No time to brake: Three takeaways from an unconventional project for Pon

Loz Mills - 2 July 2020

An intro to Pon

Pon is an established company offering mobility products, services and solutions. Starting as a small family business in 1895, they currently have over 13.000 employees in over 30 countries. Pon is the number one car importer in the Netherlands for brands like Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda, Audi and Porsche.

Pon continuously invests in new, sustainable mobility solutions and technical innovations, with the objective to put ideas into practice as fast as possible. Their no-nonsense, considered, pragmatic approach plays well with our agile, user-driven, research-based way of working. So when Pon asked Hike One to pitch them a new car configurator, we didn’t hesitate to jump in. 

In this article, we will describe three unusual approaches to this project, and what we learned along the way.

Flexibility and adapting to the new normal

Corona times
Our project with Pon kicked off two weeks after the Hike One team began working from home, due to Covid-19. Like everyone working from home during this time, we had Zoom meetings with the children of our colleagues playing in the background, we got to know each other’s office setups or kitchen walls, and we looked forward to the inevitable on-screen appearances from various co-worker cats. We enjoyed getting to know a new side of our colleagues, and figuring out how best to work together and play to our strengths in this new context.

Changes to our workflow
At Hike One we work in an agile environment, and our culture of knowledge sharing means that we have a large toolbox of skills at our disposal. Remote work provided us with the opportunity to use these skills in a new way, adapting our workflow on the fly. 

For this project, we worked in Figma so we could collaborate in realtime in one file. We kept an open Slack call in the team channel, so anyone could pop in or out of the conversation. It was as if we were in the room together, and it was really cool to see all those cursors working so rapidly in one screen without coming across any overlap errors. Miro was our go-to tool for an adapted remote design sprint and any collaborative exercises along the way. We used Lookback for remote usability testing, and we had regular stand-ups and check-outs in Slack, to make sure we all stayed energised and working towards the same goal.

Assessing the quality
When the dust has settled after each project we like to do a retrospective to reflect on what we did, where we could improve and what aspects we were really happy with. It also ensures that we are always moving forward so that each product can be better than the last.

Our 1st takeaway

Going digital turned out to be a gift instead of an obstacle

Our retrospective for this project uncovered that we actually adapted very well to the new normal, and in fact some methods worked just as well if not better than their in-person counterparts. Going forward, our toolkit has now expanded, and we can now utilise some hybrid of in-person and online methodology to best achieve our project goals.

Competitors or contributors?

Working as a team of three agencies
We took part in the project as one of three quite contrasting design agencies, not competing for a winning spot in a pitch, but working to provide three different views of the same product to bring all creativity together to shape the perfect new car configurator. We would each produce a mobile-first, clickable prototype able to be built and implemented within a few months time. 

Each agency was assigned a different brand with Pon; Hike one was invited to design for Skoda; Achtung for Volkswagen; and Valtech were to design a configurator for Seat.

Instead of keeping the three designs separate, Pon provided us with the unique opportunity for a sneak peek into the kitchen of our industry peers. The culmination of it all was a presentation with all parties present, where we were invited to provide feedback on the three final iterations. Along with additional end-user testing, this feedback would enable Pon to combine the three concepts to achieve one ultimate configurator design. 

Our 2nd takeaway

Framing this project as a joint effort with our competititors to create the ultimate car configurator, Pon inspired us to deliver our best work without the disappointment of a possible lost pitch.

The generosity of knowledge sharing across our industry is something Hike One really strives to get behind, through holding masterclasses, hosting meetups, and supporting events. This being our way, we loved working alongside the other design agencies and getting a glimpse into their process. Seeing the different approaches to similar challenges was really inspiring, and also allowed us to reflect on our own strengths and opportunities for improvement. 

In a short amount of time we managed to create an elaborate prototype to test our assumptions quickly

Adapting our methods along the way

Why we chose a sprint, and why we mixed it up mid-way
Having a large team, a short timeframe and a complex product lent itself to a Design Sprint methodology. We needed to achieve a lot as efficiently as possible, and minimise time spent on unnecessary tasks. We kicked the project off with some fast research on existing configurators, and on Skoda itself. Due to the time pressure we did a session of Lightning Demos to share what we learned, and a round of comments and votes to confirm and gather our key insights from this. This would usually occur on the second day of a design sprint, but we adapted to suit the circumstances and this proved a really nice move.

There’s always time for user testing
One part of the Design Sprint that we would never skimp on are the moments of user feedback. We held the usual two sessions; an initial Expert Interview, and then a full day of usability testing with the initial prototype. Our participants were carefully selected, and Lookback allowed us to have a team of observers catching key insights, as we would in an in-person interview. 

With the remote setup, we inevitably made some fun blooper discoveries to do with audio playback; like never-ending echoes, and soundbites stuck in a loop that sounded like your favourite techno DJ. These moments gave everyone a laugh, released any nerves on the side of the participants, and helped us learn for a seamless next interview. 

The opportunities in maintaining a client dialogue
We had multiple opportunities during the process to walk through the flow with Pon, and adapt the product based on their feedback. This back-and-forth proved really valuable after our first round of user interviews. They brought some new points to light that hadn’t come up in the brief or the existing research and these points caused us to pivot our direction mid sprint - a thing which is usually inadvisable. After a further round of sketching and voting within the team, we were able to bring our findings to the client and propose our shift in the brief to which they agreed. We were then off again on our new tangent - backed up by our research.

Our 3rd takeaway

Don't let the method drive the design

The final key takeaway is about allowing the design to grow and adapt even if that means breaking away from the original methodology of the project. A Design Sprint is an incredibly powerful tool, but it’s also important to know when you have to shake it up, or turn it into something else entirely, rather than forcing a square peg through a round hole. Our team knows Design Sprints inside and out, so were confident to make the necessary changes for the sake of solid and thoughtful design.

A bias for change to keep us moving forward

Different is not always better, but better is always different. Every client and project is unique and so requires a unique, tailored approach. It’s crucial to keep sight of what makes your concept strong, and what you are trying to achieve - check back on those initial sprint questions to stay aligned. 

We have learned at Hike One, during our transition into Holacracy over the past few years, that if we place the bias on change, we will always be moving forward. We minimise the feedback loop, take some wrong turns that we are attuned for, and we improve.

With all the remote adaptation and spontaneous but calculated pivots, our focus remained consistently on usability and research. It resulted in a beautiful and intuitive high-fidelity prototype, which is now ready to be tested with end users in the next phase. We’re excited to see what’s next, moving forward with Pon.

Loz Mills

Interaction Designer

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