65 minutes | Apr 15, 2020

32. Chris Kovel of First Abu Dhabi Bank

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Chris Kovel, the Head Of Research at First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB). I look at needs as proximate needs and ultimate needs. An ultimate need is why the product exists in the first place. And then the proximate need is the experience of using that product, right? So if you take for example, a hamburger, that’s a product and the ultimate need is the hunger that it satisfies, right? We as humans need to eat things and hamburgers are one of one of those things that we can eat. That’s the universal need that we that it solves. But then there’s also the needs of actually getting it, getting to the to the place, getting to the restaurant, then there’s the needs of having a good experience in line, being able to read the menu, being able to take it to go if I wanted to. So there’s these nested needs within the greater need of why the product exists. Both are important. But I think that product teams don’t always take both into account. – Chris Kovel Show Links Chris on LinkedIn First Abu Dhabi Bank Gavin Payne, Head of Innovation LAB Stanford d.school John Arnold and Design Thinking Lawrence Krauss Medtronic Jay Reader Needfinding by Dev Patnaik Books by David Kelley Books by Tom Kelley Follow Dollars to Donuts on Twitter and help other people find the podcast by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts. Transcript Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization. We numbered eight, a cadre of 10-year old boys, posted around the kitchen table and ancillary horizontal surfaces, awaiting the culinary culmination of this birthday party, when pop and chips would give way to the chocolate birthday cake. The flaming dessert made its appearance and we warbled “Happy Birthday” to the celebrant, mischievously goading him about his simian appearance and odor. And with that, the cake was ours – paper plates and metal forks, droplets of melted wax that we flicked off the frosting, fragments of decorative icing. So, we set to our primal task, inhaling sugar, chocolate, and oh yeah did I mention sugar? Noticing something about my headlong progress through my slice, my friend paused and looked up from his own cake, curiously asking me, “So…you don’t save the best for last?” This was a new concept to me and I stared blankly, crumbs leaking out the corners of my mouth. His mother pops by to affirm, “Yes, Stephen, we save the best part for last!” Beyond surprised, I was enlightened. Of course, some parts of the cake had more value than others. A forkful of plain ol’ cake wasn’t as good as cake and frosting which itself wasn’t as good as that mouthful of corner megafrosting. But the big news was that I had an option to eat to an end goal. I could eat differently – portioning, partitioning, and planning – suffering through not-the-best bite, so that down the road a slice I would have the absolute best bite. That would become my reward, that was something to work towards. Gratification delayed was gratification improved. In a fundamental way, this exchange broke me. Decades later I am still struggling to effect repairs. I absorbed a significant lesson – that even a tiny in-the-moment decision can have consequences, risks, and downsides. This week, even, I noted how, with hardly any conscious thought, I was actively managing how much salsa to put on a tortilla chip, weighing that if I took too much from the little container, I could wind up chomping on dry, salsa-less chips by the end of the meal. As eaters, we face moments for optimizing (or at least risk-mitigating) constantly. Food designers don’t seem to consider this aspect in their apportioning. Whether it’s Lunchables, or an airplane snack box, a meze platter, or a charcuterie plate, there’s an intended combination (nominally meat or cheese or spread on bread or cracker), by design. But the quantities are rarely calibrated so that there’s a cracker for every morsel of cheese, etc. Of course, we can eat things in a variety of ways, and an extra apple slice isn’t really a problem. But, a solitary dollop of marmalade is absolutely a fail. And so, when designers don’t consider this, it falls to us, the concerned eater, to plan, calculate, adapt. For some of us, that isn’t an enjoyable part of the experience. Indeed, the affordances, the aesthetics in a bundle of base/toppings is that we are consuming a set of choices, a purposeful selection of quantities of elements. So the mismatch is just that much worse when the cues tell us to expect coherence. Going beyond what may be dismissed as my compulsiveness, this is really about being present. It’s hard to be present with your food, or indeed be present at all, if you consider what may happen in the future, worrying about potential microannoyances. Navigating the pleasure of being present with the pressures of what lies ahead is the burden – and freedom – of being an adult, of constantly having to make choices. At my most hopeful, I might reconsider learning about the-best-for-last less as fracture to my equanimity and more as an important and inevitable loss of innocence. Here’s another zero-budget episode to share with you. And I want to remind you that you can support Dollars to Donuts by supporting my small business. Here are some of the ways I work with companies. The first is User Research – I work well in situations where the team knows some things about a set of users, often they each know something different that they strongly believe, and have no way to get from their anecdotal familiarity to an actual framework to make decisions. “Oh, we’ve talked to our customers many times, but we’ve never heard THOSE things from them…” This is often research about people, rather than “a product” The second is a Player Coach where I’m working with “People who do Research” or maybe there’s a junior research person on a project, where they can use some of my expertise but they are going to own the project from start to finish, so I come in to advise some parts of the process, roll my sleeves up for other parts of the process, depending on what the team needs. There’s Team Coaching where I’m an available resource with office hours or other format so that people can come with questions, seek feedback, etc. I usually not “doing” anything, just there to talk and review documents Training is for people who are moving to do more research, this is a half-day to two-day curriculum on planning research, interviewing, analyzing data A Master Class is for a research team that has a particular area of interest, this is a customized combo of lecture, exercises, and facilitation And finally, Alignment Facilitation where I’m bringing together a group of people to identify and sort through issues, often around optimizing and improving process If I can help your team, please get in touch. All right, let’s get to my interview with Chris Kovel who heads UX Research at First Abu Dhabi Bank. Well, Chris, thanks so much for being on dollars to doughnuts. It’s great to get a chance to speak with you. Chris Kovel: Pleasure to be here, Steve. Steve: Chris, thanks so much for being on Dollars to Donuts. It’s great to have the chance to speak with you. Why don’t we start By Why don’t you introduce yourself? Chris: Yeah. Hi, I’m Chris. I head up UX research at First Abu Dhabi Bank. Steve: How long have you been in that role? Chris: So, First Abu Dhabi Bank is a is the biggest bank in, in the region. So I work in Dubai, and I’ve been here for about 14 months. Steve: And did you join the organization to take on this role? Chris: Yes. So within the organization, there is an innovation lab. So fabric first Abu Dhabi bank Research and Innovation Center. And in that position, I head up the research and that position was created and I decided to take the plunge and go out to do By and it’s been a great experience. Steve: Do you have I mean, this is an unfair question, but you may have some context since this happened before you got there. But do you know what led to the identification of the need for this role creation of the role, you know, the, the conditions that were established that led you to start talking with the organization and join? Chris: So yeah, the history of the lab or the fabric, It started about two years ago. So, my boss, the head of research for fab guy named Gavin, he was brought on to really try to help with the digital transformation. First of Adobe banks, a really big bank, like, like I said, biggest bank in the region. And in terms of technology in terms of digitizing the products and the services. That was really the mission of the innovation lab or fabric as we call ourselves now. And in terms of research, Gavin kind of comes from a software engineering and design background, and knew that research was going to be very important in terms of creating products and digitizing products. And the other kind of core mission other than digital transformation with that fabric has is kind of spreading a culture of innovation within the bank. And that means empowering other departments, not just the innovation lab to be innovative, to think kind of like designers to be problem kind of obsessed, and all that and kind of requires research and hopefully we can get into kind of how that how that happens. Steve: Well, that’s no time like the present. So how does that happen? Chris: Yeah, so there’s a lot of different ways to kind of come at it. At least from my perspective, in terms of kind of developing products, you know, I think when research we like to follow design thinking principles comes out
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