What are the best product design techniques that meet customer needs?
In the past few episodes of our series, we revolved around bespoke services for our customers. The customer is always right - as simple as that. This week we will look at one of the possible approaches to getting through to the customer and preparing a quality and desired service/product.
The approach that will help us better design our product is called Human-centred design (HCD). It is a set of product design techniques that will help us listen to people’s needs, whether customers, users or our employees, and to create a product based on those needs. This process may seem obvious, yet we still encounter quite a few products, a majority actually, that suffer from technological, ergonomic or aesthetic deficiencies.
[Picture] - We encounter design mistakes in various areas of human activity - IT, architecture or industry.
Listen, Design and Only Then Create
Human-centred design can help to avoid similar blunders. By putting an individual at the centre of our product endeavours, we can improve our current products, or deliberately create innovative solutions tailored to our customers. HCD represents an endless cycle of three phases - hear, create and deliver.
Hear - In the first phase, we want to get to know our potential customers, understand their desires, wishes and problems. We can call it a research stage as we are indeed exploring the world around us, trying to get as much information as possible in order to design our product accordingly. Customer interviews, analytical data study and field research tend to be the most-widespread methods of research at this stage.
Create - We need to convert the collected findings into a draft solution. At first, we don’t strive to come up with just one right solution. We want to generate a whole lot of them - from conservative to crazy. In the next phase we select the most promising ones that we visualise and ideally process into functional prototypes. Although it might seem strange, the prototype production is getting us into the third phase which closes the first iteration.
Deliver - We deliver the prototypes we created to the real users and monitor their reactions. It is the testing that will show whether the solution is truly beneficial or in what way it could be improved. Nevertheless, our work will not end here. Quite the contrary: we should now move back to the first phase and continue getting to know our customers. After completing several cycles, we will end up with a sufficiently accurate product design that we can start implementing. In the world of digital products, this is the stage where programmers sit down to their keyboards to create the final product.
The Most Common Mistakes
In the context of digital age, we experience the use of HCD mainly in creation of products such as information systems, websites, mobile applications and other digital services. What are the most common issues that we might encounter?
"We know our customers well" - We often see projects where the "listening" phase has been skipped and the focus goes straight to creation. Digital solution providers often believe that they have the best idea of what a product should do and to what purpose should it be used. Unfortunately, their ideas often don’t match what users really want. The result is often a solution that does not bring anything to those for whom it was designed.
"We don’t need usability testing" - this problem is similar to the previous one except that instead of omitting primary research, we skip testing our designs. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that our solution is the right one without testing it. We either deliver a product that will have to be remodelled with additional costs or, worse still, we end up with a product that no customer will buy and use. The result in both cases is that we invest much more time and money into development than necessary.
Missing Screen Design - Visualising the final product just based on discussion or written description is no easy business even for a professional. Therefore, any discussion over the draft must be accompanied by precise screen designs and ideally complemented by a clickable prototype. It could happen ever so easily that the development team turns up with something completely different. Misunderstanding is wonderfully illustrated in a famous comic strip:
In the Name of Abbrevitations
When it comes to design, you will come across a myriad of abbreviations in the context of HCD which can be quite confusing to an uninitiated reader. Let’s go through some of the most important ones:
User centred design (UCD) or Customer cantered design (CCD) – These approaches stem from the same idea as Human Cantered Design. Rather than focusing on an individual in general, we distinguish users (for software products) or customers (for services).
User Interface (UI) – This is the way a user controls a given physical product or a software product (such as a website or a mobile application).
User Experience (UX) – Represents the resulting impression of person’s interaction with a product, system or service. It includes behaviour, emotions and attitudes.
Customer Experience (CX) – Represents the overall impression in a customer left by both direct and indirect interaction between them and the company. UX is therefore a subset of CX which includes the ecosystem of all products/services and company’s touchpoints. CX/UX have a major impact on brand perception (BRAND = MARKETING + CX/UX).
User Experience Design (UxD) – Denotes an HCD process, a set of techniques and methods of user interface design (web pages, applications). The aim of UxD is to upgrade user experience (UX), by improving usability, accessibility and enjoyment from user interface. The resulting product respects business objectives, technological constraints as well as user needs.
Service Design – Extends the UxD process to the design of the entire service, similar to design thinking.
Design thinking / System thinking – Generalised design process applicable to UxD or Service design. All approaches are based on HCD and specify individual phases.
In the digital world, we are sometimes so immersed in technological problems that we leave out the human-user. This often leads to increased costs or, worse yet, to project failures. HCD is a process that reconnects us, designers, with the original idea of design - for whom and why we are designing. The fruit of our work may be a physical product, software, or innovation, but it is crucial that at the centre of it all is a human being.