Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Interaction Design, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies, User-centered Design

“There is no Average Joe Bloggs” – reads the copy on the billboard advertisement of an insurance company. I couldn’t agree more with this, especially in the context of designing and developing new products for end users. No matter how much I like Statistics, we just cannot apply it to all things in our personal and professional lives. While its good to be number-savvy, we need to balance the quantitative with qualitative aspects, to get it right. More so in the case of product design and development, the “law of averages” doesn’t quite contribute to the successful product development. We are all familiar with the concept of user profiles and personas used in the design and development of products. These help a great deal in understanding the real needs and goals of your target audience. In this post, I will dwell on why designing for average users is a misconception and how we can make use of user profiles and personas in developing successful products.

All customers are not users

This is the biggest notion among my clients that customers are well, users of the products. Not always true! The good thing is that both customers and users are both people, the similarities end there.  I think that “Customers” is a favourite term for Marketers whereas Designers and User Experience professionals connect better with the term “Users”. Customers are the people who purchase your products and services, while consumers or users use these. In some cases or well, most cases customers and consumers are the same. As in the case of some daily use products, white goods, FMCG, customers and users are the same i.e., people who buy your products use them as well. But in the case of high-end products, enterprise applications and productivity solutions, buyers could be different from consumers. For instance, office supplies, financial services, technology products like computers etc., the people who pay are different from those who suggest. These in turn are different from the people who decide and yes, the people who actually use the products or services could be completely different from the above groups.

First, know your Users

Knowing your users is the most important step in the approach to developing great products. By knowing your users, I mean to say that you must understand the goals and needs of the users. This understanding will help you in shaping your product or service, make it more suitable and appealing for the users. You can’t just create a product in thin air and then retro-fit it to the benefit of some people. As they say, the most important question in any business is asking “whose needs is the idea/concept/product going to solve?” . Texavi’s Unified Experience Framework has a whole phase dedicated to help you get to this. The “Know the Needs of your Users” phase has all the tools, techniques and technologies to ensure that we understand the real needs of the users. These are often unwritten, untold, unexpressed and even unknown to the very users. So, its a big challenge to get to the real needs of the users.

Know the Needs of the Users - Texavi Unified Experience Framework

 

User profiling holds the key

It doesn’t make sense to design and develop your products for all the people in the whole world. There is a danger of missing out on most people, as they think it doesn’t suit their specific needs and goals. Also, on the extreme end, it doesn’t make sense to design your products for one or two users. This argument lends weight for some people to think the middle path and rely on the law of averages. So, they think that the best path is to design and develop for average user. But hold on, what is an average user? How can you get to that person and define the characteristics of average user? The answer to this question lies in the user profiles and personas. User profiles are essentially the characteristic grouping of users based on various properties, traits and behaviours. This doesn’t mean that you are defining an average user. Instead, you are trying to understand the essential aspects of your users.  Using the profiles and personas helps the team to have a common language of understanding. This not only helps them in having a good picture of the end users, but also gives them a great affinity to the users, because of the name, form and physical characteristics.

UserProfiles_Personas_Design

Personas – archetypes not stereotypes

You might have heard of the term “persona” used in the context of marketing, research and product design. A persona is a representative user from amongst the group, but does not point to one user from within the group. It is a powerful design tool that helps the design and development teams and client relate to the target audience. Persona is not a stereotype of the users, but rather an archetype from the user group. In a persona, you give a form, a name and a picture to the representative users, so that all the team members and concerned people can relate to that person more effectively and easily.

Persona - Texavi example

 

Benefits of user profiles and personas

While there are many benefits of using the user profiles and personas in the product development life cycle, I list below a few of them that really stand out.

  • Understand the real users who you should target from amongst the many people in the population
  • Help prioritise the target segments within the groups of people
  • Know the real needs and goals of the target audience
  • Support in connecting and relating to the real needs of the users
  • Design, develop the products in a more practical and pragmatic manner
  • Evaluate and test the products, keeping the real users in mind
  • Minimise the effort, time and cost of development and rework

Hope you agree with me now that the average user is a myth and acknowledge the power of profiles and personas. Please keep writing in with your suggestions and comments. Till the next post, ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies

Caller:             “Hello, is this Tech Support?”

Tech Rep:      “Yes. it is. How may I help you?”

Caller:             “The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about getting that fixed?”

Tech Rep:      “I am sorry, but did you say a cup holder?”

Caller:             “Yes, it’s attached to the front of my computer

Tech Rep:      “Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped, it’s because I am. Did you receive this as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it? ”

Caller:             “It came with my computer, I don’t know anything about a promotional. It just has ‘8x‘  on it.”

The caller had been using the load drawer of the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder and snapped it off the drive.

[This story was attributed to George Wagner,  Greenberg,1971]

You might have read this earlier and laughed it off. I started this post with this very naive-sounding, but true conversation that happened between a PC user and a customer service representative.  Today, I wish to touch upon  the widening gap that prevails between the management and stakeholders of product companies and the needs and conceptual models of end-users. As a product manager, its all the more important to understand the existence of this divide between the creators & consumers and try to plug this ever widening distance!

First, identify the people involved

First things first, define the roles of the people involved in the process of product creation and consumption. To keep it simple, we can classify them into three different categories – stakeholders, customers and users. These can be people, groups of people, entities or even organizations. They can be separated physically and logically into different classes, but sometimes there could be an overlap or common areas amongst a few of them. For instance, in a product company such as an automotive manufacturing, sometimes the stakeholders and customers could be the same as the company might be manufacturing the components which are consumed by the same company in building a car.

What do you want to be and want to do

Stakeholders are those people who have a direct or indirect influence on and who get benefited from the product, solution or service  under development. One might argue that customers and users are very much part of the stakeholders. Yes, they are, but since they hold bigger stake of your product, you can classify them under a separate category. For simplicity’s sake, include in this category of stakeholders…management, product development team, client, vendors, partners, venture capitalists, and all those involved in the process of product creation.

You need to identify the key stakeholders in the form of individual persons from within the groups. Have one-to-one interactions with each of the identified stakeholders. During these interactions, extract the various perspectives depending on their roles and profiles. For example, from a CEO, get a business perspective, whereas from a CTO understand the technical perspective and from a Business Development Director, get the views on customers and competing companies.

Define the ‘Identity’ –  Inner view

The sum total of the vision, challenges, constraints, expectations, views about competitions, products, business, technology etc. from each of the key stakeholders provides the composite identity of the organization or the product under discussion. You might notice that within the same organization, and on the same area or point, there might be conflicting views and expectations from different stakeholders. However, this should not be a stumbling block, but instead try and understand why these differences are cropping up and resolve them with the involvement of stakeholders.

I am reminded of the marketing assignment which I did during my MBA summer-project. It was with a company which is into biscuits,cookies and dairy products. They just re-positioned their brand and brought out a whole range of products aligned to their new identity. The company’s stakeholders thought that the brand and the products they create not only support the health and well-being of the consumers but also enhance their thinking and intellectual capabilities. So, they started massive campaigns all around the country brandishing those perceived values, strengths and greatness of the brand and product. Read through the next few paragraphs to know the outcome of my studies.

Customers and users may not be the same

In the case of services, mostly customers and users could be the same, but in the context of products and that too for enterprise and B2B products and services, these two groups invariably differ, to a large extent. In fact, even within the same group say customers, you have different variations such as decision makers who hold the purse strings, and purchasers who execute the deal.

No ‘Average Joe’ in users

The ‘law of averages’ might work in almost all the places but not in product innovation and user experience management. Bear in mind that there is no average user or stereotypical user, for whom if you design and develop your product, it works across all the potential users.  Similarly within the users, there may be many different sub-groups based on tasks, work profile, experience, education, and other demographics. You just cannot assume that all the users are same and have the same needs, wants and challenges.

Understand the ‘Image’ – External view

Another critical component is to understand the external perspective, that of the customers and users about your product. This is what I refer to as image of the organization or the product. Often times, this image is formed in the minds of the users through various ways. Some of these could be the interactions that users have with  your company or product, experiences formed through usage of this or similar products earlier, advertising and promotions, interactions with friends, peers and family about the product etc.

Sometimes the image formed about the product need not be real at all and instead was formed from incorrect perceptions and misconceptions. Again this could be due to various reasons such as users themselves( demographics such as education and experience), your product (promotion, design of the product, and its promotions) or both.

Referring to the biscuit company case of my assignment, I did a lot of user research talking to users, understanding their mental models, conducting some market research to know their perceptions, preferences etc. All these studies led me to a very strange set of results. The consumers of this specific brand and products, don’t really see anything healthy in the products, nor do they associate it with their thinking well or intelligence. They had a completely different sense of what these products stand for and do

Gap = Identity ~ image

You defined the identity for your product from stakeholders’ view and also understood its image among your customers and users. By now, you would have realized that they are not exactly matching and that there is a difference between the identify and the image. Often times the success or failure of the product is decided by the extent of this gap. The focus now shifts to measure the extent of this gap, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Then the next steps are to understand the root causes for the gap and taking corrective and preventive actions.

Going back to my project work on the biscuits company, I analyzed the results and found that there was a huge gap between the company’s vision and consumers’ view of the products. After further analysis, I could get to the bottom of the case and understood the real reasons to be lack of customer awareness, increasing focus on competition, new management oblivious to the ground realities of the industry and the market needs etc.

Here is how to plug the gap

To ensure that your product works well for the key primary users, follow the guidelines I give below. These are based on industry standard best practices and also from my experience from the past success stories. Note that each of the steps can be explained and expanded into a separate blog post or even a separate chapter in a book. I am just giving them in a list so that we can focus on the specific topic of this post.

  • Create user profiles
  • Select no more than 3 user profiles as your primary target user groups
  • Create personas
  • Understand the conceptual models of users
  • Identify the key needs, challenges, pain areas of the users
  • Understand the key tasks that they do
  • Define the breakdown scenarios, and workarounds used in doing these tasks
  • Use the personas extensively throughout your product development
  • Scope the features and functionality of your product, around the personas
  • Design and develop your product around the needs
  • Keep stakeholders, customers and users involved throughout product development
  • Go back to these people on a continual basis with whatever you have developed
  • Try and identify the gaps, problems, and areas of improvement

I hope this post would help you form a vision for your product, reach out to your users, understand and bridge the gap between the two. And by doing all of these, you are increasing the chances of developing a successful product. Till next post, ciao!

 

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Usability Testing, User Analysis, User Experience, User Stories, User Studies, User-centered Design

Hurrah! It’s a joyous and proud occasion for all of us at the RSC and Rave. If you wonder why, well, RSC Publishing’s new content delivery platform, ‘RSC Publishing beta’ was launched today. Released as beta, which is bound to have further improvements, even as it stands today, this product is undoubtedly one of the finest platforms in the ‘STM publishing’ area. It is the culmination of various factors that resulted in the successful planning, execution, delivery of this platform. This is the combined victory for users, technology, agile methodology, collaborative team work and of course, sustained commitment and support from the RSC.

Refer http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2010/betaplatform.asp for more details on this.

When Taj Mahal was completed after almost a decade since the work was started, everybody who was involved in making it was excited and overjoyed to see it complete. This list included the persons who just carried bricks to the site. So also with the newly launched platform, everybody who has been part of the development project has a reason to smile today. With the beta launch, which can be equated to completing one pillar of the Taj Mahal, I think it is time for us to pause and reckon the project’s history. Being involved with the development of this platform from the beginning, I will try and give you a peep into how it all happened.

First, there was the Vision

The stakeholders at the ‘RSC Publishing’ had a dream, a shared vision of building a content platform that powers the Chemistry community with quick and easy access to the Chemistry content. Not just that, they envisaged that the platform delivers their content using superior technologies with the right user-experience. It all started with understanding their visions and expectations of the product and then we arrived at the unified product vision and roadmap.

Well begun is half done

As we discussed in the last few posts, in the software product development, if we align our processes to the users’ needs and their tasks, that product will be successful. The same happened with the RSC Publishing platform too. Right from the word go, they realised that ‘User’ is the engine that powers the rest of the product development. The team started off to gather intelligence about the users and arranged for some user studies in three different continents. Sound domain knowledge, being in the publishing industry for decades, added to the rich insights and contextual usage related data from the users. The end-result, a clear idea of what needs to go into the product and that exactly helped push the platform to the next stage.

Blueprint for the building

You cannot build a house without an architectural layout and blueprint. Similarly we cannot develop a software product without sound architecture and framework. When I say architecture, it does not mean just technical architecture. Task-flow re-engineering and information architecture also form part of laying the foundation for the product. Studying the existing systems and understanding the non-functional requirements helped build a solid technical framework, while user studies helped get closer to the conceptualisation of the structure of the user interface. Both these formed the foundation on which the entire application was built in the later stages.

Mantra behind the yantra

Can anything great be ever achieved without Technology? Definitely not, in this era of computers, and mobile phones. If Computer is the ‘yantra’ or machine, software is the ‘tantra ‘ that runs it. Here too, the right selection and implementation of technologies played a great role in ‘building’ the product from scratch. Because this platform is a content delivery product, RSC team selected a contemporary technology such as XML to help manage the complexity, volume and structure of content. Also, the selection of the content server technology played a critical role in storing the content effectively and delivering it faster. Also on the front end, superior technologies backed by integrated teams helped in shaping up a nice-looking and simple interface to the platform.

Go back to the user

It was good to have a clear understanding of the user needs and designing the product based on that knowledge. However, we cannot accomplish true user-centred design and development unless we close the loop by getting the product evaluated by users. It was again with the help of the key product owner and marketing team, we could arrange a few user tests and feedback sessions. These helped a great deal in correcting some issues which were not noticed till then.

Two teams – one goal

Hillary and Tensing could not have scaled Mount Everest individually. It is only by coming together and working together that they could achieve the feat. I think the Agile methodology’s paired programming concept would have been applied by them. In the case of the platform development too, collaborative team work has been the mantra for success. With dedicated and smart members working on both sides, RSC and Rave continued to leverage the  benefits of agile development methodologies. Continual interactions, empathy and collaborative working had proved to be the key turning points in this project.

There is only one way

And that is the way forward. With feet firmly on the ground, we are now poised to surge ahead with focus, renewed energy and the continued support from stakeholders and users. Now that the platform is in front of the users, we expect lot of feedback, comments and suggestions to come from the user community. The potential next steps are -addition of new functionality, changes to the existing features, usage of advanced technologies and fine tuning the overall application architecture for better serving the users. This would help us continue our march towards making the product better, quicker, simpler and a joy for the users and also for us, to be associated with the platform.

Here is the final score card, at the end of the play:

Users – 10 points, Technology – 10 points, Business – 10 points, Team work- 10 points! (On a scale of 0 to 10) victory to one and all. The game did not end here and now. It just began.