Focus on the experience, not the technology
15 May 2017
In product development it is the technology that quickly becomes leading, with the user and user experience often coming into the picture later on. This makes the interaction less intuitive and compels users to learn new behaviour, with the upshot of a sub-optimum experience and the risk that the product is not well aligned with the needs and routines of customers. So if you really want to use technology to improve the experience of the end user, then it pays to put people first through human centred design.
As in many technological developments, internet was about the technological possibilities at the beginning. The same was later true of mobile, and I see the same thing happening with the Internet of Things (IoT). Really great ideas are being generated in the technology playground but too little attention is paid to how people ultimately will use them. It is often a solution in search of a problem, without a real proof of concept that demonstrates the value to the end user. An application that tweets whether a banana can be turned into a game console from a technological aspect is amazingly fascinating but is completely without foundation in the real world.
Design with intent
So the basis is about making the purpose of the product evident: how will the end user use the product exactly? This is why we start every project with a track zero, a baseline measurement where we consider where the company stands and what the opportunities are. Over a period of six weeks we examine the business value, the technology and the user, specifically on the basis of service design and design thinking methodology, zooming in with the client on the real issues for the end user: what problem do we want to solve? What are we trying to improve and why? In what context will the product or service ultimately be used?
Reason number one is efficiency. Without solid verification of applicability, production development will, in the best case scenario, be pestered by extra unnecessary iterations. In the worst case scenario, a product will get to market without any feeling with the users themselves. Passion also plays a major role. There are so many half-baked products around the world that contribute little while there are enough problems waiting for us to make a really positive difference.
Unconsciously steering behaviour
A human perspective on technology leads naturally to the matter of ethics. A doctor, for instance, has to take an oath and promises to uphold specific professional rules, but a company that gathers all kinds of information about your health and location does not have to do this. So by gathering and combining data like heartbeat and location via a wearable, you are able, for example, to identify which store excites a user. Linked to a fitness or travel app, you can unconsciously steer someone more often in the direction of that store. And if that happens to be a confectionery store and the user is overweight, how ethically are you behaving as a company? What are you adding to the world as a company?
Putting the human experience central does tend to raise a few eyebrows. In terms of business, the fast payback on investments is a key springboard, just as gathering customer data and creating customer profiles. So it is also easy to forget that customers are just people and that technology is intended for people. More and more companies, fortunately, are understanding that in the long term what is good for your customers is good for your company.
A human perspective on technology leads naturally to the matter of ethics.
Elon Musk gives a few nice examples of human centred design with ROI. He looks long term and identifies issues he is tackling with different companies like Tesla and SpaceX: making traffic greener, the transition to green energy and revolutionising space travel. Major challenges for which revolutionary solutions are developed with interesting paybacks.
Closer to home is Greenwheels, a service that makes car-sharing easy. One of the challenges we were able to solve for them was how to start, continue and finish a car reservation from different devices and channels. It’s nice to be able to work on a product that can contribute to a better world and design the best user experience for it.
Creating new experience
When you start from people, new opportunities are created. Avakai, for instance, is a wooden doll with sensors that reacts to its environment. By updating the software, you can enable the doll to communicate with another doll or download new games, which extends the lifetime. Physically, nothing else changes. And to take Musk again as an example, by updating the autopilot function last December, Tesla vehicles gained the extra option to autonomously adjust the speed to the surrounding traffic, change lane and even park. A good example of how service and extra services can create interesting revenue opportunities for manufacturers.
Ultimately, it is the human experience, not the technology, that determines the real value of a product for the customer. So put the experience first, and make the technology subservient.