Designing evolving products – by Ryan Freitas

Once in a while, I come across people who really impress me. When that happens, it fills me full of hope – “maybe one day, I can be like them.” Ryan is one of those people. His eloquence is infectious.

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I related to his talk on evolving products because I am in the mist of working on a project that is, what Ryan calls a “punctuation” of our product lifecycle. Every product we work on evolves. However they evolve differently for many reasons. Some iteratively evolve. Some reach a gradualism stasis,that is when a punctuation is necessary. When he said it, it was much better put 🙂

Ryan’s talk was round the toolset for doing punctuation. I like the word choice here, because people often talk about “innovation”. The idea of “innovating” can really take us off track because people have different ideas about what that means. Truly, when your design connects the business offering genuinely with the people you serve, you innovate on real value. We live and breath this at Liquidnet. However, Ryan was able to offer some new insights into how we can do that better.

This is the toolset he covered in his talk:

1. Restate the value
2. Tell the story
3. Atomize the feature
4. Tidy the seams

Sounds simple right? I know, he’s good. Then he breaks it apart what it all means.

1. How do you restate your value?
You get to know your audience, your benefit to them, your competition, and differentiation. Getting to know your audience, of course, requires user research which hopefully combines interviews and ethnographic techniques. Knowing your benefit to them would come from really getting to know the business and understanding how the business is connecting with their customers. Knowing your competitors may be a simple web search and dissecting a site’s value. In our case, we had to dig deeper. The the differentiators, they should be fairly understood by the business. However, in our recent project, we had to restate it in relation to our new personas and the new industry landscape.

After researching answers to all these questions, you start to dream about your personas, secretly sketch designs in your notebook, your brain is about to explode with myriad of possibilities and directions. That is time to synthesize everything down to an easily understandable message. What is your elevator pitch?

2. Tell the story
Like Ryan, our team develop personas to keep our organization focus on the human behaviors. Each of our personas represent one obvious behavior pattern within our customer base. Personas help us be very specific about goals, desires, attitudes. We do “a day in the life” scenarios for our personas and I hope soon we would storyboard them Kevin Cheng style to bring more context to the useage scenarios.

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I like what he said “don’t force the user, fit into their lives.” In our current project, we built value statements that work fine for us now. If I have to do it over again, the things I would try to do better are: speak in the user’s language, be very specific by using plain language, keep it as short as an elevator ride of 15 stories (not 60), and give it a core.

3. Atomize features
Just as your value statement needs to speak to the core value of your product or service, so does your prioritization work. Each project comes to a point where you have to start deciding what goes into release 1, 2, 3 and etc. Identifying and focusing on the core will help you “peel that onion”. How? He had some advise:

“Ride the winners” – Rich Skrenta. (rich skrenta, tinyurl.com/2fwerd)

Work within constraints. This one is most interesting to me. What if your technology you have to build this on was very constrained and you have to work with the basics? What is the thing you must embody in your product? What lies at the heart of your product that people respond most passionately to?
Conway’s law:

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“Despite jocular usage and jocular derivative “laws,” Conway’s law was not intended as a joke or a Zen koan, but as a valid sociological observation. It is a consequence of the fact that two software modules A and B cannot interface correctly with each other unless the designer and implementer of A communicates with the designer and implementer of B. Thus the interface structure of a software system necessarily will show a congruence with the social structure of the organization that produced it.”

4. Tidy the seams
So after you have clearly articulated your value and you manage to derive a design strategy and roadmap. It’s time to carry out the design. You come to a “oh shit” moment – you have more product channels or simply more work than one design team can manage, so you have to break up the work. In our case, recently we’ve had to break up one product to manage by different design teams after the design framework was completed by one team. The sheer amount of work and deadlines necessitated the break. We hope that similar philosophies in design and working closely will help us get to the end delivering a coherence experience.

Ryan cautioned that the result of the discontinuity is losing your customers instead engaging them. But he offered some advise: communication is not enough!

  • Emphasize on commonality throughout all key-elements of the experience. If you have a design element that does X in one channel of your product or service, make sure it’s respected across all channels.
  • Reduce noise wherever you can. Find things that will trip users up.
  • Start from the core. Prioritize 3 things that your product must embody, build those into each channel with a level of consistency that won’t lose your customers.

Delivering one experience across many channels done by many different teams is no easy task. I am excited to see what we come up with and how we pull it off! I think it will be worth it at the end.

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