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Product Design – Expectations Vs. Reality

Has it ever occurred to you that your customers may not want as much as you’re even offering?

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it may actually be true. Owing to today’s fast-paced lifestyles that are chock-a-block full of content both online and offline, simplicity can feel like a breath of fresh air. Such a predicament is just one out of many warped outcomes when it comes to designing any digital application. For example, the industry of web development in Sri Lanka is one that has proven itself by putting the customer first, which means using only what is necessary to meet an objective.

Sri Lanka or beyond, the product design principles laid out herein apply universally, as users are subject to be inclined towards a digital application that is easy to use, and gives them what they need without much delay.

Keep it simple

Elaborating on the point that was mentioned briefly in the introduction, ensuring that the UI of your digital product, be it an app, website or software maintains minimalism. In other words, cluttering the interface with too many elements or with items that are not required can confuse users, which can ultimately lead to frustration and abandonment.

You’ve managed to maintain a simplistic interface that makes your product easy to use, but how accessible are the features that give users what they need?

In this context, accessibility is the means that can help a user finally view that whitepaper or purchase that e-book, after partaking in a carefully mapped out user journey. Some features that facilitate conversions can be more counter-productive than others. For instance, using a QR code may be too cumbersome – just a simple SMS verification can do.

While technology has been evolving at a breakneck pace, it is viable to only use what is necessary. As lead conversions remain your primary business objective, enabling your users to turn to customers at their convenience (not yours) is something to keep in mind – and surprisingly, is something that may require much less in terms of technology than you thought!

The latest advancements in technology have been making so much possible, but when should one strike a balance, and most importantly - who should be doing so?

All digital products are born out of the need to deliver something valuable to its users. As businesses that create such strategies, owners, managers and brand specialists need to be vigilant about which tech elements can complement their objectives, and vice versa.

The business that owns the brand is ultimately the foundation for where the app hails from. Ensuring that brand owners are able to distinguish between what is essential and what is excessive in terms of the tech elements that need to be integrated will eventually serve the company's best interests.

For example, Adobe's recent changes to certain functions that worked a specific way for several years has garnered mixed feelings from its users. Up until January 2019, designers dependent on applications such as Illustrator and Photoshop had been thoroughly accustomed to the functions that had been in place previously. In turn, this has been creating much confusion, as users need to get acquainted with generating the same commands in entirely new ways.

While Adobe's intentions to introduce the same functionalities but with different commands/keyboard shortcuts/menus would have been at the interest of enhancing the UI of its applications, it has been inconvenient for seasoned users as the previous commands worked just as well.

This case scenario therefore sheds light on why less is more, and why some elements can be left as is for the purpose of maintaining the comfort levels that users associate towards your app.

Done is better than perfect - that's why a beta version or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is ideal, as opposed to an application that is 100% complete.

Even the simplest software or mobile app development process is an intricate one, what with so many variables involved (including unforeseen ones). Add to that the uncertainty of how your product will be received by the masses, in spite of doing adequate research on the likes and dislikes of your consumers.

Delays associated with product designs are often due to excessive steps which could be eliminated with beta versions of your app, website or software. While it is imperative that the forms and functions of a product be well scrutinised before even a minimalistic version is released, adapting to an Agile process of handling execution can greatly benefit turnaround times, and therefore make deliverables more punctual. This means that processes are kept lean, and working parts of the product are given priority.

With the introduction of a beta or MVP, it can also benefit product design standards in the long-term. As users begin to get acquainted with your app, honest reviews can be the feedback you need to truly customise your platforms for being more customer-centric.

It is also more feasible to upgrade your app based on customer demands and patterns, as opposed to building a fully-fledged app that may or may not receive positive recognition for all features present. Upgrading as you go can eventually cost you less than formulating an entire stack of features. On top of that, ad hoc upgrades shall resonate with your users better as each feature has been added in the interest of customer-focused UI/UX.

Survey, opinion, repeat

In the arena of software development, the importance of gathering unbiased user feedback is one that's constantly addressed. Likewise, the same needs to be stressed for the purpose of product design too. As brands choose to establish stronger relationships with their clients, ensuring their digital platforms reinforce the same is a nuance that can only be attained via credible and consistent feedback.

Conducting the regular user survey is a given, but what other (seemingly unconventional) options are there to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback?

Another way to gather honest feedback is to start with other employees in your organisation. Inviting different staff members from varying backgrounds to partake in surveys is by far the simplest and easiest method to gather information. On top of that - it's completely free! Also, if you have been finding it difficult to perform surveys with your target user base from the general population, this is undoubtedly a great starting point.

Once you have sufficient information to peruse, analysing trends and demands from potential users hailing from various backgrounds can now help you and your team to create user personas. Profiling your ideal user(s) based on factors such as age, gender, income, lifestyle and constraints can effectively help narrow down who you should be targeting - which makes your product design specialised to accommodate the calibre of users who will eventually engage with your digital platform.

Many companies that form to be a part of the industry of software development in Sri Lanka take this a step forward, by incorporating user journeys during the software strategy phase. Upon gathering necessary feedback from surveys, mapping out the typical path a user will take to reach the point of conversion will serve as the foundation for developers to base their work on, including post-implementation maintenance such as troubleshooting and security patches. This is best done as a team, as each member brainstorms and contributes to the user journey, by stepping into the user's shoes.

A mutual vision for the product

Every feature, element and interface – do you know why each item exists in your product in the first place?

In due course of the product design and development process, it’s easy to fall into a rut when it comes to the various aspects you intend to add (or not). Some features may be incorporated simply because they may look good on the interface, or because competitors may have them on their own digital platforms.

Many businesses feel that such nuances pertaining to product design are a norm – and they need to be adhered to without any exceptions. However, deviating from this mindset to simply understand the reason behind introducing a specific feature can greatly benefit the objective that the product is being developed to attain, and ultimately your company’s bottom line.

This isn’t to say that the features and functionalities which users are already accustomed to need to be given second thoughts, and eliminated. This perspective instead aims to focus on additional features that are being speculated on, and ones that are specific to the workings of your brand/business.

Setting aside a few moments to introspect every feature request that comes your way, and subsequently trying to determine whether the same will solve any business problems/provide the customer any value is a good habit to practice – by all members of your team. In order to make this happen, each team member needs to share a mutual vision for the product, based on what the brand aims to deliver. As a matter of fact, this is a principle that requires a dedicated work ethic and a true passion for the product that is being developed, more so than product design expertise per se.

Summing it up…

Even in the wake of some of the most advanced forms of technology, fundamental product design is still failing. This is a predicament that no business has been immune to, so far. From the largest multi-national corporations to family owned enterprises, companies of every size and sector seem to have taken a hit.

So what has been giving way in the endeavour to formulate a digital product that empowers users, while enabling companies to meet their business objectives? Contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to utilise every technological component only leads to saturation, resulting in confusion and even frustration amongst users. The key is to incorporate only what is required – even if it means using something that may not be as state-of-the-art. As long as it provides a seamless and pleasant user experience, that is all that’s needed!

Beta versions of websites, apps or enterprise software perform a dual role when it comes to benefiting the brand; while releasing even a minimalistic version establishes your product on the cyber space for customers to start engaging with, repeated usage can deliver direct feedback that can eventually help your team tailor the product to suit target audiences better.

Before product design takes place, it’s important to have a picture of how your target customer will be like. This is where user personas come into play. Depending on what your brand offers, there may be more than one profile of your ideal customer, which can provide better clarity for your design as well as marketing teams to formulate strategies that are far more targeted than ambiguous. User personas can be generated after concise quantitative and qualitative feedback, by conducting surveys either amongst the general consensus or if not, even via the staff members at your current organisation.

But of course, generalising your customers based on your user personas can be counter-productive, as exceptions are always prevalent. That is why a beta version of your app can prove to be highly resourceful for this purpose, while simultaneously getting your brand’s word out to the masses.

Last but not the least, great attention to detail with regards to the features incorporated within your digital products goes a long way to signify their true value. In other words, you need to ask why each feature needs to be present in the first place, and in the case of adding a brand new element – what customer and business benefits it will bring to the table. A team that unanimously agrees on a vision pertaining to the brand is one that will fuel the passion to think twice about every step that is being taken.

After all, product design isn’t just about technical skill – it’s the art of offering something truly remarkable, without compromising on your own business’s bottom line. Oftentimes this requires more passion than expertise, eventually boiling down to a work ethic that will make such an aspiration a reality.



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