Inaugural online book | Application Concepting Series No. 1

100 Ideas for Envisioning Powerful, Engaging, and Productive User Experiences in Knowledge Work

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Opening Thoughts

Working through Screens is an online book for product teams creating new or iteratively improved applications for thinking work. Written for use during early, formative conversations, it provides teams with a broad range of considerations for setting the overall direction and priorities for their onscreen tools. With hundreds of envisioning questions and fictional examples from clinical research, financial trading, and architecture, this volume can help definers and designers to explore innovative new directions for their products. Working through Screens is also freely available in printable .pdf book and summarized .pdf “Idea Card” formats.

To get started, some big picture opening thoughts and images:
The category of human efforts sometimes called “knowledge work” is growing.

Knowledge workers are valued for their specialized intellectual skills and their ability to act on and with complex information in goal oriented ways.

In many contexts, the idea of knowledge work has become almost synonymous with using a computer, to both positive and negative effect.

Product teams creating computing tools for specialized workers struggle to understand what is needed and to successfully satisfy a myriad of constraints.

As a result of the design deficiencies in these interactive products, people experience many frustrations in their working lives.

Noticeable deficiencies, along with the ones that have invisibly become the status quo, can lower the quality and quantity of workers’ desired outputs.

With so many people in front of so many screens — attempting to practice their chosen professions — these deficiencies have real costs.

Click image to enlarge diagram

Collectively, we have an infrastructural sense of what these technologies can be that tends to limit our ability to imagine better offerings.

Targeted improvements in the design of these tools can have large impacts on workers’ experiences. Visionary design can advance entire fields and industries.

At a basic level, applications can “fit” the working cultures that they are designed for, rather than forcing unwanted changes in established activities. They can augment rather than redefine.

When workers alter their culture to adopt a new computing tool, it can be solely because that tool provides new meaning and value in their practices.

Going further, elegantly designed applications can become a joy to use, providing an empowering, connective sense of direct action and a pleasing sensory environment for people to think “within.”

Product teams can make significant progress toward these aims by changing how they get started on designing their products — by beginning with an emphasis on getting to the right design strategy and design concepts long before getting to the right design details.

It is time to start holistically envisioning exemplary new tools for thought that target valuable intersections of work activity and technological possibility.

Click image to enlarge diagram

Suggestions for product teams:

Extensive concepting...
Deliberately spend more time envisioning, at a high level, what your interactive application could be and how it could become valued infrastructure in work activities.

Do not assume that a compelling knowledge work tool will arise solely from the iterative aggregation of many discrete decisions during the long haul of a product development process.

Create a divergent ecosystem of concepts for your product’s big picture and primary experiences.

Examine the potential value of reusing expected design conventions — while at the same time ideating potential departures and differentiated offerings.

Explore a breadth of directions and strategies before choosing a course.

Plan on staying true to the big ideas imbedded in the concepts that your team selects, while knowing that those ideas will evolve along the way to becoming a reality.
...based on intensive questioning...
Ask more envisioning questions, both within your team and within your targeted markets.

Develop empathy for knowledge workers by going into the field to inform your notions of what your product could become.

Stimulate conversations with this book and other sources relevant to the topic of mediating knowledge work with technology.

Find and explore situations that are analogous to the work practices that your team is targeting.

Keep asking questions until you uncover driving factors that resonate.

Create visual models of them.

Focus your team on these shared kernels of understanding and insight.

Lay the groundwork for inspiration.
...driving visionary, collaboratively defined strategies...
Use design thinking to expand upon and transform your product’s high level mandates and strategy.

Continually explore the strategic implications of your team’s most inspiring ideas about mediating knowledge work.

Make projections and connections in the context of key trends and today’s realities.

Think end to end, as if your product was a service, either literally or in spirit.

Build and extend brands based on the user experiences that your team is striving to make possible — and how your product will deliver on those promises.

Envision what knowledge workers want and need but do not articulate when confronted with a blank canvas or a legacy of unsatisfactory tools.

Invite workers to be your collaborators, maintaining a healthy level of humility in the face of their expertise.
...for exemplary tools for thought.
Dive into the specific cognitive challenges of knowledge workers’ practices in order to uncover new sources of product meaning and value.

Set higher goals for users’ experiences.

Envision “flashbulb interactions” in targeted activities — augmenting interactions that could make complex conclusions clear or open new vistas of thought.

Explore how carefully designed stimuli and behaviors within onscreen tools might promote emotional responses that are conducive to attentive, focused thinking.

Surpass workers’ expectations for the potential role of computing in their mental lives.

Raise the bar in your targeted markets, and with it, the bar for all knowledge work tools.

Extensive concepting, based on intensive questioning, driving visionary, collaboratively defined strategies for exemplary tools for thought.

This phrase embodies a suggested overall approach for product teams envisioning new or improved interactive applications for knowledge work.

In support of this suggested approach, this book contains 100 ideas — along with many examples and questions — to help product teams generate design strategies and design concepts that could become useful, meaningful, and valuable onscreen offerings.


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All original contents of Working through Screens online book are subject to
the creative commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial- ShareAlike unless otherwise noted.
Please attribute the work to “Jacob Burghardt / FLASHBULB INTERACTION Consultancy.”