February 25, 2022

For Faster Growth, Brand Comes First

If you’re a marketer for a startup or growing business how do you decide what to do first? The answer might be at the bottom of your to-do list.

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July 21, 2021

Exposure: Still The Silver Bullet of Customer Experience

The classics endure. Recently Jared Spool tweeted a link to an article he wrote in 2011 (Fast Track to a Great UX — Increased Exposure Hours) that remains as vital for innovators today as ever. For those who missed it the first time, here’s a recap. 

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

In the article Spool described what he called the closest thing he’s ever found to a silver bullet when it comes to reliably improving the products and experiences that organizations produce.

It’s called Exposure Hours: The number of hours your team members are exposed directly to real users interacting with your or your competitors’ products. There is a direct correlation, he found, between this exposure and the improvements we see in the products a team produces.

“For more than 20 years, we’ve known that teams spending time watching users can see improvements. Yet we still see many teams with regular user research programs produce complicated, unusable products. We couldn’t understand why. Until now.”

Spool isn’t the first person to champion spending time with customers. However, he might be the first to spend several years observing teams doing it and documenting his findings in a scientific way.

Here is his deceptively simple formula for success:

  • Once-a-year research isn’t enough.
  • Ongoing, direct exposure to customers is key.
  • Exposure not just by design teams, but at all levels of the organization.
  • More exposure = better products.

“We saw many teams that conducted a study one a year or even less. These teams struggled virtually the same as teams who didn’t do any research at all.”

Direct contact

This part is crucial for teams that rely on their research department or commercial providers for customer insights. Each team member has to be exposed directly to the users themselves. Teams with dedicated user research professionals who conduct research and then disseminate the results through documents or videos don’t see the same results.

The teams with the best result were those that kept up their research on an ongoing basis, using a variety of research methods. Six weeks was the bare minimum for a two-hour exposure dose. The teams with members who spent the minimum of two hours every six weeks saw far greater improvement to their user experiences than teams who didn’t meet the minimum. And teams with more frequent exposure, say two hours every three weeks, saw even better results.

By everyone

Not just designer and developers. Teams that excluded non-designers, like executives and business stakeholders, from user contact didn’t see the same advantages as teams that included them. The tipping point came when all were included. This part will resonate with designers who regularly urge their colleagues and clients to sit in on research sessions. 

“While core design team members became very familiar with what users need and want, they were constantly battling with their other colleagues who didn’t have the same experiences.”

Whoever knows their customer best wins

As Spool pointed out, exposure is wonderfully easy to measure. Just count the hours. He even saw organizations including it in their quarterly performance reviews. 

Two hours of customer exposure. Every six weeks. For everyone. The classics endure. 

Here’s a link to the full article: https://articles.uie.com/user_exposure_hours/

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March 10, 2021

It’s Time to Redesign Our Design Teams

Conventional models weren’t built for today’s faster-moving realities. It’s time for a new approach. 

The convergence of two important trends is creating new possibilities for innovation and product teams worldwide, and changing the way brands will compete forever:

  1. The acceleration of everything
  2. The rise of on-demand customer insight

For those organizations still operating with one foot in the industrial age, your time is running out. 

The acceleration of everything

This trend requires little explanation. The speed of technological change and disruption, along with ever-rising consumer expectations, is requiring organizations to compete with greater speed and agility than ever before. 
The product and design worlds have responded with accelerations of their own: the rise of Agile, Lean, and test-and-learn innovation approaches. Thanks to the work of Eric Ries, Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden, David Kidder, Christina Wodtke, Jared Spool and others, we have powerful and proven new frameworks for navigating our chaotic world. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, we have the tools to match.

The rise of on-demand customer insight

Only a few years ago, business decisions were made by the highest paid person in the room, or by the loudest, most convincing or most persistent. Or worse, they were made by consensus. More progressive organizations brought consumers into the design process (“Let’s ask users”). But this required more time, more money, new skill sets and sometimes the involvement of outside providers. Anywhere from weeks to months would go by to gather insights and get moving again. It’s no wonder leaders usually skipped the research and went with their gut instead.
Now they don’t have to. Recent breakthroughs in technology have made it so fast, easy and affordable to confirm our hunches and find the answers we need to be successful that there’s no need to guess anymore.

The end of intuitive leadership?

First came the rise of rapid prototyping tools like Invision, Proto.io, Justinmind and others, which allowed companies to more quickly mock up ideas for stakeholders and users to evaluate. Then came on-demand user research platforms like UserTesting, Userlytics and UserZoom, which sped up the feedback loop even more. And now, there’s a new generation of all-in-one platforms like Feedback Loop, which allow teams to prototype ideas, recruit research participants and run a variety of experiments in a matter of days -- all from a single platform and with no technical skills required. 

What this means is a new world of innovation with faster learning, faster time to market,fewer moving parts, fewer players, substantially lower costs and greaterdecision-making certainty than ever before. And as the tools continue to evolve, it’s only going to get better. 

Five traits of the next-generation design team

  1. Customers included. Modern design teams don’t ask for permission to test ideas with customers and other users. They go out and find the answers they need to be successful. Customer contact is built in, and it’s as integral to the design process as firing up design software or creating a set of wireframes.
  2. Small, dedicated teams. The links between focus and productivity are well-established. Dedicated teams learn faster, think deeper and cover more ground.
  3. Streamlined in every way. Modern teams favor small over big; agility over head count; prototypes over PowerPoint. They prioritize speed, insights and outcomes over rigid process and over-sized deliverables.
  4. Ideas, plus evidence. Modern teams bring not just ideas to the table, but the evidence required to back them up and decide with confidence.
  5. Working outside of your day-to-day operations. This emerging best practice is what David S. Kidder, CEO of the consulting firm Bionic calls a “dual operating system” and Denise Garth, SVP of Strategic Marketing and Innovation at Majesco describes as a “two-speed strategy”: 
  • Speed of Operations for traditional business operations with mature systems and processes needing incremental improvements through modernization and optimization.
  • Speed of Innovation for agile, lean and test-and-learn models to explore new business opportunities.

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