Unfortunately, we do not always have the luxury of being able to take the time up front to better understand the potential value of what we design. Dana Chisnell touched on this in her presentation at UX Australia, “Beyond Frustration: 3 Levels of Happy Design,” during which she spoke about meaning. In recent years, I’ve begun to dig deeper into the topic of value, so I spoke about the value of asking Why? at UX Australia 2010. (Figure 1 shows my presentation. You’ll find the audio and visual presentations on the UX Australia 2010 site. Have a look at Matthew Magain’s sketch, “Sketchnoting at UX Australia: Daniel Szuc,” in which he captured the essence of my presentation visually.)
Understanding Value: Thoughts Inspired by Cleaning My Room
Value is a hard topic to write about, because people attribute value to many different things in their life. During my stay in Melbourne, before the conference started, my Dad asked me to clean my room in the family home I grew up in for 20 plus years. I needed to quickly determine what I wanted to keep at home, ship to Hong Kong—where I live now—or throw out. This required digging into cupboards, filing cabinets, bookshelves, boxes, and under my old bed. We ordered a mini skip, or dumpster, and placed it on our home’s front lawn, making it easy to quickly throw items away. This task also forced me and my partner Jo—who was helping me clean my room—to think about what things we should keep and what things—that once upon a time had value to either my parents or myself—we’d now consider rubbish.
As we worked our way slowly through the things in my room, we discovered some treasures, including a Rubik’s Cube, records, cassettes, photos, love letters, birthday cards, toys, school assignments, programs from live shows, school reports, cameras, model cars, books, and a classic 1950s radio, to name a few. We thought about the stuff people collect over the years and questioned how much we really need in our lives. We were quickly able to attribute value to different items that spoke to some part of my early life. This experience also reminded us of how quickly people retrieve discarded items that hold little value to us, because those items are valuable to others. For example, we put two exercise bikes on the front lawn and, within thirty minutes, someone in the neighborhood had taken them.
This task of cleaning out my room led me to look more deeply at the question of what we all value, so I decided to ask this question of the UX Australia community during my talk to get them thinking. The true inspiration for my talk’s topic came from the frustration of working on products that, though they were functional and we delivered them on time, had very little inherent value for the people who might use them. I wrote more about this in “The Value of Asking ‘Why?’” for Johnny Holland, as follows:
“The problem is: we don’t spend enough time up front on projects, discussing, assessing, defining, and refining the value of what we make. We jump too quickly into design and build before applying rigor to what we make. It’s easy to get lost in the product detail—a screen [or] code—and forget what the product’s value is and who you are building it for. Everything we do should be to help move the product a little closer to success. Every question we ask, every piece of research we do, every design or sketch we make, every product walkthrough we have with stakeholders, [all] should help iterate toward understanding the product’s value. The copy, a widget, a function, a screen, the product framework, the product, the product line, and where that product line lives in and around other products, in the company and the marketplace, should say something about its value.”—Daniel Szuc on Johnny Holland
It’s important for a product team to take a step backward and answer the following questions:
- What does the product do? Do we understand its core value?
- What do you love about the product? Would you buy it?
- What does the product team love about the product? Is the product team passionate about the opportunity it presents?
- Could you sell the product, if you had to?
Product Differentiation and Dimensions of Value
How can we differentiate products in a world where copying UX designs and technology is becoming easier? What does it take to create deeper, more meaningful relationships with products—beyond the artifacts themselves? To help product teams assess whether there is something missing in the way we think about the value of what we create, I put together this list of the different dimensions of value:
- price—How much does the product cost?
- features—What does the product do, and how does it compare to other similar products?
- making product—How did we make the product? What craft, care, love, and materials went into it?
- lifetime—Is this product something I would keep for a lifetime or throw away in a year?
- relationship—What does the product do for me? Is there the potential to create a deeper and more long-lasting relationship with or through it?
- community—Does what I buy benefit just me, or is there also the potential to help my community?