When we say design, we mean a discipline which plays a strategic role in how companies, products, and any other mediums achieve success.
Vladimir Devic, Senior UX & UI Designer at HTEC
In recent years, design has gained its reputation as a key element of corporate strategy in big companies and became a C-suite concern overall. Moreover, as a problem-solving discipline, design aims to understand the purpose and the Strategic nuances (What do we need to achieve?), as well as the Holistic (Who will be using our solution?) and the Technical of the presented problem (How are we going to do it?).
When design becomes limited to style and appearance, it easily gets confused with art, because people tend to believe that products that look better work better, even if they are not more efficient. This is not what design is about. Nevertheless, great design is aesthetic; thus, we cannot quite separate the two.
“The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.”
When we deal with content, images, buttons, widgets and even features of a product, we deal only with a part of the greater picture. These are by no means the intended design artifacts, but just puzzle pieces of our design journey — something we end up and not begin with. Consequently, Product Features and Intended Product Character are designed methodically to create targeted Consequences in real life usage.
Product Features include Content and Information, Presentation, Functionality, and Interaction elements, while Intended Product Character implies Hedonic and Pragmatic Attributes.
If we observe the Intended Product Character and its attributes we may notice that their nature is rather complex. Pragmatic Attributes are means of product Manipulation and refer to the ways in which we use a product, while Hedonic Attributes provoke Stimulation, Evocation, Identification with the product.
All of these Product Features and Attributes produce certain outcomes, or Consequences, which are, in fact, changes in user behavior that affect the success of our design.When properly executed by the design team, Product Features and Attributes can produce Appeal, Pleasure, and Satisfaction in our target audience – Satisfaction as a result of the right Interaction design efforts to create good usability of a product, which is also Effective and Efficient to use, and Appeal and Pleasure as the desired consequences of design strategy, also known as Experience Design.
If we delve deeper into the Hedonic Attributes of a product, we may say that they focus on Stimulation, Identification, and Evocation of a user and their journey through the product, and all of them depend on research to be executed properly.
- Stimulation is linked to the user’s development of skills and knowledge, their curiosity and personal growth – like learning to use a new tool or a product they always wanted to use or completing a task which was previously very difficult and is now solved by the product.
- Identification addresses the personal expression of the user, and their personal values in relevance to other values, through our product. This is, therefore, the social identification in their experience of a product – comparable to the one that might be felt when driving an iconic car or having a flagship mobile phone. Identification is also connected to how we like to be perceived by others.
- Evocation stands for the product’s ability to stimulate and provoke memories of important past events or relationships – like remembering and comparing a product or a service to a previously used similar one, or, for example, using the Facebook moments feature which literally evokes memories.
Consequences can also be Emotional and Behavioral, but also the user’s own judgment about the product’s appeal, beauty, and overall quality. For this reason, we need to plan, research and test and then test the design again to be sure we tackled at least the minimally lovable product character and attributes. The knowledge on how to achieve these attributes is of great value in our work, but a discussion topic in itself. (Maybe a future blog post?)
It can be argued that experience cannot be designed, because it depends not only on the product but also on the user and the situation in which they use the product and the way they manipulate it. Therefore, we can design neither the user nor the situation, but we can definitely design FOR the experience.
This is just one of the models of experience, and there are many more applied by big names in design. Google, for example, bases their product design around the H.E.A.R.T., which stands for Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention and Task success.
Peter Morville’s Seven Facets of User Experience are another good example, and they stand for Useful, Usable, Desirable, Findable, Accessible, Credible and Valuable – note just how all of these facets can make or break the business. Regardless of the model, the Outcomes we are after remain the same, and they are based on the combination of Usability and Experience.
All of the aforementioned tools belong to the universal design toolbox, and to make an example, we may as well say that there should be very little difference between the toolboxes used for Logo Design and Interaction Design. What separates these toolboxes are only the semantics really, based on the notion that the Graphic Designer is working with a plane and usually flat physical space, while the Interaction Designer operates with an, equally tangible, digital medium. Both of them will do their research; think of the business they are defining the solution for; they will consider the imposed technical constraints, and how the users perceive and use the medium itself.
A well-designed logotype has all the elements of an experience. It has certain business value for its customers, that is to say, the business behind it is easily perceivable, and its communication style follows both business and human values in that conversation (these values are mentioned in the Design Model section).
Great logo design is not only visual – it is both kinesthetic and auditory, and it can induce feelings about the brand before you. A good logo can also be observed under the Kano Model principles of a product (Attractive, Performance, Indifferent, Must-Be and Undesired Attributes), and can create as big a delight as a good interaction can. Logo design deals with the same dimensions as our digital design domain – Words, Images, Space, Time, and let’s not forget, Behavior, as a dimension which can quite often be seen in logos that heavily depend on movement and dynamics ( this does not refer to animation).
“The job of a logo is to make you identify.”
“Symbols don’t make clear what you do; it makes it clear who you are.”
The person behind the logo design is also not an artist. They are a combination of a sociologist, psychologist, marketer, an engineer, and whoever else is necessary. Regardless of the field, design is both process and creation of a tailor-made solution for individual problems.
Our preferred design process is iterative rather than waterfall. It is problem-specific and, thus, adaptable to each project – every single design project is a set of different methods based on the type of the problem before us. Design is never done and also never right during the first handoff. The less time you take creating and the more time you spend testing, the better. Products often require a drastic pivot of some sort after few iterations, staying in the same business domain but going deeper into the micro niche and focusing on the specific problem. This changes the experience, but the change is necessary to achieve the right market and business fit and provide better value for the customers. Think of this the next time you start a new project with a strong opinion on something.
The same methods cannot be used for solving medical problems and those of the shipping industry. The former domain requires a more humane, and holistic feel, and the solution should be very easy to use. The latter one should provide a more technical and robust experience, and should be very complex to an average user, but efficient and effective to a shipping industry expert. Therefore, we define or choose our design methods from a pool of methods, during the design challenge phase, and then continue with the process using the aforementioned set of principles.
Ultimately, there is no reason to treat an iterative discipline as a waterfall process – why should design be stuck in Statement-Prototype phases when there is a multitude of other design methods equally important for our design decisions? There are more than 40 possible methods, and we never need to use all of them, but simply pick the right set applicable to our problem.
Our toolbox, in particular, is compartmentalized – all set up for the design team or the designated designer to pick the right set of tools from. We have research tools, as well as innovation tools, tools to align our stakeholders with our decisions and tools to validate these decisions. And although we cannot afford to work with a limited set of tools, research and some form of brainstorming with other experts in the team are necessary for this creative process.
Although quite crucial to the design process, design research does not have to be expensive and complicated, and does not require hiring an agency to recruit people for research activities – designers can do their own research quite easily without even spending too much time or company resources. This entire process can bring a multitude of obstacles, that seem to complex or daunting, but some issues can actually be addressed more easily than is initially believed.
If there is no option to interview users, definitely turn to investigating the competition. Diverging design decisions and introducing innovations based on the competitor product’s pros and cons is one of the most powerful techniques you can use to create a design decision. If you are introducing innovation and there is no competition on the market, try to use any data available to conduct a proper research. To find the right information, use internal company data and databases, sales reports and historical information and statistics, information obtained from government agencies or University research centers, articles from magazines or newspapers. You just need to pick at least one valid source that will consequently pull you in the right direction.
Here is an idea on how to do it. You have a project – an app for tourists in your town. Instead of just putting your ideas on paper or screen, go out and find people who might be tourists. Ask them for a few minutes of their time, explain what you need, and if they are willing (most tourists will likely do it) ask them what their needs are, what they heard, saw, or have done. Try to get into their minds and see what their deepest motivations are. This will undoubtedly lead you to a number of great ideas, and in design business, we like to call this technique Qualitative Guerilla Interview.
In all ‘design traditions’ today, the process is similar but comprised of different terminology and practices which have a particular aim to come up with the right solution to the given problem.
What is the connection between Design and Business Strategy? A rather broad interpretation of the term ‘strategy’ helps us see how similar to design it actually is – “a careful plan or method” or “devising or employing plans.”
“All design can and should support corporate strategy. In fact, design has grown beyond merely supporting corporate strategy to become a means of informing and even guiding its development.”
Design is not only a process but also a way of thinking. It can be an actual product, or a service, or even a means of communication. Service Design is an emerging new field in the design community, and its methods are definitely user-centric. However, its goal is to define a business as a service considering the real needs and problems of a user – this is pure Design Strategy. It is not just the user-centricity that matters here, but sustainability and competitiveness for the service provider. This really is a method where the business side of the User Experience Design comes to light, and it enables the design team the innovate the user experience on one end but also innovate the service on the other.
Innovation is also very much dependent on Design, and one could argue that Innovation, in fact, equals Invention plus Design. Some of the world’s most successful companies have proven that Invention does not have much value without Design, which actually makes it tangible and usable. Therefore, if a company wants to improve its innovation competencies, it should begin by improving its design competencies. Similarly, designers wanting to improve their design competencies should improve their innovation competencies.
Any kind of design output, whether it centers on products, communications, interactions, identity, or the environment, has to be managed by a design team, because strategic design rarely just happens, but rather develops from specific methods. Instead of doing the design work yourself, bring other people and facilitate great design among a group. And have in mind that what makes a design team is not a bunch of designers in the same room, but a group of people relevant to the process of solving problems before them.
Want to be a better Product Designer? Go and talk to users. Confused about your button positioning assumptions? Throw away your infographics and start validating your hypothesis right away. There is no other way around it. Once you start delving into the design strategy, there is no way back to the eons-old methods.
“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr
The only way to add more value to a product is to ask people what that value really is, and assumptions are not values. Validation is not drawn from your own experiences but from real-life problems. As soon as you have an artifact worth testing, reach out of your comfort zone and put your design in the hands of the users.
“Good design is as little design as possible.”
Read more about how unpredictable and exciting a design process can be in our HTEC Culture post From Invisible to Successful – A Design Story.