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Predicting the Future Through User-Centered Design

Users giving the largest phone manufacturer in the world the insights and opportunity to become the most valuable company in the world.

COMPANY  | Nokia Inc.

CHALLENGE

Define Nokia's 2007-08 Nseries global smartphone portfolio

OUTCOME

Well-defined, user validated, globally appealing product concepts - concepts that, in hindsight, were the future of smartphones.

"This is better than what we got from IDEO”

Nokia Executive Leadership

Predicting the future is really about understanding people's and wants and needs (sometimes want and needs are the same, sometimes they aren't), executing on the vision through development, and delivering an exceptional experience.

 

In 2005/06 Nokia needed to know what kinds of phones to be making in 2007/08.  Nokia had be using the same approaches to product concept development for some time with little direct involvement by actual users.  It was time to try something new. And, as it turns out, 2005/06 was a critical point for Nokia, and the world.

6

Products

60 Million

Units

$10 Billion

in Net Sales

$2.2 Billion

in Operating Profit

Scott was asked by Nokia’s leadership team to help address one of the most challenging and critical aspects of global technology product creation: to determine the products that would make up Nokia’s entire 2008 smartphone portfolio (a portfolio of about six products and associated services that was anticipated to include about 60 million units - accounting for 20%of Nokia’s $50B annual revenue and nearly 30% of its Operating Profit) – a project that, with the benefit of hindsight, accurately predicted the future of mobile device design and usage two years before the iPhone.

A Unique Approach

At Nokia, Scott developed a unique, user-centred, approach to product co-creation based on methods he’d iterated and honed over years of close interaction with users. Having used his user-centered approach successfully in designing world leading software, hardware, and services experiences for multiple shipping products, concepts, and yes, even unshipped products and concepts, he wanted to involve users at earlier stage of product development to see what insights users might provide. This was the first time Nokia had tried this approach so far in advance and on the scale of an entire portfolio. Anyone who saw the results of the project was surprised, including Scott.

 

 

The Project

Now, Scott didn’t set out to get the results he did. No, as is the case with most design research, the goal of the project was to inspire the internal stakeholders and teams with insight into what users needed, to guide their thinking and design processes.

Scott designed and executed the project, leading the team in working side-by-side with users across the globe, collaboratively creating concepts with a 2-year time horizon, anticipating future needs and balancing blue-sky thinking with technological and logistical constraints.

 

The project was a multi-disciplinary collaboration with multiple internal stakeholders and external vendors across the globe in Vancouver, Helsinki, and London: our local product and Experience Design teams, Executive Leadership, Global Portfolio Planning and Product Roadmapping, Nokia Global Consumer Insights, and Nokia’s global design group.

Because the Nseries portfolio was global we needed to involve users from around the world, so we selected five sites based on several criteria: Vancouver, Helsinki, New York, London, Mumbai, and Beijing.

And we couldn’t have just any people – we had to select the right people, and not just the users to help craft the concepts, we also needed the right people on the internal team as well – these are critical elements often overlooked on co-creation projects.

Another key to Scott’s approach was ensuring that users were focused on what mattered to them, and that the design team and other internal stakeholders believed users (there are lots of ways to do this, but it’s an essential element of successful co-creation).

Representations of the two concept archetypes sketched by users – independent of design direction from the design team - remember this is two years before the iPhone launched
User Concept Archetypes

A key element of the co-creation process asked users to sketch the phone they wanted to be using in 2-years’ time. When the results were in and users concepts were analysed, the project team - and eventually Executive Leadership - was impressed.

Clearly, given the right circumstances, the right users could create powerful, visionary concepts.

But the advanced nature of the concepts wasn't the only surprise. The concepts were nearly universal - each region consistently produced similar concepts. Again, in hindsight this result was clearly predictive, but for users to globally develop such concepts (two years before anyone ever saw an iPhone - even the people at Apple) was eye-opening.

The Nokia N97 - announced in 2008

The Results

The results of this global, collaborative, user-centred co-creation project clearly demonstrate the power of user-centered design done properly. And while the full impact of the results of were not fully understood by many people at the time – they at least changed Nokia’s internal direction to prioritise full touchscreen mono-block concepts -  and looking back, they also clearly predicted the rise and usage of contemporary smartphones.

In addition to successfully predicting the phones Nokia needed to be making in 2008, this project gave Nokia a powerful new product creation tool and it became an integral part of Nokia’ product portfolio development process for future smartphones, and, among other things lead to the creation of the N97, Nokia became one of the leading advocates for co-creation in product design and development, and lessons in the need to execute on vision and understanding the real power of user-centred design to predict the future and shape the world.