7 Questions To Ask While Designing New Consumer Products (or Services)

product design
Mosquito-killer racquet kills mosquitoes using electric charge

We put a lot of effort in designing products and services for consumers. However, with our busy schedules in defining and completing the product features, we forget about some basic things we should take care while designing our products. Based on my learnings, here are few questions, I think we should ask before shipping out any product.

1. Are you trying to change consumer habits? –  Human beings are resistant to change. With so many years of life behind us, we get trained to spend our lives in a particular way. Therefore, it is very risky to ask a consumer to change the behavior just for using your product. For instance, would you risk putting a search bar on left side of your PC screen? Or say switching positions of leg-breaks and gears on your bike? These are the easy ones. But what if you are introducing a product that requires change of consumer habit? If you are selling financial planning product to a consumer who has never used one, how would you make sure he or she gets used to it? And actually starts using it on a daily basis, i.e., create a new habit? Or for instance, say you want to introduce a new pedagogy without classrooms and without books, how do you go about it? I don’t know a sure answer. Perhaps, you would want to design such that your new product works in the similar way consumers are used to work without it. How do people plan expenses when they have no financial planner? How do students learn without the new pedagogy? I guess that’s what ebook reader designer might have thought while designing the UI. How would a user turn his page with a physical book? Or why does our Smartphone camera make a noise while clicking – to mimic the real camera?

2. What are your defaults settings? – Human beings are overwhelmed with the amount of information they process everyday. Everyone wants to minimize this data processing. While signing up for a new web service, most of us don’t put a checkmark asking us to subscribe for the newsletters. That is probably we really don’t want newsletters spamming our inboxes. But now, these guys have found a solution. Now the checkmark is for NOT subscribing for the newsletters. Result: most of us still don’t click it and get the newsletter. Not that we are being hoodwinked. We are just fine with the defaults. The same trick can be applied for better purposes like designing controls of your products, designing wizards or forms etc. As the name default suggests, default settings should work for most of the users.

3. Does your product forgive users’ mistakes? – Is your product intelligent enough to interpret users’ mistakes and accommodate them? Customers use our products to get things done, not to get bothered by minor mistakes they make. Apart from forgiving users’ mistakes, products should also prevent user mistakes by using easy user interfaces. Product User Interface should provide the most hassle free experience to the user. In the world of SaaS, a painful and non-forgiving user experience would be like asking the user to stand in a long queue for something which is easily available elsewhere. Would you stand in such a queue?

4. Does your product provide continuous feedback? – When we prepare for an exam or a test, it is our natural tendency to keep testing ourselves regularly to get a feel of where we stand. Similarly, when we are driving, we keep looking at milestones to get a feel of how much we have covered and how much distance still needs to be covered. Basically, in any experience we go through, continuous feedback provides us good sense of our progress and keep us hooked on. Continuous feedback can keep user’s interest alive while using the product.

5. How many choices do you offer? – Have you ever invested in a mutual fund? How did you choose the one to invest in? There are so many options available today that an average person with limited time will go insane deciding where to invest. Same thing applies when we go buying mobiles or laptops. Being human beings, it is very difficult for us to choose when the number of options are many. On the other hand it would be unfair if we had no options at all. Imagine being offered just one class of tickets in Indian trains. So what is the right number of options one should design? Again, the mother of all answers – it depends. Not too many to boggle the mind of a user, not too few to make her feel not targeted. We should be careful in designing the pricing plans or number of configurations for your products and services.

6. What are the incentives in using the product? –  “Never, ever, think about something else when you should be thinking about the power of incentives” says Charlie Munger. If while trying the product, user forgets the reason why he is using it – we should seriously consider re-designing it. Users are literally scratching your back when they are using your product, and your product needs to do the same for them (You scratch my back, I will scratch yours). Of course, you would have build your product to change the world or with some value proposition in mind. That is the big picture. But here what we are talking about is whether the user understands that value proposition while using this product (smaller picture).

7. Are you making the user feel social? – Why is Facebook Like button so powerful? Social Proof is a well known psychological phenomenon. When we see a restaurant with a long queue, we assume that it would be a good restaurant. Some restaurants even manipulate the queues artificially by using many tricks. Similarly, if 10 of our friends like a video shared on the Facebook, there is higher probability that we are going to watch it and like it. Social media integration into your products can enable users to identify with other users. However, this also comes with disadvantages of its own.

There are many more things to take care while designing awesome products. This is not a comprehensive list. To get further insights, I would strongly recommend two amazing books:  Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Some of ideas I discuss here have been picked from these books. Comments are always welcome.

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