How Delightful! 4 Principles for Designing Experience-Centric Products

by Maria Giudice
- Dec 14 2016 - 4 min read
experience-centric product design woman holding ultimate screwdriver

Do you remember Adobe Photoshop 1.0? I sure do. In those days, if you wanted to rotate something, you could go to lunch and come back before the action was complete.

Back then, people were so grateful when technology just worked. And because the technology worked, people forgave bad experiences: They adapted to whatever experience they received. But the world has changed. Consumers have changed. Now, people want bespoke products—digital or physical—that are not only functional but also beautiful and delightful to use.

“Design is not a noun. Design is an active verb.”

Think about the word delightful. How on Earth do you design a screwdriver or an industrial mixer or a wind turbine that is delightful to use? No matter the product, to make it truly delightful, you must design it with the experience as your top priority. And that means shifting not only your design process but perhaps your entire company to experience-centric product design—starting with the following four principles.

1. Build Community. To build an experience-centric design community in your organization, you must first define what design means. Design is not a noun. Design is an active verb that is shared by the team and encourages everyone to participate, ideate, co-create, facilitate, negotiate, instigate, and partner.

Make everyone part of the design process. That includes researchers, user-experience designers, user-interface designers, visual designers, brand designers, and people in marketing. Bring them all together into one giant design team. You must give up owning the word design; instead, treat all co-workers as co-creators, and respect that each person can bring something unique to the table based on their expertise and worldview. After all, more brains produce more ideas—and better solutions.

experience-centric product design brains high-fiving each other

To bring people together, you can use Slack, send emails, schedule quarterly all-hands meetings, set up designer happy hours (very popular), and hold lectures. The idea is to bring people together both physically and virtually. To collaborate and share work, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of old-fashioned phone calls, or use video-conferencing services like Skype and GoToMeeting. The more you can visualize the work as you share it, the better the results.

The final piece of building your new design community is to train your team with human-centered design methods, which cultivate empathy and better understanding of the people who will ultimately benefit from the product.

2. Focus on Customers. Customers are not users. They are human beings and should be treated as such. Ban the word user—that’s a sucky word anyway. Instead, start identifying with your customers as people in every aspect of your business, and advocate for research as an essential innovation tool to help make your product great. You don’t need “research” in your job title to gather information about your customers. Instead, adopt a culture of research that incorporates both quantitative data (the what) along with qualitative data (the why).

To do that, create programs that get you closer to your customers. There’s no reason you can’t find scrappy ways to interview your customers directly in the field. You will be surprised how much quicker you get to good product results when the entire product team is seeing and feeling the same thing at the same time. Want to see change happen fast? Just listen to a few customer complaint calls—you will see change real fast.

experience-centric product design woman on phone in front of computer crying

Be sure to share customer research company-wide. There are so many ways you can do that. If you give people an excuse to eat and drink together, they will come. Create a research lecture series, or build a place online where people can search and review research findings. Just make it accessible and transparent.

3. Connect Experiences. Are your customers getting consistent experiences, or are the silos in your business apparent to customers? Creating connected experiences comes from identifying touch points that must be predictable and consistent across your company portfolio. At Autodesk, we’re connecting experiences by using tools like journey mapping. When someone buys your product, visits your website, or contacts customer service, the experiences should be complementary and without friction or confusion.

How do you enable your people to ship products quickly but also get them to look at continuous, cohesive end-to-end experiences—and be clear about how their little piece fits into the grand scheme of things? One way is to identify any big problems and handpick people from different products or departments to solve those problems together. This approach breaks down silos, and it makes for better product experiences because known product biases get baked into the product experience strategy.

You can also form practice task forces: Find people who are passionate about research, people who are passionate about visual design, and people who are passionate about information architecture. They convene, they have their own charters, and their job is to elevate the practice so the company can ship better products for the future.

experience-centric product design research design and marketing swat team

4. Ship Quality. It is your responsibility to create product experiences that people love. You should reject the whole idea of minimum viable product in favor of minimum lovable product. When you build valuable, easy-to-use products with the highest degree of craft, you achieve the quality that inspires love. Delivering positive product experiences turns casual customers into fanatics.

Minimal lovable product means, quite simply, three things: value, simplicity, and quality. Consider whether you are shipping something that is truly valuable to customers or something that just has cool functionality. Create products that are incredibly simple and easy to use. Complexity is easy because you can just keep adding; simplicity is hard. And finally, ensure your product is well-crafted, performs well, and has the emotional attributes that make a good product great.

The good news is, employing these four principles in your company can work. You’ll start to see design permeate the culture, and you’ll notice people listening to one another. So embrace your designer superpowers, and start creating delightful product experiences that people will love.

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