The Phone Challenge

After our groups settle on a problem to tackle we ask them to go and do some interviews with potential customers to learn more about the problem. To help them with their interview technique we do an activity based on Stanford D-School’s wallet challenge. But instead of a designing a wallet we ask our groups to build a mobile phone.

For this activity the three of us dress up as different characters. Then we split the group into 3 teams and each team designs the ideal phone for one of us. Douglas gets to be a 29 years old motorbike taxi driver, Sebastian becomes a 16 year old schoolboy who gets bullied regularly, and I get the dress up as a 45 year old housewife!

Our first time running this activity was with Uadilifu Youth Group where we entered the room to much amusement. When the laughter had died down we asked each team to look and observe their designated character and then spend 5 minutes drawing the ideal phone. We do this to highlight the difficulty of designing something without knowledge of the customer. The design must be based on assumptions which are often wrong. For example, the team designing for Douglas thought he was a policeman. And the team designing for myself didn’t really know who I was!

Next we give the teams some time to plan an interview guide and then allow them 3 minutes to interview their character. This first interview is always very difficult. The teams often open with the question, “what features would you like in your phone,” to which we respond, “I don’t know.” This is normally followed by silence and some awkwardness. Then someone in the team usually starts suggesting a series of features and asking for feedback. We act indifferently to these suggestions and shrug (as you can see we like to make life difficult for the groups).

At the end of this first interview the teams are usually a bit bemused because the interview has been so bad.  To stir a reaction we ask the simple question: “what do you know about your customer?”

We ask this to help the groups realise where they have gone wrong. The essential requirement in design is an understanding of your customer. You need to know who they are, what they do, what difficulties they face, what worries they have, what are their dreams and so on. After a chat focused on this we give the groups 5 more minutes to interview their customers. Usually this second interview is great. They probe around the customer and try to build a deeper understanding.

Next we give the groups 15 minutes to draw 3 prototypes and then a further 4 minutes with their customer to gather feedback. Then the teams go away and must make their final phone out of some materials we provide. Finally, they present their prototyped phone to their customer and receive some final feedback, which is mostly very positive.

This task has been a great success but our worry was always how well will the groups remember the key lessons in the real world. When they are out of the classroom interviewing potential customers will they ask the right questions and work to build a deep understanding?

Well last weekend an opportunity arose in class to test this. The idea being developed by one group required a much better understanding of the customers and because the session was taking place in the centre of town where many people are, we asked the team to go outside for 25 minutes and do some interviews. They were a bit nervous at first but all overcame their apprehensions and did wonderfully well. It was so fulfilling to see our hard work actually pay off in real terms and the data from the interviews was so helpful in progressing their business idea.