Building purposeful digital experiences in uncertain times

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The world we find ourselves in today is suddenly much different than what we imagined some months ago. Together, we are learning what it means to continuously adapt - finding new ways of working remotely, collaborating, accessing content, shopping.

Businesses of every size have been quickly moved into unknown territories, and their ability to shift and adapt is being tested to the limits. As we walk into a changed world, it is clear that the businesses that thrive will be the ones that continuously face uncertainty, adapt quickly, and invest in designing and building meaningful digital experiences.

It is now more important than ever for organisations to create engaging digital experiences

Even before COVID-19, businesses were aware of the importance of crafting engaging digital products that would allow them to connect with their users in easier, smarter, and ever-present ways in a multitude of spaces (learning on the go, shopping from your phone, working from home, gaming remotely).

Today, the expectation for outstanding digital experiences permeates every industry, and we hold a high bar for the products that enter our lives. Perhaps it was Apple that turned customers into the value of well designed products - or maybe it was Mint, the company that managed to turn the painful job of managing finances into a positive experience (1). Whomever it was, the truth is that today your users expect engaging and well designed digital products.

Image Digital products are playing an important role in connecting us remotely from our homes. Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

In this new COVID-19 landscape, it is perhaps even more critical than before for organisations to embrace an innovation and product driven approach, using design to rapidly change and adapt to the markets they operate in and the new expectations and realities of their customers.

Drive business success with an innovation and product mindset

With a product lens driving innovation, organisations are able to focus on solving real problems that have a substantial impact in the lives of their users. Through a lean and agile approach businesses can discover new opportunities, test hypotheses early and quickly, and build purposeful and effective products.

At Potato, we work with organisations to deliver better products - creating enriching and authentic digital experiences that bring real value to their users. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, these are some of the most important ways in which you can look at where your organisation is today, how you can grow in uncertain times like these, and move forwards with intent:

1. Make sure you are solving a real user problem

We have seen multiple times how people and organisations skip forwards and go directly to product development, without a clear value proposition and understanding of the problem they are looking to solve. With a solution built up in their minds, and their hearts committed to their beautiful ideas, they power through - without knowing if what they are creating solves a real problem users have. As you can imagine, those stories do not end well.

Instead, make sure you are working on a problem that your users actually face and building products that make their lives better. Every design process must start with empathy, and be rooted in an understanding of the diverse views, ideas, experiences, and problems that your users have.

Image The stories we hear help us connect with our users, understand them, and build with empathy. Photo by Mark Neal from Pexels

Be conscious of the new reality we are living in, and the changes that permeate our lives. Society today is more vulnerable than before, norms and regulations are continuously shifting, and user needs are in flux.

2. Know who your users are

What value does your product bring to whom? Knowing who your users are will inform the product you build, and ensure you are designing a solution that caters to them - to their needs, desires, problems, environment. Understanding where your users live/work/are will also help mark the boundaries of what is possible (what are the geographical and legal limitations, what is the access to technology).

Sometimes products want to define themselves as “for everyone”. This is never the case, and the confusion seems to come from wanting to place the product in a space that is open to all. However, there is a specific “job to be done” that your digital product will be catering for, a specific “pain point” it will be looking to solve, and a clear space in which it will be considered of value. It is also defined by demographic limits (age and location being some of the easiest places to start). Making sure you have clarity on who your users are will ensure you are building a product that works for them and their needs.

As much as it is important to narrow down your user profile, it’s also critical to make sure that your definitions are not adding bias. When diversity is not considered from the start, bias will be built into your product, and has the potential to replicate (or even increase) structural inequality and discrimination (Cathy O’Neil has written an amazing book and how algorithms play a role in this (2)). Always stop to consider who you might be leaving out of your profile, and when a general user profile might need to be split in order to capture critical differences.

Image Understanding our users, their experiences, problems, and spaces they inhabit provide invaluable direction to how we design digital products. Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

3. Build with data, not with assumptions

Bringing in the voice of your users throughout product development will ensure you are equipped with real knowledge and actual user data, allowing the team to make well-informed decisions at the right time. Working with real evidence, instead of un-tested working assumptions, will help the business de-risk solutions, and ensure your digital products are moving in a clear direction.

While it can seem like a difficult and time-consuming endeavour to conduct constant research, in reality there are multiple ways of connecting with users and collecting relevant data, and you can do so in lean and efficient ways. We have found that the value of this is quickly evident in how our teams make decisions and move product development forwards.

Image Designing solutions with real data helps us build with confidence Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

4. Create a strong foundation to build from. Use design systems to create product consistency

Laying a strong design system for your product will allow for efficiency, scalability, and consistency. Design systems bring order to the chaos that can emerge from the design process, ensuring we are building a consistent user experience in the most efficient way, and are able to quickly scale up the product.

Without a clear vision, structure and guidelines for the design of your product, your team might fall victim to the unstructured requirements that come from different users and areas of the business. As different design font sizes, colours add up, your team might be facing considerable design debt. Instead, build a strong foundation that allows you to eliminate inconsistencies, keep your teams aligned, and speed up your product design process.

During these times, a design system will prove an invaluable asset in ensuring teams remain aligned while working at a distance, and making it easier to onboard new designers and teams into a system that is already in place and working in the cloud.

As businesses find themselves needing to pivot quickly in order to respond to new user priorities and environment changes, a design system will make delivery more efficient, helping teams build and validate ideas faster.

Building products with intent

We believe in building products that matter, that make things better and solve relevant problems for real people. As businesses look to develop new digital products, they must consider the questions in front of them, think through the decisions they take, and make conscious design decisions that enable them to build with intent.

References:

(1) Rhodes, M. (2015), Take it from and expert: design is more important than ever. Retrieved May 14th 2020, from: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/take-expert-design-important-ever/

(2) O’Neill, C. (2016). Weapons of Math Destruction - How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown Publishers.


Who are we?

Potato is an award-winning digital product development studio based in London and San Francisco, which develops purposeful and effective digital products and services. If we can help you, get in touch.