The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; Vice President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
- Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Principal User Experience Architect at BMC Software; Founding Director of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
- Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer at Cummins; author of Designing Mobile Interfaces
- Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
- Mike Hughes—User Assistance Architect at IBM Internet Security Systems; UXmatters columnist
- Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
- Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Josephine Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: How can you better identify product value to help you avoid mistakes in implementation—for example, building the wrong thing?—from a UXmatters reader
“Just asking the question puts you well in front of many practitioners,” affirms Steven. “You are starting to get to the heart of user experience—assessing whether a product is not just pretty, engaging, fun, or even usable, but also whether it is useful. Tactically, to figure this out, you should simply ask lots of questions before breaking out your sketchbook. Ideally, you can talk to prospective users and get information about how they use existing or competing products, as well as what they would expect from your notional product.
“Plus, you must always talk to the product owners, and use them to identify every stakeholder or subject-matter expert. These people know a lot more than you might think about the whole domain, the competition, the competitive market space, and even the users.
“They also very often disagree with each other, which is another good reason to ask questions. Whether you do this through questionnaires and analysis or actually put all of them in a room together for a workshop, you can both gather the information you need and make the entire project team aware of everyone’s opinions and information. Then, get all of them to agree on the objectives, goals, and principles that should guide the design of the product and enable you to judge its success once it launches.”
Design the Right Design
“Design has two important goals: delivering a good solution—getting the design right—and solving a significant and meaningful problem—getting the right design,” says Steve. “Time and again, you’ll see organizations that are good at getting the design right, but implement products or services that fall flat as far as customer adoption and utilization are concerned. The traditional response to this issue is to look at marketing and advertising, but a much better response is to take on the challenge of solving problems of significance to people—that is, to provide value.
“There are several ways you can tackle this problem, but they all come down to this: find a way to understand your potential customers. Understand them as deeply as you can. What motivates them? What are their needs? What is the physical context within which they live, work, and play; the culture within which they sit? What is their experience and familiarity with technology—and not necessarily just digital technology, but however you define technology within the context of your project? Go and talk to them—or ask them to come to you if you must—and watch them? Do the same with people who have chosen not to use your product or service. Understand the criteria people use to make their product choices.
“Having done so, you’ll have a greater understanding of their needs based on empathy, and that empathy will enable you and your organization to better identify the issues of significance to those people—both customers and non-customers alike. In our practice at Meld Studios, we approach this part of the design process using a number of techniques:
- contextual interviews
- journal studies
- focus groups
- codesign workshops”
“In the edition of my UXmatters column On Good Behavior that is titled “Design Is a Process, Not a Methodology,” says Pabini, “I looked at the challenges of creating product value from a design perspective, writing:
“‘Design is the creative process in which we use our intuition and analytical ability to understand the opportunities and constraints business goals, competitive markets, customer needs, and technologies present, then envision, communicate, and realize practical solutions that meet customer needs and create business value.’
“To create business value, we must design products that people want to possess and use. Intuition, in relation to envisioning products, is a gift that a few extraordinary people possess in a great degree. I’m talking about the type of vision that Steve Jobs exhibited and sustained over so many years. But we all receive intuitive insights that result from our subconscious synthesis of information from diverse sources—including all of those business inputs that I mentioned in my definition of design, but also from everything we’ve experienced in life.
“On the other hand, the analytical aspect of design requires that we follow a defined process—and do the hard work of user-centered design. The Discovery Phase of that process is all about ensuring that we design and build the right product to satisfy a given audience’s needs. In my column, I explored this process of discovery in detail.
“In combination, the intuitive and analytical aspects of design balance one another. Analysis prevents intuition from ending in flights of fancy that fail to deliver value. Intuition provides the inspiration for product or feature ideas that we could never divine by merely analyzing disparate bits of information. You need that Aha! moment to innovate something great; to create something that people never before realized they needed, but once they see it, feel they must have it. But testing your design ensures that you deliver a product that actually meets people’s needs—and, thus, avoid making disastrous errors like the one Apple made in eliminating scroll arrows in OS X Lion.”