We ended our latest technical article on “How to include train drivers in the design process” with a rather open question: how can you overcome all the problems and obstacles that obstruct the way towards a true User Centered Design (UCD) of train desks?
How can you really involve train drivers, the actual users, in the design process, overcoming the limits given by time, space and limited resources?
If you remember, though, we also gave you a peak into our answers: we need to make good use of the last and most evolved digital innovations.
This can be done in two ways: one is creating new innovative solutions, and it’s the direction we are working on with ItalDesign and our incredible V-Desk.
The other one is leveraging on the existing solutions, bending them to our needs towards a “social innovation”.
Today I want to tell you more about this second kind.
It all starts with a question
We started from traditional driver desks, from a console that identified us as a manufacturer of train parts.
In time, we raised our mission to man-machine interfaces that adapt to everything, a new kind of ergonomic products that opened up new scenarios: everything became possible.
A new question popped out in our heads: “what if…?”.
We understood it was not just about updating our main product, it was time to actually restart from scratch.
We wanted to challenge ourselves, our competitors and our clients.
To guide them into worlds they could not have imagined, with the courage to ignore outdated paradigms, but without totally destroying them. We wanted to connect with what already was, without precluding new worlds that we couldn’t even imagine.
So, when we started the process of designing IntelliArm, we didn’t know much.
We just had this epiphany: that we couldn’t give anything for granted.
The way things had been done until now was not clearly the best in terms of ergonomics. They were what we believed to be the only options just because no one had ever tried something different (except for Star Trek, of course).
So we knew we needed to start from scratches. From a blank space, at which center we had to place a human being, to start designing around him or her.
Not just any human being, though: we needed a train driver.
Possibly we needed more than one, so that we could confront different opinions, bodies, ways of driving, etc.
But where could we found them? And how could we convince them to offer us their practical knowledge and to spare their precious time informing our design choices?
We realized that we had the answer before our eyes.
A powerful tool at our fingertips
What am I talking about, you ask? Simple: the social networks.
Where else can you find hundred, thousands, possibly millions of people who have exactly the characteristics that you need? Where else can you interact with them as if they were one, asking them to express their opinion and listening to their voices?
We were lucky enough to have this amazing opportunity at our fingertips: SPII’s community online is strong, cohesive and engaged. The visitors from our website span to almost every Country in the world.
SPII’s LinkedIn profile in particular had grown over the years organically, counting thousands and thousands of followers from all over the World. They span among train drivers, train managers, train crew, technical personnel and so on.
We had seen it over the years, through their comments, their social shares and the technical answers they gave to our posts. We knew they had something to say.
This is why we did the simplest thing, something that no one had done before: we just asked them what they wanted to improve.
We wanted to lead the way.
But they needed to tell us where to go.
We didn’t know the answers…but we did know the questions!
Use the tools you already have wisely
So, we had our human being(s). We just needed the tools to listen to them and put them at the center of our design.
Wait, we had the tools! LinkedIn allowed us to do something really powerful: polls.
So we started creating polls at every step of the way, to verify and inform our choices about IntelliArm’s design.
The answers were extraordinary.
We knew we were on to something.
So we kept questioning.
People clearly had something to say. And they wanted to say it, eventually!
Suddenly we were swimming in comments and feedback on what was wrong and what needed improvement, directly from the people who would know it best.
We let these informations lead the way at every step of our design process, and when we were done, we knew we had something really disruptive. Not so much as to be frightening, but just enough to be a real change in the industry.
What we didn’t know was if the community of train workers would agree with us.
So we asked them.
Innovation is a delicate thing
You need to push the boundaries of what is known and is working, but not so much that people will not follow you because they are scared.
When a community of thousands of train staff confirmed our theory, we knew we had done it right.
And the success of IntelliArm, including prizes like the Red Dot we were awarded with, definitely confirmed it.
We knew it was not only a design exercise, or a new product development.
It was the beginning of a new era for the industry, one where we could change the rules of the game.
We pictured a future that involves the users in the creation process. And we made it real.
One where the design process is bent to the human being at its center, as stated in our Vision.
Just wait and see what this “social innovation” will do when combined with “hard innovations” like V-Desk…
See you next time,