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Reaktor Academy is a mentoring program for people who want to learn how to create excellent digital services. This blog post was written by one of the participants.
The Academy started off with a lesson about concept design. The lesson was given by Fernando, who is a service designer at Reaktor, co-founder at Fruitkit and a growth partner at Reaktor Ventures. The session consisted of an introduction to concept design and quick team projects.
What is concept design?
“Concepts are solutions to unsolved problems or new solutions to problems that are solved in a poor manner. A new concept can be a product, a service, or a combination of the two. The task of creating concepts is referred to as concept design”, says Fernando.
Think about a Toyota family van and a Ferrari sports car. They are the same type of objects – cars. However, no one will perceive them as the same type of a product. The automobile makers came up with two different results because they started out with two different concepts.
When you think about problem solving there are two spaces – problem and solution.
The problem space is about “what” – what is the problem and what will the product or service accomplish. The solution space is about “how” – how are you going to implement the product or service. Concept design lies in the problem space and it’s all about defining your solutions.
Reaktor Academy mission: Fix the hotel industry
After a brief introduction to Concept Design Fernando gave us a mission of building a concept for the hotel business. That was a bit of a surprising moment for us Academy-goers – many of us had thought the industry was already pretty mature with traditional giant hotel chains, traveling agencies and services like Airbnb.
We started by quickly brainstorming ideas about what we didn’t like about hotels. This is what we came up with:
I was in a team with Annina, Irina, Niki and Antti. We thought online hotel booking services generally provide a very poor user experience. First, they feel impersonal. Let’s say that by a coincidence you and I are both planning to go to Barcelona at the same time: no matter how you and I are different types of people, we will most likely get the same offers on hotel booking services.
Second, booking services often feels like there are silent middle men between travellers and hotels. We often feel that our wishes and needs are not delivered to hotels too well.
Our solution was to ask users to join our service through their a social network account of theirs. The idea was to segment users and personalize the service better. However, social networks are not the only source of big data: we would grow our own data bank within our service as people use it.
This combination of big data collection would enable us to act as a platform for both travellers and hotels because we’d deliver useful information about guests to hotels. The current booking systems make their money by charging hotels for their fees and ads – we’d provide them travel trends analyses which would be charged for as well.
Other teams had very interesting ideas as well.
The team “Staysmart” introduced needs-parameters to search hotels. Typically, hotel booking systems have very basic parameters for searching hotels, such as location, budget, room type and so on.
Staysmart’s needs-parameters include practical parameters such as cleaning, gym, breakfast, parking lot and spa, which would be targeted for business travellers in particular: they might suddenly be in a need to wash a shirt or tie, they might be travelling with a car, and so on. This was an interesting approach because many of us focused on holiday travellers but in fact, there is a big market of business travellers.
Most teams suggested solutions for the customers of hotels, but one team came up with a product for hotels. Marharyta, now a front-end developer, worked in the hotel industry for two years.
The team introduced an idea of how to systematically clean hotel rooms using tablet PCs. The information about every room would be monitored and it could be shared with managers and cleaners. Managers can track the cleaning process and allocate cleaning staff to clean rooms which need to be cleaned urgently. Nowadays, hotel cleaners have cleaning carts with tablet PCs attached on them, so it would be very easy to deploy the service.
The power of concept design
Concept designs sounds simple and it should do, too. Concepts should be simple enough for everyone to understand – yourself included.
Concepts are the fundamental pillar for innovation. Many innovative companies we know nowadays – Apple, Tesla and Facebook – became successful not because they are groundbreaking inventors, but because they are masters of concept designs. Innovation is not always about making new things, it’s about approaching a problem with a creative concept.