Solving the right problem requires everyone to be involved.

skinny prototype


One of the challenges of designing improved customer and user experience is the complexity of the business that will be supporting and delivering that experience. Business functions that drive experience decisions include product, marketing, technology, HR, legal, finance, customer services and operations. It can sometimes be hard work trying to distil even the most basic user experience into something that works optimally – let alone one that is engaging.

The best designed experiences are the ones that have had the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible – to clearly understand the eco-system and processes that support those experiences. Often though it can be challenging to get everyone involved and sustain that involvement across multiple stages of a project. People are busy, they are travelling, they are distributed across multiple locations and sometimes it is hard to get them all into one room at critical moments.

Another challenge is that often you may only have a small amount of time with an individual business function early on in the process. This is usually not enough to get a true understanding of the specifics of the way it operates and what it needs to be successful. When you start to design the detailed experience this lack of context can lead to solutions that may not meet the requirements of individual stakeholder groups or that is not viable for the organisation to deliver consistently.

Over the years we have employed several strategies to try and develop a better understanding of a business and its’ functions. A series of co-design workshops, combined with prototyping has proven to be one of the most successful. We employed this strategy with Skinny Mobile to develop their new website.

How does it work? In a nutshell – you spend some time up front with all the critical business stakeholders in order to understand  their requirements. You develop a prototype of the services that will deliver on those requirements. You then workshop with the entire stakeholder group and make modifications to the prototype together, as detail is uncovered or agreement is made. You may focus on a single user journey or multiple business rules. At the end of the session the outputs are reviewed and noted. The prototype is updated, then you repeat the process with the same group – until all significant processes and criteria have been translated into the prototype and the detailed functional design is complete.

With Skinny, the prototype for the site was implemented on a large whiteboard as a series of wireframes, customer journeys and customer profiles. They were (and this is typical) a bit rough, and largely unpolished, but this helps facilitate the process as there is little resistance to change something that is not finished. Standing in front of the prototype the stakeholder team are then able to be intimately involved in the design process, as we work together to best understand the parameters and requirements, and work through an improved user experience.

The result of this approach for Skinny was a radically simplified user experience across all functions of its site. It’s not a flawless method – and still requires testing with customers – but it does provide a better common understanding of the site mode and experience across the business.

More importantly, the result is a highly engaged business stakeholder group who have a deep and shared understanding of the intended user experience, which ensures that the project can be delivered more efficiently and effectively.

Obviously, this process illustrates only translating existing business function to a better experience – most of the time this is the reality for New Zealand businesses, who are not able to both transform core internal functions and processes while at the same time deliver improving experiences for customers. However, one of the virtues of the co-design approach is that it does uncover where some of the that transformation needs to occur, and provides some impetus to do something about it.

Find out what the result of the co-design workshops were for Skinny Mobile and its website.