service design

A New Year = Clear Your Cache

Our traditional New Year's Day meal. (Photo courtesy of my sister, Ashley Cho)

It begins. A new year. A new outlook. A new life... blah blah blah. It went from a Thursday to a Friday - but somehow, the last digit of the year changed, which will inevitably beckon weeks of crossing out 5's to replace with 6's. Ok, World. Let's do this.

Although I was born and raised in California, I have participated heavily, and sometimes not so heavily, in Korean traditions. In Los Angeles, you will be able to find a huge Korean population. My family, along with others around us, became pretty Americanized early on and therefore began to pick and choose from both cultures what we wanted to participate in. The one tradition that was never on the table for discussion was New Years Day. 

This tradition occurs on the first day of the year (Captain Obvious...) and it consists of traditional bowing rituals to elders who then beckon/proclaim the things that I, as a younger individual, should focus on for this upcoming year. The main phrase said repeatedly throughout the day sounds like this, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo." It means, "Many blessings for you this upcoming year!"

So, this is what happens.

You wake up, get dressed, and depending on your family, you either begin the day with the ritual or you can wait until the evening. Extended families are encouraged to get together to participate as one unit and the cycle begins. For my family, there are a handful of relatives who live in Los Angeles with us and the rest are in Korea - for this, you send digital blessings (such that of my adorable nephew in the video below). Kakao is the application of choice for this type of communication. I kid you not, the entire Korean population in this universe runs on this app. 

The eldest is the first to receive the ritual bows, starting from the second oldest down to the youngest, and then the second oldest is next to receive bows from those who are younger than her/him. If you're married, you receive them together as one unit. If you're around the same age, you bow towards each other at the same time to show respect and there is usually no exchange of wisdom and wishes for the upcoming year. However, there is a cut off point - even if there are little kids flooding the room, you can't just receive these bows until you're either married or at an age (generally around 35-40) where you would have some wisdom to impart. Those are the rules. They have never changed. 

My adorable niece who is second to last when it comes to order of birth.

My nephew sending digital, adorable blessings. 

Technical things you should know:

1) Females and Males have different bowing positions, and the performance of these bows are carefully watched throughout the experience. You can either bow really gracefully or clunk-ily. Elders never hold back on how one has performed and even note your progress based on years past. You must perform well - while everyone in the room is watching and ever so silent. 

2) After your bow, there is a position you must take in front of the elder(s) you are showing respect to. It is basically a kneel with your calves and feet tucked in to show humility. You must sit in this position until the elders are finished speaking to you. This is where they evaluate the life you led this past year, and then proceed to give you their blessings and hope for the upcoming year.

3) Once they are finished, they give you money. Yup - that's right. They give you cash which is rationed out based on your age. The older you are, the more money you get. This fact is partly why children look forward to this day because you start out the year with the prospect of what you could do with that cash. More often than not, it is used for candy. (Sometimes, cash is replaced with a gift designed specifically for the recipient.)

4) After everyone has cycled through, you eat Dduk gook (rice cake soup) that seals the deal. One of my favorite meals. Ever.

After all of this, I began to wonder...

... who the heck thought of this system? How is it that everyone knows and understands the rules even without ever explicitly writing them down? What would happen if we introduced another bowing schematic to throw the entire thing off? Will this last past my lifetime and beyond?

I guess time will tell whether or not this ritual lasts but I'm pretty sure it will. There is so much deep rooted history in the Korean part of my culture that I can't deny its existence nor can I reduce my level of participation even if I wanted to. It actually makes me happy that I'm part of a tradition that I can partake it year after year - that's what makes us human. This is what gives us culture. It also gives us something to do, right? 

This is all to say, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo!" (Many blessings for you this upcoming year!)

Happy New Year, everyone. There will be no digital bowing rituals between you and I but my wisdom to impart to you would be to clear your cache. You'll thank me later.


Service Design Notes: When designing services, benchmarking off of traditional rituals may be a great idea for innovative services. There are so many rituals out there that have vast ecosystems supporting its existence. Perhaps we should educate those interested in Service Design by teaching the theory and practice of traditional rituals. Immersive education is, in my opinion, the best way to teach anything. Think about it.

Wonderfully Weird

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film,  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Photo Credit:  Mirror.co.uk

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Photo Credit: Mirror.co.uk

I recently read an article written by James Victore about "The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird," and it made me think about all of the times I felt so weird amongst my peers growing up. Have I suppressed this weirdness as an adult? Many times, yes. Have I released this weirdness without a care in the world throughout moments in my life? When I had the courage, absolutely.
 

That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
- James Victore


This paragraph is truth. I have a story to prove that it is.

At my previous job, I was required to use the software product, Trello. Ugh... I hated it. I was the only one on my team who hated it. They pointed and giggled at me every time I rolled my eyes while using the product that "we, as a team," decided to use to manage our projects. Just thinking about it makes me twitch. When it came to Trello, I was weird - and I thought I was the only one. 

Until... [Pause Button] I wrote previously about the Service Design Conference I attended a few months ago and I mention this because this is where the Trello hater meet the other Trello hater. [Ok, Play Button]... I met Erik Flowers. This is how the meet cute played out:
 

Erik: "Service Design [blah, blah, blah]... ugh, I hate Trello."
Me: [gasp]
Erik: [head turns towards me because my gasp was so loud]
Me: "Omg... seriously? I hate Trello! I thought I was the only one who hated Trello!"
Erik: "HA"

 

Like James Victore stated, I had found another one of 'my people' in this one connection of weirdness. I made a new friend to be weird with and oh man, has it been an adventure. 😱

This is Erik at Blue Bottle Coffee in Palo Alto, CA where we hung out and got to tell each other our stories.

I was in NorCal about a month ago and was able to schedule some time with Erik. He wanted to meet at Blue Bottle Coffee because of a specific waffle that they sell. When he told me this, I thought, "Whoa. That's exactly what I do. Go to destinations with delicious food I've been craving... he is SO cool." It made me wonder if there was anything else we had in common.

It turns out that the list of similarities runs quite long - to the point where both of us were sort of shocked at what we were both pursuing in the near future. We had similar backgrounds of studies, philosophically aligned when it came to topics like "theoretical design," and his humor was on par with the many comedians I appreciate. I couldn't believe it. The universe is so weird.

Erik has since become a good friend of mine and has also encouraged me to make this blog public and available to the internet. (If you're liking this blog, thank Erik! Check out his blog too - great topics executed with pristine writing.) He recently spoke at the Service Design Conference that took place in SF a few weeks ago, launched a website called Practical Service Design with Megan Miller, and is pretty much taking the Service Design world by storm. 

It's important to have a support system around you and to also be a support system towards others - this is survival at its most basic definition. I'm looking forward to seeing more great things from Erik as time goes on. I'm also looking forward to his thoughts on the things I produce in the near future. I wondered today what would've happened if I didn't expose my weirdness about Trello. I deleted that thought and replaced it with a 'thank you' to the awful Trello for bringing Erik into my life.

So, I encourage you to release your weird. You will find your people this way and feel human connections you very well may have missed but oh so deeply need in your life. Who would've thought that being a Trello hating weirdo would serendipitously bring a wonderful friendship into my life? Even that thought is just so wonderfully weird.


(A note about the waffle: Right when we got to the counter, they said they stopped serving food 5 minutes before we got there. Hearts were broken. We will return.)

UX/Service Design Notes: Putting wonderfully weird quirks into your product/service can create extended human connections based on what certain people find enjoyable and memorable. When people get together to share their experiences, products and services are often on the top of the list. If you want to create excitement and have a competitive edge over others, add a little weirdness to the mix - it's like free marketing.

 

Dunne + Raby

Photo from  Dunne & Raby's   Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

Photo from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is why I love the HCD world.

Another reason why I love the HCD world is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in a HCD-like manner. 

One of the places that I found Human Centered Design is in the conceptual design world. Take for instance the subject of 'Critical Design'.

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Many design professors teach this way of thinking with their design students who are producing highly conceptual artwork within the design realm. Are you still interested? I'll keep going.

I'd like to introduce you to a duo who teach as design professors in London and Vienna and make projects stemmed from Critical Design. Their names are Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.

Another photo from the same series.

Another photo from the same series.

'Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, NYC, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Design Museum in London, and is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Frac Ile-de-France, Fnac and the MAK as well as several private collections. [...] In 2015, Dunne & Raby received the first MIT Media Lab Award.' I don't think that I have to justify their impact within the design world - they are well respected and consistently referred to when new work is presented to the world.

Techies - listen up.

Although the list of work they have produced is quite long, I'd like to bring attention to one of their projects called, "Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots," created in 2007, which is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

I am a firm believer that it is though works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today's design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for. This theory supports HCD through this confrontation and many designers have, since then, turned to HCD for guidance.

How wonderful, right? And very appropriate for our HCD/UX/Service Design field.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today's world while keeping the future in mind. If we don't start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

Amtrak Customer Service = Hugs

Remember that magical conversation I referred to in my last post? Well, turns out that stars have aligned and something in the universe has been preparing me to go to Detroit. 

Am I excited? I'm trying to keep my cool... but I think it's going to be pretty rad. !!

The thing about this is that I don't know what to expect... but I do know this - I believe in my heart that the people there are great and that we believe in the power of Human Centered Design. So, let's do this. 

However, sometimes when the universe aligns perfectly for someone else, things are breaking apart for others. It's strange how life works like that but this has happened to me before. Actually, when I know things are about to be great and everything just seems to be going right for me, there's a part of me that begins to reserve space in my heart and mind for sadness. It's almost like metaphysics. You can't control it.

This time around, a really good friend of mine was the one to break some awful news to me about something in her life. I get so upset when bad things happen to good people. I just... I just can't. 


Amtrak's 1971 logo.

Amtrak's 1971 logo.

This is all to say that because of recent events such as those mentioned above, I found myself having to purchase an Amtrak ticket for my trip to Detroit. The website was confusing (UX Alert!) and their guest reward thing is separate?? Actually, it was so bad that I decided to call. Yes. I opted for calling someone on the phone to talk to a human. I didn't see any 'chat now' buttons and my password wasn't being sent to me after I reset it so I figured I had to. 

I had the best customer service that I have received over the phone in probably my entire life.

Even better than Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 

She was kind, efficient, offered to do things for me when she didn't have to, and even asked about things I hadn't thought of regarding my trip. She also knew the order in which my mind was processing all of this information and it seemed like she had it down to a science. It was great UX. 

I think old systems like train/railroads have a great customer service embedded into their phone culture because that was the UX of their time. The hottest new thing was the telephone and businesses competed with each other by trying to offer the best services via operator. It's fascinating how often history repeats itself in different ways. The answers to things are usually already there - you just have to readjust the solution and reapply it to the context at hand in a mindful manner.

What I loved about the entire experience though was how much she made me feel at ease with the confusion of what I was seeing on screen. She explained why changes weren't showing up and assured me that my information was being updated as she typed. The secret to her miracle UX work was being able to mix both phone services and web delivery all at the same time - she made a believer out of me. 

So, I guess the phone isn't dead. I'll definitely remember this experience and take a chance on calling if everything else fails. I won't start to expect great phone service though - I think companies still need to desperately straighten that out. 

If there are any UXers who would like to tackle the Amtrak system - it would be a good idea to hang out with these phone service operators. They just might be able to write the whole architecture out for you.  
 

UX Notes: When Macy's made the decision to have their operators help direct customers to other stores to find what they needed, this was a UX decision that worked in their favor. They did this all by phone. What if our department store online checkouts also searched and crawled other stores' websites and directed their customers with a link to purchase their goods there if they were in the same situation? I guarantee loyalty.

Unexpected Kindness + Opportunities

Update: I have not yet gone back to a full-time job. I decided that 2 full months was not enough time for my mini-sabbatical and that I needed a bit more time. I have chosen to design my life in this way right now and we shall see what comes from it. I will write a full post when I take my next steps.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from  Starshaped Press . Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from Starshaped Press. Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

This decision, magically, has done wonders for me so far and I have met, been introduced to, and created many new personal and professional relationships that I probably would not have encountered had I taken on full-time work instead. 

What I have realized through the meeting of these new folks, especially those in my field, is that I am beginning to see glimmers of hope in the context of possibilities again. I have to confess that in the past few years, I was a bit nervous and unsure about where our industry was headed. My thoughts included:
 

"Where is this going? Is it working? How can we make this better? Will this even make a difference? Why do certain groups just not care? Do I still care?"  


What I failed to realize is that I didn't have a strong network of supporters/encouragers in my field, outside of first degree work connections, that I could lean on when times were tough. I can absolutely say that building this for myself right now is a lesson learned and what I hope is not regrettably too late. 

I have met a lot of people even in these past few weeks and something that I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing and deeply appreciate from the bottom of my heart is just genuine kindness and encouragement. I know that not all folks are like this but when you do get to encounter these moments, your faith in the world sort of restores itself bit by bit and it gives you enough oxygen to keep trying. I really do believe that the universe has its own way of supporting you when you least expect it and what I love about it is that you never know what shape or form it will arrive in.

This is all to say that these relationships have led me to an unexpected opportunity that is really exciting. I'm really hoping the stars align on this one. 

I have to write this: There is something about this opportunity that feels different. I can't quite put my finger on it but it feels sort of like real magic. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I am thankful for my community and it spurs me to offer encouragement towards others who may need it more than me. Feeling down on UX? Hang out with your UX community and I guarantee you will feel better.