Sep 24, 2014

Building a lovable product

I admit it, I consume a lot of content - books, e-books, blogs, links from twitter feed etc. Most of the content is not really assimilated. I don't often sit back and think through what I read and reflect on the relevant take-aways and how I can apply/expand/refute/customize further.

On one of the routine content consumption days, I stumbled upon this wonderful piece - "Don't die of consumption, Learn by writing". I have read this article thrice so far and I intend to read it atleast once a week. Not to say, my consumption has reduced but I have started to consciously introspect, analyze and write down my thoughts around content that resonated with me. The below article is one such reflection.

I was listening to the first lecture in "How to start a startup" series, initiated by the folks at YCombinator. It was a valuable lecture with many useful insights. Although I would have loved it even more if Sam Altman had shared the awesome material in a more presentable format, than reading it aloud from a paper.

One of the points that struck me hard was this:

"Build a product that a small number of users love rather than a large number of users like"

A small group of user community who adore your product would be of immense value through their continuous feedback, since they would want to see your product grow, improve and succeed. They also help by spreading the word around to their friends and family. From a product standpoint, focusing on this small group helps to learn a lot about user behavior. It also helps to build a personal connection with a small community, thereby getting quicker feedback during each iteration.

Sam talks about keeping the product simple and focusing on the ONE core benefit to the user extremely well. This relates to the Minimum Wow Product I had written about sometime back.

If a person has to associate a powerful emotion like "LOVE" with a product, then the product should hit a chord at a more deeper level with that person - his needs, desires and aspirations. In order to do that, the product creator should have a strong understanding of the market - not just the numbers on market size, growth and profitability, but also the softer (and often overlooked) aspects of his target segment - their motivations, context, personality and triggers that influence their behaviors.

It's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem in some sense - Having a user community that loves your product and having a solid knowledge of the motivations of such a community. But it's not an unsolvable problem, if you are willing to iterate and learn.

Sep 23, 2014

Human self-control and its implications on product design

While reading Chapter 3 of the book "Thinking fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman, there were multiple "aha" moments for me, when the author talks about how self-control is a tiring task for humans. Below are some of the key take-aways for me from this chapter (quoted directly from the book):

"People who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and by a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation"

"Cognitive load is one of the causes of weakened self-control"

"Self control requires attention and effort"

"All variants of voluntary effort - cognitive, emotional or physical - draw atleast partly on a shared pool of mental energy. This phenomenon is called ego depletion"

"An effort of will or self-control is tiring. Exertion of self-control is depleting and unpleasant"

"Effects of ego depletion could be undone by ingesting glucose"

These points give us some clarity on many areas of our life - such as
why we overeat mostly at dinner time,
why we grab a chocolate after heavy mental processing work,
why we are unable to give complete attention and concentration on multiple areas requiring mental energy throughout the day etc.

There are multiple learnings for product creators and designers based on how individual self-control operates:

For a health & wellness product/app that suggests people to make healthy choices in their diet, people are more likely to comply for breakfast and lunch, as the power to exert self-control is high. So the product can ensure the recommendations for breakfast and lunch are planned as a completely healthy meal whereas it can suggest partially healthy choices for dinner when people are resistant and reluctant to exert their self-control.

For e-commerce apps, flash sale can be scheduled in the morning hours since product selection requires significant cognitive effort, given the vast amount of choices the person gets exposed to. Similar argument holds good for weekends too.

On a related note, it will be interesting to see when mobile app users take "negative actions" such as giving a bad rating, disabling notifications and uninstalling the app itself. I presume users would take up such actions in the morning - afternoon hours, when their self-control is high and wouldn't mind spending some voluntary effort in voicing their opinion.

Personalization, reducing friction, being vigilant about the relevant choices displayed (preventing the user from getting into choice paralysis) and giving utmost importance to the ONE task the user intends to perform are all ways by which product designers can help reduce the attention and effort required by the users. These become even more important in the case of habit-forming products where the product expects "unprompted user engagement".

Sep 17, 2014

Notes from Product Camp Bangalore 2014

Couple of weeks back, I participated in a Product Camp event in Ebay-PayPal office premises in Bangalore. It was one of the well-planned and executed events. Product Camp is an unconference where the interested speakers volunteer for a topic they want to speak about and participants vote on such topics before the event. The schedule of the event is decided just before it starts, based on popular topics and speaker availability.

The event kicked off with two inspiring keynote speeches. Piyush Shah, VP of Products at InMobi talked about how the playing ground for mobile startups is the same irrespective of geography. Couple of interesting points he shared:

"You can build and launch an app in 100+ countries on the same day"
"Fast iterations, pilots and making mistakes crucial to learn in fast paced markets like mobile"
"Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details"

The second keynote was by Ravi Gururaj, Serial Entrepreneur and Chair - Product Council, NASSCOM. What a power-packed inspiring talk!

He emphasized the elements that are crucial to building a product startup. Key take-aways from his session:
"For product startups, it is a staircase to heaven".
"VUCA world. Volatility | Uncertainty | Complexity | Ambiguity. Grow up and deal with it"
"Launching is cheap. Competition is everywhere. Discovery is impossible. Loyalty is non-existent. Scaling is hard. Winning is disproportionate"
"Purpose drives plans. Pace trumps perfection"
"User experience design, data science and product management are the careers of future"

He also talked about the diminishing gap between dreaming and doing.

The two examples he shared on innovative design were just amazing. The Chinese bridge construction on top of a bullet rail track without disturbing the train schedule is a spectacular feat. Tesla model S cars redefined innovative design.

His Q&A session was equally enriching as well. If hiring people is a challenge, he asked startup founders to be more generous - not just in terms of equity but also in accepting new ideas and giving the space for startup employees to execute. And most importantly, he stressed on the fact that you don't ALWAYS need to be a founder to run a startup. You can also work for a startup. The role of a founder is to share a powerful vision with his/her employees, customers and investors.

After the keynote sessions, the breakout sessions began with 3 tracks in parallel. I attended the talk by Pandith Jantakahalli on jobs-to-be-done framework. He talked about the basics of why this framework is relevant and the classic milkshake example, followed by how to go about implementing this framework as part of product design.

In the afternoon, Ram Narayanan, General Manager of Ebay India spoke about the key elements to focus when building a two-sided marketplace. Trust, value and selection are the building blocks of a marketplace model. There needs to be a balance between quickly on-boarding new sellers and ensuring the marketplace is not polluted by spammers.

As part of the breakout session, I presented on a topic that I am extremely passionate about - "Influence of consumer motivations and behaviors on product usage". I hope it was useful to the audience and piqued their interest in human psychology and it's relevance in product conceptualization and design. Here are my slides:

It was a great experience, interacting with many product enthusiasts and sharing / listening on topics that are relevant to today's products ecosystem.

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