Why KM Needs Good Design

If you don’t believe design matters, read this post, buy a can of Altoids and reconsider. I heard a great story at lunch on Sunday of a presentation made by Claudia Kotchka, Proctor & Gamble’s design and innovation maven, who explained what made Altoids great. And then, to drive the point home, showed her audience what would result if the green eye shade guys designed Altoids. Once they removed the tin (too expensive) and the paper (unnecessary), they ended up with something Claudia Kotchka calls “Proctoids.” The packaging was “a box made of cheap white plastic from P&G’s baby-wipe containers.” Very appealing. In fact, according to one report, “[w]ith uniform beige ovals jammed into the container, fewer colors on the lid, and no paper, Proctoids taste like Altoids, but they look as appealing as a pile of horse pills.” Unfortunately, people aren’t as willing to pay the 400% premium for unappealing horse pills in a plastic case as they are for the pleasure they get from opening that Altoids tin.

Now, let’s think about knowledge management systems as if they were P&G consumer products. What would your intranet look like if Claudia Kotchka was in charge of its design? What about your blogs and wikis? Your document management system? Not sure? Well, here’s the test: Would the lawyers in your law firm pay a 400% premium to use your KM system? If not, you should consider applying Claudia Kotchka’s design principles as reported by Chas Martin at Innovativeye:

1. Make it user centric through a deep understanding of user habits [and] need – physical and emotional.

2. Make it collaborative. Never work alone. There is no one right answer, so it’s not cheating to share information. A mix of skills are essential. (See Ten Faces of Innovation)

3. Challenge Mental Models. Ask different questions. The problem will look different, requiring a different type of solution.

4. Abductive. Start with prototype solution and test it. Learn backwards and logic the way to explain the result.

5. Experimental. Designers prototype with visual and tangible models. It’s easier to discuss something you can see. Prototyping starts the dialogue. It’s not the solutions, but [the] first of a continuous series [of] possible solutions. The second version can be radically different.

Good design is about problem solving, making things work better, and finding new opportunities. According to Tom Armitage, web developer at Headshift, “Design is not how it looks.” A.G. Lafley, the CEO of P&G, understood this when he asked Claudia Kotchka to incorporate design into P&B’s approach to business. In his words: “The goal is to transform the company from a place that’s good at selling `more goop, better’ into one whose products infuse delight into customers’ lives.”

Are your customers as happy as P&G’s? If not, make sure you incorporate the principles of good design at the planning stages of any KM implementation to ensure an end-product that works beautifully and delights your users.

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