Category Archives: Technology

Design Thinking for a Digital Strategy


Published: IMJ  – December 2013

design thinking

View the Article on IMJ

What they want, when they want it and where they want it. This seems to be the marketing mantra of the mobile era. But are we really listening in the right way?

Tom Hulme, from Ideo, the US consultancy firm that uses a human-centered and design-focused approach to help its clients, says that “to understand the consumer, you have to be the consumer.”

During a recent research project, Tom asked an elderly lady, if she has any issue taking her medication every day. She responds: “No, absolutely none what so ever, I take it every day with no issue.”

During another research project Tom asked a 30-year-old woman if she has a credit card, to which she responds: “Yes, I have a credit card.”

In real life, the elderly woman, opens her medication bottle with a salami slicer and the 30-year-old lady has her credit card frozen in a block of ice in her freezer so she doesn’t use it.

So is listening enough? Evidently not. The only real way to understand your consumer is to get under the skin of your consumer.

Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, the massively popular home rental website, lives like his customers 24/7, 365 days of the year (or so he told us at SXSW 2013). He has no home and lives in a different Airbnb apartment on a weekly basis. For him this is the only way to truly understand his customers’ experience of his product.

Understanding your customer, especially where youth audiences are concerned, helps you understand and identify their “desire paths”.

Desire paths, an urban planning expression, is used to explain large volumes of people using a space in a different way than was originally intended, in real terms, a route made by the public that differs from the one made by the council. In Finland, planners visit parks after the first snowfall, using the snow to identify which pathways people have chosen, in order to inform future planning decisions.

For brands, the customer desire path is the unknown added-value. For digital platforms, user-led desire paths is in many instances, where value is created.

The digital desire path

Airbnb started as Air Bed & Breakfast, where an individual could rent blow-up mattresses on peoples’ floors, and the owner of the property would provide breakfast.

Brian Chesky has been staying in Airbnb homes since it was found in 2008 and it’s from his personal experience the product roadmap has been shaped. In the first instance, when he came to pay his host for the night’s accommodation – he found the awkward and uncomfortable situation of money changing hands between someone who had now become his friend. This pain point prompted the online payments system.

Hosts then wanted to rent out entire homes, not provide the air mattress and not provide the breakfast so the Airbnb platform changed with them.

Soon Airbnb began to see other non-traditional dwellings being list on its site. For example it has over 1,000 boats, over 500 castles as well as tree houses. At one stage the entire country of Liechtenstein, which the Prince of Liechtenstein posted for a modest nightly rate of $700,000 was listed, quickly removed when Snoop Dogg tried to rent it out for a rap video. The point is users have driven the roadmap for Airbnb, and Airbnb have obliged, turning it into one of the world’s most valuable businesses in the process.

If we go back to the early days of Twitter when there was no functionality built in to reply to people or group conversations, users themselves began to respond to people using @username and group conversations by using #keyword. The patterns became a convention and ultimately built into Twitter’s platform. Now we can hardly imagine Twitter without them and the word ‘hashtag’ is firmly embedded in the public lexicon.

Proactive vs. Reactive

When Facebook users began to adopt profile pages to promote their businesses, it soon identified their need and indeed the opportunity to add brand and business pages. However when teenagers started white-walling (removing every bit of content uploaded to the platform that day) and suspending their accounts from one session to the next it failed to pick up on what was a growing trend.

Into the breach stepped Snap Chat, the self-deleting messaging service and the fastest growing photo sharing site in the world. If speculation is to be believe, Snap Chat recently turned down a staggering $3 billion takeover offer from Facebook.

So, designing for an end user on Main Street is a challenge faced by innovators the world over. Brands need to ebb and flow with their customers’ wants and needs. Take the entire experience, and find out where it works and where it doesn’t work. As Steve Jobs said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” By paying attention to customer desire paths and adjusting products to fit them we cannot only broaden our brand position but win loyalty too.

Shonagh Hurley is Senior Digital Manager at Thinkhouse – the Youth Communications Agency.


The State of Technology.

Published: Business Plus – June 2013

The absolute state of it.

Why with Ireland exporting her unemployment problem to far flung parishes across the globe, do 2,500 seats lie empty in tech businesses across the country? Are young Irish people simply not equipped with the necessary skills, experiences and outlook to fill these positions?

Apparently they are not.

Young people’s fast adoptions of technology surely tells us about their desires to be in this space and to learn about it. But, so far, those who learn are those who teach themselves, learn from older siblings, go to programming classes during their free time; but this requires serious dedication.

CoderDojo, the independent Irish free programming school, has already taught more than 16,000 kids in 23 countries to learn how to code. Is this not the job of a school? CoderDojo has just established a school in LA as even schools in America have not introduced programming classes into their curriculum. If young people aren’t equipped with the skill-set then how can we expect to drive technology forwards?

Although demand from employers is here, Ireland is not providing the skilled workforce. We have an opportunity to lead the world by example and show all countries what changes need to be implemented so the system can meet this demand. Programming in schools should be a compulsory subject. Everything we do today is dependent on a machine of some description – and we need to understand them and how they function. Often costs and resources are to blame for the lack of education but at a minimum at least we can teach the principles of programming? When I read Computer Science in Trinity, I didn’t own a computer. We learned in a classroom from a book and then went to a community computer room and put it down in code.

So not only is Ireland experiencing a massive brain drain – we are not giving our graduates the skills they need to fill the available positions in the country.

Implementing changes in our educational systems will help fill this skills gap while also providing a platform for the innovators of today and tomorrow. Young people are creating value, employment and wealth. Take Ben Silbermann (30) founder of Pinterest (market cap – $2.5 billion), Daniel Ek (30) founder of Spotify ($3 billion), Drew Houston (30) founder of DropBox ($4 billion) and our own homegrown Collison brothers (22 & 24) of Stripe ($500 million), James Whelton (18) from CoderDojo and Conor Murphy (31) from Data Hug ($110 million).

Companies really have to work hard to attract expertise and talent. Start-ups in particular seem to be the most creative and innovative in their recruitment process. But it’s no surprise they have mastered the art of communicating with the youth demographic, as most of them are that demographic. They understand the importance of a work-life balance, what it means to employees to be socially aware and feel like you are making a difference in the world and the difference a bit of flexibility can make. For example, take Grouper: If you work here, you will “Put a dent in the universe, make lives more awesome, build a real business, work on hard problems and have way too much fun!”. Larger corporations can really learn a lot from tactics that starts-ups have employed.

Smart brands start with youth. Let’s take Apple for example. Apple took control of the youth market when it launched iTunes and the iPod. With an accessible product it managed to establish a loyal fan base who are now owners of Apple Macs, iPhones and iPads. They took a long term approach, invested in the youth and developed a relationship with that market as it moved income brackets.

Where would they be today if they had launched the iPhone before the iPod? Priced in an improbable price bracket for younger markets, the iPhone was unlikely to have made the impact the iPod did when it first hit stores, and therefore having a knock on effect on the rest of their products.

In my household we have iPads, iPad minis, iPhones, iPods and MacBooks. It took years of shouting their praises from the rooftop before my parents saw the light, but they did nonetheless. My point being, youth are the influencers in technology. I showed my mum how to use the app store, download music, play her bridge games, find friends on scrabble and make free skype calls. I rarely know any other household where it was the other way around.

Ireland is the first choice for large tech giants EU headquarters. For good reason – we have competitive wages, office rents, business rates, electricity costs, an attractive corporate tax regime etc. It’s the stomping ground for every major player and 8/10 top global ICT companies are based in Ireland. At the moment technology companies account for 90% of venture capital in Ireland, compared to 31% in Europe. We also have one of the youngest populations in Europe with ⅓ of the population under 25. Is the current education system missing a valuable opportunity here?

We need to build our techie future in a single-minded way. By focusing on youth innovators we will be prepared for an even more tech-rich future. Ireland has strong foundations to build a self-sufficient state of technology that can really help change the world forever.


Why Shopping Will Never be the Same Again

A panel with Steve Yanovich
VP Innovation & New Ventures, eBay Inc, eBay

Did you know that $634 is transacted on eBay every second?

That’s why when eBay is giving a talk on the future of retail, you know it’s going to be worth it’s salt.

So off I went with about a millimetre of space left in my brain to the Four Seasons to try and soak up the last bit of digital deliverance for the week.

Steve opened with a fascinating video, bombarding us with mobile stat after mobile stat to really hammer home exactly what the reason was as to why shopping would never be the same again.

Get this…

  • In 2012 eBay generated $13 billion through mobile, and in 2013 they predict that this will soar to $20 billion.
  • 1/3 of eBay purchases are touched by mobile.
  • Customers spend more money when shopping via smartphone than they do when they are shopping on their desktop.
  • Each day there are more iPhones sold than babies born.

He closed this out by saying;

“If you guys have a website that’s not mobile optimized, shame on you.”

Seriously, shame on you.

This is what I took from Steve’s talk and how I’m going to break it down:
1. Customers are customers 24/7.
2. We need to reduce ‘friction’ from their lives.
3. We need to do this by being innovative.

1. Customers are customers 24/7…and not just when they walk into the retail outlet.

We have changed. Consumer’s behaviors and expectations have changed.

With a show of hands, Steve highlights how most of us would swing a sharp U-turn if we had forgotten our mobiles at home, but would casually forgo our lunch if we’d left our wallets behind.

This presents a HUGE opportunity to mobile retailers. We’ve always LOVED to buy and now that our mobiles are always on us, a purchase can be made at any point in time. This isn’t new news, but what exactly are retailers doing to seize this moment?

Web users have also developed very high expectations. With simple, easy and seamless mobile web experiences like 1-click purchases on Amazon, hailing a taxi with Hailo or even using QR codes for boarding passes, we no longer accept tasks that take us a large number of steps, clicks or require us to think too much.

This means if you have a nasty user experience on your e-commerce site – don’t expect to shift loads of goods.

2. We need to reduce ‘friction’ from people’s lives…to maximize on that small window of opportunity where a customer may make a purchase.

Steve refers to tasks in one’s life that are not particularly meaningful or enjoyable as “friction”. Spending too much time doing things that aren’t fun or rewarding are becoming unacceptable, from having to find your shirt size in a shop to having to pay for your petrol. He has a vision of a car owner driving to the petrol station which detects who the driver is, what pump he has pulled up at and directly charging his account as he fills up his tank and drives away while the invoice is sent directly to his email account.

Likewise, in a retail outlet. He believes the salesperson should know who you are when you arrive, what dress size you take and what your preferred colours are. They should also be able to tell whether you are a loyal customer and require better service. The experience needs to be quicker but more personalised.

Removing friction from people’s lives is about making life as simple as conceivably possible. Small things can be done to achieve this, for example eBay found when they moved the “Buy Now” button above the fold, their conversion rate increased by 30%. It is becoming vital to simplify and optimize the web experience as the noise and clutter in the world increases, the window of time in which a consumer will convert decreases.

3. We need to be innovative… in our use of technology to reduce this friction.

Steve makes a number of suggestions on how retail outlets can be more innovative in the digital space. We need to bring more of the online into offline spaces with in-store digital experiences using kiosks and touchscreen displays. Stores need to utlise CRM systems so that salespeople can connect with the audience in a better way. They need to know who you are and what you are looking for before you walk into the store;

“If I do something good and useful for you, no one cares about big brother. The key is to not be creepy.”

Beyond CRM, retail outlets can build in-store inventory into these apps so they know exactly what sizes are available in an instant, reducing any time spent looking on the shelves for clothing.

Another suggestion is in-app checkouts so a shopper does not need the sales associate, they simply checkout on their phones themselves – with no friction.

Retail outlets can also maximize on the times that they are not open with large touchscreen interactive window-shopping displays. Currently eBay has found that 80% of all customers who interact with these screens first time will go right through to the end of the entire experience.

Finally Steve talks about disruptive marketing and getting people to shop when they weren’t even thinking about shopping and reference’s eBay’s “Watch with eBay”, an eBay iPad feature which allows you to buy stuff from your favourite shows while watching TV.

So, with all this advice, is this where eBay is headed? Into retail?

Well without wanting to give too much away, Steve tells us that there are big things planned for eBay.

He marvels at the revolutionary world of 3D printing, bolding stating, “eBay is going to be the marketplace for 3D printing”. He talks about how it will revolutionise the manufacturing industry and retail world with near real-time creation and delivery of products. He predicts we will see a huge shift when 3D printers reach mass market and we are able to print inventory on demand.

A CAD file of any spare part, whether it is an electrical appliance or car part, can be uploaded to your 3D printer and the part can be printed then and there. The thought of it is mind-blowing and that’s before we open the can of worms of how this will effect copyright & IP laws if anyone, anywhere is able to generate their own products with a simple CAD drawing.
So to wrap it all up, if we are to take away one key message from Steve’s talk, it would be to reduce friction from people’s lives.

We need to remember; our customers are our customers whether they are in the store, in the boardroom, out to lunch, or even in someone else’s store. Buying needs to be made as simple as possible – he wants us to think about it in this way: Can a customer search, find and buy something they want in the moments it takes a traffic light to turn from red to green? And finally we need to use technology to deliver this.

It is all about giving consumers the freedom to purchase what, when, where and how they want.

Everyone’s talking mobile.

In Autumn 2012, Thinkhouse carried out the Mobile Youth Survey to get a deeper understanding of how the mobile phone habits of young Irish adults are evolving.

Thinkhouse surveyed 661 people between the ages of 15 and 35; analysing their mobile habits and trends while comparing different demographics; Teenagers (15 – 18 years), Early Twenties (19 – 24 years), Late Twenties (24 – 29 years) and Early Thirties (30 – 35 years). And this is what we found…

As expected, Ireland’s youth are a generation of Digital Natives, growing up in a world of technological breakthroughs. They are tech-savvy and expect to be globally connected whenever they wish and from wherever they are.

Digital Natives are ‘always on’. 87% check their phones on public transport, 83% whilst watching TV, 77% whilst at work and 88% of 15-35 year olds reach for their phones as soon as they wake up in the morning and the last thing 53% of them do at night is check their Facebook feed.

Everyone has a smartphone; ranging from 83% of teenagers to 97% of Irish adults in their early thirties, and as a result mobile phone usage is on an exponential rise. We found that smartphones are used for everything from communicating with friends through social networks, texts and calls, to browsing brands websites and researching products they want.

We found, that 80% of those surveyed carry out extensive research on their mobile phones, double-checking prices online before they purchase. However, when it came to sealing the deal and closing the sale, young Irish adults aren’t comfortable using their phone to make the final online purchases.

It seems that the financial part of the deal is reserved for desktops, when the purchaser feels more secure with 90.9% of young Irish people still preferring to make the final purchase on their desktop computer. This can be for many reasons, such as a period of uninterrupted time in which to consider their purchase, a larger screen on which the item can be scrutinized in more detail, the comfort and quiet of a place where a desktop can be positioned in which to take out credit cards and make the final purchase.

So whilst technology has been integrated into their daily lives; brands, to communicate with Irish youth, need to get to the core of where they are and what they are doing when they are there, and to do this a deep understanding and respect of each digital platform is vital.

So the moral of the story is: know your platform. Know exactly what your message and objective is and how best to put it out there and get the results you want. Tailor your content by platform – just like we drew the distinction between Twitter and Facebook a long time ago. Campaigns need to be well thought out and structured carefully. They need to be multi-platform digital strategies. Campaigns that, like Digital Natives, starts in the morning, when they wake up and reach for their mobile; and ends at night when Digital Natives skim their Facebook feeds before they close their eyes. And do not forget everything in between.

No matter what trends are on the rise, every platform has its place, and it is important to structure your campaigns around those multifaceted platforms.

Mobile Youth Report 2012

Why mobile needs to be at the centre of any brand communications strategy.

Published: Irish Marketing Journal – April 2012

View the article

So can we finally say it? 2012 is the year of the mobile!

Or is it? Or maybe it was last year… What defines the year of the mobile? Who knows and who cares… with children more likely to own a mobile than a book1, over 2 billion mobile users under the age of 302, and 1 billion3 smart devices sold last year; that’s 1 in 7 people in the world are connected at all times. I think we can safely say we are living in a mobile world.

So what is mobile? We’re not just talking your phone, we’re talking smart mobile devices; essentially a computer you can pick up and walk around with – ANYWHERE; to the gym, to the beach, to the shops, and sure why the hell not; to the loo! In fact, 60% of young people say they bring their mobile phones to bed with them every night2.

If your digital communications campaign is not starting with mobile, it’s time to give pause and reassess.

Today, over 50% of all searches are carried out on mobile devices; which begs the question – if you don’t have a mobile presence; do you even exist?

It is no longer enough to simply have a website. You must have a mobile version of your corporate site, your eCommerce site, your blog and anything else that is online. They must be optimized for any smart mobile devices. If you don’t; you will be driving your customers right into the arms of your competitors.

This is not as frightening as it sounds and can be easily remedied with quick responsive design and an extra style sheet, using fluid proportion based grids to adapt to the browser size on the device.

Once you’re mobilised, your business is opened up to a whole new world of potential marketing strategies. With 91% of mobile consumers using their phone to socialise1 and 78% using the in-built GPS functionality, we are seeing a huge emergence of SoLoMos: mobile applications utilising social networking and locational data.

18-35 year olds today expect immediate and instant connection to their peers. Many youths report feelings of “depression”, “panic” and “dysfunction” when they have had to go a day without their phones, and 80% saying they would chose to spend their last €10 on phone credit than food2. Desktop is Dead. Face it. Ok, a bit drastic. But by 2014 mobile Internet use is predicted to take over desktop Internet use4.

So Now What?

Think beyond digital, beyond mobile, think about the end user and their day-to-day life; there is no division between these anymore. We have spent the last 5 years trying to connect online and offline worlds, but this doesn’t exist anymore. Offline is online and vice versa and it is absolutely imperative that every youth communications campaign has not only a digital strategy but also a robust mobile roadmap.

SOURCES: 1 ODMGRP ( | 2 YouthMobile report 2012 | 3 Data Corp | 4 IDC