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Design Director

4 min read

The amazing terrible product

An unusable product

Organisations across the world struggle with defining what it is they think they need from a digital product. It’s often a tickbox exercise of features vs business needs, and the product with the most amount of ticks wins the prize. Classic procurement crap and a surefire way to waste thousands of pounds, and deliver very little.

But where did the problems start?

1. Your checklist of features is perfect

The checklist of things you think your product needs to do is guaranteed to be wrong. Sure there’s likely a business problem to be solved, and your head of insert job title here thinks it all makes sense already. But then the product is released, no one knows how to use it, you have to spend a fortune on training for a product nobody wants to use and you are stuck with a legacy piece of software you don’t want to invest in.

2. Delivering big is an amazing idea

Software is inherently complex in how it works and how it’s used. It takes a long time to make. By building small and testing small iterations you’re negating the risk of building something huge, costly and that no one uses. It’s like starting to build a shipping vessel and then halfway through realising that you actually need a fishing boat.

3. Head straight to solution as quick as possible

The people that use it are the key here. You really ought to start involving users from day one. Orchestrating your problem around user needs ultimately creates a superior product. Don’t trust your gut, unearth user needs instead. Don’t confuse these with “user wants” though. It’s the job of the research team to unearth the real need.

4. Setting a hard deadline for deliverables makes sense

Agility is key in digital design, and business is a moving target. It’s likely you’ll spend a couple of weeks working through the problems which will completely throw the whole timeline out and bring new insight, which means you’ll want to change your mind. You’ll be busy, your users will take time to recruit and that deadline will get ever closer, you’ll start to panic and everything will be rushed. You won’t be happy, your designer won’t and your developers certainly won’t.

5. Don’t bother measuring, it’s a waste of time

Measurement is what’s going to show you how to improve, where to save and where to spend. Your return on investment is super important to understanding how valuable the thing is that you’ve made. Has it made our internal teams more efficient? Have we actually increased any revenue? Did we save any paper and in effect, are we saving money?

6. The website will fix everything

A website is a product of a service. There’s always something behind the scenes supporting it. If the website makes life more difficult for the service, there’s little point making it. Everything has to work together to create a unified service, and one which your customer wants to use again. Form must always follow function.

7. If the product is too big, do it quicker and cheaper anyway

So you’ve scoped a huge product. It’s going to be amazing! But damn, it costs a fortune. Can’t we just reduce the price, still ask for the big scope and put people under pressure to work faster? I’m not even going to bother explaining why this is a bad idea.

8. Write/understand the content at the end

This is always the first thing you should be working on! When we (Paper) were prototyping our website we were literally writing content in a Google Doc. The more we understood what we were trying to say, the easier making our prototype website became. We could think about the story, how we were going to lay stuff out and how it might be read, without all the colour, branding etc etc.

Here’s to bad analogies (summary)

I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. I’ve worked in various companies over the last few years and I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s human nature to rush to a solution and reach for the stars. It just doesn’t work in digital. You should aim for the stars but start on the ground, then build the ladder up there piece by piece. Otherwise you hit the wrong star. God that analogy* is awful.

*feel free to replace that with any one of these bad analogies; you end up in orbit around the same old planet; you collapse and fall back to earth before reaching the star; your space programme gets cancelled. Email me for some more.