Every day, most of us will face some form of minor inconvenience or cumbersome process. It could be that your mobile phone charger has frayed and you have to angle it precariously to connect it, or perhaps the garbage shoot in your building is slightly too small for the two litre water bottles you regularly use. This type of problem is often too minor to consider approaching the situation more efficiently, and we'll continue to spend an extra five minutes each day fiddling with little solutions rather than solve the problem with an extra charger, or a bottle crusher.
However, at Mäd, we like to encourage our team to spot development opportunities and challenge processes. I.e. If you identify something that doesn't operate as efficiently as it should, then can you find a solution? If a solution doesn't yet exist, can you conjure one up?
This innovation development is precisely how many entrepreneurs have their 'A-Ha!' moments, and set out to solve problems many had came to accept as normality.
On Friday, we decided to pitch a potential pain-point to our team, and challenge them to dream up solutions and improvements.
The Air-Con Timer.
Based in Cambodia, the air-conditioning unit can quickly become our best friend. With the temperature reaching above 30 degrees celsius in the evenings we often need to keep our homes cool to ensure comfortable sleeping, and a relaxed environment. We noticed how many buttons are currently on the average air con remote, and remarked at how incommodious setting a 'timer' could be. Therefore, our challenge to the Mäd staff was to work in teams of three to create a prototype of a more efficient air conditioning remote - or solution to replace the current remote styles.
Structuring the Exercise.
Choosing teams at random, and naming them after curious creatures, each trio was given a space within the office to create their solution within 20 minutes. There were no concrete instructions, except that each team would present their prototypes after the time ran out.
Our Five Teams.
Consisting of our analyst, head of communications and senior UX engineer, team Tapir started their planning with a design sprint. Each team member took 3 minutes to write up as many ideas for their ideal air conditioning remote control as they could, before they took it in turns to present their thoughts.
Then, the team broke down the ideas they had in common and discussed whether to work on a singular solution in detail, or explore various solutions without the depth. Agreement was made to prioritize one strong solution, and they began collaborating on a more modern remote system.
To kickstart their solution, they decided that replacing a handheld remote with a downloadable app would be beneficial. To cover all bases, their would be an option to get a simple hand held smart device with the air-con purchase, incase the buyer did not own a smart phone; If the buyer chose not to take the handset, then either a price discount or company donation (to a charity chosen as part of the CSR strategy) would occur, as an eco-friendly incentive. As not all mobile phones have the capability of connecting with conditioning units, Team Tapir proposed bluetooth connectivity, with a longer-term upgrade plan of a wifi connection to allow off-site access (allowing users to cool their house in advance of coming home, or switch off the air-con if accidentally left on).
Next, the interface was discussed. Team Tapir aimed to make the UX as simple and intuitive as possible. To do so, the app would adopt similar layouts to commonplace apps and split each function into simple screens. The app would function by swiping between screens to change function - e.g. Temperature, Swing, Timer, Rooms, Mode, Remote and Advanced.
As Team Tapir designed their modern solution, they noted that not everyone is keen to be an early adapter. As many fall into the 'late adapters' and 'laggards' category, regarding innovation, the team decided that one section within the app should feature touch screen versions of remote controls. The controls would be laid out as they are on physical models, with the brand name clickable to change models as required. This quick solution meant that no features from the previous remotes could be overlooked as they'd all be coded into the new fix.
Having been assigned the 'Mole' as their team name, this team decided to embrace their namesake by naming their Air Con vision as 'The Mole'. Inspired by the blindness of their mascot, they proposed various solutions that removed the need for sight - such as voice, and clap, command systems and motion sensors.
Acknowledging that a 'one-size-fits-all' solution is often unrealistic, they decided to map out two versions of their solution; 'The Mole' would be available in standard, or premium. The standard version would be more traditional, with a central touchpad control able to change the temperature, swing, fan speed and timer functions. There would be a large display in the center to adjust the desired parameters by touch.
The premium version favored much more daring and innovative solutions. As aforementioned, this solution would be hands free and indeed sight-free. The user could use voice commands in the same way that Alexa and Siri function, but team Mole added they'd add motion sensors to help detect where users were and therefore which rooms could be put on a power saving mode. Finally, the idea of introducing a 'clap' sensor, allowed the user to use various functions without even needing to strain their voice. They could preset their clap command to indicate whether one clap would be on (or off), or for example, whether it would control temperate by a single clap lowering the temperature compared to a double clap raising the temperature.
Our CEO was part of Team Peccary, and as he dreamt up the challenge he decided to lead his group to create three separate individual solutions. The first, being the feature he wished existed in the first place: calendar integration. The concept would be to allow your air conditioner to connect with your calendar and be scheduled for your arrival home. By setting calendar events, you could preplan the temperature of your home ensuring it cooled the air effectively when needed, whilst being able to avoid unnecessary energy consumption when no one was home. With the ability to assign locations to calendar events already, the integration of air-condition location would be a logical progression, allowing for particular rooms to be assigned and cooled when needed.
Team Peccary also addressed the problem head on, deciding that a clunky interface with little instructions needed revamped. They presented two different simplified interfaces, both proposed to work via a smart phone or touch pad remote. Being able to control separate rooms from one remote was highlighted as a key feature, as it can be cumbersome to have so many different remotes to find and use; Plus there's the clear advantage of forward planning, such as the idea of being able to lie in bed and start to cool the kitchen before you go down to make breakfast.
Team Raccoon also opted to create a single solution to the problem, combining the skills of two talented Mäd designers and one of our Bloo coding geniuses.
There was an overall sense of harmony-including 'The Mole's' dynamic pitch-that our office felt ditching the buttoned remote was the way forward, and Team Raccoon conveyed that meticulously as they weighed up the advantages of moving to an App rather than the traditional buttoned remote.
The design of the UX/UI would mirror the successes of major OS, to allow the app to feel intuitive and friendly. Each feature would be clearly labeled, and displayed neatly within the app, as the user casually swiped through.
We started to see many novel ideas reemerging between our teams, with Team Raccoon also considering the benefits of voice control and clap sensors; However, one nice feature solely suggested by Team Raccoon was to add a 'child lock', which would help parents ensure that the temperature can stay at desired levels and to ensure that their bills didn't suffer a malevolent spike due to mischievous tinkering of their air conditioning settings!
There was also a discussion of creating templates, to set up various easily accessible settings to save time. Examples given included: quick-cool, allowing the user to blast the air con to reach an optimum temperature at speed; eco-optimize, ensuring that priority is given to working efficiently and ensuring that high amounts of energy aren't drained; or sleep-mode, a preset for a cool temperature that wouldn't wake the user, yet wouldn't necessarily work as hard as daytime settings when the user was active and moving throughout the home.
Solution sketching quickly visualized an interface simplistic enough for everyone, but detailed enough to access all features necessary. Team Camel also opted to integrate the control into a mobile app, giving a familiar and accessible interface for users.
By firstly analysing the various pain points associated with the traditional remote, Team Camel were able to create a clever interface and solution within their app idea. Automation was central to their thinking, to ensure the user had as pleasant an experience as possible without fuss or excessive time investment in the app.
During design sprints, we often present ideas individually, and then allow everyone to vote on their favourite ideas. This is done by giving each team member an equal number of stickers to place next to their favourite feature, design or general grouping of features and designs. Sometimes we give extra stickers to key decision makers as they may require a little extra influence, but on this occasion we kept it a fair playing field.
The championed idea, was the calendar integration as it was 'out of the box', yet gave a clever solution to the original problem. One of Team Peccary's suggested interfaces also was favored strongly due to its simplicity and ability to address the problem efficiently.
The exercise itself proved useful, allowing team members to work collaboratively on sections they may not usually pay heed to, whilst also learning new strategy and thinking for those of different skills and mindsets to them (see the M type person).
For Team Tapir, their solution had much depth and meticulous strategy to address the initial problem, but they learned that they needed to adopt easily imaginable and relatable visual prototypes to get people on board.
Team Mole invested their time in creating a fun, interactive presentation, but also lacked the supporting visual substance to convince the room to vote for their designs.
Team Raccoon created an intelligent air con remote, but perhaps lacked time to fully develop their ideas as they looked very broadly at creating an air-conditioning remote that could do everything, rather than focus on particular aspects in depth.
Team Peccary approached the task as three individuals, giving their presentation a disjointed feel rather than a collective effort, giving a curious insight into being able to achieve more by focusing separately; yet, as these designs weren't created in unity they would be incredibly difficult to harmonize potentially leading to a lot of wasted time and effort for the unused concepts. This leads on nicely to our discussion on Design Sprints, and why they are important, as taking the time to clearly understand a problem and ensure that everyone is aligned with the identified ideal path will help optimize time and focus to create the best solution most efficiently.
And finally, Team Camel approached the task very matter-of-fact, creating one solution to address the immediate issue of the timer but perhaps not allowing themselves to develop other insightful ideas. As such, their great solution was partly overlooked in the voting process due to other teams providing original content.
Each team grew by observing the varying thought processes of individuals from different skillsets - allowing them to consider their own weaknesses, whilst noticing how they can demonstrate their own strengths in a team scenario.
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