Organizational & Digital Transformation through Design: From Engineering-Driven to User Experience Design-Driven

The AmCham Shanghai’s Technology & Innovation Committee held an event on Feb 22nd, 2017 titled: Organizational & Digital Transformation through Design: From Engineering-Driven to User Experience Design-Driven. 


The event speakers and panelists included Professor Dr. Lou Yongqi, dean of Tongji’s College of Design & Innovation, Shirley Xu, from IBM Design Studio, Yenwei Zheng, Senior Design Researcher with IBM, Dr. Mike Lai, a chief evangelist and partner with TANG Consulting, and Arthur Lou, partner, and project director with China Institute for Innovation.

Dr. Hugh Rashid (co-chair of the AmCham Technology & Innovation Committee and Xavor’s Managing Director) kicked off the event with opening remarks on how design is gaining wider acceptance in the business community as a tool, approach, and mindset to innovate products, services, and even complex social challenges. Almost all global consulting firms have done acquisitions with niche design firms to fill a void in their service portfolio. Design is a misunderstood term – Dean Lou, the first speaker, shed light on the topic of design and illustrated it in a broader context.

Dean Lou, dean of Tongji University College of Design & Innovation, explained how design impacts the innovation landscape of Shanghai by giving several examples. Firstly, he explained how Tongji University, in collaboration with leading design firms from around the world such as IDEO and Mistra Urban Futures, transformed a small rural village, Xianqiao on the island of Chongming, into a space that complements urban Shanghai. They did so through innovative collaboration with local residents and officials. They explored new possibilities by using existing village resources, cultural heritage, and skills to create commercial opportunities to increase the income level of the village and provide new valuable experiences for urban Shanghai residents. Designing the ecosystem was a complex social, economic and political challenge that was overcome through the power of systematic design approaches.

You can read a summary of the Xianqiao village transformation project in the following link here.

Please click the link here to download Design Harvests’ detailed report on the Xianqiao village project which includes many visuals.

The second example Dean gave was on the collaboration between the local Shanghai government and Tongji University designing a ‘different’ modern high school experience. This project allowed students to spend 60% of their time using traditional course materials and spending 40% of their time doing hands-on projects that cut across multiple disciplines thereby integrating traditional classroom methods with a design approach and mindset to tackle real-life challenges and opportunities. Many of the projects were done in various design labs on campus such as using technology to create green eco-friendly buildings.

Dean Lou had just returned from his trip to the US where he formed new partnerships with MIT’s Media Lab and Berkeley’s new design and innovation initiative.

Dean Lou also gave an introduction to the academic journal on design & innovation that was launched by Tongji University that focuses on bringing depth to the design topic in a Chinese context.  The peer-reviewed journal includes articles from world-leading design scholars; click the link here for further details.

Please click here to get more details about Tongji’s College of Design & Innovation, its various research labs, as well as its various academic and partnership programs.

Shirley, from IBM, shared how her company is using design to transform how it builds its software products. The Design Language and Design Thinking Guide are two operational tools to spread the new mindset throughout the company. Over 100,000 people in IBM have been introduced to the design thinking approach. IBM now has dozens of design studios around the world, including one in Shanghai that is actively involved in the transformation of IBM from engineering-driven to design-driven. The epicenter of this transformation is being driven from Austin where several employees and new recruits go through a 90-day design Bootcamp and learn the IBM way of design. Above you will find the IBM design thinking process; you can get more details by clicking this link here.

Along with the design thinking methods, IBM has also released a design language guideline that outlines how the user interface and human interaction of various IBM products should be implemented. This language is being slowly rolled out across all IBM products to ensure an intuitive and natural user experience that is simple and easy from the user experience perspective. The design language guide is also publicly available and can be downloaded by clicking this link here.

 Yenwei Zheng from IBM’s Service design and research shared how design thinking and digital transformation are being extended into client engagement through various service engagements of IBM.

Yenwei shared two examples to highlight this digital transformation:

  • Value chain of the oil industry,
  • Design of one of the largest theme parks.

Both examples discussed the challenges and opportunities of working with this new design paradigm focused on the innovation of human experience rather than just implementing digital technologies (which was the traditional forte of IBM). In the new paradigm shift, IBM consultants look at all aspects of the user experience. For example, in one of the largest theme parks in China, IBM consultants even suggested improvements in how easy it is for people to get to where they want by navigating through the various signage that is often confusing to customers visiting the sprawling landscape covering theme park rides, hotels, restaurants, shops, and parking, etc.

Michael Lai from TANG Consulting, a Chinese-owned and operated design firm, shared the X Thinking approach that combines technology and business aspects with the user experience to provide solutions that delight customers and meet business objectives by leveraging state-of-the-art technologies.

When it comes to user research, TANG consulting digs deeper into the entire customer journey and identifies areas where experience can be enhanced across all customer touchpoints of the relationship lifecycle. Using a pragmatic engagement approach, TANG helps customers get through their design-driven digital transformation step-by-step by tackling simpler operational projects first and then slowly moving the relationship to a strategic level once executives are comfortable with the initial progress and business results.

X Thinking is about driving digital transformation through a holistic experience design.

For his first example, Michael discussed a car dealership redesign his company did for a popular American brand.

By talking to customers, different dealership departments, and executives, the TANG team was able to dramatically improve the user experience as well as the bottom line for the dealership. After just two quarters, the dealership ranked #1, #2, and #3 (performance) in the most cars ever sold by a single dealership globally.

TANG Consulting now has a new venture partnership with 8 (the team that designed the initial Apple Store) to offer retail design services to Chinese clients. Michael shared how this new partnership is leading to digital transformation and innovative designs such as the retail banking experience in the digital age where most routine banking transactions can be done online. This experience creates an opportunity to reimagine the in-branch banking experience for a richer human experience focused on a higher value exchange between the banking staff and customers as conceptualized above.

For more details about TANG Consulting and its services, please click here.

Arthur Lou joined us for the panel discussion and discussed his vision of helping his company employees have a happy and joyful experience while working for the China Institute for Innovation, which in turn would translate into a better experience for their customers. On one of his latest projects, Arthur is currently working with  Haier University to help their in-house team re-design their portable electric hot water equipment. Arthur mentioned how rewarding it was for him to talk to different people in a different environments. He was intrigued to understand how people use Haier’s equipment for what purposes, what are some of the issues they would like fixed, and what wishes they have for the next version of the equipment. He gain some new insights when a woman mentioned that she relies on the electric Haier water heater as a source of hot water to give a bath to her little child. For more information about the China Institute for Innovation, please click here.

Q&A Session

The audience raised several questions during the panel discussion and Q&A session, some of which include:

Q) The aging population in China is growing rapidly and in a few years will exceed the entire population of the US in absolute numbers. Various Chinese government agencies are involved in tackling this social issue but there is no place to find information or submit a proposal to help with this growing social challenge. How can one begin to tackle such a problem?

A) Hugh stated that the aging population issue in China falls in the type of problems labeled as a “Wicked Problem” in design. Such problems are complex with no clear solution. In fact, the nature of this problem also changes as your perspective might change depending on the different frame of references. Design approach is ideally suited for such “wicked problems” as it allows you to move forward iteratively even with little or no insights into the problem. Dean Lou suggested that the best way to tackle these problems is to start somewhere and then collect more information and insights as you move forward till you are able tackle the more complex and messy aspects of the problem. The problem will be solved by engaging with other people who are concerned, passionate or in a position of influence and power to help implement small pilots that can later be scaled-up once small successes have been demonstrated and evidence collected. In fact, this pragmatic design process has been how China has tackled many wicked problems in the last 30 years of reform and open door policies.

Q) If design approaches are so good then why don’t companies do it themselves – why do they need consultants?

A) Hugh pointed out that executives of large companies are often buried under day–to-day operations and find it difficult to start new initiatives which might have delayed ROIs. Design approaches require working inside across silos; however, with a diverse set of stakeholders, companies are often not good at driving such collaborations. It is a capability that some firms like P&G have started to develop internally with the help of outside experts – using them as coaches rather than consultants. Michael from TANG pointed out that some Chinese firms have begun to integrate design systematically into their organization and have started to see results in their product and service innovations.

Q) How do you implement strategic engagement with customers if they are so focused on short term point solutions?

A) Michael from TANG stated that you have to start with what they’ve asked for, which is often a point solution to a very specific problem. In the process however, by talking to different stakeholders and doing deep empathy research with their customers, one can piece together a broader customer journey that can often lead to innovative solutions that were not so obvious in the beginning. Getting corporations to buy into such strategic engagements takes time and is often done over several years through series of smaller tactical projects that get increasingly strategic over time as the relationship between the consultants and the customer gains credibility and trust.

Q) Do companies like BAT (Baidu, Alibaba & Tencent) or Apple, Google, Facebook & Amazon follow design practices inside their organizations? Or do they do something drastically different from what the design approach preaches?

A) Dean Lou mentioned that BATs in China are the first to hire the best of their students from Tongji’s College of Design & Innovation. In fact, the BAT firms spread their design resources into every aspect of their organization making design a standard operating practice. Dr. Hugh added that companies like Apple don’t explicitly have any design thinking initiatives because the design mindset is everywhere in the organization and is the basic building block for Apple in everything they do. Design is for Apple like water is for fish.

Concluding Remarks

Design is more than making things look pretty. This event focused on the discussion of how design can be a power approach for organizational and digital transformation for large enterprises as well as for governments in tackling social challenges from rural-urban divide to how we educate our children. Whether car dealership experience or retail bank in-store experience, design can help dramatically improve the customer experience and businesses’ bottom line.

Most consulting and technology firms have either acquired design firms to integrate design practices into their traditional service offerings or are organically building their design capability through design studios and internal consultants as coaches. Unlike other fads that come and go, design approach is here to stay. In this increasingly complex digital transformation world, design represents the voice of humans who could be customers expecting better experience while interacting with products or services.

This human-centered design approach when combined with technological break-through is at the heart of some of the most valuable companies in the world (with Apple being the most noticeable example). There are many flavors of design approaches, methods and toolkits available but generally they have the same focus to provide digital transformation. They channel their engineering and R&D energy towards bringing technologies to life that will make the world a better place – especially for us humans.

About the Speakers:

Prof. Dr. Lou Yongqi is dean of the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University in Shanghai. He is a fulltime professor at Tongji, and also the visiting professor at the School of Art, Design, and Architecture at Aalto University in Finland, and visiting professor at the School of Design of Politecnico diMilano in Italy. Lou is Vice President of CUMULUS, the International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design, and Media. He is Founding Executive Editor of She Ji — the Journal of Design, Innovation, and Economics published by Tongji University and in cooperation with Elsevier. In 2014, the President of Finland honored Lou with the Order of the Lion of Finland as a Knight, First Class.

Lou is a leading figure in sustainable interdisciplinary design education, research, and practice. Lou was the first designer in China to connect social innovation and sustainable design thinking with rural development. This is the title of his latest book: “Design Harvests: An Acupunctural Design Approach Toward Sustainability,” published in Sweden by Mistra Urban Futures. Lou’s design works include the United Nations Pavilion of World Expo 2010, the Liang Ping New Jindai Sustainable School funded by the China-US Center for Sustainable Development, and the Tsing Tao Horticultural Expo 2014.

Shirley Xu is the Studio Program Lead in IBM Studios Shanghai. IBM is scaling its design culture and practice globally. To support that, Shirley is leading the recruiting, operations, education programs and communications for IBM Design’s practice in China. Before Shirley joined IBM Design, she has worked many years in other cross functional teams, including Software Development, and IBM Sales & Distribution as a Solution Representative, Business Development, and Product Manager. Shirley has an academic background in Intercultural Business Communication. During her 8+ years at IBM, she has been practicing her core competency in connecting people from different backgrounds, and building creative communication channels for them. Under her leadership, IBM Studios Shanghai is now one of the top global studios that keeps delivering great outcomes and contributing actively to the worldwide community to build a sustainable digital transformation and design culture.
Yenwei Zheng is a senior design researcher and service designer who enjoys re-connecting customers’ & employees’ experience with business opportunities. He is an enthusiastic backpacker who has traveled across Asia twice and loves cooking experiments.
Michael Lai, PhD, is the Chief X Evangelist and Partner at TANG, a design consultancy helping organizations creates possible futures by designing holistic experiences for their customers. X Thinking is TANG’s approach to determine these possible futures and to turn them into reality. Mike oversees the professional practice at TANG, where he is responsible for the development, education, and practice of X Thinking.

Mike has over 10 years of consulting experience and over 7 years teaching in academia in the areas of branding, interaction design, user experience and service design in the United States, Hong Kong and China. His clients have included JP Morgan Chase, Legg Mason, Monsanto, Nationwide Insurance, Alliance Data, Huawei, OPPO and Changhong.

Mike holds a BFA from the Columbus College of Art & Design (United States), an MDes from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Hong Kong) and a PhD in Design from Tsinghua University (China).

Arthur Luo is a CPF, trainer and consultant, and project director with China Institute for Innovation. He is a certified trainer by TCSFEA (Training Center Of State Administration Of Foreign Experts Affairs) who delivers CIP, CIM & CCIO (Certified Innovation Professional, Certified Innovation Manager and Certified Chief Innovation Officer) Programs in China. He has rich experience in facilitating innovation and collaboration sessions, with an accumulated experience of about 400 hours. Arthur has facilitated innovation workshops for over 20 companies.
Author: Dr. Humayun (Hugh) Rashid

Dr. Hugh is a practitioner-scholar with over 25 years of experience working and consulting with global organizations in the US, Europe and Asia in areas of IT-enabled business innovation.
Currently, he is heading the Xavor China operations (based out of Shanghai) to facilitate product innovation digital transformation ecosystem development between multi-nationals and startups in US and China.

Dr. Hugh maintains a strong network of university collaboration in the US and China through his MBA teaching of courses in Design Thinking & Design-Driven Innovation, Cross-Culture Management and International Marketing at various universities including University of Southern California (USC), Wuhan University, Chongqing University, Beijing Normal University, Peking University, Renmin University and Fudan University.

In addition, Dr. Hugh is also the founder of Xavor Corporation, which provides innovative business solutions to high-tech organizations. He has a BBA from University of Texas Austin (USA), Executive MBA from University of California at Irvine (California) and Doctorate in Management from Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio (USA).

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