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How Designers Tell a Story IDEO Stories Medium 19/05/17, 19:09

How Designers Tell a Story IDEO


Stories Medium
Jason Baker Aug 22, 2016

Ever wonder what Chaucer has to do with call centers?

I hadnt eitherthat is, until a few months ago. I was working with IDEONew
Yorks Alex Gallafent and Erika Lee to reimagine what a contact center could be,
both for callers and the agents tasked with helping them. During the research
phase, wed learned that folks often call in at low moments. Theyre angry.
Theyre confused. They can feel pretty disempowered. We also observed that the
agents stuck to their script no matter what, which made the conversations seem
one-sided and forced callers to play defense. The agents werent getting much
satisfaction from the calls either, so they too felt frustrated and anxious.

Wrapping our arms around these and other insights, we prototyped a


comprehensive suite of tools and training modules to support healthy, productive
conversationsat both ends of the line. There are sensitive moments in a call, for
example, when agents need approved language they can trust and that callers can
understand. To address these moments, we sat down with the agents themselves to
co-design a series of conversation anchors. The idea was to craft simple, clear
language that allowed them to express empathy in a natural rather than mandated
way. When we live-prototyped calls using the conversation anchors, the agents
were able to navigate complex processes and volatile solutions, and the callers
wed recruited were able to take in thorny, potentially frustrating information
and that made everybody feel more confident.

Along with our client team, we were excited about where wed landed. But it was
a big shift, with big implications, and we knew that for our overall strategy to take
root in the larger organization wed need to think carefully about how to share it.
What kind of end-of-project interventions would invite people to understand and
feel the work? Probably not a slide presentation.
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How Designers Tell a Story IDEO Stories Medium 19/05/17, 19:09

In New Yorks Makespace, Alex Gallafent pretends not to be playing Jenga.

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How Designers Tell a Story IDEO Stories Medium 19/05/17, 19:09

One morning two weeks before our final share, Alex came in and told Erika and
me hed had a vision in the shower. He said our project, which had these multiple
players and story threads, had something in common with The Canterbury Tales.
In Chaucers poem, after all, pilgrims from very different backgroundsa nun, a
knightfind themselves at an inn, a place where theyre equal.

We do a lot of thinking in front of each other at


IDEO, and sometimes we play to think. By stoking
a collective spirit of play we get to good
ideas faster.

Now, thanks to Alex, we had a useful prompt: Write the tale of each player in our
projects journey, and figure out where and how they intersect. Thats what wed
worked to locate all along, the points of mutual empathy. Wed just figured out a
way to map them onto a story.

The day of generating Chaucerian tales eventually led us to design an installation


the size of a conference room. First we mocked it up in the Makespace using
wood blocks and Post-its. Then we made it for real, creating an experience out of
scaffolding and sound, posters and prototypes. We wrote a bigger, simpler story
building it word by wordand vinyl-lettered it onto curtains. The final
installation nudged visitors along a journey from dark to light, revealing how all
the pieces might fit togetherand those stakeholders are now empowered and
excited to implement our work within their organization.

Our process at IDEO puts me in mind of a schoolyard where kids invent new
games every day. The elaboration of rules depends on whichever personalities
show up. Sometimes a games rules feel revelatory, sometimes ridiculous, but
either way we get to try them out just by playing. The revelatory are remembered,
the ridiculous revised. Like a schoolyard or like Chaucers democratic way-stop,
IDEO is a place where everyone will help you chase a wild idea if only you invite
them. Tinkering alongside the right collaborators, Ive noticed, you can sometimes

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How Designers Tell a Story IDEO Stories Medium 19/05/17, 19:09

think yourself into a new universe.

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