Lessons learned between NYC and the Sea: Lesson 1


The Socratic paradox is the idea that the wisest people know that they know nothing.

The concept is that only the most foolish think they know everything; you can’t know all of your ‘unknowns’. Between my recent jaunts at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival in New York City and Summit at Sea through the Bahamas I found myself humbled by the mountain of insights which served as a reminder to never forget how much there always is to learn and keep learning. As a testament to that fact, over a few posts this week I’ll capture some of the insights and anecdotes I found myself marvelling at.

Lesson 1: Empathise often to design better experiences

Experiences should be about feeling, thinking and doing – not mere exposure to something. So it seems natural that empathy is at the centre of designing content that speaks to the senses and cognition. Sub Rosa, an agency building their work around empathy, really brought it home during their Co-Founder's talk at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival.

One of their most impressive and unlikely projects was working with GE Healthcare on improving mammography exams. General Electric (GE), makers of mamography machines were concerned that women weren’t returning for their breast examinations and they wanted to know how they could improve the experience. Sub Rosa created a pop up downtown to open up the topic of breast cancers and breast screening. They spent 30 days surveying women who had recently gone through mammograms and found a few unsurprising things. Firstly, no-one enjoys wearing a tissue-thin disposable gown. Especially if that’s coupled with unflattering lighting and cold rooms. Also? Women were put-off by the language and process around examinations which imply they’re there to find an already existing disease – not to have a simple check-up.

Taking inspiration from day spas, the gowns were swapped for Victoria’s Secret robes and the scent and lighting in the room were changed (via iPad) to a more inviting and luxurious experience. Examination staff were trained to tweak their language, to casualise the check-up. It turned out that the temperature of the room was made deliberately colder to extend the life of the mammography machines, but in the name of comfort, Sub Rosa tried turning the temperature up a few degrees. Incredibly they found that this slight difference softened the breast tissue and increased the efficacy of the tests by 12%.

It’s the kind of brief that boggles the mind at first. But it’s the kind of work made interesting and important by acknowledging the most human of interactions.

Another of Sub Rosa’s projects was to showcase Nike’s Hyperfeel shoe, which as a product differentiator, is for a barefoot style run and sensitive to surfaces underfoot. They created an indoor course that people could walk through in the dark and feel radical changes in the surface. At the end of the experience, the Hyperfeel shoe was showcased alongside a personalised map of their footsteps, noting most meditative state according to the surface they were treading on. (NB: must choose astroturf to heighten one's contemplative state.)

In return for building an experience all about the connection between your feet and the ground they managed to get impressive media coverage, sales and social engagement. By founding the experience on feelings and perceptions they created something memorable, share-able and successful.

Lesson number one: don’t simply sell shoes; stand in them with your audience.

Lindsay RogersComment