Get the Most Out of Design

I almost titled this post "Reflections on Five Years of Design Consulting", since I’ve been running my own business now for a little over five years (time flies when you are busy and enjoying what you do!), but I wanted the post to be more than my reflections.  I wanted to write a post about how to get the most out of design as an organization.  Whether that be through your own in-house staff or by hiring a consultant.  If you have viewed my Linkedin profile you will know I have had a range of experiences over the years. These experiences have allowed me to work with and mentor companies that are rising stars as well as global industry stalwarts.  What they have in common is a need and desire to provide an excellent user experience for their products. What they have achieved through their efforts has differed often not due to their size but their approach. I would like to share a few observations about what makes a company successful and how organizations can get more out of design and generate more product success.

Design is a Team Effort

To me, design is a set of activities not a role. I expect, product managers, project managers, developers, support and marketing all to be involved in activities I call design. I’m not suggesting you don’t need design experts, but an entire team needs to be involved and engaged in design activities not just design staff. Teams that are engaged in design together are more cohesive while building a product because they understand and trust how they got there. So let me describe some of those activities that I see successful companies doing.

Effective Continuous Research

Companies that establish an effective continuous research process produce products with greater focus. Instead of trying to produce a product that does “Everything for Everyone”, research driven companies tend to produce products that do “Something for Someone”. Effective research is not simply about capturing what customers want, but understanding what they are trying to do and why. Companies that deeply understand customers goals (not wants) have a distinct advantage, they have the ability to prioritize customer goals and craft a product vision. Successful companies engage in continuous research which does not necessarily mean a dedicated person or role exclusively doing research (but it helps). Research can be done by anyone on the product team, but must be ongoing and continuous. I’ve done dedicated research, I’ve had product managers and support perform continuous research. By continuous I mean at least bi-weekly customer engagements to discuss their business (not sales calls, not product demos). Interviews, either in person or by phone are effective research tools, as are customer site visits, and group discussion forums. Research is about listening and learning as much as possible about what the customer is trying to achieve.

Product Vision

Companies that define a product vision based on customer goals stay on track. It’s the old adage, if you don’t know where you are going any road will do. A clear prioritized product vision lays out what needs to be achieved not how. When JFK defined the audacious vision of sending a person to the moon and returning them safely to earth, he set the tone for NASA. JFK’s lunar vision did not define how, but it did define when, and what success looks like. A vision becomes the success criteria for the product. Each release of the product should be getting closer to the vision.

Plan for Quality

Companies that measure the quality of their products while they design and develop produce better products. This might seem like common sense, but I have observed most teams track only “bugs” as their measure of product quality until the product is released to customers, then a host of other metrics are utilized like, product experience, customer satisfaction and net promoter score. I scratch my head and wonder why companies aren’t trying to measure these things sooner. Continuous research creates the perfect venue for engaging customers with early sketches, prototypes and concepts of a product. Effective research can evaluate these concepts to provide a measure of quality prior to product release.

Teams that practise design together understand the value that continuous research delivers and make that priority. Teams that practise design together understand what a product vision enables, a clear understanding of what success means. Teams that plan for quality have a clear picture of the quality state of a product from inception through to delivery.