society beyond feeding that society, which is how carpenters and builders and gardeners and tailors emerged who made their craftsmanship more available and affordable for broader parts of society. As such, much wider parts of society got access to products and services that were formerly not available to them.
Moving fast-forward to today, the next big productivity-enhancing quantum leap for society will be the combination of AI with machines that have either not existed on an industrial scale yet or that still required significant human skills and craftsmanship to get to the desired result.
As soon as the technology can demonstrate that it is superior to human intervention, the doors are open for growth investments on a giga-scale. Whether we talk about self-driving vehicles, industrial production machines, ironing machines, planning and harvesting machines, pick-and-place, or loading and unloading machines, they will all have one factor in common: classical human transactional skills can be done better and more reliably by an AI-run machine. Industries that are already currently in full swing of this disruption are the financial service sector and the retail sector.

Role of design agencies

It is crucial for cutting-edge design agencies such as Achilles Design to play a role in this transformation. However, practically speaking, it is nearly impossible to offer all required innovation services from in-house resources an on top-notch professional standards to clients. There is no design agency that has professionals in-house that cover the whole spectrum of expertise that is required for contemporary high-tech design solutions. By contrast, customers are typically unable or unwilling to co-ordinate the project management for such complex innovation projects, which means that design agencies are naturally required to source, screen, and select, but also to manage the co-operation between the different service providers in order to bring a design project to a successful end. In other words, modern design agencies are increasingly one-stop shops even for very complex innovation projects. At Achilles Design, we took the very conscious decision to be a general contractor and project manager for demanding innovation challenges. We systematically look for relevant business partners who have deep expertise in domains that will play an increasingly important role in the future, whether this is with respect to AR/VR, AI and machine learning, PCB design, data science, App development, or market research – to name just a few. The essential bottom-line is that our clients get their innovation projects delivered, no matter what.
In other words, design agencies that want to play a role in tomorrow’s transformational impact-innovation have to be able to master quite demanding managerial tasks that reach far beyond the design discipline that designers once studied at university. Modern design agencies need in-house business management and project management skills, and – depending on how deep a design agency engages with its expert business partners – it is increasingly important to have financial and M&A expertise in-house as well.
At Achilles Design, we have positioned ourselves exactly along these lines to ensure that customers will get what they need: innovation that makes a difference to their future.