Adventures in Semiotics

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

As a literature graduate student in the late 1990s, I participated in a baffling seminar discussion on Lacanian semiotics. I didn’t get it, but an amazing tutorial video from EPIC 2016 prompted me to take another look at the power of visual and verbal cultural analysis.

In April and May, I participated in an online workshop on applied semiotics analysis organized by EPIC and led by Cato Hunt from Space Doctors.

During the workshop, we leaned basics tasks of semiotic analysis, including:

  • Exploring gaps between intended meaning and experienced meaning
  • Analyzing cultural assets to create codes
  • Analyzing tensions to create  semiotic squares
  • Using a residual-dominent-emergent framework to analyze codes
  • Field work to collect data to inform semiotic analysis

Culture Map of Mobile Learning

Since the workshop, I have been using what I learned to develop a semiotic map of residual, dominant, and emergent codes for mobile learning.

To develop this map, I conducted a visual analysis of many images on Google Images related to mobile learning. I used mobile learning and other  broad key terms like “augmented reality”  and “virtual reality” and “robots”. I explored a range of geographic markets as well. It was far from a scientific sample, but it was fun.

I used Pinterest to gather the images and Mural as a platform to group and cluster the images.

10 Mobile Learning Codes

  1. Learn Alone Together (Residual)
  2. Access the World From Anywhere (Residual)
  3. Gather Around a Screen (Residual)
  4. Augment how You Live (Dominant)
  5. Simulate a Situation (Dominant)
  6. Augment your Experience of Here (Dominant)
  7. Try Immersive Learning (Emergent)
  8. Wear Your Learning (Emergent)
  9. Integrate Learning into Yourself (Emergent)
  10. Interact with Robots (Emergent)

4 Mobile Learning Spaces

I created the culture map by iteratively positioning the codes on semiotic squares constructed using cultural tensions that emerged through exploring the visual data. These tensions included:

  • Familiar / Unfamiliar
  • Augment / Integrate
  • Create / Consume
  • Ready at Hand / Present to Hand
  • Private / Public

From playing with the coded and tensions, I developed the following four quadrants on my semiotic square:

  1. Become a Cyborg (Unfamiliar / Private)
  2. Engage with the Machines (Unfamiliar / Public)
  3. Use the Data (Familiar / Private)
  4. Mediate Together (Familiar /Public)

This thought experiment has been a fun way to apply my learning. Since doing the initial semiotic exploration, a couple of additional ideas occurred to me:

  1. Semiotics aimed at settings has great potential as a tool for analyzing learning settings. I am intrigued by Bonnie Shapiro’s work on analyzing sustainability in learning settings. Laura Oswald‘s case studies on analyzing retailscapes with semiotics points to the potential for using semiotics to analyze learning settings (e.g. programs and learning spaces) in comparison to competitive and aspirational programs.
  2. Where do emergent products like smart speakers, particularly niche products like the Amazon Echo Look, fit on within the frame of mobile learning. They are likely somewhere between dominant and emergent because they are still relatively unfamiliar and sit somewhere on the boundary between public or private?
  3. What might happen if I took an explicitly critical frame and asked how these products vary on their representation of domestication vs. liberation. Most images promise a dream of endless open knowledge, and most images represent scenes of social control (students being disciplined by lessons in formal learning settings or people being domesticated by new technological forms). I recognize my initial sample had scant examples of mobile learning in the context of non-formal learning settings beyond the cliched coffee shop or non-spaces of everyday life (e.g commuting).

Next Steps

The workshop has prompted me to start reading more in the domain of semiotic marketing analysis and qualitative marketing analysis. I have been diving into the work of Laura Oswald, The Handbook of Qualitative Marketing Research, and Tim Stock‘s culture mapping.

If you are interesting in applying semiotics to analyze a learning setting, I would love to hear from you.

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

IMG_5009
3 Deliberately Developmental Organizations

Robert Kegan has always been one of my favourite authorities on adult learning and development. In Over our Heads was deeply inspiring when I was studying Higher Education at UBC. Kegan’s later collaborations with Lisa Lahey in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work and Immunity to Change influenced my early thinking on organizational development and change work.

Kegan and Lahey’s new work with several coauthors , An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, offers in depth cases studies of Next Jump, Decurion, and Bridgewater,  three organizations that incorporate professional development and learning as an essential part of their organizational culture and approach to business.

What I valued most about the book is the organizational model and metaphors that Kegan et al. use to explore the dimensions of development: edge, groove, and home. We individually and collectively have a professional edge that is always developing and changing, we get into the groove when we have individual and shared practices that sustain and support the advancement of our personal learning and shared organizational culture.

I am not as persuaded by Kegan et. al’s arguments about adult development and personal psychology as I once was. But I appreciated that the authors acknowledge the psychological bias that informs their work,  and they use an integral framework from Ken Wilber to explore the individual, social, psychological, organizational dynamics of culture and change at work. More compelling were the chapters on the  many distinct social practices that the three organizations enact to as they use a developmental approach to work and organizational change.

For example, what might be different if everyone at work were assigned to a job that would stretch them personally and professionally? What if organizations embrace personal social learning practices so people don’t have to hide their weaknesses, can address continuous constructive feedback from colleagues, and continuously challenge themselves with increasingly complex tasks? Next Jump, Bridgewater, and Decurion demonstrate that learning and development can be a key competitive advantage.

Organizational development consultants, coaches, and other people leading change processes in organizations will find Kegan et al. a useful summer read.

 

 

Unraveling the threads of experience design

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)
A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)

Have you ever considered how and why a kimchi refrigerator offers users more autonomy than conventional refrigerators might, what constitutes an ideal trip to and through an airport, or why a sophisticated golf simulator might offer a peak form of entertainment? Jin Woo Kim’s Design for Experience: Where technology meets design and strategy, which I discovered in Fjord’s slide deck on design trends for 2016, seeks to dymytisfy the thinking and requirements behind designing powerful product and service experiences.

Kim’s book is useful on multiple levels. I have been so immersed in the North American and European literature on design for service and experience design that it was refreshing to read a leading Korean HCI scholar on experience design. I appreciate how Kim integrated ideas from Confucius, John Dewey and Vitruvius  to underlie his exploration of experience design. Lucy Kimbell extolls Vitruvius in her handbook on service innovation, and Dewey is oft-cited in  Benz’s edited collection on Experience Design, but  I was delighted to read more about how Confucius’s ideas on harmony inform experience design.  I also enjoyed how Kim blends detailed technical explanations of design features with supporting narration of his experiences in Seoul, and detailed analyzed a range of Korean and Western products and services as UX examples.

At its core, the book presents a detailed framework of threads, levers, UX factors, and design features involved in designing product and service experiences. Kim breaks down meaningful, valuable and harmonious experience into three interrelated dimensions with associated key conceptual controls:

  • sensorial experience + sense of presence
  • judgemental experience + locus of causality
  • compositional experience + relational cohesiveness

Kim’s framework is similar to the product experience framework introduced by Desmet and Hekkert and adapted by Silvia Grimaldi, which I discussed in my review of Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies. What distinguishes Kim’s monograph from either this previous work or a text like Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy is Kim’s detailed analysis and explanation of underlying UX factors and design features. The detailed, careful analysis of case studies and exposition associated UX factors and design features will prove useful to design students and practitioners. If you haven’t thought what vividness or presence or autonomy and automation might mean in relation to an experience or if you having considered which type of information architecture is best suited to the product or service experience you hope to offer, this text explicates these ideas in detail and offers concrete useful examples from both products and services.

What I found most challenging about the book was its focus only on designing corporate or commercial products and services although the principles and concepts will be equally useful for those designing for social innovations or  community experiences. I was hoping that Kim might address to the scope of design challenges that Kees Dorst addresses in Frame Innovation (e.g. the experience in a Sydney entertainment district) or the contributors to Benz’s collection do (festivals, public spaces), but Kim situates his framework squarely in traditional commercial product and service design. Nor does Kim address aspects of power, social justice, or sustainability..

Kim ends Design for Experience with a process description to apply the three dimension framework to the example of designing a companion product or service. What surprised me most about this section of the book was that Kim also emphasizes the organizational requirements needed to offer a harmonious, successful project. What I most appreciated about Kim’s text was his case in favour of interdisciplinary design practices informed by research and theory from the humanities and social sciences. Kim advocates for partnership between industry and academia. He calls for not only social science informed design research but also careful analysis of humanities research on relevant concepts like play or companionship depending on the particular design challenge.

Design for Experience makes a valuable contribution to the experience design literature.  It offers a solid conceptual framework for user experience designers, information architects, and practitioners to work with as they collaborate.

 

On Frame Innovation

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

Framed (Photo: Darrel Burkett)
Framed (Photo: Darrel Birkett)

Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation (2015) centres around a methodology and model for framing problems.

The most compelling part of this book were the varied case studies, which grounded the methods and principles underlying the model in concrete examples. Also, Dorst bases his method and model in empirical studies of expert designers and how they address problem situations.

Frame Innovation will interest service designers working in the public sector or with government because many of the problems that Dorst explores in frame innovation address problem situations in public spaces or in local government interactions with the public. For example, one example that surfaces multiple times in the text is the case of King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia, and how, through the project, the participants were able to reframe the situation from an entertainment district as a centre of crime to an entertainment district AS a music festival.

Watch Dorst explain this example in more detail:

Dorst shies away from prescribing processes. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to a critique of rationality particularly in relation to problem-solving methodologies, and  like Thomas Wendt and Dan Hill challenges rational-technical design thinking. The brainiac that I am, I loved Dorst’s detours into philosophy and into the difference between beginners and experts.

My takeaways from reading this book will be the nine-step model Dorst proposes, the particular propositional approach he suggest for describing paradoxes at the heart of complex design situations and potential frames. I am reminded of transformative learning theory (Mezirow et. al). If one successfully innovates the frame through which we or others experience a situation, how we see the situation may be radically transformed.

Note: Thanks to Thomas Wendt for recommending this book on Twitter.

 

On Gray’s The Connected Company

Reading time: 2 – 2 minutes

Dave Gray‘s The Connected Company (2012) is an easy read for anyone who wants to explore networked, social business models and work.

What I appreciated most was Gray’s ability to make important, complex, academic concepts like service-dominant logic, platforms, and networks accessible for a broad business audience. For anyone wrestling with the challenge of explaining to clients what it means to put service and social learning at the heart of a business venture or coaching others to design service-based business models, Grey offers valuable examples and explanations.

The Connected Company cites and interprets examples from many leading service-based enterprises like Nordstrom, Zappos, Amazon, and GE. It draws on popular business thinkers and concepts from the Harvard Business Review and leading design ideas like Stuart Brand’s theory of shearing layers.

The idea that seems to be sticking with me is the notion that connected companies finds ways to “absorb variety”, to enable customers, users and internal teams to pursue multiple aims, goals and intentions simultaneously. I am oversimplifying, and probably misrepresenting the idea, but designing to “absorb variety” and learn from variety is at the heart of the educational challenge that universities like the one I work at face and at the heart of what it means to learn, too (cf. Ference Marton).

Those of you who work on learning and development within organizations will enjoy Gray’s ideas on individual and organizational learning. There was plenty of resonance between Gray’s ideas and Wenger-Traynor et. al’s concept of navigating boundaries in a landscape of practice and addressing boundaries between a multiplicity of practice communities.

If you are looking for models of self-governing, user- and customer-centric business, then you will like Grey’s work.

On Learning in Landscapes of Practice

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

I just finished my first read through Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Steven Hutchinson, Chris Kubiak, and Beverley Wenger-Trayner’s new edited collection, Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identities, and practice-based learning (2014).

I’ve long been a fan of Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s theoretical and anthropological work on learning. I owe my colleague Barbara Berry a debt of gratitude for telling me about this book and for pointing me to Wenger-Trayner’s recent lecture on the content of this book.

This book is essential reading for anyone who espouses “social learning” in the industry learning and development community. Unlike many current popular approaches, Wenger-Trayner et al. offer ideas that are practical and, at the same time, based thoughtful, seminal scholarship on learning.

Wenger-Trayner et al. offer those of us who work with organizations comprised of diverse groups a whole new vocabulary and approach for facilitating change and enabling people to work at, across, and through boundaries in the organizational and societal contexts.

Professional coaches will find value the ideas on identity in social landscape

People in the higher education sector should pay attention to this text because in several places it at addresses classic challenges that universities face like students’ transition into and through higher education, and, more importantly, the tricky relationship between academic learning and work. This book would be useful for student services specialists, academic developers,  and university administrators alike.

The chapters in this book on systems convening will interest experience designers and design researchers who practice strategic design or systems design with large groups  and use methods like design charettes or other community engagement approaches. I wonder whether the framework of ideas that Wenger-Trayner et al. present around identity, multimembership and boundaries might also extend current perspectives on product and service experience design by adding a sociocultural dimension to the list of factors to consider when designing an experience or interaction. Also the landscape framework may offer systems and service designers new ways of thinking about ecosystem mapping as considering multimembership and circulating regimes of competence might reveal new value flows and relationships.

On Collective Genius

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

Collective Genius presents ethnographic studies of innovation in leading organizations including Pixar, Volkswagen, eBay, Google.

The range of case studies the book addresses is one of its main assets. Readers’ curious about how Pixar makes animated blockbusters or how Google handles its need for massive storage city will enjoy the deep and rich descriptions.

At the heart of the book is a  framework of principles that capture the interpersonal and organizational conditions that make innovation possible:

What I like most about the book is how it blends rich description from formal case studies, evidence and concepts from academic research, and practice principles and frameworks that managers and leaders can adapt and experiment with at work.

Service designers and design thinking consultants will find the frameworks in Collective Genius useful tools for taking stock of the organizational cultural practices. The principles might enable cross-functional innovation teams assess the conditions and readiness for innovation work. As you may have noticed, the ideas of creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution share some similarities to Roger Martin’s ideas on abductive reasoning in The Opposable Mind.

Leadership team coaches, particularly those interested in advancing models of co-creation of value with stakeholders will appreciate the discussion of principles and paradoxes that underlie high performance collaboration.

Learning and development professionals interested in social learning should pay attention to the case studies on Volkswagen and Pixar. The Volkwagen case addresses how to create community amongst siloed, fragmented units, and to instil collaboration towards a common purpose. The initial Pixar case, which opens the book, explores how Pixar enables exceptionally creative workers with diverse skill sets to work together a common shared purpose and to enact shared values. The book will challenge the learning and development community’s focus the psychology and behaviour of the individual work.

CX observations en route to Dallas

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

I’m attending the POD Network 2014 conference in Dallas this week.

All the service design and customer experience design exploration and reading  has sharpened my attention to detail  as I was on board two United flights.

Now I understand why Andy Polaine uses air travel as his go to example for service design workshops.

On check-in

I got stuck some weird Kafkaesque online check-in interface that required me to select a list of visa options, none of which applied to my situation. I gave up in frustration and checked in at the airport.

 At the airport

The attendants berated passengers for not using the self-serve kiosks to check-in and weigh their baggage. It took an hour and a half to self-check in, navigate the queue to the secondary check-in with the attendant, and navigate the border and immigration.

On the first flight

1. The cabin crew on my flight from Vancouver to Houston used the discourse of safety to discipline passengers as they went about they work. We were extolled multiple times to “watch your elbows, shoulders, legs….” The discourse of safety came up again when the crew had to stop its work mid-service because of turbulence. I’m all for being vigilant about the safety of passengers and crew, but when it shifts over to hyper vigilance it creates a bit of a weird dynamic. I wonder if there might be a more customer-centric way so the focus is on customers rather than on the implications of turbulence on the crew’s workflow.

2. A more serious CX moment was a behaviour some of the more experienced cabin crew on the flight exhibited. They made relentless requests to passengers to specify exactly how each person takes coffee an tea. The crew was trying to encourage people to volunteer the details without having to ask. One attendant even sarcastically praised a passenger for doing what she had asked. Obviously United doesn’t want to waste sugar packets, stir sticks and creamers. But maybe the staff shouldn’t grouse about asking people how they prefer their beverage.

3. Did I mention there was no in-flight entertainment. What happened to the movies, music and shows? I guess United assumes passangers bring their own devices.

On the second flight

3. The gate attendant let us board the flight before the security sweep of the plane had been completed. We all had to leave the plane and stand on the gangway for 5 minutes. She apologized for the mistake, but another passenger noted that the plane had been at the gate for 90 minutes before we attempted to board.

4. The weirdest moment of the day was when the male attendant on my short-haul flight into Dallas lip-synched the entire safety announcement, which happened to be narrated by a woman.

All in all, these flights featured more turbulence and worse customer service than I can remember. Clearly I don’t fly enough to recognize what is normal, but I think United has endless CX work to do.

In contrast, I drooled when I saw the Virgin America departure lounge at Love Field. They have mounted a cool collection of framed art on the wall and the place looks downright hip compared to the bargain basement blandness of the United spaces.

Getting to the hotel

If somewhat asked you the difference between a hotel shuttle and a ride share van what would you say? At Love Field, I learned these services stop in different locations and mean very different things.

I took a ride share van to my hotel. It was  a sorry example of disorganized service. There were three drivers with android tablets mulling about on the tarmac. My driver was clearly the most experienced and was trying to help his colleague know where to go. But they clearly didn’t have an automated system for grouping customers going in similar directions. We sat in the van for 10-15 minutes while they figured it out amongst themselves.

Seeing that helped me appreciate what Uber is trying to do for transportation services.

Ultimately our driver was polite, efficient, and I enjoyed seeing how tablets are being hacked by entrpreneurial transportation companies to manage point of sale, logistics and way finding on the dashboard.

It should be an interesting week in Dallas. I will keep my service design goggles on and perhaps compose a response to James Tyer’s post on applying the 70:20:10 framework to conferences. POD has a reputation for being extremely interactive, so it may offer a counterexample of how to do interactivity at conferences well.

Reforming government services and reforming university services

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Gordon Ross and Jess McMullin shared some terrific links from the recent Code for America conference in San Francisco.

Tom Loosemore’s keynote on Government Digital Services in the UK was memorable for a couple of key points:
1. Transforming government service requires breaking down the caste system and silos between policy makers and front-line operators. To reform a service, all stakeholders must be at the planning and design table. Loosemore notes a key first step is for all stakeholders to attend to policy intent and for all to address user needs.

2. Loosemore talks a lot about GDS and Gov.uk as as a platform for service and the need for some parts of government to reshape themselves to cut across traditional organizational silos and boundaries between discrete castes amongst categories of government workers.

Loosemore’s talk about service transformation resonates for higher education because it challenges professional staff to consider how we might think about education as a horizontal service platform and how we might work towards integrating and reducing boundaries and hierarchies that lessen or weaken the value of the learning experience for students or scholarly experience for academics.

I am aware of at least three institutions that have already taken first steps towards using service design to ameliorate user experience in higher education: University of California Berkeley and University of Derby, and Queen’s University, Kingston. Faculty and staff at all three have started by addressing the experience for students interfacing with university systems. What I have yet to find is an example of higher education service design that integrates a focus on students experience and also addressin the complexity of university organizations and other user communities that comprise them.

Loosemore’s call for design teams to turn to policy intent led me to the insight that higher education professionals and faculty can and should attend to the fundamental principles underlying the organization and institution they are working within. In my case, that means not only attending to the dark matter of SFU policy but also the well-articulated mission and values of The Beedie School of Business. If users spend the time at the outset of a project reconnecting with fundamental policy commitments and principles that might clarify the path and direction for a specific curriculum initiative.

Finally Loosemore’s talk incudes a memorable quotation about the value of starting with policy and working forward to address user needs:

“You would be surprised at the detritus of accreted nonsense that you can strip away.”

Innovators, read Michael Quinn Patton

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

At the urging of my friend and colleague Barb Berry, I recently read Michael Quinn Patton‘s book Developmental Evaluation.

It has been a long time since I have read a professional text with as engaging a style and tone.

What challenges me about Patton’s book is that it addresses evaluation work at a high level of sophistication. It assumes readers are capable evaluators and explores the practice of evaluation in a way that focuses on the why? rather than the how. True the book offers lists of possible evaluation frameworks and describes cases and examples of how complexity concepts may be applied by evaluators, their clients, and collaborators. But, even though I am a dabbler in the field of evaluation, I appreciated not being told what to do and rather being able to reason my way to what might work in a given situation.

The book has resonated as I have gone about my week observing an innovative program and offering just-in-time developmental feedback to the people involved. It has primed me to attend to the emergent, unanticipated outcomes and situations and the obstacles that they have created for people.

Patton’s book will resonate for anyone who is working to develop a social innovation. It persuades me that there is value for an insider/outsider evaluator on high stakes innovation programs. Patton’s book will appeal to innovators who are already inclined towards complexity, systems thinking, and other outside-in ecological ways of looking at growing a product, service or program. Cynefin practioners may appreciate Patton’s application of Snowden and Boone.

For pioneering service and strategy designers, developmental evaluation offers ways to evaluate the impact of service and strategy prototypes and innovations. If a future goal of service design agencies is to take service designs all the way to implementation and evaluation, developmental evaluation should feature on user research teams’ learning plan.