Product Design: Expectations vs Reality
For me, the beauty of designing a product is that it usually never ends up as the first idea you had. Often, the process looks like a complete mess, and you pass through multiple iterations until you get to the ideal state. But along the way, we make some mistakes that we are not aware of. So I decided to illustrate some of the mistakes we make and the expectations we have when designing digital products. This article is a continuation of my previous one — 10 Small Design Mistakes We Still Make
We muddle through things
There is a scene at the end of The Prince and the Pauper where the real prince discovers that the look-alike pauper has been using the Great Seal of England as a nutcracker in his absence. Why? Because it makes perfect sense to him. It is a big and heavy chunk of metal with which you can smash things. So why do we use some things in a different way than intended? It’s not essential to most of us. As long as we can use it, we don’t care how you expected it to be used. We just don’t care.
Human beings are not logical creatures
The reasons for the deficiencies in human-machine interaction are numerous. Some come from limitations in resources, some come from self-imposed limitations. But most of them come from the lie we tell ourselves that people are logical animals. We have to accept human behaviour the way it is and not the way we want it to be. So we have to design products that mirror our thinking model.
We overwhelm our users with useless information
There’s too much information on the internet already — Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Work, Personal life, Unexpected problems — and you expect a user to go through all the text you have on your product or website? We should start caring more about our user’s time and give them only what they truly need. For that, you need to know who your core user is and stay true and focused on him.
Not all people care about innovation
To put a shelf on a wall you need a drill who can make holes. We don’t need a new “innovative” one, we just need one that does the job. So why do we keep reinventing the wheel when designing products? If something works just fine and does the job why redesigning or reinventing it? Sometimes sticking to what works will bring better results than designing new “innovative” solutions. This refers mostly to when we try to be creative with the UI of our products and in the end we leave our users more confused than before.
Why do we change the basics?
If you think the example in the picture is an exaggeration, you are dead wrong. This is a real-life example from a company that redesigned their website (2018). The site looks great, tells the company story and what the product does. But when I saw the lock near the Sign-Up button, I was a bit confused. Frankly, I even hesitated to click it. I had thoughts such as: “What’s that?” “Is it going to lock something up?”. And this example shows that the designer broke a fundamental rule — don’t make me think.
If you wonder, the lock icon was a log in button. The icon itself is suitable for such a button, but there was not text near it, just a lock. Why do we change the basics when they work so well?
Ask the right questions
When I was starting out, I could not understand why designers weren’t taken seriously by companies when it comes to high-level decision making for products. I worked in several startups and the attitude was more or less the same — after the management team defined the path and solutions we need, they came to the design department for the “candy look”.
A couple of years later, I understood that if we change the conversation from “Ok, I will get right on it” to “Sure, but what business problem are you trying to solve? Will the change achieve the goal?” it changes how things are perceived. Asking the right question will only make you a better designer and will help you to have a proper business conversation. And with time and patience, you start getting that seat at the table.
Can we start writing for human beings?
A website-a tool used to convert a potential customer or inform about your product, service or cause. It sounds like a necessary tool that has to do one job well. It should tell me, the visitor, what you are doing or selling. Not so fast cowboy. Instead, we go with complex or my favourite “innovative” “turn-key” “blockchain” vocabulary that confuses visitors. We give endless lists of features and forget what we where writing about. And if the content sounds too simple, our product will look cheap, or less innovative or ____ (insert any other excuse here).
Others may think that you need this kind of sophisticated vocabulary. Why? Because their visitors are corporates and they will consider our tone of voice is not serious enough for them. Spoiler alert — people from the corporate world are human beings too. And every human being on this planet does not use things they do not understand. So when a person goes to your website and does not know what you do, this means he/she will not buy your product/service. Worst case scenario you have to run a separate presentation to explain what your product does because the website failed its primary mission.
Our products are easy to use…
…until we complicate them with useless features. There is such a term as creeping featurism — which is a tendency to add more features to existing ones. Usually, beyond a reason. And there is no way that the product will remain usable and understandable once all the features have been added over time. Trying to match the product features of your competitors is only going to hurt you. So when companies match feature by feature, the customers do not have any reason to prefer one for another.
How can you go differently about it? Concentrate on areas where your product excels and keep doing that. Then focus all your marketing efforts to pinpoint your strengths. This will make you stand out from the average. Win with less and not with more.
Stop asking users what they want
Finding out what people feel about things that are happening today is extremely useful but trying to get people to tell you what will work tomorrow is useless. With that said, I don’t mean that doing research is useless or not mandatory. But rather we do it wrong. We take those numbers and results we gathered as a belief system.
The best brands are those that create something for consumers that they don’t even know they need yet. A coffee brand like Starbucks created something they didn’t think they needed. Same with Nike. Who knew we needed a high-end performance running shoe? And to finish this part, I would like to tell you a line from Howard Schultz, former two times CEO of Starbucks: