Return arrow Back to Experience Strategy & Design Studio

Designing Experiences for New Work


It’s a pretty cool time to be a designer. With the advent of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, AR/VR, and machine learning, the role of designers has transitioned from designing useful and usable interfaces for products to creating dynamic experiences that are meaningful and insightful for people. For those willing to try something new, it is a time ripe for imagination and innovation.

This past year, we worked on a project that challenged our role as designers. Partnering with an AI and drone services company, we designed an emergency response solution focused on new work practices for first responders (FRs) and their project managers (PMs). In addition to working with new technology and new partners, the timeline was tight. We were tasked to deliver our solution in four days so that it would be ready for the relief workers arriving on site for Hurricane Irma.

At the start of the project, it became clear that Hurricane Irma would have a dramatic and disastrous impact wherever it made landfall. Recovery support efforts would need to take shape quickly. Humanitarian efforts had to begin. Communications had to be re-established in impacted towns. And people would need to be able to contact loved ones and receive the support they needed as soon as the storm had passed.

Relief work is always dangerous. Between the unknown conditions of the work sites themselves and the hazards of traveling to and from them, the need to help facilitate quick and accurate decision making is an absolute must. Any new solution, would need to provide valuable information about the affected area such as damage to lines and towers, potential safety hazards in the environment, and connectivity to other members of relief team. It would also need to aid PMs in their decision making about team deployment, problem resolution, and FRs’ safety as they executed relief measures. It was work that mattered – for people’s lives!

With a week to design and deliver, a small cross-functional design team was assembled. To get started, we needed to examine the bigger picture of how FRs and PMs typically work together. How they navigate common challenges such as not being located in the same area, not being able to easily communicate with one another, and often times – not realizing what equipment they would need to complete the job, would be important insights for us to have as we moved forward. This new solution would need to empower FRs to confidently make more complex on-the-job decisions so that PMs could focus on the larger impacts and needs of the disaster broadly.

An interesting challenge confronted us, however. We had limited access to the subject matter experts and workers who typically provide those insights. We met this obstacle by leveraging our project sponsor as proxy for the workers. Through a set of highly focused working sessions, we were able to learn about how FRs and PMs collaborate, problem solve, and maneuver through the challenges of their job. We then applied those insights to create a set of initial solution hypotheses that we used throughout the process to test our designs.

Before jumping into the actual interface design, we defined the goals and outcomes of the digital experience through a set of experience design principles. We based our principles on our evolving understanding of workers particularly as it related to key concepts such as worker autonomy, efficient judgment calling, effective collaboration, and communication through a data-driven experiences.

The role of empathy in our design process for this effort cannot be understated. While we always believe our work should put humans at the center of the experience, for this effort, we needed to build empathy into the process of recovery work. For example, in the new experience, FRs would no longer be the only “eyes” on the disaster site. Drones would be able to capture fly-over imagery and feed it to an AI engine that would organize and prioritize work based on those images. It would be up to the experience to help facilitate a successful collaboration between man and machine so that good decision making and knowledge sharing would take place.

To achieve this level of empathy design, we needed to adjust our standard human-centered design methodology to be more fluid and forgiving. We borrowed relevant practices from both lean UX and atomic design to help us run more like a science experiment than a traditional design process.

Diving headfirst into research, we gathered insights into the needs of FRs and PMs, their work, interactions, and behaviors based on what we had access to: our sponsor, industry knowledge and best practices, and workers in similar roles, etc. We had multiple sessions to build a shared understanding from the research, generate and converge on ideas, and ultimately craft design assumptions to inform our experience design. We used additional working sessions with our sponsor to evolve our ideas, raise and resolve issues, and ultimately, validate our concepts. Rather than becoming sidetracked by deliverables common in a traditional process, we sacrificed documentation for collaboration.

In the interest of time, we moved away from detailed wireframing to create rapid “paper” prototypes that storyboarded key scenarios whenever necessary and tested them against our hypotheses. Working in constant cycles of sketching, sharing, learning, and revising our hypotheses were key to our process. We adopted a fast and nimble work style that had all of us wearing multiple hats, going beyond our comfort zones, and being willing to fail fast to get through design efficiently. One of the greatest benefits of this process was the deep sense of trust that formed among all of us, allowing us to really hear and explore each other’s ideas, debate our disagreements, and arrive at a common ground to quickly move forward.

In the end, one of the most significant learnings from this experience was that putting together a small diverse team with people from various disciplines as well as backgrounds, experiences, and interests was essential to our success. We communicated openly, were far more creative, and were able to converge on solutions quicker and more effectively. There was no stubbornness about ideas in the room – we all worked together for the benefit of the FRs and PMs who would be using this solution to help a community recover from a terrible disaster. The mutual trust and respect that we formed as a working team enabled us to continue to learn from each other during our post-project reflection as well.

While this is just one example of our how our work is changing, our learnings about the man-machine relationship and its potential to not just change our end-user’s worker, but our own as well, is something that we will carry onto future projects. Our success as designers is going to rest heavily on our ability to truly empathize with those who will be impacted by the experiences we create, not just those who use it. And our ability to appreciate the “bigness” of that impact will be at the heart of every design decision we make.

  • P 973 210 6300
    P 800 ASK LDSI (800 275 5374)
  • E