97 UX Things

Brian Sullivan - Frame the Opportunity Before Brainstorming the Solution

March 15, 2022 Brian Sullivan & Dan Berlin Season 2 Episode 6
97 UX Things
Brian Sullivan - Frame the Opportunity Before Brainstorming the Solution
Show Notes Transcript

Brian Sullivan provides pointers about not letting solutioning get in the way of brainstorming.

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things Podcast. Dan Berlin here, your host and book editor. This week, I'm joined by Brian Sullivan, who wrote the chapter Frame the Opportunity Before Brainstorming the Solution. Welcome Brian.

Brian Sullivan:

Hi Dan, how are you doing?

Dan Berlin:

I'm doing great. Thanks for joining the podcast here today. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Brian Sullivan:

Sure. My name is Brian Sullivan. I'm the Director of User Research and Design Strategy at Sabre. And in that role, I lead a team of user researchers that work in the travel industry. And we work globally with different airlines and travel agencies. I also lead the digital accessibility practice at Sabre, which is award winning. And I lead the design thinking program, which includes product design, thinking and service design thinking. I teach at Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas in the graduate program. I've been in the industry about 25 years.

Dan Berlin:

And can you tell folks what Sabre is? I know it's one of those companies that affects everyone, but people may not even know it exists.

Brian Sullivan:

Really... and that's a great question, because a lot of people don't realize that travel is very complicated and there's really only three companies and that do what Sabre does. If you have jumped on a plane, or booked a hotel room, or taken a cruise or rented a car, the shopping and fulfillment of that on the back end is going to usually be done by a company like Sabre. Sabre is the most popular platform in the Western Hemisphere, completely dominate the South American market. We've made a lot of headway into Europe and Asia recently. But if you've ever shopped or booked any type of travel or tourism on the back end, it's probably being done by Sabre.

Dan Berlin:

Yup, yup. Thanks for that. And can you tell us about your UX journey? How did you discover UX and how did you wind up where you are today?

Brian Sullivan:

That's such a terrific question. I think everybody has a different journey and for people that are a little bit older, like me, you didn't have programs like Bentley University or other college programs like Kent State. You kind of had to jump into it in a different way. So my user experience journey began with technical writing and there was a special interest group through the Society for Technical Communication on usability and I joined that. I was going to all of these different seminars, and there really weren't a lot of books at the time, but I was just devouring them. It turned out, there was an open house at Sabre. I was in a role as a technical writer and there was an open house for the usability labs. I went in there and I just said, this is it. This is what I want to do. Because I was devouring stuff on web psychology, and usability. That was from the STC. I really took a deep dive into it and then I found out there was this organization called the Usability Professionals Association, and that's when I found my tribe. And, at the time, the usability labs at Sabre, it was one of the first companies that had its own... publicly held company that had its own usability lab. And it was founded by Janice James, who founded the Usability Professionals Association. I ended up having a couple interviews and I got a job. I was surprised that I got it. I just started running usability test after usability test. And I would really say, and I'm not trying to brag, but for a while in the travel industry... I'd spent about 12 years just doing that... I probably was the person in the world that had the most experience doing that just because I was running so many projects and surveys. But my journey began just with being curious and going to an open house and reading books and talking to people.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Thanks for that. And super interesting. I didn't realize the connection between early Sabre usability and UPA at the time, the Usability Professionals Association. You also mentioned award winning accessibility, can you tell us a little bit more about that, and what you have going on there and how you achieve that?

Brian Sullivan:

Sure. That was a program that we started a few years ago. We have a lot of global contracts. It's embarrassing, in all honesty, that in America we are farther behind than the rest of the world and it may be because of a cultural difference. So in Asia, they're using the WCAG 2.2. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In the United States, it's just not as heavily enforced. About six years ago, the person that was the leader at Sabre said, hey, I have this wicked problem. He looked around the room and he goes, Brian, I want you to solve it. So I ended up doing a little bit of research from companies that have really good accessibility programs and it takes a lot to run a successful program. So the way that we ended up setting it up is we had to get with the legal department to talk about, okay, what is our compliance policy? What is that going to be? We had to publish that. We also had to look at what are the tools that we needed. And so we had to look at different tools. We also had to make sure that we had consultants that we could talk to every month just to shape our program. We also needed to train our staff. We use LinkedIn learning. And what we did is we looked at the different learning that was out there and with the HR department, I tried to figure out, if I am a writer, what do I need to know? What is the training I need to take, if I am a front-end developer? If I am a product manager? If I'm a designer? And so we figured out what is the role based training and through the learning management system, we pushed that out, and it became a requirement to get this training done. We also needed to hire a couple of people to do accessibility audits for us. Some of that is done internally, but we also have third-party audits. We have, I call it the ACE team, the Accessibility Compliance Experts. So the ACE teams meet weekly, and we look at the progress across the Sabre portfolio. So really, it's it's about establishing what is the program look like? What is our what is our policy? What are the tools? What are the standards? What is the training? What is the auditing? So it's trying to do this at scale. I think the thing that we're trying to do that's a little bit unique, it's a bit of the carrot and the stick approach. So on one hand, you can get slapped on the wrist and fined legally, and that's typically how accessibility programs are defined. That's the stick, but also I think there's a carrot. And I think it applies to what we do, Dan. Carrot is when you consider other perspectives, when you consider people that have different abilities, not a disability, a different ability, when we are inclusive of them, that is ripe for innovation to occur. And I think that when you can get people to think about if we consider these other opportunities, and I call it opening the aperture a little bit by including them, then we make better solutions, better products, better experiences. And I think people are really sensitive to that right now. So that's how we've shaped the program. Knowbility is a firm out of Austin. they were really impressed with the work. We didn't win the award right away, it took about three years. They really liked how we have shaped and rolled out the program. And I'm lucky enough to have Jennifer Keene-Moore is the lady that is running it now. She has relevant experience at some big brands doing it, so she's on board, she's fantastic. And that's how we run the program there. I think it's a way that people have really embraced it. And it's a lot of fun. It really is a lot of fun.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, thanks for all that. Super actionable for folks in terms of how you went about implementing that and giving steps for some of our listeners if they want to do that as well. So, thanks for that. Moving on to your chapter Frame the Opportunity Before Brainstorming the Solution. Can you tell us about that, please?

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, I think that when you're doing product design thinking or service design thinking, the first thing to consider is how we frame the opportunity. And I like to sometimes refer to it as framestorm before you brainstorm. And I think that sometimes when you initially come into design challenge, the solution is already built into the way that it's framed. Right? And so if we talk about the aperture being a little bit closed, because people say, oh, well, our design challenges, we need to build a dashboard for XYZ. Well, you know, is it a dashboard? What is it that they really need to know? And so, if we take a step back and shape it in terms of three steps, and I call it the who, what, and why. The who, what and why. So for any design challenge, the first part is the who. Who are we doing this for? And it's a specific person usually trying to do something. That's the what, what are they trying to achieve? And then if you dig a little bit deeper, why are they trying to do this? That's the who, the what, and the why. And some of your listeners may have read the book by Simon Sinek, Start with Why. It's a really wonderful book. But what we're trying to do is think about change, right? And so Dan, I think you know this as well as anybody, if you were to ask anyone, hey, do you want to change? They're gonna say, oh hell no, I'm fine just the way I am. I love me, right? But if you switch it just a little bit, and if you can tease it out and just say, hey, would you like to improve here? And the answer is almost always yes. And it's a big little thing to say change versus improve, but how do we level up an experience, and if we don't frame the opportunity in such a way, the problem space that we're going to explore becomes really narrow. And one of the things that I've done is I've moved more from usability into, co-creating design and into product design thinking and service design thinking. What I have found is that it's really important that that starting point, where we shape that design challenge, where we framestorm before we brainstorm is really key because people often don't think that way. So that's what the chapter is about. And it's really making sure that directionally we're able to maybe have a better design challenge, so that we can explore the problem area a little bit more. But it all starts with the design challenge.

Dan Berlin:

You mentioned the who, what and why. But are there other attributes of how you should be framing things at the beginning of these brainstorming sessions that people find helpful?

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, I'm really glad that you asked that. So the who, what, why is one way to frame it. I have another tool that I like to use, I call it a two-minute read out. And a two-minute read out, it's almost a fill in the blank. So our project is called... fill in the blank. The people that use it are... fill in the blank. Currently, they struggle because... fill in the blank. In a perfect world, they would be able to do... fill in the blank. And that would be awesome because... fill in the blank, right? And you're almost adding... you switch at a certain point from a who, why, into who, what, wow. And the wow is important because it's an elevator statement, I don't want to call it a pitch. Because an elevator pitch might take five floors to explain. But let's imagine that you had one floor and you had one floor to do your pitch, you need to have a who, what, wow statement that is so compelling that people take a step back. And one of the things that we do is, let's define the two-minute readout, right. And then let's do some user research, get an understanding of the context, do some journey mapping. And then if we can take the top two or three things that we want to do, and create who, what, wow statements, then we have a really good direction for the solutioning that we want to do. So that's some other things that I use. The other thing, that if you have a really defined product already, using the business model canvas is really popular, because you're talking about segments and channels and revenue streams and cost structures and differentiation. So those are some tools that the more experienced product managers that I work with, I might actually have them, hey, let's fill that out and use that as a starting point. But then let's try to distill that down into who, what, why. And the first thing that I do always with a who, what, why is I check to see, is the solution already defined? So let's build a dashboard for blah, blah, blah. But who, what, why; who what wow, two-minute readout, business model canvas, those are some of the tools early on that you can use for framing the opportunity.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Great. And how do you get to that wow? How do you determine what that wow is and what is the appropriate wow for your goals?

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, and that's such a compelling question. I would say that requires three things. The first thing is it should be authentic. And what I mean by authentic is, it should really be based upon real user research. Right? We've either talked to someone, sent out a survey, or we've observed them, so it's authentic. So it's not just an opinion. The other thing besides being authentic is that it needs to be revealing, right? So when somebody says this, who, what, wow, you're like, oh, my God, I've never thought of it that way. Right? And the thing about that is that sometimes we aim low. And how we're going to do our who, what, wow, it's not much of a wow, it's more of a well, huh? Well, that's obvious. And so if it's not that revealing that they don't take that step back and say, wow, that's going going to be an issue. I think the third thing you have to do is there's got to be that one metric that matters. So the one metric that matters, and not to you or the business, but to that person. Right? So if you are a hotel front desk clerk, what matters to you, right? What matters to somebody that's a revenue analyst? So it's what's that one metric that matters to them? And if you can do that and you have that who, what, wow statement, a lot of times that first who, what, wow statement is not that good. It's a sloppy copy. It's a rough draft, right? And you have to challenge people to level it up. And so there's a lot of, you know, let's try that again, let's try that again. And a lot of times, putting a metric in there, that one metric that matters, it really speaks to someone. So an an example that we might use comes from American history. It's John F. Kennedy who said, I believe, by the end of the century that we can send an astronaut to the moon and they can safely return to Earth. Well, the who in that is the astronaut, the what is going to the moon, the wow is safely returning to Earth. Because we could we could hit the moon for a long time, but safely returning that person to Earth was the wow statement. And people took a step back, and they go wow, can we do this? The other thing Dan, that I'll mention about who, what, wow statements is, if it's so compelling, people are going to say this, oh my God, show me this. I want to demo, show me this. Because the other thing that can happen is they're gonna say, I don't believe that and you need to prove it. Right? And so we think about a journey map, that's where we're identifying pain points. The who, what, wow, is the talking points. The people that don't believe it need proof points and that's where experiments and data and usability testing comes into play. And then once you show them the proof points, it almost becomes that much easier to get funding and resources to it. But pain points, talking points, proof points.

Dan Berlin:

I think what you said there about KPIs or having a personal KPI was super interesting. It really seems that is the only way to wow someone is to really understand what will move the needle for them. And that personal KPI... we only think about business KPIs, but we should be thinking about that at the end user as well.

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, I agree with you because what we're trying to do with research and design is we're trying to do behavior change. At the end, we want someone to change from maybe the way that they're normally doing something, a task, a routine, whatever it is. And if you can have that one metric that matters to them, that speaks to them and they understand the importance, the likelihood of them changing their behavior or routine is, I think, exponentially increased, because they see the value of the change that you're putting on them. And I think that's why that one metric that matter, it's really critical. When you're coming up with a who, what, wow.

Dan Berlin:

Especially if they're getting feedback on a regular basis and getting those updates to see how that change is coming along.

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, because they can see that this is making a difference and it's compelling. If you think about the fact that we are all creatures of habit... so we normally have... there's this thing that trigger triggers us into whatever the routine is, right? So something will get us started doing a routine, then we'll go through these tasks, whatever it is, and the routine, but it's the reward. Where they're seeing that reward and then they understand, oh, my God, the next time this happens, here's the trigger. And as long as I get that reward and I get a some type of treatment, maybe I get a bonus, or I get time back or something in my day. So yeah, that one metric that matters, and getting that feedback and that reward, that's what helps people to change their habits, routines and behaviors.

Dan Berlin:

So what else about your chapter were you hoping to convey here today?

Brian Sullivan:

I think that the main message is that before we dive headlong into any project, take a step back and don't just start solutioning. Don't just jump, take a step back and just ask why. Who, what, why. And maybe you open the aperture and then you can explore different things. And I think a lot of times we get really busy with our work And we don't take that step back to say why.

Dan Berlin:

Yup. And we so quickly jump to solutioning. So yeah, thank you for all of that. Brian, thank you for that information about your career and your chapter. In our final moments here, we like getting a career tip for folks. Whether they're breaking into UX now, or they have lots of experience, do you have a career tip for everyone?

Brian Sullivan:

Yeah, it's such a good question, especially again, the way you framed it, because the advice that I would give for really just about anyone, whether you're moving from campus to career, or you're at your first job and you're trying to level up. The thing that I think that is important is it's more about your mindset than your skill set. And it's not that the skill set's not important, it is. But your mindset, I think, is really imfportant. And I think that a lot of times people have a fixed mindset. And they see things as black and white and there aren't different options for me and they're a little bit close minded. And you know, we're in the business, Dan, of being super creative, and we have to deal with a lot of feedback. And I think having an open mindset allows us to grow and it allows us to be open to new experiences and new ideas, new input. And so having a growth mindset, I think, is really important. And it's hard. It's really hard for younger designers that are, you know, they're pixel perfect designers. And they will take critiques personally, it's almost like a personal attack. But it's really about the work, making the work better. Getting that input and growing. So it's really about mindset, not skillset. And I would say the same thing, if somebody is transitioning from being a contributor to a manager. Your mindset is more important than your skill set. I'm not diminishing the skill set, but it's the mindset that I think can set you apart from people. So that would be the advice that I would give just about any person that's in this field.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. That's wonderful. Thank you for that. And it's so true that, especially in design, no matter where you are in design, whether you're a researcher who's moderating sessions, and was getting critique on that, or you're a designer doing wireframes, or visual design, there's critique opportunities there. We very much have to be open to that because in UX, it depends, it always depends.

Brian Sullivan:

Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

So Brian, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Brian Sullivan:

Oh, you're welcome. I had a blast Dan. And congratulations on the podcast continued success, sir.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Thank you for that. My guest today has been Brian Sullivan, author of the chapter Frame the Opportunity Before Brainstorming the Solution. Thanks for listening, everyone. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source and I'm your host and book editor Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.