Discover more from Michael Preuss
Product design is simple
Be helpful, simplify, and enable success.
In May 2019 I attended Gartner’s Marketing Symposium/Xpo in San Diego, California.
Before we get started, a quick copyright statement about the images used in this post.
©2019 Gartner, Inc and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Gartner is a registered trademark of Gartner Inc. and its affiliates.
Attending a Marketing Conference as a Product Design leader is interesting. I realized that Marketing and Design draw from the same datasets. The difference is that Marketers use the data to position/sell and Design uses the data to learn/create. It’s a symbiotic relationship that delivers value to people and businesses.
My main thought after taking in three days of presentations was:
Simple. Use design thinking, research, data … whatever you have in your toolbox, to identify where and when someone needs help. Then enable them to be successful.
Two questions that help keep this focus are:
How will this help our customers?
How does our customer want to feel?
It starts with rethinking relationships
When it comes to customer loyalty, people hit a “good enough” point. Unfortunately, this research gives merit to the concept of “Corporate Mediocrity”. Based on Gartner’s research there is a point of diminishing returns from good to great if a company only focuses on business needs.
So how does one make a product/brand that people love and are loyal to?
Product experience is the opportunity
The product experience consists of the product and the person. For example:
The product delivers consistent performance.
Made the person feel like I made the right choice.
How can product designers use this information?
Perfect fundamental experiences
If your product is an ecommerce platform, make sure people can check out consistently. If your product is a banking service, ensure core functions work flawlessly.
Guiding your user to complete their tasks while providing contextual help. Tailored help makes the user feel confident and lets them get things done quickly.
Get out of the way, simplify, and match your users’ mental models. If you’re working on an ecommerce platform, there’s no need to rethink how commerce works. A valuable experience meets expectations without forcing someone to learn new things for no reason.
We’re complex, emotional, and irrational beings. A consistent behaviour we’ve all experienced is buyer’s remorse. A common first thought after taking action online is, “did I make the right decision?” The product experience you create should affirm the user’s decision. User Generated Content and personalized messaging is a great way to make someone feel that they made a good decision.
If I buy my wife a pair of running shoes and am then sent an email about a sports bra that “I’m going to love” your brand has failed at earning my loyalty because it’s irrelevant to me. Our digital interactions send strong signals that brands can use to develop segmented customer profiles. This is where Product Design and the CRM team should be connected. The personas Product Design uses should be informed by the CRM team and align with customer segments.
Aligning CX and Brand Message
I have to admit, this image was new to me. What do you see?
(I saw a rabbit first)
Experiences tell stories
Stories shape experiences
A lot of companies separate Brand and Product Design. The reality is that Brand and Product Design are interdependent. Both are striving to identify moments of need that develop brand affinity — ie: what personal benefits can a company solve for?
The experience is a push/pull balance between customer satisfaction and brand messaging.
Brand experiences are customer experiences
Customer experiences are brand experiences
In John Maeda’s August #CX Briefing / 2019 newsletter he shared the “Four Things That I’m Thinking About CX”
The difference between CX and design is useful to ponder because it helps to separate outcome from process.
There are experiences that can be wholly crafted by a lone professional designer like with a one-off poster or chair.
But for projects that are more complex than a lamp, a product will get made with and by many non-designers on their way to market.
When professional designers are less involved, it’s easy to create “bad design.” But it can still be considered good CX.
The last point resonated strongly with me: bad design doesn’t mean bad customer experience. Aligning brand experiences with customer experiences means that we need to learn what matters to our target audience and serve them quickly. So how do we learn what moments matter?
Buy / Own / Advocate Journey
Product design teams without a purpose become aimless. Work is directionless and talented people get frustrated. If your product design team doesn’t have a purpose try this one, it’s solid:
Our purpose is to be helpful by delivering product experiences that compound in value.
I’ve used the above as the purpose of my work for the past few years and it’s led to exciting results. Plus, if Albert Einstein said:
“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”
One should listen, I mean — the man made an adjustment to Newton’s Theory of Gravity, which had already existed for 300 years!
Getting back to the buy, own, advocate journey. Here’s a typical path:
If we isolate the key moments that matter, we see that they’re scattered. This journey doesn’t effectively build loyalty and misses an opportunity to develop an affinity for the product.
Let’s call the above Aimless Usability. I detest aimless usability, things can always be more usable but how does one prove value? It’s “make work” that results in a backlog of mediocre design that never reaches the customer. In short, it’s a waste of time and costly for the business.
Compare Aimless Usability with Emotional Connection:
To make an impact on customers, brands need to deliver differentiated experiences. What this means is product design teams need to hold two or three on-brand, customer-oriented experiences in their minds. Teams then need to deliver these unique experiences that matter, to the right customer group, at the right time.
How Consumer Values Bring Customer Data to Life
Back to the question, how do we know what moments matter? Simple, data. Synthesizing qualitative and quantitative data to identify insights specific to a company’s brand/guest relationship starts to light the path.
One thing we know from Gartner’s research:
Consumer trust is eroding, confidence is dropping, and people are looking for meaning and moments
This is a huge opportunity for product design. Consider the following:
Values drive behaviour
Values are aspirational
Using this dataset we see an increase in desire for simplicity as well as friction related to experiences that restrict.
Let’s dig further into a couple of segments. First Millennials:
Family and Safety are two values on the rise with Millennials. These are digital natives, Facebook has been part of their entire lives. Millennials understand why Facebook is “‘free” so it’s no surprise to see that Sharing and Identity are declining. Using this information, one can make an informed decision to not deliver an experience reliant on sharing on social networks. It would be more effective to focus on individual customer-oriented benefits.
Taking a look at rising and falling values amongst women and men is also revealing.
Two values that stand out to me are a rise in Equality for women and a decline in Sexuality for men.
This data could lead a brand known for toxic masculinity to reverse and change course. Ahem — Axe Body Spray. Whether you support them or not, it’s a good example of using qualitative, self-reported data to inform decisions.
Strategies for Winning the Evolving Digital Consumer
Consumer trust sources evolve over time
Think about that for a minute. Not only do we have to know where and when to reach people, as well as know what matters to them, we also need to acknowledge that all of the above changes regularly.
A quick review of consumer trust sources:
In the dark ages before the internet, word of mouth was the only way to communicate an offering. As such, people relied on what was immediately within reach.
The obvious drawback is the lack of scale. The only opportunity for new products or services to enter peoples’ lives was for an offering to move into your region.
Consumers started trusting the companies making the products. This worked for a long time as reputations were built on quality and consistency.
Unfortunately, many companies are trading credibility for rising stock prices and this continues to happen — remember when Kraft was investigated for wood chips in their parmesan?
Unable to trust the manufacturers, consumers turned to regulatory bodies.
As with most bureaucracies, things moved slowly. Eventually, these governing bodies became irrelevant and lost trust.
Not to mention, due to competing forces, many of the conclusions these associations came to eroded the trust of consumers.
Consumers turned to experts. Companies that had earned 3rd party credibility.
These trusted experts identified an opportunity to capitalize on consumer trust. They began recommending their own products, whether they were the best option or not.
Enter TV and then social media. Consumers started trusting the people on these platforms because they were familiar and identifiable.
This is obviously now a big business and many consumers have since seen through it. Everyone still consumes the content but credibility is on the decline.
Built from the signals we’re constantly sending companies with every interaction, consumers now trust the algorithm.
At first, recommendations simply needed to be unbiased and relevant.
The most relevant earned the most trust.
As consumer expectation and familiarity with technology increased so did consumer intelligence.
The more intelligent consumer then became more nuanced. Rather than searching for “low fat”, they were now searching for “low sugar” or “low carb”.
Modern consumers now have purpose. Intelligent, nuanced searches lead to results consumers trust. Results that enable them to achieve their goals.
Gartner calls this modern group of digital consumers “The Informed Skeptic.” Of course, there are many segments within this group but knowing these core drivers is valuable and should inform the design process.
And this is where Marketing and Design come together. Gartner recommends Marketers “Be more customer-centric”, “Be More Discoverable”, and “Be More Convenient.” With a product design lens, I translate this recommendation to “Be Helpful”, “Simplify”, and “Enable Success.”
Be more customer-centric > Be Helpful
Be More Discoverable > Simplify
Be More Convenient > Enable Success
Moments become memories
Ingrid Fetell-Lee said:
When we look back, what we remember are salient moments
Product design is about collaborating to identify salient moments. These moments that matter to our users. Once identified, we can be helpful and make emotional connections.
Innovating the Digital Customer Experience
I shared the proof of the value of design thinking here:
Gartner also identified the Innovation Approach as the key factor in what separates successful and unsuccessful digital experience innovations.
The Objective Setting Process and Ideation and Development are both achieved using design thinking methodologies. Portfolio management requires a balanced, business-backed strategy.
1. Clear Objectives
Having a defined goal and knowing what problems need solving are effectively identified with the Google Sprint process.
2. Design Thinking
Creating functional prototypes that allow testing and rapid iteration makes sure companies are solving issues that matter to their customers in ways that make sense to them.
3. Risk Management
Gartner’s research found companies that balanced innovation efforts with an improvement of their foundational experiences illustrated higher levels of success. While companies that focused heavily on breakthrough innovation and were less balanced showed poorer returns on their innovation efforts.
Gartner split product features into 3 categories:
Beating the Pack
Better than the rest
Inventing the future
Companies that are the most successful at building and maintaining customer loyalty acknowledge the need for consistent improvement. Beyond Compare quickly becomes Brilliant Basics — it’s important to spread your bets.
Anticipating need makes the biggest impact
As I shared in my post about The Business of Design Thinking there are 3 levels of user-centricity:
Which brings me back to the title of this article. Product design is simple. Designing experiences that are helpful, simplify tasks, and enable success leads to products users will love.