Trenches report: Designing products & services 101

15 10 2008

Thru hands on experiences (good and bad) I’ve built an opinion of sorts regarding what needs to be taken into account when you are scheming something that will be used by others amidst business needs/goals where monetization reigns.

Define your audience bound thy product. It might be human nature the yearn for immortality, the fantasy to attain rock stardom, but let’s get real: if you design a product or service to please every human being that might use your product you could as well play the part of Prometheus my friend, since there will never be an end to the needs you require to fulfill. Get real, state what will define your fans (the ones that will pay your bills on a periodic basis) and design your product and service around them, let others play “I make everyone happy” and scream to death when they need 1k of hours to develop future X for your neighbor’s dog.
Further reading:
1000 True Fans (Kevin Kelly)
The “Dumbness of Crowds” (Creating Passionate Users)

Know thy costumer. Arguably product functionalities and service procedures are running up to become mere future commodities. Anyone can effortlessly clone another site’s functionalities, a costumer service procedure, etc; yet, you’ll be on a different strategic vantage if you do so understanding what are your costumer’s needs and goals. Understanding what lies behind a product usage would let you build something lean; you’ve got to develop only what your costumers and not Acme’s need (e.g. audience in a different cultural environment or on a different adoption curve). As an added value you’ll be able to create something more original and would find your work more challenging and engaging.
Further reading:
Why we disagree with Don Norman (37Signals)

“Kool aid” functionality for some might be daunting to others. For example, a complex upfront faceted navigation could prove useful for a costumer with previous inventory knowledge (“I would love to find a deal on DVD with HDMI and multi zone capability”) but could be a deal breaker to someone who has not previous knowledge of the inventory space (“Hi, I am looking for a DVD player”). Assessing costumer’s intentions and skills before presenting them a given functionality would enable you to provide them with the exact tool for their work ahead and produce an unobtrusive environment: since no one of your users will have to navigate a sea of complex and unnerving functionalities that were designed for a different costumer mind set.
Further reading:
Mental Models: Aligning design and strategy with human behavior (Indi Young)

Research, test, analyze and repeat. Since us humans mature and evolve, products and services we use tend to grow old on us. Continually assessing your audience around how they use your product and how it is helping them attain their goals (behavioral and attitudinal research) will keep you right on track on what your fans are needing from your product, what needs to change and what needs to be set free; and as a bonus you’ll be able to detect unattended needs that might be currently fulfilled elsewhere (the once timorous now mighty competition).

As closing comments, I’ll share my mantra: Do not fall tempted to the needs of ego. Ego is a bad advisor and a impressive warrior to fight against. If you want to captivate your audience think about their ego not yours or your peers; don’t boast about your innovation knack, help them proud of how they use your product.
Further reading:
Why research labs fail at innovation (Scott Berkun)

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