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70: Designing for the User Experience with Chris Cornejo of Design Center

Published March 23, 2021
Run time: 00:56:00
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With design in its name plus 50 years of industry experience, Design Center knows more than a thing or two about best practices for building a digital product. Design Center’s Director of Strategy Chris Cornejo joins the show to chat about how design thinking has shifted from “how it looks” to “how it works”, the advantages of an outcome mindset over a solutions mindset, how COVID has impacted strategy and design processes, and how to prepare for a project’s initial strategy session.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How design’s focus has evolved from UI to UX
  • Advantages of an outcome mindset over a solutions mindset
  • The revelations from “dumb” questions
  • How design and strategy processes have shifted as a result of COVID
  • Why your actual users need to be a part of your strategy session and what to do when their feedback conflicts
  • How Tim eats Lucky Charms

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded February 26, 2021 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Notes:

Design Center

Chris Cornejo’s email

Steve Jobs Thoughts on Flash

Jobs to Be Done Framework

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at all things technical. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

Before we jump into this week's episode, I have a small favor to ask. We are conducting a survey of you, our listeners, to hear your thoughts on the show. And to help us plan content and choose guests that matter to you. I can tell you that so far, we've been running this survey for a month or so. And we've only had a couple people fill this out. So seriously, if you have a minute, please head to constantvariables.co/survey. You can even fill it out while you're listening to this episode. That's constantvariables.co/survey. And we would really appreciate it.

Today, we are chatting with Chris Cornejo, strategy director at Design Center. Design Center helps business leaders stay ahead of their competition through strategic technology solutions and digital transformation initiatives with a design lead process that begins and ends with the customer experience. Originally, Chris and I had planned on talking about the solutions mindset, which we absolutely cover in this episode. And it's fantastic. But we also touch on a lot of topics around design in general, including the shift in design thinking from how it looks to how it works, how design has been impacted by COVID, and how to make sure your actual user has a voice at the table when discussing the strategy of your app. So without further ado, here is my interview with Chris Cornejo.

Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Cornejo 1:50
Hey, good to be here.

Tim Bornholdt 1:51
I am very excited to have you here. I'd love for you to tell us your origin story and how you got hooked up where you're at currently with Design Center,

Chris Cornejo 1:59
I started at Design Center back in 2000, sort of as an entry level designer straight out of school. And I've actually been there ever since which is sort of a weird origin story in this day and age. There's very few people that I know that have had the same business card since they started. But I'm one of those people. So back then I was doing straight up design. So we were a design shop, we did a lot of logos and brochures and identity systems, annual reports, packaging, that kind of stuff. And basically, as I've been there, we've gone through one ownership change. But we have evolved sort of with our clients. So they were asking for more and more digital solutions as we were working with them. And we just shifted our whole operation so that now we're straight up a design company that makes software. So our employee pool has gone from being all designers to being a handful of designers with a whole bunch of developers. And so as we've evolved into that, there's been some growing pains. But now I'm doing strategy for digital products. And it's actually not too far off from where I started, functionally. So it's been interesting.

Tim Bornholdt 3:13
And so when you're talking about doing strategy for products, like what is your normal day look like in that role?

Chris Cornejo 3:20
So at Design Center, we develop a lot of mobile applications and a lot of web applications. And so I work with our clients to understand kind of what those things need to do, and how we can build a product to sort of do those things. And so a lot of times we'll have a particular business need that somebody is trying to fulfill with a digital product. And they kind of know what it's supposed to do, but they're not sure. And so I work with them to kind of get to the core of that and really find out if we build them something, if it's actually going to help them.

Tim Bornholdt 3:54
Right on. That's a very important role. Because a lot of times you need to have one person that's kind of above the code, the day to day of just developing the thing or designing the thing, you kind of need to have somebody that's steering the ship in the right direction. And that seems like that's kind of the role that you're occupying.

Chris Cornejo 4:12
Yeah, for sure. And, you know, I got into this role because I'd been around so long. I've seen our business from every different side. And so as I worked as a designer with clients, I obviously was working with how they wanted things to look, a lot of times how we wanted things to communicate. As we moved into software development, it started to be you know, how do things work, how do things function, how do things interact with other systems. And then I got into the marketing and sales side of our business for a while. And that really opened up my eyes to kind of the business opportunities within the products we developed. And so how are people utilizing their products in their businesses to do, you know, whatever they need to do to get revenue and drive traffic or do what their business is supposed to do. I mean, as a designer, we were sort of cloistered in this ideal world where, you know, if you made something look beautiful, and it functioned beautifully, it was successful. The flip side of that is always on the business side, even if it looks great, it doesn't necessarily work for their business. And so getting some insights on that side helped me come back out into the strategy in the operations world and kind of bridge that gap. So as I'm working with our internal teams, our designers and developers, and our clients. I can sort of take what I'm hearing from the client that they need to get done in their business and translate that into things that designers can work on and then developers can build. And so it's just kind of a lot of communication.

Tim Bornholdt 5:44
Yeah, it's got to be one of those roles where, when you're focused on the bigger picture, I think a lot of times with software, you hit the nail on the head with people think, Well, I just put out a pretty looking app, then problem solved, right. And a lot of times, it does require a more holistic look. And we talk about that all the time on this podcast about, you know, it can't just be a good looking app. What was it Steve Jobs saying "Design is not about how it looks. It's about how it works." So I would assume that, maybe I shouldn't assume. I'll just actually ask the question. ave you seen design as it relates to software evolve a lot over the years from being more about the UI, or the user interface, side of things and focusing more on the UX, the user experience, side?

Chris Cornejo 6:35
Yeah, I think I mean, as a designer at my core, originally, that was kind of a problem. I mean, I'm sure you remember when everybody was designing websites in Flash. And Flash was sort of seen as this perfect tool, because it was a designer's tool that they could make websites and interactive experiences that really, they could dial in, in much the same way they were dialing in things like an Illustrator file or a Photoshop file. But as we've seen, I mean, I think it's finally dead now. But in a functional capacity, Flash had a lot of limitations. And I remember doing websites that we thought were fantastic that you would get them into the client's hands, and there was some fundamental functional problem with it that it couldn't do. I mean, the sort of the beginning of the end was when the iPad came out, and iPad said, We're not doing it. And so that's when websites really started to have to go back and say, Okay, what are we trying to get done? And how do we, you know, utilize technology to have a functional website on a lot of different platforms, not just in the ideal scenario of a shockwave player?

Tim Bornholdt 7:49
I remember that time, because Steve Jobs came out with this letter that I'm gonna make Jenny look for and put in the show notes, it was called "Thoughts on Flash." And it was just this really well-put response to exactly what you're saying about how Flash looked like this panacea of, you know, interactivity, and just all this whiz bang stuff that made you look super impressive, but at the end of the day, the Flash itself, from a technical standpoint, was absolutely not the right tool for many reasons, but performance and security are chief among them. But it's really been interesting. And I'm sure you've got tons of stories of living through the transition of just, you know, pre-Flash, even when you're building really basic, you know, we are designing it to be a width of 800. And that's like every monitor in the world is 800 by 600 pixels. And then you move to a world today where you've got people looking at your website, potentially on a watch, or through like a VR headset, all the way up to a television or a projector or some massive thing. And you need to have your web experience specifically, I mean, and your app experience, too, needs to be able to cater to all kinds of different cases and more importantly, be usable in all of those different cases.

Chris Cornejo 9:11
Yeah, and voice is another thing that's come up now recently, where there's experiences that will happen that they're not even looking at. And so there's nothing visual about, you know, a Siri interaction or a, you know, Alexa interaction that all of a sudden, the same workflow, like, you know, my in-laws have a Google remote that they use to change channels on their TV. And it's always really funny to listen to them sort of saying, Hey, Google, you know, find whatever program they want to watch. And they're trying to get done the same thing they were doing with remote control that they could never figure out before but now they just have to say it and it happens. And so how do you design interactions and user experience that can work everywhere from, you know, a physical remote control to an online experience to a voice experience. You really have to get down to like, What are you trying to get done with an interaction or a tool?

Tim Bornholdt 10:07
That's a really good point about a lot of times when people think of design too, you think of just straight up visuals. But I mean, one of the big problems with Flash was accessibility. And it was really hard for somebody who is visually impaired to navigate your experience. Now with, like you said, voice assistance, and like, I've got a home pod literally sitting three feet from me. And if I were to utter the magic incantation, then everything would blow up. And yeah, like, I think that's one thing that's going to be fascinating. And I don't know if you've done a lot of thought into that, but just how these voice experiences, man, I can't tell you how crappy Siri is. It can 90% of the time listen to me when I tell it to stop or start. But it's like, those 10% times when you think as a user, you're asking for something pretty simple, but then, behind the scenes, it's doing so much work to try to figure out what's supposed to happen. It's just such an interesting experience from a user standpoint.

Chris Cornejo 11:07
We ran into it this, you know, obviously, this year has been a little different with our kids at home, but I set up you know, each of them have their own Alexa to give them scheduling reminders for when they've got to be in their certain meeting for school. And it works for the most part, except on my phone that I get interactions or I get notifications for all the different meetings that they have. And it doesn't tell me who's is whose, unless they've set them up to be, you know, like, child one class, child two class. It just gives me an announcement that we've got, you know, literacy. And I don't know who's supposed to be on literacy, but I just yell and somebody gets on their computer. But there's, you know, the voice command, I kind of shy away from it. I mean, I'm in technology, but I'm still a little bit technology averse in certain ways. I don't like talking to the phone or to the car to the computer. I always prefer to just type it in or to pick up my phone and do something. But as the interactions are getting more sort of integrated and fluid, I'm finding myself using them more, you know, so you got into the apple pod. I'm, you know, on that cusp of like, do I make the leap and now start talking to the machines in my house?

Tim Bornholdt 12:21
And I mean, the reason I stuck with the home pod above all else was just the privacy side of it. You know, I know what Alexa is doing. And I know what Google's doing. And you look at the privacy policies and you can, as a technologist, you're just like, Okay, an always-on microphone being fed into an algorithm, probably not my cup of tea, but like you said, those interactions, like with the home pod, because I have one in my office, I will often be listening to music elsewhere on my phone. And then now you can just take your phone and tap the home pod and it moves the music automatically from your phone to the speaker. And it's like those interactions are so cool. But again, when they don't work, man, there's like no bigger headache than like, for example, I'll take that same interaction. If I'm on Wi Fi, everything works smoothly. But when I go out on like a Zoom call, you know, I obviously turn off my Wi Fi so that I can just be on edge, on the cell network. So when I get back home, and I tap my phone to the speaker, nothing happens. And it's just so frustrating. But there's no, you know, interface or anything that pops up that says, Hey, dummy, get back on Wi Fi. It's just something you have to like, learn over time. And how do you think about those kinds of interactions of like, Is that part of your job, and part of the job of your team at Design Center, is to just think about not just the, it's cool that your home pod plays music, and it's cool that you can transfer, you know, songs, but like making that a seamless integration would probably require a lot more thought, right?

Chris Cornejo 13:59
Yeah, cause you'd have to basically, you know, if playing music on your home pod is the ultimate thing you want to do, you kind of have to figure out all the different paths that you could take to get there. And then start looking at each of the steps along the way, and saying, Okay, at which step here am I going to run into a problem? And so like with the Wi Fi versus the cell network, you know, that's probably something that you wouldn't necessarily think of. And it'd one situation where it's like, Oh, yeah, I just need to, you know, I got a phone, it's always connected. And I've got this home pod that I can tap and I'm going to have this really cool magic interaction, and it's just going to jump from one to the other. And you get excited about that. And then you get it into reality, and you've just come back from a walk and you're still off of your Wi Fi and you hit the thing and it doesn't work. And it's like, Okay, how do we get around that and how do we make that? Like, is there something with a proximity sensor you can put in where you know you're getting to a certain point and it asks you if you want to get on your Wi Fi, because it knows that you're probably going to interact with your home pod. But just figuring out, A, sort of what would be an ideal scenario for you as a user? And then pairing that with technology, like, how can we actually make that happen in a good way,?

Tim Bornholdt 15:19
There's so much thought that goes in. That's why I love talking with designers is. Developers approach problems from a very similar way. And people think developers and designers are so far apart. But really, thinking about stuff holistically is really important. And I wanted to use this awkward bridge to transition to what we were actually intending on talking about, but like I told you before the podcast, these conversations just go everywhere. So what I wanted to talk about, though, was the solutions mindset. And we had talked about this before, you know, the show, obviously, but I would really love for you to dig into the solutions mindset, because I think it really relates a lot to some of the stuff we've been talking about already.

Chris Cornejo 16:04
Yeah. And you know, the more I've been thinking about this whole idea of solutions mindset, and it keeps kind of going back and forth in my mind, is like, is that a good thing or a bad thing> And I initially had thought about, this whole topic as it being the sort of bad thing, like don't jump into a solutions mindset. But it's not quite as clear as that when I start thinking about it more. So it's like, is it truly a bad thing? You know, at its core, it's basically this idea that you're focused on solving problems versus dwelling on, you know, problems. And so like coming up with solutions for things that are causing you pain. And that really is not a bad thing. But I think when you go there too quickly from a business or client perspective, you sometimes sort of miss the larger opportunities. And so rather than, you know, a solutions mindset is coming up with these solutions. I think that the flip side of that is an outcomes based mindset where you're looking at, like, What are you trying to get done with the activities you're doing or with the products that you're using? And if you can focus on what you're trying to get done, that actually helps us as designers, and ultimately, designers and developers working together, come up with solutions that actually solve real problems. And so, you know, if you focus on a problem too hard, you might be solving the wrong problem, because you're not seeing the larger picture.

Tim Bornholdt 17:34
Give me an example of the solutions mindset versus like an outcome mindset. How would you approach, just if I was some someone listening to this podcast and wanting to understand with a tangible example, what would you illustrate that with?

Chris Cornejo 17:50
I'll go back to my in-laws with their TV. So basically, from my perspective, the goal was to get them to stop having like 20 remote controls. They have all these different things hooked up to their TV, and it's a nightmare whenever you go there, because you'll be watching something and the volume is too low, and they'll hit one remote control. It doesn't work. Then they come over, and they're like, No, no, no, no, you got to use this remote control, and then turn that speaker off. And it's this whole rubric of things you got to figure out. And so solution number one from me was, well I'll just buy them a smart, you know, a programmable remote. So I got them, I think it was a harmony, great remote, you can go online, you can program everything in there. And there's a few things you have to figure out, but it got rid of a lot of their remote controls, and then they could use it. And every time I would visit, we would get it all set up. And it would work great. Like a week later, it would all fall apart because they would change something and something got out of sorts. And so the solution I was focused on because it was a solution that worked for me, was that I would just buy them this one remote control and it would solve everything. What their outcome was was they just wanted to be able to watch their show and so if they could get there by just saying I want to watch this show, that actually solved their problem much better than a programmable remote.

Tim Bornholdt 19:11
And that checks out. There's a side tangent about harmony remotes that I'll avoid. They took over a market and then now all these smart remotes like the Google remote has just completely ate their lunch. But yeah, I'm tracking ya. The example that we were talking about offline was, you know, a solution is not that you need a quarter inch drill, right? It's that you need to make a quarter inch hole and there's, you know, a lot of different ways to make a quarter inch hole. A drill may be one of those solutions, but a lot of times people attack problems with like, for example, people come to us, you and me like both of our shops all the time with, Hey, I need an app built. And they come to the solution of I need an app built before they've actually thought through what is your problem because maybe your problem could be solved with, once you identify the problem, it could be solved with a spreadsheet or a piece of paper. Or maybe you need like a AR app or something. You know, there's so many different ways to solve problems. But really just being fixated and zero minded focused on one possible solution is not going to necessarily solve every problem that you got.

Chris Cornejo 20:32
Yeah, I mean, that happens all the time. So that quote, that people don't need a quarter inch drill, they need a quarter inch hole. That's from this whole "Jobs to Be Done" framework that I've been kind of deep diving into, basically, since the pandemic started. And how I got there was just sort of this, as I was doing things differently in my life, I was realizing, because the default process for doing so many tasks got basically up ended back in March. And you couldn't just go to the grocery store, you couldn't just, you know, drop your kids off at school. There was all of these things that you were used to doing to get things done that didn't work anymore. And so you really had to focus in on like, What is the result of going to the grocery store that I'm looking for? And it was actually just to get groceries. Well, can I do that without walking in the store? It's like, yeah, I can do that by ordering ahead of time and having them walk it out to me. And then it's like, Can I do that without even going to the store? And sure, I can do that too. And I can order it on Amazon and Whole Foods will deliver me a box of food. You get the same result, but you're not doing the same things to get there.

Tim Bornholdt 21:42
Maybe this is naive of me, but I think it seems like the older you get, the more you kind of gear towards the solutions mindset anyway, of like, you find that you get stuck in your ways almost and think, you know, going to the grocery store is the only way to get food. And it's thinking, you know, grocery stores have only been around for human history, you know, in the blink of an eye. And we've evolved the way that we've gotten our food over the years. And it's kind of making sure that you routinely look at your problems from not just a, you know, here's how we've traditionally solved it. But looking at it more holistically and saying here's, you know, different ways we could solve it. And let's try a different a couple different ways and see if that changes our mind at all.

Chris Cornejo 22:32
Yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, as you do get older, you know, it's one of those things, too, I mean for me anyways, having kids and trying to teach them or having them try to teach me the new way of doing math. I mean, that's kind of one of those debates that's been going on a long time where it's like parents can't teach the kids math anymore, because they're doing it entirely differently. And both sides will say that it was better the other way. But I think that there's something to be said of like, if you're just trying to get a kid to add, you know, three and five digit numbers together. And you can teach it to them in a way that helps them establish the building blocks for doing more complex things later, like that is probably better than just memorizing all of these tables and doing it that way.

Tim Bornholdt 23:21
Yeah, I'm happy I haven't had to get into that yet with my kids, because they're four and two.

Chris Cornejo 23:26
Just wait.

Tim Bornholdt 23:26
But yeah, I have heard the horror stories. But I think that kind of speaks well to this as well, is, you know, sometimes you are right, in that your way of doing things is the right way. But I think it's just dangerous to settle into a mindset like, especially when you're in a company in a large organization, and you're not the one that's at the top of the food chain. Sometimes when you present a solution to a potential problem, you get kind of cornered in and you have to stick with the status quo on, you know, how things have always been done. What do you as ways, when you're in those kinds of situations of like, or even like, if we take a step back and look at what we had talked about earlier of people come to you and say, Hey, I need an app built for this. How do you walk them through a process of discovering, the getting to the root of the problem, instead of just taking what they hand to you and implementing it?

Chris Cornejo 24:20
Yeah, it usually goes back to, you know, that notion of just keep asking why. And you get to a real answer. And it's really annoying to be on the other side of that. But I have a nephew that would always ask me why no matter what I would say. And you keep trying to reframe the way you're communicating what you're trying to say. And when you do that, you actually get closer to the heart of what the communication is truly trying to be or what the intention of what you're trying to say is. And so we usually, you know, we had a designer that worked with us for a long time and our clients always would at the end of the road, when they had the app in hand, they would always come back and say, you know, the Colombo guy that was there in the beginning. They called him Colombo, because he would just sort of play stupid the whole time. And he would make people rephrase things and be like, Oh, I didn't quite catch that, you know, can you tell me again, you know, walk me through that process one more time. And each time, they were revealing a little bit more about the real process, or the real goal of what they were trying to get done. And we were capturing all of that, so that when we would present back to them, you know, a proposal for an app workflow, or, you know, a website structural diagram, and we would have these little nuggets of information sort of interspersed into there. That was something super powerful for them. And so getting them to start talking about those things, and then giving it back to them is a really great way to kind of get their buy in, because they feel like they've been heard, even if they didn't say it.

Tim Bornholdt 25:59
I love that. I can't tell you how many times I've been in client meetings where I make assumptions. I don't ask a question. And then we go forward and implement something. And then it comes back. And they say, No, no, that's not how we do it. We do it this other way. And if I would have taken a little bit of time at the beginning to dig deeper, or just even ask those kinds of dumb questions because it's rarely the things that are complex that you don't go in depth on. It's kind of the things you assume are, you know, as a technologist especially, you're like, Oh, well, you're probably using some kind of CRM for solving that problem. Or, Oh, probably you've got this kind of a solution. But then it turns out, like, no, it's, you know, someone's aunt, just you tell her and she writes it down and puts it in a filing cabinet somewhere. We never see it again. And you're just like, Wait, what, like, that's your process? So yeah, I think it's interesting, the being able to sit there and play dumb and ask dumb questions does often lead to some really startling revelations.

Chris Cornejo 27:05
Yeah. And, I mean, people have muscle memory, right. And so the more they're doing things, the more they don't even know what they're doing. And so like when, I mean, I'm assuming it's the same way for most people, when you're driving a car, I have no idea any of the thoughts that go through my head. I just drive and I go from one place to the next. And half the time I'll get there and I don't even remember the route that I took, because it's so engrained in the process of just what I've done. And so if somebody were to ask me, like, What does it take for you to get to work in the morning? If I walked through it and I just said, Well, I, you know, drive to work. That would be my first inclination, then they'd say, Well, what route do you take? And I could talk about, Well, I take this route or that route. And then they could say, Well, why do you take that route? It's like, Well, because I know that the traffic's going to be different if I take it here, and if it's later in the day, I'll take a different route, because the traffic is different that way. And you've really started to get into the nitty gritty of all the decisions that are being made to get that one thing done, which is just to get to work. And any one of those decision points is an opportunity to do something better. And if we can identify a group of those points together, as a client, and as a provider, we can really create an app that creates a lot of value, because we're hitting a lot of things that are meaningful for getting the ultimate task done.

Tim Bornholdt 28:27
And I think it's hard sometimes because people don't really like having mirrors held up to themselves or their processes. And when you are given a project, like an app and, say, you know, we need to solve this problem, sometimes, like you said, if you were able to say, I really liked your driving example because I think about that all the time, while I'm driving, you know. Is there a more efficient way or a more optimal way of me, you know, getting across the river or beating this, it's not, I guess, as big a deal with COVID, driving anywhere, but these are the games that I think people with our mindsets play. And maybe it's not even just us, but everyone just kind of assumes, you know, Well, I'm not going to take 94 going east during like rush hour, because it's going to take me four hours to get home. I'd rather play the light game on University and drive this way. You know, however it works. It's interesting taking that same mindset of walking through a business scenario and breaking it down so that you're really forced to look at the way that you've done things in the past and maybe find some way to add because things change, right, like technologies evolve, and technologies grow. So you may have made a decision five years ago, because technology was at such a place, but now, five years later, technology may be in a different place. And it might be worth revisiting some of those decisions that you made earlier.

Chris Cornejo 29:55
For sure, you know, and there's, I mean, we started developing an iPad app way back when the iPad first came out, and the biggest opportunity that was there was this, you know, all of a sudden, here's a tool that you can just sort of open up and have immediate access to all these files on this. People didn't think of it as a computer. It was like this different category. It's not my laptop that I got to plug in and get to the Wi Fi. I just pull this thing out, have access to all these sales materials that I can go out and sell them, you know, show people things and, you know, walk through different product information with. And it was a great tool to give to remote salespeople where they could go out and do their job, but be visual and not have to carry all these books and samples and all that kind of stuff. And that's worked great for a long time. But then all of a sudden, we get COVID. And those guys can't even go up, they can't go out anywhere anymore. And so is there a way now to sell with that same tool, but remotely? And you know, a lot of the apps that we've created, didn't do that. And that was something that was just not a requirement, because field salespeople were obviously in the field in front of clients. But it changes the functional requirements when all of a sudden they're not in front of clients. And now they're, you know, some of them were scrambling to kind of use their iPad and do like reflector on their computer to show it over a resume and all sorts of just bad fixes. And so, you know, is there, and we're still working on this, but is there a way to sort of create a tool that maybe it is, you know, operating locally on somebody else's iPad, and being directed by somebody on an iPad 1000s of miles away? So you get the sort of benefits of showing them something on the iPad, but not having to be right next to them.

Tim Bornholdt 31:45
That made me think of maybe a slightly different topic, but maybe similar in some ways, how has COVID impacted design generally? I would think that it's, obviously having some of the remote aspect of it is there, but you know, from your perspective, since design's in your name, right, for Design Center, so I would assume that these are things that you've really had to have a reckoning with yourself. How has your design process evolved with the changing world of COVID here in our lives?

Chris Cornejo 32:23
There's, I mean, just like from a functional level, the way that we interact with clients is fundamentally changed. So it used to be that like the beginning of a project was always this sort of organic get together, you know, invite as many people as we can into this conference room, we throw the whiteboard up, and we just start, you know, walking through scenarios and trying to get, you know, dig deep into what people are trying to do with their products and really start to literally connect the dots on these screens. And now all of that's being done remotely, which in the beginning for us was a little bit of a hiccup because we were having to learn new tools. You know, we were using like Miro to start doing these whiteboarding sessions from afar. And initially, it was kind of like a diminished experience, because you kind of lost the ability to do a lot of the hand waving and the pointing and the group thinking. But as we've evolved that and as we've learned more, it's actually becoming a really powerful tool for us that I think even after COVID we'll bring back into a i- person setting. Because it does allow for not only more participation, having everybody there on their own computers, they're able to sort of make notes, rather than just in their notebook, they're making it on the screen with us. And we're able to involve people that traditionally maybe would not be able to come to our office in St. Paul and have an in-person meeting, you know, before they would be on sort of a conference call with us. And they wouldn't be seeing things that we were writing down and we're talking, you know, Okay, yeah, John's drawing this thing out right now. And it was just a bad experience. But from a designer's like functional perspective, getting some of those digital tools on our plate to sort of facilitate those discussions has been been huge. And from, you know, a design requirement standpoint, again, the idea of remote interaction and asynchronous interaction has been something that a lot of our clients have been sort of awakened to. And so it's no longer enough to have something again that looks great locally. It has to be thought about as an experience that happens over time or across divides as well.

Tim Bornholdt 34:49
Yeah, I think I just listening to whenever we've done strategy sessions, we've had similar experiences where you've got like someone's cell phone out in the middle of the table, and you have to kind of verbally dictate out, you know, Here's what I'm drawing on a whiteboard. And I would think that it's really, with COVID especially, it's such a, it's like a blessing and a curse in a lot of ways. And I think it's not necessarily something you can ascribe. Obviously, like the death and everything COVID is awful. So I want to get that out there is, obviously I'm not pro-COVID by any means. But just so it's on the record, but I do think that COVID is one of those interesting case studies of how you need to have these kinds of mindsets of being able to be flexible and adaptable. Because everything that we have built around us is so flexible and malleable, and it's just stuff people have built. So once you know you can like change things and push things around, then you've got this opportunity, with COVID you've been presented an opportunity, to take a process that you had before with everybody in a room, kind of gathered together to get stuff done. Now everyone can be dispersed. And like you said have the added benefit of getting people who didn't necessarily want to fly to Minneapolis to have a meeting. they can participate remotely with just as much visibility as anybody else that's participating remotely.

Chris Cornejo 36:21
Yeah, and there's a tangible, you know, digital document of record of the whole interaction, which is something we never had before. We had, you know, people would take pictures of the whiteboard, and we'd send them via email. And that was kind of where that stuff would go to die. Now, I mean, it's common practice for us to pull up our original mural strategy session deep into the project, and you're able to say, Okay, are we still tracking with the strategy that we came up with, because if we're not, like, let's decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. But at least we know, kind of where we came from, in our early thoughts with the client, and obviously, thoughts evolve over time. So sometimes we've changed entirely from where the mural board was, but it's a good thing. And we can just acknowledge that. And sometimes we'll even add notes back into all mural sessions to sort of record that, so we know that in this particular type of a problem, you know, we came from here to here. And then if we ever have a similar project come up, we can go back and look at that as sort of background material. It's like, Yeah, our thoughts evolved on this. Let's make sure that we're capturing that in our new one, and hopefully evolve that again.

Tim Bornholdt 37:34
That's such a good point. Because I find so often, prior to COVID, we now, like you said, record our sessions as well, so that we have a record and can go back and look on them. But you know, prior to that, it was just whatever picture of the whiteboard you had was what you had, and you don't necessarily get to see the seven times you erased the whiteboard to come to that one conclusion. And sometimes the nuggets really were good that you erased. And because you had like one other dissenting opinion, or something else where you were like, Okay, I guess the strategy needs to move to this direction. But it's nice to have like a more complete visual of what's going on in it. And from a development standpoint, that interaction is huge. And we've been finding from our side that we need to include more developers in those strategy sessions, because the developers are making 1000s of micro decisions every time they open up their code. And if they are in alignment with you on what your strategy was from the get go, then they have that in mind as they're making those decisions. So they can weigh that in to the calculus. But all they're presented with is a picture of a whiteboard, then they need to do a lot of inferring that, you know, necessarily doesn't include, again, those seven times you erased the whiteboard to come to what you had come to.

Chris Cornejo 38:59
Yeah, and if they don't understand what each of those micro decisions is, they may take it in an entirely different direction, that then later on sort of hamstrings the whole project because some of the earlier decisions got skipped, because they sort of canceled each other out in the grand scheme of things. But they were important enough that at some point, you might go back and create functionality at an earlier decision level. And if you've skipped it, then it's like you have to, you know, go back and re-engineer the whole thing to make it work.

Tim Bornholdt 39:32
One thing I'm thinking about, so I'm just thinking of like the typical listener of this show who, you know, maybe somebody who is participating in these types of strategy sessions, and since we've kind of moved over to this topic, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Of somebody who's looking to, you know, think about the strategy of their app and you know, approaching a shop like yours or ours that that helps them flush these items ideas out, you know, how can someone prepare for a session like that? What kinds of things do they need to come prepared with, if anything, in order to have a successful upfront strategy?

Chris Cornejo 40:13
I think it's just to really start to be a little bit more objective about how you're thinking about your particular application. Like, I'm trying to think of a good example. But when you're really close to it, it seems so logical that somebody would would take your app and do X, Y, and Z with it. And that that would be a good thing. But if you can sort of take one step back and say, Okay, if they're doing X, Y, and Z, what else does X, Y and Z that I could maybe look at and see how they're doing things. And so like, I'm sure you get the same thing, but we get a lot of people that will come in and say, Hey, I want to get the Uber of ,whatever, dog walking. And on its face, that seems pretty simple. It's like, Oh, they want an app where they can plug in where they are, and that somebody will come over and walk their dog. But if you really kind of take a step back and say, Okay, what pieces of that other interaction that you're saying Uber of, like, why is Uber the thing you're going to. And then you can start to pull apart what the functional aspects of that interaction are. And you can see how they may be mapped to your particular problem, but they may not. But there may be aspects of it that do map.

So just kind of, I guess, just taking a step back and understanding that getting from A to B through X, Y, and Z, like, it's important to know what each one of those things actually is. It's not just the beginning and the end, and it's not a particular process. So then, if you can start to think about your problems in a more sort of segmented micro decision type of way, when we start talking about it, it's easier for us to start capturing those things. And they may not seem like it's important while we're capturing them. But the way that we kind of work through a strategy session is we start to get all of these micro decisions that are being made, then we start to batch sort them into other functional categories. And then we take those, and we start to batch them into, you know, stories of what can happen within an app for a user. And so, but it's important to capture each one of those things, because it might be that 12 of the same things are happening for 12 different features. And you can group those together and make something that does 12 things at once, versus 12 separate things.

Tim Bornholdt 42:41
That makes sense. And I really liked what you said right at the beginning of your answer with you know, when you're close to it, everything is logical. I've been thinking a lot about, just having a four year old and a two year old, I've been thinking a lot lately about just being in that mindset of being awful at everything basically. Just like watching my son, my two year old, even like eating cereal. It's like watching him eating a bowl of cereal is one of the most humorous things in the world, because it's like, he's got a spoon. He's got a bowl. And yet he just like sometimes he'll stick his whole face in the bowl. Sometimes he'll like use two fingers to pick up a Cheerio. Sometimes he'll like, you know, put his foot up on the table and kick the ball in a weird way. And it's just like, watching him just do things in life is so interesting and opposite of someone like me who's been like, I've been eating cereal my whole life. Right? So it's like, I know the most efficient way after doing it for so long. And I mean, I guess I could go on a side tangent of how I eat Lucky cCharms. Like I think I do that weird. But everything else though.

Chris Cornejo 43:54
Are you a marshmallow first guy?

Tim Bornholdt 43:56
No, I'm a marshmallow last guy. Okay, I'm going there. So I will pick out each of the cereal bits first, right, because you got to get the junk out of the way. Then there used to be a commercial that Lucky Charms had where they sang the order of the, so it was like, Heart, stars, horse shoes, clovers and ballons. So like you got to eat the hearts first, then eat the horseshoes, then the clovers. So it takes me like 20 minutes to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms because you have to do it like super methodically and I know it's like my weird quirky thing. But you know, that's just the way that I do it. And I guess that's a perfect metaphor for how do you prepare for these strategy sessions is when you are so close to your thing and you think your thing is so the right way to do it, it's hard articulating it to someone like me as a developer that's trying to bring your idea to life. Because I need to understand like, Okay, why did you decide to start eating cereal that way? Like, that'd be the first thing to unpack. And then like, let's work backwards to see, like, how are you solving these different problems, like, make it more efficient or make it just so transferring all of that, like, us as developers would be like the kids in this scenario and you as the product owner, and the person that's paying us to build your thing are the experts. And getting in that mindset of not necessarily talking down or looking down at somebody for not understanding your problem space, but more of putting yourself in the mindset of someone that has not been entrenched in like windows, like, selling windows, you know, for your whole life or selling, you know, whatever else it is you've been selling your whole time. It's like putting yourself in that infantile mindset of just learning and exploring and understanding I think is super critical.

Chris Cornejo 45:48
Yeah. And I mean, we sell a lot to sales organizations. And when you ask them like, Well, what's the goal of the project that we're working on? And it's like, Well, it's to make it easier for us to sell to our clients. Which on its face, that's perfect. It's like, yeah, I mean, obviously, that's what you want to do, you want to sell more efficiently. But when you put it into the hands of your clients, they don't care how easy or hard it is to sell, they just want to make it easy. They want to buy something. And actually, they probably don't even want to buy something, they want to get the results of something. But like, if you focus all of your UX, and UI decisions on making it easier to sell, it might not work to sell more product, because the buyers are not being consulted in that engagement. So like, you have to really understand, you know, who's the ultimate job seeker in this scenario, where, you know, how do you satisfy the person at the end of the chain and then let that trickle up to make your decisions?

Tim Bornholdt 46:52
How do you make sure that person has a seat at the table during those initial strategy sessions? Like in your example, the buyer, would be the one that you're ultimately trying to solve for. How do you get that buyer persona to be included in the strategy?

Chris Cornejo 47:08
It's really tough. I mean, that's the short answer. Because, you know, designers at their core hate this idea of design by committee. And bringing a buyer into the scenario is really ripe for that type of decision making where, and we could go on a tangent too about, you know, like, the customer's always right, and some of these things where everybody's opinion counts. But you need to have a particular type of buyer representative in your core stakeholder group, if you can find them. And it's generally somebody who, and this is where it's really tough, it has to be somebody who's reflective enough to understand what they're doing when they're buying something. But objective enough to not think that it's the only way to do it, if that makes sense. Like finding that person who, this is my process to buy something, and I understand that not everybody does this, but this was all of the decisions I was making along the way to do that. And that's a very rare person to find, you do find them occasionally.

Tim Bornholdt 48:21
It is. We are working on a project right now with a startup, and it involves the opinions of doctors, and there's one doctor who has kind of signed on as like the chief adviser of the startup. And so he's been very prolific in our conversations. And, you know, for good reason, like, he's the core audience for this product. And so, you know, we want his voice, but it's hard, because sometimes, like, you know, the way that he wants things to work directly conflict with another doctor on the team that wants things to work a different way. And it's one of those things, like, how do you solve for so many different personas that could ultimately be your end user? How do you determine which path is the right way to go?

Chris Cornejo 49:10
I think the easiest thing in that scenario would be to find what each of them is trying to accomplish with whatever the process is. And so there may be three different ways to get there. But if what they're trying to accomplish is the same, and you can understand sort of how they define success if they get there, the process can be taught. The process can be, you know, what is it three months you have to do something before it becomes habit, like, those types of interactions can be changed if the result is worth it. And so, you know, like salespeople are really hard to change, you know, in terms of their process. Salespeople are one of the hardest people to change, doctors probably a little bit above that, but because they've done something in a way that's brought them success. So getting them to do something different is usually really tough. But if you can prove to them that the result is going to be as good or better than what they're experiencing now, they'll modify their behavior. And that's the part that you can't force. They have to make those decisions on their own.

Tim Bornholdt 50:17
Yeah, and that's absolutely for anyone out there that's starting up a business and trying to identify that core user of your product, or the person that you're ultimately going to be, you know, getting income from, it's really hard. It's one of the hardest parts. Like, I think building software, in general, just writing code is way easier than the business side of things. Because at least, you know, we basically invent a whole world and get to create whatever we want in it. But it's like the people that are out there actually selling and the people that are consuming it, you know, they're the ones you have to figure out what it is you're getting built. And that easily the hardest part of this whole gig.

Chris Cornejo 51:00
Oh, yeah. And I was thinking that, you know, when I spent some time in sales, that whole notion of like, don't start talking about your features before you understand what people are trying to do. Because, again, people are not in the mood to hear about new ways to do things. They want to be able to get what they're doing already done easier. But they don't care how that happens, as long as it's giving them a better result. And it's the business people that have to figure out all of that stuff, where it's like, okay, just because a product is better, doesn't mean that it's going to be adopted. I mean, you can go back to the whole, like, beta versus VHS thing. Beta was a better format. VHS took over because it was marketed better. But, you know, marketing just meant that it was, in theory, easier to use, or it was more available, you know, so it's not necessarily the solution that gives you the benefit. It's somebody else helping you promote the benefit a little bit better.

Tim Bornholdt 52:00
Now that makes perfect sense. Chris, I could talk to you for hours. This is fascinating. How can people get in touch with you and learn more about what you're doing over at Design Center?

Chris Cornejo 52:10
The best way to get a hold of me is probably just to email me. You can throw my email in the description here. If you go to our website, you can see some of the work that we've done. You know, really, it's kind of like telling your grandmother what you do for a living. It's sometimes hard to articulate it. Back when I started in design, my grandmother was convinced that I made magazines. And I had done some work in magazines. But that's not what I did. But so the work on our website is some of the projects that we've done. But really the work behind the stuff that we show on our website is where I think our real real value is. And that's just kind of, you know, I'm always open to having conversations with people where if they reach out to me, I like to get on kind of just a call, half an hour, usually what I try and do is have them pitch me their idea. And then I just play that Columbo role, and I start to ask questions and play stupid. And usually through that I can get a sense of what they're trying to do. And you know, from there, the conversation can kind of lead to what a solution might want to be.

Tim Bornholdt 53:22
It's a great way of doing it. The Colombo reference, I've heard that like three or four times in the past few months, and it always makes me laugh, because I think anybody that's under my age probably has never heard of Columbo before. But it's like, it's so prolific of a certain generation. I't'd like probably quoting The Office or something.

Chris Cornejo 53:45
I've gotten old enough now where, you know, our developers in our shop, they don't understand some Seinfeld references and some Simpsons references and the bar just keeps shifting, you know, to the point where, you know, I just got my license renewed, and I had to give them my social security card and my birth certificate. And the woman taking all of these things was like, Oh, it's so fragile, because like, everything's really old. References start to get old and everything else is getting old with it. But I think the Colombo thing is so prolific because they were in syndication, like, everywhere back when I was a kid. So if you were at home sick, you watched The Price Is Right, and then you flipped it over and Colombo was probably on.

Tim Bornholdt 54:31
I think I'll leave it off with a Simpsons reference that's very apt is when Principal Skinner is like, Am I that out of touch with the children? And then he's like, No, of course not. It's the children who are wrong. And I think that pretty much sums that up. So, Chris, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it.

Chris Cornejo 54:52
Thank you. This has been fun.

Tim Bornholdt 54:55
A big thanks to Chris Cornejo for joining me on the podcast today. You can learn more about him and Design Center at DesignCenterIdeas.com.

Show notes for this episode can be found at ConstantVariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the passionate Jordan Daoust.

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