Exploring the future of coffee table book publishing

Opportunities for innovation in illustrated art and culture book publishing

In the summer of 2017, STBY collaborated with Thames & Hudson to explore the future of illustrated art and culture book publishing. With support from Innovate UK’s Design Foundations funding — a program which aims to help organisations’ innovation capabilities and generate high-value propositions — we conducted early-stage, human-centred design research to identify opportunities for digital innovation in the publishing industry.

The key outcomes of the project included two high-level service concepts, inspired by insights from user-labs and in-depth interviews. We worked closely with a multi-stakeholder core team throughout the project to ensure that the project learnings, in terms of both process and outcomes, resonated throughout the organisation.

The project concluded with a workshop involving senior management and stakeholders from various departments. After briefly presenting the research process and outcomes, we focussed on the two resulting service concepts and how to develop these further within the organisation.

Collecting customer journeys in a playful and relevant way

In the discovery stage of the research, we were interested in the unique journeys of people who came to be referred to as ‘coffee table book enthusiasts’. In two highly interactive co-creation labs we encouraged 16 enthusiasts to share their personal experiences with their books, from discovery and purchase, through to how they continued to enjoy them. We used semi-structured workbooks and small, playful activities to loosely guide the conversations and capture details from real experiences and emotions across each of the phases we were interested in. To conclude we used “What if” prompt cards, stickers and story-boarding to encourage participants to think about how their experience might be improved in the future.

Service blueprinting, prototyping and role-playing make the concepts stronger

As we moved from opportunities to concepts, and then toward selecting and refining the chosen concepts; blueprinting, prototyping and role-playing helped us think through and strengthen what were once very rough ideas. Blueprinting forced us to think clearly about the user experience and the relationship between touch-points and front-line interactions that would become building blocks of the new service. While we initially did not delve into back-end interactions and internal support processes, service blueprinting forced us to think about these things at an early stage. With our high-level service blueprints, we were easily able to move toward prototyping of the digital and physical touch-points for each concept, and role-play the front-line interactions to better explain and evaluate the concepts with the client team. We also demonstrated our prototypes to four selected participants in two-hour in-depth interview sessions to explore which concepts resonated most (if at all), and which service elements might be changed or improved to better fit their lifestyles and behaviours. This user feedback was integrated into the original service blueprints to help the client team understand possible improvements and alternative concept directions.

Client immersion in the data makes it more accessible and actionable 

Rather than simply presenting the research findings and the two service concepts at the final meeting with senior management of the client organisation, we organised an interactive workshop that immersed participants in the process and outcomes. We curated and laid out structured data and artefacts from each stage of the project (e.g. the initial workbooks from the user labs, user journeys, photos, quotes and videos) and allowed participants to read and digest the material in their own time. Interspersed with a few explanatory slides and commentary, this structure let the data speak for itself and led to a more engaged and inspired audience. By the time we presented the two concepts, it was very clear how we got to that point and we were easily able to transition to a conversation about how to develop the concepts further.