Think Tank

Lianne Kerlin, BBC R&D says ‘We truly believe you can align both design and your measures to peoples’ values’

Lianne Kerlin, Senior Research Scientist at BBC R&D, UK

Lianne leads the BBC R&D human values team that researches how services can be designed to fulfil human needs. Creating bespoke tools for the creative process, her team provides structure for evaluating products, services, and experiences using the human values framework.  A psychologist by training, Lianne is passionate about enhancing experiences to add real value to people’s lives and providing new ways to measure value in a digital world.

Right from the start Lianne Kerlin underscored the crucial difference between planning for the future and merely cheerleading for it. “I lead a team of researchers at BBC R&D, so we’re looking three to five years out,  thinking about future media, future services. What we’ve realised is that people get very excited about new technology, and making things for audiences with that technology, without really understanding how to focus on fulfilling what they value.”  

In order to put digital futures into focus, Kerlin shone some light on current behaviours. “150 is the number of pickups a day using a smartphone. 226 is the number of minutes that an average adult spends on the phone in a day. 450 is the number of minutes that the average teenager spends on their phones in a day. And these stats only cover smartphone use. Take into account second devices, wearables, laptops, tablets, and TVs, and it becomes clear how much of our attention is taken by digital in a day.”

Attention as commodity

“It’s clear that our audiences, and our consumers, expect more and expect it at the click of a finger. But it’s also companies that expect more, and expect more of those clicks, and of consumers’ time. Attention becomes a commodity but it also becomes the real currency in a digital world.  Yet, at the risk of being controversial, I think this is the wrong thing to focus on.”

Part of the reason why focus on this aspect is a tactical blind alley for media is that it leads content producers and publishers towards some very dark places.

“As a research group, we have looked at the consequences of these tension, timespan and engagement metrics, because a race for attention leads to a rise in unethical practices, notably dark UX. Dark UX is really underpinned by gambling techniques, it’s designed to hook people, and with it we see a fall in consumer wellbeing.” Kerlin wasn’t simply about to rage against the dangers of dark UX, however; her point was the peril posed to genuine progress.  “There is a plethora of research out there demonstrating the negative impact of excessive screen time on sleep, attention, focus, language, skills, and mental health but what I am going to talk about is the constraints it puts on innovation in the product space.”

Click-chasing and the impact on innovation

Competition for clicks, it seems, can work counter to the principles of good product innovation. “Optimizing for clicks leads to constraints with innovation: we have companies developing and deploying copycat techniques, and apps start looking the same. We see a lot of design and engineering effort becoming less innovative, less creative, and more constraints arise as the focus is just on finding techniques to increase numbers.”

To which Kerlin, and her team, have an answer.

“This is where the human value framework comes in. Personal, individual, human value. Behaviors are very surface level, they change all the time. So chasing behavior, chasing those engagement metrics, is at best like chasing your tail, and at worst quite impossible.  In digital we measure attention, behavior, and trends. Often we really miss out on understanding values as well as needs. Values are what are important to people; their values also express underlying needs, and they’re manifested through behavior. By targeting people’s values you will reach their behaviour and also know that you’re serving their deep needs. Design and measure for values, and you will get people’s loyalty.”

“We truly believe you can align both design and your measures to peoples’ values. Focusing on the things that matter to people will make a difference to people’s lives, and help you to understand the impact that you’ve had on people’s lives.”

Lianne Kerlin

Value proposal

Analysis and testing have led Kerlin and her team to a set of group of 14 values that relate to product design. “So, for example, we have the value of exploration which is underpinned by a need to be curious.  We have the value of connecting with others which is driven by fundamental needs as social beings. These values are universal but do fluctuate in relative importance across different stages of life.”  To better identify and cater to these core human values the team has developed a toolset to better address them. “We truly believe you can align both design and your measures to peoples’ values. Focusing on the things that matter to people will make a difference to people’s lives, and help you to understand the impact that you’ve had on people’s lives.”

The team’s toolkit includes innovation cards, a website, and a ‘canvas’ to help better understand where the focus should go when it comes to innovation. The tools help designers relate to consumers within the context of their current life stage and with that to understand which of those core values to prioritise. “You might use this information to develop your own measures of impact. Or it might help you ask your consumers some questions that are of relevance to your own products.”

Rather than simply counting clicks, Kerlin feels real value is to be found when asking questions such as “How did this product help you explore the world more? In what way was the experience satisfying?”

Always keen to work with those looking to advance value-based design, Lianne Kerlin and her team offer their findings, their toolsets, and their enthusiasm here.

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