I want to preface this post with a disclaimer:
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily make them correct in any way shape or form. I think that’s how it goes in the commercials :). I am just starting out with product and am learning everyday. I’m about as far from an expert as there is and I’d love to hear feedback in the comments disagreeing or agreeing with my thoughts. I love to learn, so I hope to hear your feedback…
I think that suffices as an intro. Now on to the goods.
- Define your parameters
When I first began tackling product challenges head on I was all over the map. “Oh this might be cool, or that might be awesome.” I would sketch it out and stand back with a smile over what I had come up with. But lucky for me, I get to work with some pretty smart people, and they would help bring me back down to earth.
“Cool” and “awesome” are great, but 9 times out of 10 are a much more complicated experience then what’s necessary. Not to mention they are often solutions that assume exactly what users want at each and every turn, which is a surefire way to get yourself in trouble. So, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re supposed to know the answer to every question.
Finding the balance between creativity and necessary is a difficult challenge to overcome. When building product, you strive with every ounce of effort to make a beautiful, unique, and delightful solution…but in the end you MUST be willing to scrap good and even great ideas for the most simple, elegant solutions. And that is no easy task for a perfectionist like me.
I don’t believe this means you have to stifle your creativity. As passed down to me from Diego, I believe it’s good practice to come up with as many creative solutions as you can possibly think of to test the boundaries of what’s possible. But only doing so in relation to testing your core assumptions. And that’s where the parameters come in.
When I begin sketching I like to make a written list of every single thing to keep in mind before I even put the pencil to pad and keep it in front of me at all times:
“Make something that is actually useful to the user”, “Keep simple”, “Don’t restrict.”
Even things as vague as these statements act as great reminders for me when coming up with solutions. Whenever I sense myself getting a little crazy, I simply look back at these statements and my thoughts focus in again.
- Build the product you as a user would love and want…but realize every user has different needs and wants.
Another thing I started doing in the beginning was I wanted to relate everything back to myself. “Well I would use it this way and I would use it that way”. While, I do believe that is a necessary step in the process (for reasons I’ll talk about next), it’s far too single minded. I have a tendency due to my not too distant past as a complete and utter normal to consider myself in coordination with the thoughts of the typical user — but the truth is, whether that is accurate or not doesn’t mean I know what EVERY user wants anymore than anyone else does.
There is an excellent example of this in Kevin Rose’s foundation interview with Kevin Systrom from Instagram. At about 25:40 Rose asks how much the popular tab on Instagram is even used/utilized as an important feature. I’ve heard opinions all across the board on this…some say they never use it and think it’s a complete waste and others said they use it all the time. Systrom’s answer is clear..it may have been the key factor of their success in the beginning. It showed people right away that Instagram was up and functioning on its own as a network and other people were already out there paving the way, which at that time was thought doubtful by most.
This shows how dangerous it is to form opinions on your product based on your individual experience as well as making comparisons between products. Every product is different, no use case is equal.
- When prototyping the experience go through it step by step by step like you would as the user
This sounds obvious, but it tends to be one of the hardest things for me to remember. Every step of an experience has its own unique challenges and they all compound on one another. The obvious answer to this is getting back to the beginning… the simpler the better.
But when a tricky design, UX, or UI challenge occurs, I’ve many times caught myself trying to make solutions that only solve the problem at hand, which typically means the problem was only solved visually and didn’t take into account the process of getting to that point at all. “Oh this doesn’t look great, so I think we should do this” only to find out now there is now a major ux problem occurring because I forgot to put myself in the shoes of the user and go through the full step by step process.
Taking a step back and tapping in to how I would be feeling and reacting intuitively step by step by step has gone a long way in changing the way I think about product challenges. Don’t overthink, don’t over complicate…truly imagine yourself using the product and what your gut reactions would be and you will be off to a good start.
And that’s all for now, hoping to have many more updates of product lessons I’ve learned soon.