Mollie Callahan (left) and Michelle Pomorski

In September, 2018, InGlobal’s Jeff Kupperman talked with Mollie Callahan and Michelle Pomorski from Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor-based software company known for its innovative design and work management processes, an emphasis on “kindergarten skills” over credentials, and cultivation of joy in the workplace. Michelle and Mollie both joined Menlo as High-Tech Anthropologists®, and recently Michelle has moved to a Project Manager role.

Michelle and Mollie had so many terrific design stories, we are presenting them in five parts. You can read the first part below, and follow the link for the second part at the bottom of the page. The third through fifth parts will be posted next month.

The Sweet Spot

Michelle started with a story about how the client and the end user might have different goals, and the challenge of designing for users while still meeting client goals.


The first story that comes to mind for me is from a time when we were working with a company that produced technology for doing a particular kind of auto maintenance. The engineers were frustrated because they knew that doing the maintenance procedure took twenty steps in order to get a vehicle perfectly fine tuned. But the mechanics, the ones actually doing this maintenance, would only do perhaps six of the steps, and the engineers didn’t understand why. Even the more senior mechanics weren’t following the twenty recommended steps. So part of the engineers’ goal in upgrading their technology was to influence the mechanics to do all twenty steps.

When we did our observations, though, we realized that the mechanics were working in a very high throughput environment. Many of the shops would market themselves as “we’ll get you in and out quickly,” so speed was of the essence. And customers were often lining up and waiting. In addition, most of the shops were structured to give bonuses to mechanics for the number of vehicles that were sent through. So as you could imagine, the mechanics did not want to take any longer than they absolutely had to.

Ultimately for this project, success was finding that balance.

Many of the mechanics understood that the best way to do the procedure would be to do all twenty steps, but they also knew that the six steps they were doing were good enough to not damage the vehicle and to satisfy the customers. So we realized that the underlying problem we were trying to solve was, how do we bridge the gap between the engineers’ goal of twenty steps and the mechanics’ decision that six was enough?

Through our design iterations we ended up coming up with a process that contained ten steps. The increase in steps was small enough that it didn’t feel like a lot more work to the mechanics, and the engineers felt that they made a reasonable concession — that those steps weren’t going to result in a poor job for the vehicle. And ultimately for this project, that was success — it was finding that balance.


So the client’s definition of success, at first, was fidelity to their steps. And you helped them reframe their goal.


The funny thing was, that goal was something that only got teased out through our meetings with the client. At first they just wanted to add additional features to their existing product. But it came out through these conversations that the mechanics were not following all the steps, and that bothered them.


There’s almost never a solution that works perfectly for both the client and the users, but somewhere there’s a sweet spot.

And even then, the problem wasn’t that the mechanics didn’t want to follow the steps, right?


I think it was a disconnect between the engineers’ goals and the mechanics’ goals, and the client not being familiar enough with the challenges that the shops faced and the reality of their environment. The mechanics were just never going to be given the luxury, or the motivation, of doing twenty steps, even if they wanted to.


I think that’s a recurring theme with a lot of our design work: there’s almost never a solution that works perfectly for both the client and the users, but somewhere there’s a sweet spot that works for users and for the business.


And to me that’s successful user experience design.

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