Design of digital products

Why we fail when we build them and some learnings

Why do we fail when designing digital products?

We know, you have a chaos of methodologies in your head when it comes to innovating digital products: Design Thinking, Lean Startup, what is a prototype, how far does the MVP goes … First of all and to help you in this maremagnum of issues and uncertainty, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Who do I want to help?
  • Can I really help that person?
  • How and where could I add more value to that person?

Although our intention is not to define a single way of doing business (because there isn’t one) or to establish fixed causes of why digital products fail, we would like to share with you some lessons that we have learned throughout our experience and adventure as entrepreneurs and consultants of innovation within the context of Thinkers Co., with the aim of defining some of the guidelines of the way and avoiding that at some point you make the same mistakes:

Learning One: Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

On many occasions, when a project fails, there is a tendency to think that it is because its development or outcome has not been proper. Nothing is further from reality. It may seem surprising, but there is a high percentage of probability that the error occurred in the initial stages of the project, where the problem definition phase occurs. Many times we tend to put more focus of interest and resources on the final execution and implementation, when perhaps the initial statement of the problem is poorly structured at first.

For this reason, it is very important to focus on defining the problem properly from the beginning and exploring its context from all possible angles, to avoid dragging a bad approach to the challenge throughout the process.

Learning Two: Design WITH people, not FOR them.

Another big mistake made in many projects is losing focus on the people for whom our product or service is intended. Initially, we tend to believe that we know these people, as well as their needs and motivations, based solely on metrics and data that do not provide us with more than quantitative information. However, to really know what is happening in the minds of our users and build our product in response to their problem, we must seek a more direct and personal contact with those people. For this, it is highly recommended to use, in the initial phases of the process, tools or techniques that provide us with ethnographic and qualitative information, as well as not forgetting to carry out early validation phases with users, so as not to lose their “voice” at no point during the process.

Question yourself at all times, if your idea is a real solution or not.

With all this we intend to work from a real need or opportunity, and analyze if what we have in mind could be the final solution or if on the contrary we propose to build something that nobody wants.

In conclusion, in order to efficiently invest our resources and our time throughout the development of our project, it is important to include our user in the key exploration and validation phases, and to question at all times (without bias) if our idea solves a real problem/need or not.

Four learnings when designing digital products in projects of innovation


Learning Three: Who doesn’t know his user, cannot add real value.

As we said in the previous learning, to really know our users, we must put into practice tools and methodologies that flee a bit from the traditional method. The traditional ways to know our user, are usually based on a quantitative analysis that merely describes facts that are already collated. In addition to this, the investigation processes are usually slow, they can become efficient in already controlled market environments, but they will not solve questions if we are in a risky market context.

In contrast to all this, and in order to find more reliable insights, we must apply more direct and closer user research processes, to be able to know their concerns and needs in depth. As a starting point for this type of process, we must put ourselves in the shoes of our user, bring out our most empathic side, and integrate that final person into our own development processes.

If we build products according to the user’s needs, we will have more than half the way done.

This process of involving our user in the conceptualization, design and development phases of the project is called co-creation, and it is a technique that has mainly been framed in the Design Thinking methodology, but that has also been integrated in the program of various business schools around the world (Stanford, Harvard, Rotman School, IE, ESADE or EOI) as a key tool to achieve the success of business projects.

Although building a product or service with our user person is going to make us have more than half the way done, we must complement this with a parallel focus on its own market, with the aim of having a more global vision and obtaining both the Problem-Solution Adjustment as the Solution-Market Adjustment. Which brings us to the next lesson.

Learning Four: Worry more about searching and less about executing.

Sometimes we can become so focused on co-creation processes with users and on polishing our solution regarding their needs, that we lose focus on the market environment. A product or service, in most cases, will have the ultimate goal of selling, and this entails a process in which users will have to become customers.

To understand this concept, we are going to take as a basis the innovation adoption cycle, also called Rogers’ Bell. In the majority of projects executed through a methodological process, immediate satisfaction is generated in the nucleus of users called innovators and early adopters, however, there is hardly any direct influence on the rest of the user levels. This doesn’t happen because of a bad development, but because the necessary adjustments and mechanisms have not been activated to establish the solution in each of the user levels.

Graphics of the innovation adoption cycle

At some point in the process, our users will become customers.

Following this, when starting our product or service, we have to bear in mind many variables and factors (channels, end customers, etc.) and if we have not adequately defined and specified our model of business will have to face various hypotheses that must be subsequently tested and validated. It is here where agile methodologies and the Lean Startup philosophy gain value, whose dynamics consists of defining a clear and concise niche where to start up our product or service, and thus facilitate its integration into the market.


Final Tip

At Thinkers Co. we try to adapt and not to force the methodology, based on the maturity of the idea, that is, asking ourselves at what stage the idea is in order to obtain a photo of the state or the final goal of the business.

Do you want to generate ideas? You need Design Thinking
Do you want to validate ideas? You need Lean Startup

Avoid making your team dizzy with implementation methodologies (ex: Scrum or Kanban) until you are clear that what you are going to build has value for the end user. For this we propose the following reading that will help you to understand more thoroughly how to build things to learn if you are on the right track “Prototype vs Minimum Viable Product”.

Published at 16/12/2020

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