DF Thoughts

Sidney Smith and the road to design

I spent the summer of 1995 in a room the size of a closet. I was working in the basement of Sidney Smith Hall at UofT, on an undergraduate thesis project which involved studying the Pre-Columbian populations of North America, examining osteological remains for indicators of bacterial infections like tuberculosis. And while I was certainly spending long hot days underground examining the physical record, I was also conducting in-depth research into the cultural practices and environmental conditions of a highly complex society.

As a young student of anthropology, I quickly learned that the human condition can only be understood as a set of multi-dimensional factors, which includes (but is not limited to) biological imperatives, cultural mores, environmental context and more. Truthfully, my work at Sid Smith had nothing to do with software design, but it had everything to do with Design Thinking.

There’s a great myth out there that what designers do is to make pretty pictures, and while that’s an absolutely critical talent that some of us have, I’d like to dispel that myth right now. Over the next few months I will be introducing you to the members of the Design Community of Practice and our highly diverse skill sets.

It’s important to understand that at our core, we are investigators, problem solvers and communicators. Design Thinking is a methodology we employ to thoroughly understand the problem space we are working in, and a way in which we develop and test solutions to de-risk outcomes. It’s a methodology similar to the scientific method and fits very nicely in an agile environment, which is why you often hear about it in the context of software development. It allows us to thoroughly understand our users while at the same time move very quickly towards solutions that we can test and refine as we go.

In my mind, the tenets of a Design Thinking culture are:

  • A Focus on people and the human experience
  • Following a make-and-model approach to explore problem and solution spaces
  • Striving for continuous learning by testing and iterating with users

But let’s bring it back to people. At Scotiabank, we have an enormous opportunity to change the way our customers experience digital banking and financial advice. In particular, I’d say that the opportunity is squarely focused on our ability to move beyond a model of transaction-based interactions to personalized, relationship-based digital experiences built on value, ease and advice. Why is that so crucial? Because building deep relationships based on value and creating a shared history – that’s what human beings care about. And that’s what we remember – the experiential, not the transactional.

As a designer, my first step is to build a deep understanding of our customers – what are their beliefs, motivations, desires? What is the context and environment in which they use our digital products? We will approach this research in a variety of ways, but fundamentally this means deeply listening to real people; it means talking directly to our customers on a regular basis about their experiences with our software. It’s about building empathy. Practically speaking, we will be engaging our customers in every step of our development process – not just at the end when we’ve decided to ship some software. As part of this process, we should also religiously be using our own software applications so that internally we understand the experiences we are asking people to consume.

To support this mission, we’ve developed two academic partnerships that will significantly augment our ability to deploy Design Thinking as a core strategy. In September we announced the first, partnering with Rotman DesignWorks, a business design studio embedded in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Rotman MBA students will help us tackle business and innovation challenges using design thinking as a methodology. This week we announce our second partnership with OCAD to create the Scotiabank Design Thinking Research Studio where we will produce research, workshops and educational programming. Both partnerships will help Scotiabank gain greater access to young design talent and provide students with hands-on experience working on real customer experiences in digital banking.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: Technology will continue to be the single most important enabler of the human experience for years to come. When we create technology solutions, our goals should be in service of improving the lives, and in our case very directly, the fortunes of the people who have chosen us to be a partner in their financial journey.