“Helping businesses to tackle a ‘wicked problem’” - Peter J. Bogaards at EuroIA

 by Martin Belam, 28 September 2012

I’m at EuroIA in Rome, trying my usual frantic blog-it-as-it-happens approach. Up until the point where I give my talk on “IA in the touchscreen era” tomorrow. I’ve posted my notes on the opening session from Gerry McGovern, and here is session two with Peter J. Bogaards. Peter was one of the first information architects I ever started reading on the web, and one of the inspirations to start currybetdotnet all those years ago...

EuroIA Rome 2012

EuroIA Rome 2012
by Martin Belam
All of my notes from the 2012 EuroIA conference in one ebook, featuring coverage of talks by Gerry McGovern, Peter J. Bogaards, Andrea Resmini, Eric Reiss, Jim Kalbach, Carola Weller, Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Stephen P. Anderson
Available free for iBooks, for Kindle, and as a PDF

“Helping businesses to solve tackle a “wicked problem”: Getting profits from a Customer Experience Design” - Peter J. Bogaards

Peter was discussing “wicked problems”. The phrase “wicked problem” was coined by Horst Rittel, who identified these characteristics:

  • Every time you meet a “wicked problem” it is unique.
  • There is no final problem formulation.
  • It is a symptom of another “higher” problem.
  • You never can say “done”.
  • There are only “good” or “bad” solutions - not “true” or “false”.
  • There is no defined list of “moves” to a solution.
  • Every time you talk to someone, you get a different explanation of what the problem is.
  • No solution has a definite scientific test.
  • Designers are responsible for their actions, and the impact they have on the business.

Peter then referenced Mary Meeker’s State of the Internet 2012 report. She identified 50 areas of life and business that have been completely transformed by digital disruption, and predicted more ahead. He noted that she had also predicted “an unprecedented focus on technology and design” in the coming years, which ought to prick up the ears of an UXer or IA.

Some of the rules of business are immutable though. The drivers that lead to profit are:

  • Increase revenue
  • Decrease cost
  • Increase customer satisfaction

You have to be able to convince the business that your design solution meets one of these goals. Peter pointed out that digital disruption means a lot of new customer touch-points have emerged, so a company has to focus on more and more and more interactions and designs.

But, Peter worries, business and design are in separate universes - business is a very analytical sphere, but design thinking is different.

Business talks about the past - “prove your solution worked in the past, and we can do it again” - but designers work in the future - they “imagine what might happen”.

One of the attributes of “design thinking” is being comfortable with admitting you don’t know the right solution.

Businesses are not always comfortable with that.

The field of “customer experience” is getting traction in business, but finds it hard to deliver solutions because of the silos and the hierarchies of businesses. Forrester has identified six disciplines that businesses with good “customer experience” excel in, which include customer understanding, measurement and governance.

One of the main problems to getting it to work within a business is the social complexity of the organisation itself. Illustrated with the teamwork of a football team, Peter says teams have to come to a shared understanding of what their problem is. For the designer, the role is changing from simply designing “things” to becoming a “facilitator” for this shared understanding.

Peter said it is his belief that in a large organisations you have to become systematic in all kinds of ways - “a systematic way of thinking and a systematic way of doing” - so each time something occurs that looks the same, you don’t need to think about the process to reach the solution. Taking the car industry, he pointed out there is a lot of creativity, but within the scope of a defined part of the product development process.

He argued that visual communication is the best way to get concepts and ideas across, and that you should sketch, sketch, sketch and prototype, prototype, prototype. Prototypes give all stakeholders a chance to look at the solution or touchpoint being created.

He recommended people look at Nathan Curtis’ “Creating a UX Design Library” poster.

One of the questions afterwards was what happens when you do a great design with “Lorem ipsum”, but the great content never arrives. Peter compared this to being a football team with the goalkeeper arriving late to the field - you finish with a team, but you will definitely have lost.

Pressed on the differences between CX and UX, Peter said at the moment it simply came down to “the communities”. He urged us to contribute to CX where we saw the opportunity. “We have to get familiar with them” in the business universe.

In passing, Peter also mentioned “Super-wicked problems” like global pollution, where the characteristics are that time is running out, there is no central authority, and the ones who caused the problem are also expected to solve the problem. Thankfully, whilst UXers often end up on projects addressing “wicked problems”, we generally escape having to design solutions to the “super-wicked”...


Next up was Birgit Geiberger & Peter Boersma talking about “Process & People”.

This is one of a series of blog posts about the talks I saw at EuroIA 2012 in Rome. You can download the whole lot in an ebook for iBooks, for Kindle or as a PDF

“The dirty magnet” - Gerry McGovern
“Helping businesses to tackle a ‘wicked problem’” - Peter J. Bogaards
“Process & People” - Birgit Geiberger & Peter Boersma
“An agronomist’s unexpected path to UX Design” - Raffaella Roviglioni
“Responsive IA: IA in the touchscreen era” - Martin Belam
“‘Stupid bloody system!’: Bad IA in the workplace” - Jonas Söderström
“On beauty” - Andrea Resmini & Eric Reiss
“RITE: Testing and a business driver” - Jim Kalbach & Carola Weller
Building a coupon app for iPhone - Hermann Hofstetter & Gregor Urech
“Micro IA and content that travels” - Sara Wachter-Boettcher
“What am I curious about?” - Stephen P. Anderson

You can also download all my notes from the previous EuroIA in Prague as one PDF or as an ePub document.

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