The Art of Muse Design: Fixing the Problems You Already Have With Kaizen


Overview: Introducing Kaizen

For you newbies out there, remember that Kaizen stands for continuous iterative improvement. Specifically, improvement that can be made on the basis of quick, cheap and easy fixes to a usability problems. In the corporate world, it's an efficiency and defect-reduction system used everywhere from the office to the factory floor. But Kaizen is not limited to that. The broad appeal of Kaizen is that its' applicability is so broad. As such, Kaizen can be applied to everything from interface UX to one's personal workflow.

Step 1: Be Aware

So, basically what this means is that you've got to be able to detect some sort of problem or difficulty in your everyday interactions with everything. First, start by being aware of the small little inconveniences you encounter everyday. Maybe it's something as simple as the door coming out of the bathroom requires you to pull the handle, or the volume buttons on your home stereo cause you to accidently turn down the volume when you wanted to turn it up. Just by being actively conscience of Kaizen you'll be amazed at all the minor annoyances that are built into our daily lives. Lots of low hanging fruit and opportunities abound.

Step 2: Getting Things Done with Kaizen

Kaizen works well only if you know how to use it. There are those of us who are quick to point out all the flaws we find everyday, but we're slow on developing ideas for how to fix those nasty little productivity vampires. Well, do not worry; we've got a framework and a collection of tactics to help you with process improvement. The neat thing is, you do not have to use every tactic in the framework. But being familiar with all of them will help you immediately apply to areas that need the most work. Here's the framework:

Step 3: Apply the Kaizen Framework

This is the important step. But wait! We do not know the framework. You're right. I forgot I have not introduced you two yet. Reader, I'd like you to meet the framework.

The Kaizen Framework





The Kaizen Framework is concise and succinct Actionscript for generating creative solutions to fix seemingly beneign productivity vampires. Simple, right? Well, I tend to operate on the "less is more, sometimes" mantra; so I kept the Actionscript requirements to a minimum. Of course, you could build and extrapolate on these ad infinitum. We could have done qualitative, quantitative, summary, formative, formal, informal, large sample, small sample, comparative kaizen action scripts. Our ad infinitum has become ad nauseam. But, I'm keeping with what Einstein said; "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." Simplicity allows you to take control and reduce some of that ebb and flow life chaos that causes all that ruckus. Simplicity promotes self-enhancing connections. Thus, we will keep it simple with just these 4 Actions. We've got more detail and examples below.

Kaizen Action 1: Restructure


This one is pretty basic, just structure what you are doing. Interaction optimization. Cool? Cool. OK, Mr. Designing Kaizen …. but what the hell does that mean? Glad you asked. Think in terms of action patterns. In other words, think about the things you do everyday. What actions or interactions do you repeat on a regular basis? Now, ask yourself this question: Are those action patterns fluid? Are my interaction points as fluid as they could be? If you are like most people, your work day and personal life is probably overly chaotic and complicated. That's just the nature of order. We find ourselves knee deep in action patterns or interactions everyday, that were never designed to be fluid or intuitive. Have you tried to navigate through the labyrinth that is eBay laTely?

Part of the reason is interconnectivity. With interconnectivity comes complexity. While I will not get into complexity here, (first we would need to define complexity, and as anyone involved in the sciences knows, the concept of complexity is ……. well enough complex. LOL.) Yet one of our goals is to reduce unnecessary complexity. You know what unnecessary complexity tastes like. And We've all deal with it. You know, that sinking feeling in your gut when everything is going wrong and nothing feels like it is where it should be. (Like when you need to give a presentation to the board of directors and the cable to hook up your laptop to the projector is buried deep inside the podium behind the video equipment) those overly complicated actions with excess repetitions.

Whether it's usage, contact points, function controls or other variables. We want to reduce complexity and increase efficiency by taking note of repetitions, removing the repeated patterns and re-sequence that action pattern design. Create the structure that's missing from your current task or process flow.

Use when

Anytime you can reduce mass. Remember that the more mass an object accumulates, the more energy required to change its direction. So, whenever you find the opportunity to greatly simplify the overly chaotic and complex. By reducing complexity we enhance efficiency and / or reduce cost. Note, that those concepts are mutually exclusive.

It could be anything as basic as reconfiguring your daily work schedule by acquiring office hours to avoid those productivity vampires known as interruptions. Or how about rebuilding the folder structure on your desktop or smart phone? On second thought, do not waste time reorganizing your folders and files. Get a program like EVERNOTE and just dump all your files in there. You can then tag the files or simply search them by keyword. It's like having your own personal Google. Then, you do not have to worry about organization. Not to mention its free!

Remember when the Apple's iPhone did not allow you organize apps into folders? You had a limit of 12 apps per page. That equated to flipping 4 or 5 pages to get the app you needed. Plus, flipping 4 or 5 pages back to the home screen.

What you are aiming for is a reduction in cost, whatever your currency. And when I say "currency", I do not just mean those fancy pieces of paper upchucked by your local government fiat supply system. I mean intangible things too. Calmness or ease-of-use would be examples. Time, your time, is a currency too. Target improving efficiency or reducing cost.


Again, the more your have, the more energy that is required to change its direction. This applies to the business world as well. Reducing complex removes those efficiency suckers and productivity vampires that end up costing you time and money. Poorly designed interaction structure will cost you again and again. It hinders agility and flexibility. Its simple. Do you really want a mathematical model showing you the benefits?


Avoid mass and complex increasing interactions. Look at the functions or files you use the most often and bring them up a couple of layers. Identify colliders, those things that you keep bumping into unwittingly. Use a pay-per-click or a pay-per-contact approach. Count the number of times you have to click your mouse while you are searching for the information you need. Or count the number of buttons you have to press while you are filing through the ATM. Consider how many times you have to repeat the same information on doctor's forms or insurance claims. Apply these quick heuristics:

Reorder the sequence of interaction points

Change techniques

Replace actions

Exchange actions

Eliminate thick processes

Apply a grid or matrix


Aim for recognition rather than recall

Balance quality, speed and storage space


By restructuring, you can reduce the lead-time between your action initiation to the end result. That means think about your actions in terms of transactions.

Trace your transaction funnel start to finish.


Here are a few quick examples of Restructuring in action. While, I will not go into in-depth analysis and breakdown how these kaizen designers created their master pieces, I will give you some points of reference for how you should be thinking.

Wrap Up

Those are just a few examples. I've got plenty more where that came from. And not to worry, I'll be following up with the other parts of the framework soon. I hope that helps give you some ideas.

Let me know if you've got any questions or kaizen ideas you want to share with everyone.


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