FRAMEWORK : Data Products Design

Let Purpose Guide Your Design Thinking to Digital Success

What is the secret to digital success?

Clint Boulton’s article “What is design thinking? The secret to digital success,” makes a strong case for “design thinking.”

Also, known as “human-centered design,” design thinking “involves tapping into human experience when creating new products and services.”

Over the years, our work in data analytics and product development has included “design thinking”—without ever having called our process “design thinking.”

First we ask: What problem(s) are we solving?

How exactly will our solutions enable business transformation through increased customer engagement?

Accordingly, any solution must have a purpose: that purpose becomes the frame. This is exactly the first of five steps that Chris Pacione, CEO of LUMA Institute, recommends to the author for “design thinking in practice.”

Problem framing—it begins with people framing the problems: asking simple questions about what it is they are trying to do and who they’re doing it for. 

Empathy—understand the people involved, both the users and the stakeholders who must install, service and maintain the solutions. 

Iteration—at the core of this mindset is the iterative process that allows you to build, test and improve. And allow for “natural small failures.” 

Project failure points—identify the bugs and fix them, and today it’s possible to automate many types of fixes with innovative new tools. 

Collaboration—implementing anything in business is by nature cross-functional, and today this involves business stakeholders, clients and end users.

In the “Digital Dark Ages, user friendliness was often an afterthought.” Today, product designers are asking what they need to do to make their products “human, useful and desirable.”

To embrace design thinking, the author says you can “develop a design culture,” set up innovation labs, and create digital accelerators.

That’s all good advice—if you know your purpose and create a framework to direct your solution.

As American designer and architect Charles Eames reminds us:

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”

Whether creating a lounge chair, a skyscraper, or a data analytics product, don’t let the simplicity of knowing your purpose fool you. Simplicity in purpose will better guide you through the complexity of execution.

FRAMEWORK : Data Products Design

How a Classic Process Leads to Focus, Clarity and Empowerment.

Amy Gallo’s “A Refresher on Discovery-Driven Planning” revisits a “classic methodology for planning innovation” for less predictable new ventures.

In 1995, this new approach was “better suited to high-potential projects whose prospects are uncertain at the start” and require “substantial adjustments to the plan along the way.” Via Eric Ries, Discovery-Driven Planning became the foundation of the “lean startup” movement.

In developing data products today, we find the DDP process especially applicable.

  • Define success
  • Do benchmarking
  • Determine operational requirements
  • Document assumptions
  • Manage planning with key checkpoints 

Key to successfully using the DDP methodology is the “continual updating of your assumptions and checkpoints,” says Rita McGrath, one of the two original DDP developers.

Even more important is the disciplined process around planning. In our work, we find the process to be iterative—planning your checkpoints, for example, often leads to redefining your success matrix.

Even though DDP has remained “remarkably durable,” in 2014 McGrath and her co-founder of DDP Ian Macmillan made several enhancements.

I appreciate her reasoning for updating DDP: “The velocity today is so much faster than it was then—companies need to make decisions more quickly.”

Specifically, the 2014 and more recent updates add focus on competitive positioning and current/future risk:

  • Take a close look at future competition to better anticipate disruption
  • Create assumptions about when competitive attacks and profit erosion will begin to more effectively plan the “next advantage stage” launch
  • More quickly stop pursuing ventures when they “turn out to be flawed”

We strongly agree with the author that Discovery-Driven Planning “may be more relevant now than it was 20 years ago.”

As you develop your products and push through rapid prototyping, you can now pause, take a deep breath, and thank DDP for helping clarify the uncertainty and empowering us entrepreneurs to move forward.

FRAMEWORK : Data Products Design

Connect Your User Experience with Your Brand Values

Do you think you’re a rational person who (mostly) makes sound decisions?

In fact, “in many human decision-making contexts, humans are predictably irrational,” writes product designer Alvin Hsia in his Medium piece “The Irrational User.”

Of interest are cognitive biases as they apply to data product development because “cognitive biases can be found in almost all contexts of human life, but we are especially susceptible when interacting with products and services on the internet.”

Hsia details many biases “to keep in mind when building products.” One core focus is the user experience.

Designing our own user experience required us to return to our core values and integrate them with our desired product outcomes—a user experience that is simple and intuitive, future-forward with a ‘look and feel’ consistent with our branding.

Specifically, we want our user experience to align with our brand values and mission in what it helps the user accomplish:

  • Identify and diagnose risks and opportunities
  • Transform complex concepts into simple analytics
  • Use the voice of consumer narrative and other indicators to identify early warning signals
  • Enable learning and discovery to fuel insights that drive business actions
  • Translate these signals and actions into both customer and business impact

As Hsia writes, “We naturally feel more connected when products and services demonstrate a human element, and there is a feeling of genuine coherency when the user experience is consistent with a company’s brand and mission.” This way, your product design and delivery become connected to both your immediate business purpose and to a “broader purpose.”

Understanding that the tendency of humans to have “greater recall of unpleasant memories compared to positive ones” (negativity bias), it is essential to create an experience that contains more positive moments than negative ones (at least 5 to 1!).

We all benefit when those moments also contribute to helping the wider world.