How Pivot Leverages Design

At Carrot (makers of Pivot), one of our core values is “one brick at a time.” It’s a value that has meaning both to how our team builds our product as well as our approach to helping people become smoke-free. As a start-up, we need to be careful not to bite off too many things at once. It has been said that relentless focus will guide us to success. In the same way, we know that people trying to change years of smoking behavior need time to build skills. The single, straight-shot approach of “going cold turkey” rarely leads to success. In practice, “one brick at a time” looks more like a series of rough-edged pieces that get stacked and shaped through a process of trying, failing, learning, and iterating.

As a design-led organization, we like to see what we can build AND what we can break, all in service of the people for whom we are designing. That’s how we learn. This approach has been called many different things—design thinking, human-centered design, rapid prototyping…and, it’s perfectly in-line with our Lego-inspired mantra. But, how do we get from a single brick to a sturdy fortress at breakneck speed?

We jam.

To be precise, we come together for a Design Jam. It involves a focused topic that we can realistically tackle in short order; a stone soup of informed, creative minds; an emphasis on making ideas tangible; and a unifying optimism towards doing something radically different in the space of, in our case, smoking cessation. It’s fun, productive, and, most importantly, it leads to unpredictable ideas that become continuous fuel for innovation.

1. Start with a framework for problem-solving

Many think of design and innovation as permission to create without limits. Unhinging from  boundaries and assumptions can allow us to think about a problem differently. At the same time, we run the risk of developing ideas that aren’t necessarily relevant to our users. As such, constraints provide a helpful rudder for idea generation.

We use journey maps, expert insights, stories from our participants, and scenarios to help guide our thinking. We start with clinical practice guidelines to see how they might translate to a digital experience. Then, we think-through the many different touchpoints for the person who needs months of skill-building to quit vs. the person who makes a behavior change on the fourth day vs. the person who simply reduces their cigarette consumption. These “constraints” are the keys to truly meaningful design and lower the risk of boiling the ocean.

2. Mindset and multi-disciplinary teams

The Carrot team is made up of a motley crew. Just to name a few, we have a behavioral scientist with deep tobacco-use prevention knowledge, a landscape architect, a product designer, an animator, a product manager with experience in health insurance, an ex-venture capitalist, and a seasoned health coach with a background in nutrition. A disparate team like this is ideal and sometimes necessary for creating a wide range of ideas. But, first and foremost, we need to make sure we come to this exercise with the right mindset.

We start with “agreements,” a group-inspired list of all of the do’s and don’ts that help a team share openly against a focused goal. These include obvious rules like “Be present” and “No rabbit holes,” but also span reminders like, “Remember our unique users–not all are ready to make a change.”

It’s tempting to skip this step or brush it off as a bit of California hokeyness, but it’s hugely important to help unlock the spirit of generative thinking that this requires. And, it gives each and every one of us permission to spout unexpected ideas. We know that, even if our ideas don’t make it into the product today, they might serve as a seed for design later. Then, we sketch like mad.

3. Show your hand, early and often.

The point of the design jam is not to get to the one idea to build and launch. We hold off on making any judgments about what is good or bad. The value of the design jam is the collaborative effort of scotch-taping early ideas together, knowing that they’ll need to be re-positioned and possibly set aside for another time.

With that in mind, every cycle of ideation is followed by rapid prototyping—sketches of scenarios, interfaces, and physical artifacts—which is, in turn, followed by brief story-telling of each concept. This invites real-time feedback, a chance to both build on and challenge each other’s ideas, and helps push them quickly forward. The exercise of crafting a compelling story around your idea really forces you to be honest about its potential value.

4. Don’t rule the wildcards out.

Imagine a day when a former smoker writes a letter to a current smoker in an act of paying-it-forward. One stranger might encourage another stranger during a craving, times of stress, or even a smoke-free streak. Or, maybe your nicotine-replacement therapy gets hand-delivered to your front door…free of charge. These are ideas that don’t appear in current smoking cessation programs or in online community forums. They don’t seem scalable, nor have they been validated by smokers.

But, we’re reinventing smoking cessation. By nature, a number of our ideas may initially seem unfeasible or downright silly. Still, we owe it to our participants and our clients to think far beyond what it possible today. We remind ourselves constantly that it is the moments of insight and learning, the recognition and acknowledgement of every bit of behavior change that our participants experience, and the wonder of “I can do this” that keeps us exploring broadly and keeping the wildest of ideas alive.

What happens next?

At the end of the day, if we have an idea that can be shared with our participants, we’ve been successful. We know it’s not the perfect solution. That’s why it’s so important to make ideas tangible, get feedback on them, and continue to iterate based on what our participants tell us, clinical expertise, and our growing intuition. By continuing to build those bricks based on everything we learn, we’re confident that we’ll get ever closer to delivering on the mission of helping save lives.