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Christian Hanke for W&V: Column 1

Christian Hanke for W&V: Column 1

Sound familiar? You’ve finally got over all of the organizational, budgetary, and cultural hurdles and developed a great digital product—but it just doesn’t really take off with users. The project’s critics obviously knew this from the start. But why is it that many online magazines or digital products and services don’t take off automatically?

By far the most common reason is something I myself experienced recently. In a busy workshop, with the participants still drinking their after-lunch coffees, we’re about to get started. The task at hand is the relaunch of one of the biggest educational publishing houses in Boston, just a stone’s throw from MIT and Harvard. There’s enough scientists and researchers in the room to build a rocket, but one question has got everyone stumped: how do we make it easier to locate academic content, and more attractive to discover it?

The workshop gets going—Post-its are drawn on, marshmallows and spaghetti stuck together, aluminum foil is folded, and prototypes are carefully crafted. The Design Thinking process is going to plan and we’re right on track. But then suddenly we make an unscheduled stop: one participant wants to implement a feature that they’ve always thought was necessary—against all the knowledge gained from user research and interviews.

And then came a sentence that I’ll never forget: “Well, can we change the user need?”

Erm, let me think about that for a second: “Nope.”

They might be experts in their field, but this isn’t about them or their expertise. It’s about their users—who are, in actual fact, our real clients—and their needs and context. That’s our real briefing, and only on this basis can we develop a meaningful and useful digital product experience.

You can have a great interactive workshops with tons of momentum, but all too often there is a risk that all of that happens from the wrong perspective.

Empathy and a change of perspective are required to change “I want feature A,” to “How could we better satisfy this requirement of our users?”. The so-called Digital Transformation requires internal teams to truly understand how successful digital products and experiences—ones that meet real needs—are developed.

A rule of thumb for the next workshop: …. “As a user, I want a pink hamburger navigation menu in the top right corner.” But real user needs are … “As a user, I want to be able to find my way around the page quickly and easily.”

The day in Boston end ed with fantastic ideas, excitedly sketched on Post-its. And most importantly, from a different perspective and with understanding for the real needs and context of the user. The academics and product team who took part really embraced the change of perspective—and, more importantly, they had a lot of fun doing it.

Are you interested in learning more about your user’s needs in a workshop? Let’s chat.