I talk to many types of people who are considering working with us. All want a better design for their mobile products. I’ve been noticing trends.
Social networking site success does not seem connected to quality of design. If it is sufficiently “hackable” (can be made to reflect participants’ personality) and gets the right balance of privacy and connection, it can succeed. Well, it can if it has the right business model, the right timing, the right viral components, the right targeting; it’s more about those classic marketing factors than the product itself. My inability to figure out Facebook’s navigation paradigm has clearly not affected their success; or at least their popularity.
When a CEO contacts us, he (it’s always been a he) pretty much doesn’t have the money to invest in a full design process. At best we can review their application and make suggestions. But this type of CEO wants not only design on the cheap, but development as well. So far, the CEO has never invested in a solid design process, with us or anybody else. And of those, only the social networking companies have done well.
Project managers are another group of people who sometimes contact us for help. Unfortunately, this has been because their boss told them to — they weren’t feeling the pain of poor design. In these cases, the company doesn’t invest in design and continues stumbling along with the same problems they did before. This is a case of insufficient leadership: the boss, usually the head of product or marketing, needs to invest her time in improving design.
When CTOs contact us, usually the company doesn’t have a person focused on product, and marketing is focused on sales. These companies frequently run into the same problem as above.
If you want to improve design process by focusing on design and user research, you’ll need to measure your team. Whether doing it yourself or working with an outside resource, your team needs to be measured on the results, the return on investment (ROI): decreased churn, decreased calls to customer support, increase uptake rate, increased purchases, increased page views, increased time on site, decreased bounce rate. Whatever it is, measure it (in a standard manner, and without changing the measurement method halfway through just to meet goals).
Be clear to your team about what you are expecting. Don’t tell your product manager, “go improve the design.” He’ll make it prettier, or more AJAX, or something that doesn’t do much to improve the user experience, or actually hurts it. Then you’ll both go around talking about how easy to use your service is. Measure results with a relevant measure from above.
I use a service that proclaims ease of use. They have nice clean pages, and good features. That’s why I’m using the service. But there are problems. It mostly works in Safari, but breaks (invisibly) deep in the site when you try to save your change. On one page, clicking a cute icon opens an otherwise invisible set of critically important pages. On another page, that same icon in the same place generates a new instance of what is on the page. The “friendly,” “designed” site is breaking down, causing user frustration. And making the user feel stupid, the more so due to frequent proclamations of being friendly and easy. And when your service that looks super-friendly makes users feel stupid, it’s breaking a promise.
Design doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take investment in a new process. You want a balancing between what is and what could be, between customer stated desires and unmet needs, between user needs and business needs, all in a group of people who can create concepts from existing needs. This a different set of expertise than software development or marketing or graphic design, though not impossible to learn. It’s design.