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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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