Creating great digital product experiences
We’ve been designing and developing products at KD for over 40 years. For the first half of that period, when we used the term "products", the understanding was that this meant physical products and packaging for consumer, industrial, medical and other markets.
As designers we would consider the product form, function and usability. We focused on the benefits and opportunities that the product would create for the end user and how it could affect their lives. We would consider the wider context of use surrounding the product with the aim of creating the best user experience possible. There was always an ‘ecosystem’ in which the product existed: The brand which the product represented, other products and services of which the product was integral to or interacted with, and even other products and services on which the products we design would rely on to be successful. Our experience shows us that elements of this ‘ecosystem’ working together in harmony create great, compelling product experiences which can become enduringly successful.
In today’s world, many, sometimes all, of the elements of a compelling product experience are “digital”. From a targeted ad in a social media feed where a customer first learns about a product, the e-commerce channel where it is purchased, to the App used to setup and interact with the product and the connected systems with which the data is shared, digital components are often the lifeblood running through a product experience.
As such, digital design has become an integral part of KD’s expertise for innovation and product development. It is extremely rare for any product that we design to not be at least defined, enhanced or communicated by a digital experience of some kind.
‘Digital’ is a term that has evolved with advances in technology, culture and our collective experience of interacting with personal electronic devices. So what do we actually mean when we define a project as being primarily Digital? At KD it usually means that it has two characteristics:
- A device or screen-based User Interface (UI)
- The application of User Experience (UX) design practice.
Whatever the digital component of a product experience might be, there are a number of principles that will be of benefit to any project team creating experiences that are user-centred by design. So with this in mind, here are some key points that we feel it is essential to consider when considering physical / digital products.
Digital design = Experience design
Because digital design is primarily focused on the organisation and hierarchy of information, we have to understand common patterns that our users experience across a variety of digital channels, whether our design brief touches those channels or not. Designing for consistency of language, and presentation of information in a way that is easily understood, relies on knowing all the information a user may or may not have seen before they reach our design and the context in which they’ll be approaching it.
Early investment in research to understand user attitudes and behaviours helps the appreciation of what information is needed to create opportunities for action across multiple channels, thereby improving customer experience and driving value.
Focus on the problem (user need), not a solution
Obvious right? But so often briefs for digital projects are driven by the assumption that the solution lies in a specific digital , when in fact the problem we are trying to solve may be as simple as optimising what currently exists. Or there may be faster, more cost-effective ways of piloting an experience or testing a hypothesis before investing in design for a single channel. Drawing on our experience of Design Thinking and Agile software delivery techniques, we often find ourselves helping our clients to re-frame their challenges in a user-centred way that promotes efficiency and innovation, ultimately reducing cost but increasing value over the course of a programme of work.
Well, not quite everything; but it is important to determine what KPIs and metrics will be used to judge outcomes as early as possible. Without these, you have no way of predicting or quantifying value or success in a meaningful way. Getting a deliverable over the line is not enough. The whole team must be aware of what aspects of an experience they are trying to affect and how well a design performs in the real world, with real users. Defining metrics at the start of a project shifts the focus across the whole team onto performance, not delivery. Less corners are cut, and prioritisation of product features is made faster based on evidence relating to identified user needs.
Digital design must be intuitive (for all)
If you want your product to be easy to use, it must be easy to understand without the need of external support. User error and misunderstanding of functionality are going to be the main issues most digital designers have to deal with. The KD team has a deep-rooted commitment to usability (in physical and digital products) and uses a variety of testing methods to resolve potential issues.
But regardless of testing, three of the most important ingredients to build into your products are:
- Design patterns that are easy to recognise (common interactions the user is familiar with).
- Use language in your design that you know users of the product are going to be comfortable with (or at least can make a confident assumption of what is being inferred).
- Consider the accessibility requirements of all users throughout your whole product development.
These ingredients are especially relevant as we see an increase in the value and expectation of connecting and controlling ‘smart’ products using personal devices, moving documentation online, or employing AI; in fact, anywhere the user is accountable for making decisions in a self-service environment.
Content must be your top priority
For the most part, once you look past the cool interactions and ‘seamless’ experiences to which all digital projects strive, they only ever serve one purpose; to help your users find the information they need to complete their task. Moreover, how you structure your content and the hierarchy in which it’s presented to the end user (often referred to as Information Architecture (IA) and Content Strategy) is, for most, if not all digital projects, the most valuable design activity you can invest in. With these elements you will have the opportunity to understand the true scope of your digital experience, particularly if the ambition is for that experience to span multiple channels.
Knowing the type of content you need to display, and its format early on in the design, will allow you to focus quickly on innovative ways to deliver that content, and provide more agility in terms of which channels you should be prioritising.
The focus on delivery for an MVP should always be the definition of ‘Viable’, relating to evidencing the solving of priority pain points and opportunities for design that have been identified through research. This viability requires the product owner or lead stakeholder to make a decision based on the evidence that has been presented to them.
Understand your MVP
The term ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) has entered the lexicon of boardrooms the world over. Often, the concept is misunderstood and incorrectly applied, being far removed from an endorsement for Agile delivery or a good product roadmap. Used in the right context, a MVP not only makes it clear what the scope of initial delivery must be, it also prevents design and development of features that might be unnecessary for the success of a product.
Digital is an enabler
Connected product ecosystems present an array of opportunities for solving cross channel challenges at scale and can create huge opportunities in terms of efficiency in design, insight and collaboration. Building products on a foundation of measurable objectives, structured content and a clear roadmap produces the best product experiences, creating physical and digital products that generate customer delight, loyalty and deliver meaningful return on investment.
At KD we use digital design to help our clients take full advantage of this investment. Digital has the capability to be a powerful enabler for rapid product development and innovation and, when considered as part of the whole product package, drives value and excellence in design.
If you would like to talk more about your next digital project, please get in touch with our Head of Digital, Paul Richardson – [email protected]