Stop working on the wrong problem

I think ‘Build the right thing then build the thing right‘ misses a trick.

It makes you think too much about the thing that you are making and not enough about the fundamental problem you are trying to solve.

Peter Drucker, the ‘founder of modern management’, once said;

There is nothing worse than doing the wrong things right

Peter Drucker

It is sobering to acknowledge how many times we’ve all done ‘the wrong things right’.

I think we should focus instead on;

‘Solving the right problem with the right solution and delivering it in the right way (then continuously improving it)’

The continuous improvement bit is vitally important because things like products and services are never ‘finished’ they can (and should) always be improved.

Choosing the right problem to solve isn’t easy and can feel more like an art than a science.

I’ve used a few different approaches in the past and have tied myself in knots trying to devise complex methods to score problems to determine which are the most important ones to fix.

There is a much simpler method.

In a recent service discovery project I worked on, @_juliesun ran an excellent workshop using this simple ‘action prioritisation matrix’ to help us to prioritise where we should focus our efforts.

Action prioritisation matrix that we used to prioritise service problems by mapping them against the value of solving them vs the effort to do the work
Use this simple matrix to help you prioritise where to focus your efforts

You can use it to plot know problems as well as potential solutions to problems.

In this project having already identified the critical problems within the service, we used it to prioritise potential solutions to explore within our alphas.

It’s all well and good planning and prioritising things of course but vitally important to remember that the only way to learn what really works is by making things real and seeing what happens.

The faster you can test solutions to problems, the faster you can measure the impact they have on the outcomes you’re looking for.

This gives you the best indication of whether you are in fact working on the right problems and allows you to refocus your work accordingly.

So before you fall in love with what you’re going to make and how you’ve going to make it make sure you’re working on the right problem.

What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers carrying?

I recently finally cancelled my Abobe Lightroom subscription after years of putting it off.

I’ve been paying £9.99 a month for it ever since and not really using it.

Every month I saw the money leave my account and kicked myself for not cancelling it.

The problem was I knew just how difficult they were going to make it to leave and I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it.

I put it off because I expected it to be difficult, annoying and frustrating.

I must have looked at a reminder to cancel it on my to do list every day for years.

When I finally cancelled it I was amazed that it only took me a minute to do and was absolutely no hassle whatsoever.

My preconceptions of how hard it was going to be were unfounded but had cost me at least two years worth of subscription fees.

These preconceptions (both good and bad) are built from hundreds of previous experiences that we then bring with us to everything we subsequently do.

I’ve been thinking about this as ‘experience baggage’.

Woman looking at her phone pulling a suitcase
What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers arriving with? (Illustration from storyset.com)

This experience baggage moulds our preconceptions, anxieties and expectations of what an experience will be like and as such influences our behaviour.

As such it’s a critical thing for designers to understand and try and mitigate in our work.

By conducting user research you can identify the experience baggage your customers and potential customers are arriving with when they use your products and services.

Armed with this knowledge and insight you can then deliberately provide experiences that serve to dispel customers preconceptions that will surprise and delight them instead.

Now that I know it’s easy to unsubscribe from Lightroom for example, I’m more likely to re-subscribe in the future.

That’s the sweet spot of experience design, creating something that is both good for the customer and good for the business.

So consider what ‘experience baggage’ your users are arriving with and what you can do at all of your touch points to encourage them to leave it at the door.

Learn about the UX of Photography from optimisation legend Craig Sullivan

As a keen photographer I’ve always been keen to work out how I can crowbar my hobby into my day job.

An ideal opportunity arose many years ago when I noticed major usability issues resulting from the choice of photography on all of my design projects.

I realised just how hugely important photos were to how people made buying decisions and how they responded emotionally to what they were seeing and how that then influenced what they thought and how they behaved.

It felt like photos were the unsung heroes of experience design.

At this point I realised I was onto something and set about trying to improve the effectiveness of online photography and ‘photo UX’ was born.

This mission resulted in many articles, talks and even a book to provide help and guidance to improve the situation given that there was a surprising lack of information on the topic available online.

One person who has always done some really pioneering work in this area is optimisation guru Craig Sullivan.

I loved reading his work on measuring the impact that using different photos had on conversion rates and it was a joy to see someone else (who actually had some data!) was also highlighting the impact that photos can have.

I was delighted to see recently that Craig has shared one of his excellent talks on optimising photography during which he shares some great advice from years of experience and what he’s learned from having run over 20 million tests!

@optimiseordie insights from split testing with different images of people

In his talk you’ll learn more about :

  • What the “Rule of 3” for images is
  • Why stock photography performs badly
  • How to shoot photos of people
  • Why you should experiment with photography
  • How to challenge bad thinking or photos
  • How to make your own photography guidelines
  • About the only book on this topic
  • Why iconography generally doesn’t work

Craig’s talk on the UX of Photography is available on YouTube

Try the ’20 / 20′ productivity hack

Remote working can be pretty tricky in terms of motivation, productivity and fatigue.

The lack of variety in the typical remote working day means huge amounts of screen time for everyone.

This has resulted in eyesight problems, fatigue and headaches for many people.

I discovered a simple trick during lockdown that has really helped me with both my productivity and wellbeing.

Simply set a timer for 20 minutes and try and work solidly for that time.

After 20 minutes take a break away from your screen and focus on something that’s further away than where your screen was (The recommendation is 20 metres away so I just gaze down the garden for a bit).

This technique gives you nice concentrated periods of working time (you’ll be amazed at what you can do in 20 mins!) and also regular breaks to help avoid fatigue and burn out.

If you are feeling particularly keen you can also set goals for things to get done in each 20 minute slot.

Do give it a whirl and see if it helps you feel less tired and more productive.

Optimise your ‘key service moments’

Within any service there are critically important ‘key service moments’ (for both the service user and provider) that result in significant problems if they are broken in some way.

I recently worked on a project investigating why the physical health check service for people with severe mental illness was underperforming.

This is a really complex service that consists of many individual touch points, interactions and activities on the part of the service user and provider and what became clear was that some were much more important than others.

One example of a key service moment was when patients had a doctors appointments.

Appointments made people feel really anxious.

Will I be feeling well enough to attend?

What if I bump into someone I know in the surgery and have to explain why I’m there?

How will I get to the appointment?

What if I get that unsympathetic doctor again?

What if I have to discuss my recent breakdown?

The experience that service users had at these key moments had a huge impact on their experience of it as a whole.

Their anxieties around them often resulted in them not attending appointment which had a huge impact upon the medical professionals ability to deliver a successful physical health check service.

It became very clear that in order to design a successful service you have to ensure that these moments work really well.

I recently bought a second hand car.

This process was unbelievably complicated and had a few key moments that stick in my mind.

Trying to negotiate a good price for something I know very little about was really difficult and not at all enjoyable. Sorting out the money for it was tricky and something I haven’t done before.

There were also ‘key moments’ from the perspective of the dealer too. It became clear that it was really important for them to sell me add on products such as gap insurance, alloy wheel protection, paint protection, service plans etc in order to maximise their revenue.

In this instance my ‘key moments’ and theirs did not match but in some services this might be the case, presenting an obvious sweet spot to optimise, resulting in benefits for everyone.

When designing services it’s critical to identify and focus on optimising these ‘key moments’.

By focussing on them you benefit from ‘gearing’ in terms of the impact from optimising these things over others.

There are always too many problems to address at once so this approach also gives you a pragmatic method to prioritise where you spend your time and money in order to maximise your returns.

‘Every Mind Matters’ is live!

Last year during lockdown I had the pleasure of working with a great team at Public Health England to redesign the information architecture for their flagship mental health site, ‘Every Mind Matters‘.

The new Every Mind Matters Website

The new site redesign went live recently to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, 2021.

The objective of the redesign work was to make it easier to help people find information that would encourage them to take action to help improve their own mental health.

It was a real privilege to work on such an important site that is receiving such huge volumes of traffic during the pandemic.

Find out more about the approach I took to the redesign over at the cxpartners blog.

UXBristol 2021 is go!

I’m over the moon to announce the wonderful line up of speakers that have kindly agreed to speak at UXBristol 2021.

UXBristol 2021

The event this year will consist of 6 short talks on Friday 16th July that will all be streamed live and for free via YouTube.

Thanks so much to Mace & Menter and ADLIB for sponsoring the event.

You can register for the event, get more information on our website and follow us on Twitter for more announcements.

The livestream from the UXBristol 2020 is also available should you wish to get a feel for the event.

Try this simple trick to help you design better things

It can feel almost impossible sometimes to come up with creative ideas to create great product and service experiences on demand.

One trick I’ve taken to is to simply flip it and consider what qualities a terrible experience would have.

Imagine you were planning on giving a talk and wanted to make it enjoyable and educational for the audience.

That feels like a challenging brief.

Now consider what you’d need to deliver a really awful talk.

I reckon to do it really badly you’d need to:

  • Not start on time
  • Don’t tell people what you’re going to cover
  • Talk REALLY quickly
  • Use language that no one understands
  • Don’t let anyone else speak
  • Fill it with acronyms
  • Make sure all the tech fails
  • Make it REALLY long
  • Cram your slides full of tiny text
  • Take a few phone calls during the talk
  • Talk on a topic with no relevance to any of the attendees
  • Don’t have any breaks
  • Be really arrogant and condescending to everyone
  • Make anyone who asks a question feel stupid
  • Have some slides so ugly only your mother could love them

Coming to think of it I think I went to a meeting like this last week! ; )

It’s SO much easier (and more fun) to come up with what would make something awful than what would make something great.

So all you need to do is create the ‘awful experience’, flip it and do the opposite.

It works nicely too when you are faced with a situation when you can’t articulate what you want (let’s imagine from a new job).

I bet you’ll find it so much easier to articulate what you don’t want.

Simple!

The transformative benefits of an ‘experimental mindset’

One of the most useful mindset hacks I use regularly is to adopt an experimental mindset to so many things in my life.

At work, I use this to frame the investigation of ideas as experiments consisting of assumptions and hypotheses to be investigated by trying them out and seeing what happens.

By framing things as experiments, it gives you permission to try something out and more importantly to fail, learn and to progress.

So many people, organisations, products and services never improve because people are terrified of ‘failure’.

Designers are particularly susceptible to this, often feeling they are expected to know the answers and for their work to be perfect.

An experimental mindset gives you permission to just try something out and feels hugely liberating.

Benefits outside of work

It works in so many aspects of you life too.

Imagine you wanted to pack in your day job and become a writer.

That’s a bold, high risk move that requires a massive decision.

Cue procrastination and paralysis.

An experimental mindset gives you a way of progressing by asking yourself ;

“What would be the smallest/ fastest/ cheapest/ lowest risk experiment I could do that would let me try it out?”

You could ‘prototype’ the idea by setting up a free blog, by writing an article for a magazine or by setting yourself a brief with a tight deadline or just start writing something to see how it feels.

You may quickly realise that you like the idea of being a writer much more than the reality.

That’s a great result because you’ve learnt something really important, really quickly, with minimal investment, and you’ve still got your day job!

Fake it before you make it

Prototyping is absolutely critical to this because it flips you from daydreaming to doing.

It is also really enjoyable because it is playful, experimental and a hugely creative exercise.

Prototypes help you to learn quickly, try things out, communicate your ideas to others and highlight aspects of your idea that don’t work.

Prototypes can take many forms and allow you to fake it before you make it.

A pop up restaurant is simply a prototype restaurant. They’ve wisely invested the smallest amount of money possible to see if their idea is any good or not.

A ‘draft’ document is simply a prototype of a document.

A tweet might be a prototype for a book idea, representing minimal effort to explore reaction to an idea before any additional effort is invested.

Prototyping is critical because it helps you to make progress with something that previously felt like it was going nowhere because it felt too big, scary and complex to make a start on.

So the next time you’re faced with a decision or have an idea you want to explore, just think ‘what’s the smallest experiment I could do here to try this out’ and I guarantee it will help you to progress.

A tale of two services

Every day I have a choice of buses from two different companies to get me to work.

Both take the same amount of time, pick me up from the same place and get me to the same destination but one offers me a far better service than the other.

Bus company ‘A’ has much older buses but has friendly drivers that say hello and wait to let people on who run for the bus.

They often have a selection of newspapers to read and the driver seems to know loads of the passengers by name.  

Travelling with them feels like a friendly, relaxed and good value lift to work.

Bus company ‘B’ has more modern buses but the drivers are often moody and rarely look you in the eye.

They sit hidden behind a protective shield of glass and sell more expensive tickets than company ‘A’. 

Travelling with them feels commercial, unfriendly and a money making commuting machine.
 
Unsurprisingly, I favour bus ‘A’ and will wait longer to get one, even bus ‘B’ turns up first.

Both companies provide a service that get me to work on time but one is a far better experience than the other.

This example shows by how providing a better service and experience you can win customers from your competitors.

Great products and services don’t happen by accident of course. 

They are great because they have been meticulously and deliberately designed to meet the needs of the people they serve.

So is your company offering your customers the bus ‘A’ experience or the bus ‘B’ experience?

How well you understand what your customers want, need and value and how well are you serving them?

Perhaps it’s time you found out before they jump on the other bus!