What We Do
Achieving a great product vision requires pulling a lot of skills and perspectives together. We will dip into our huge toolbox of techniques and apply just the right tools for the job.
Below is a glossary of the activities involved. They are divided according to the four levels of the Design Pyramid.
Breakthrough product visions start with breakthrough understanding -- of users, customers, their needs, their domain, and the technology. Each of these areas is a source of insight and ideas, and omitting any of them can lead to a blind spot or a missed opportunity.
We think of these elements of understanding as the set of bowling pins. We all want to bowl a strike but for that to happen all the pins must be set up first.
Conduct ethnographic research
The best designs are created by people who can deeply empathize with users. We will go into the field to watch and talk with people who might use your future product, and even those who have rejected your current offering. We'll bring you with us because there is no substitute for seeing people in their natural habitat firsthand.
Synthesize findings, generate explanatory models
So we learned a lot of fascinating things through research. Now, how do we make sense of it? We're big believers in capturing written models of our assumptions and insights that may be continually refined over time, and then building the products around them. And we've got some fantastic methods for synthesizing research and making it actionable, including SSNiF Analysis and Formal Needs Analysis.
Needs-based market segmentation
We have a special way to segment the market: not by demographics (too coarse) or psychographics (too subjective) but on the basis of needs. This approach is grounded on real-world scenarios and is directly actionable.
Generate model of Personas
Personas are fictitious characters that are archetypes of each major constituency we are designing for. They are a powerful and intuitive shorthand for keeping distinct groupings of customers in mind throughout the product creation process.
Analyze the precedents
It is important to study solutions that have come before, not because we will copy them, but for three other reasons.
- We can think of the competitor's product as a high fidelity prototype that someone thought was good enough to release onto the market. As with any prototype, we can learn what works and what doesn't, and use that knowledge to build something even better.
- We need to understand the competition to assess what opportunities have been left behind. If the gap isn't big enough it may not be worth pursuing.
- We can often infer the competitor's strategic direction by studying their past choices. This helps us predict where they may go next, and how they might respond to our offering.
Critique existing product
If the job is to radically improve an existing product -- yours or the competition's -- one of the first orders of business is to get brutally clear about its shortcomings. (If this is your product, it can hurt, so it helps for this to be done by an outside agent!)
We will study the product and synthesize customer feedback to give you an unvarnished picture of today's reality and the opportunities for radically improving on what has come before. [Example: Comparing calendars on the 1995 Palm and the 2008 iPhone]
Assess new technologies
Is there an emerging technology that might undermine your product, or which should perhaps be commandeered for your cause? We'll help you think through the meaning and relevance of confusing new phenomena and trends.
Visioning is the process of carefully crafting which problem to solve.
Generate many ideas
It takes many good ideas to come up with a few great ideas. Product vision is an exploration endeavor, and we know the paths to follow.
Formulate a product idea scorecard
To judge an idea, we first need to know what the nature of a good idea is for your organization. Having objective criteria depersonalizes ideas and spawns creativity. Favorable qualities of discarded ideas can be rescued and incorporated into the surviving ideas.
We will work with you to create a product idea scorecard for your company, and use it to filter and then further refine the best ideas that were generated.
At this point in the process, we're starting to converge on a small number of exciting concepts.
Analyze the business opportunity & develop business models
A great product vision solves critical needs of both the customer and the business.
Once we have a product concept that it looks like customers will want it's time to change hats and get serious about the business prospects. We'll create a model of our financial assumptions to further filter and refine our ideas.
We have a catalog of business models to try on. We can often take a very good idea and make it much stronger still by considering different business models.
Long-term product strategy
We believe that you cannot know what your next step is without knowing where you ultimately want to go. Long-term product strategy is a natural outcome of our work.
Product portfolio planning
Product portfolio planning considers what the span of products should be offered to diversify, to maximize value from core technologies by tailoring the core technology to different customer segments, and to balance risk and rewards.
When you need to help others literally see your vision, it helps to walk through a day in the life of someone using your future product.
This can be done through storyboarding, or through movies.
Early product concept testing
You can do a quick reality check and relative comparison of ideas by describing them to people and gauging their response. This won't guarantee that an idea will be a hit or a flop, but it does help prioritize ideas and further inform what you are doing.
Build and test prototypes
When you think you are onto something, it's time to build and test a series of prototypes to verify our hypotheses and get the design on the right track quickly.
Requirements translate the product vision into specific design criteria. When the product vision is done right, it's a piece of cake. (And if you are struggling with requirements, you probably have a problem with your vision.)
We will write clear, concise, prioritized requirements that remain connected to the underlying scenarios. They provide a clear standard of what "done" looks like.
For Agile teams, this is easily cast instead as a prioritized backlog.
We use agile methods to design, test and refine the product in stages.
Architect the user experience
We'll help you figure out the big picture structure of the product, the key interactions and conceptual model.
The critical job of interaction design is about designing the detailed interactions; the conversation that takes place between the machine and the human.
Information design is about structuring page layouts to guide the user's eye to the most important things, while having secondary information reveal itself when needed.
Information visualization is about displaying data or concepts visually, or even interactively.
If the product is content heavy, IA comes into play, to structure and organize the information.
Products that look and feel great give a better first impression, establish an air of quality, predispose positive reviews and are more pleasurable to use over time.
Every major design should be verified with users. We favor quick & dirty "guerrilla" style usability testing over formal lab sessions.
Track Risks and assumptions
There will always be some niggling worries or doubts that are hard to shake out ahead of time. Maybe they will amount to nothing, or maybe they will be a greater danger. Instead of sweeping these under the carpet, we capture and track them over time. This is a risk management practice that prevents shoulda-seen-it-coming disasters.
The greatest product vision can easily be undone by corporate cultures that are not innovation-friendly.
When an organization is change-averse, we tend to find that employees are fully aware there is an issue, are wishing it were different.
The first step for leaders is to find out where everyone stands. We will put our ethnography hat on again and research the organizational factors within your organization that impede innovation. Then we'll provide you with recommendations and resources for going about changing it.
Innovation culture transformation
We will work with senior leaders to develop a plan for unleashing creative innovation at your company that involves goals, measures and reward structures.