Ever since I reviewed Warby Parker last year I’ve been intrigued by companies that aim to disrupt the experience of buying glasses. So when I heard about a company called North, my ears perked up and I decided to explore their product further:
My quick summary of North before using it – I expect a value proposition similar to Warby Parker, with North offering a simple way to discover and buy new glasses, perhaps a novel take on the “try before you buy” concept.
How does North explain itself in the first minute? – “Focals. Smart glasses that put fashion first” is the strap-line above the fold on the homepage of https://www.bynorth.com/. The combination of the word “smart” in this strap-line and the picture of a Google Glass like pair of glasses tells me that this site sells glasses that display information in a hands-free fashion.
When I scroll down the page, there is a further explanation of what “focals” are:
Getting started (1): Clicking on “Shop Focals” takes me to a product detail page, which includes a price point – starting at $599 – as well as styles and colours to choose from.
Getting started (2): “Premium holographic lenses” is the only bit of information on this page that I’m not sure about. It’s at this stage that I realise that I can’t buy the glasses online, but that I need to book a “custom sizing” appointment first.
Getting started (3): I decide to take a step back and learn more about Focals are. Clicking on “Focals” on the top navigation of the homepage takes me to a very useful “Explore Focals” page. I’ve never had a pair of Google glasses, but I don’ think they could be customised to the same extent that Focals can be tailored to the wearer’s needs.
Main learning point: I’m not yet convinced whether smart glasses will catch on. Perhaps the likes of North will make a difference, because their “focals” will look and feel like regular glasses. The customisation aspect of North’s product definitely resonates, and might just be the difference between North failing or being a runaway success.
Related links for further learning:
Braden Kowitz is a great product designer, having established his craft at Google and Google Ventures. He’s worked on products such as Gmail and with successful startups such as ClassPass. So when I heard about Range, the startup that Kowitz is a co-founder of, I was keen to learn more about the product.
My quick summary of Range before using it? I expect Range to be a tool that helps companies engage more effectively with their employees.
How does Range explain itself in the first minute? “Teamwork simplified” is the strap-line above the fold on Range’s homepage, explaining how “Range helps you stay in sync and feel like a team, so you can do your best work together.”
It looks like Range addresses three main areas of employee communications and engagement:
- Check-ins – Enabling teams to run virtual stand-ups on a daily basis.
- Objectives – Setting and monitoring of OKRs.
- Meetings – Helping people to run more effective meetings.
Scrolling down, the homepage explains how Range is all about team work, helping its users to feel like a true team – even if the team is distributed across multiple locations.
Getting started: After I’ve clicked on the “Try free” call to action on the homepage, I’m directed to the first step of an on-boarding flow. It’s good how Range assures me that I can sign up for an initial 30 day period, without a credit card being required. I need to sign up via a Google account and I can request a demo in case I don’t have a Google account. It would be good to understand why I can only sign up via my Google account.
I use my personal Gmail account, since we don’t use Google for work email, and I receive below error message which explains how “Range is meant for work”. I’ll request a personal walkthrough instead …
When I click on the “Request a demo” call to action, I’m directed to a standard sign-up page, which worries me that I’ll be receiving a lot of emails before and after my demo. It’s therefore reassuring that Range mentions “Don’t worry, we hate spam too.” Not sure though whether Range will be able to fulfil my demo request since we use Microsoft Outlook at work.
Did Range deliver on my expectations? Not yet. I hadn’t realised that Range only works if you’re a G Suite Google user. Ask me again after my personal Range walkthrough 🙂
Lately, I’ve heard lots of good things about TikTok – which came out of Musical.ly, a hugely popular social media app – headquartered in Shanghai – that let you watch and create your own lip sync video to the music available on the app. I was familiar with Musical.ly but lost track somewhat after the company got acquired by Bytedance who merged the app with TikTok. Let’s have a look at the TikTok app:
My quick summary of TikTok before using it? I expect a highly interactive app, which lets users create and share their own music clips.
How does TikTok explain itself in the first minute? When I open the app, I see a quick succession of videos; “Real Short On the job Videos”, “Real Short Art Videos” to “Real Short Weird Videos”.
What happens next? I swipe up on one of the videos I land on what looks likes a sample personalised “For You” news feed, with a standard overlay asking me whether I’d like to receive push notifications from TikTok. The feed does suggest it has been personalised for me, but I’m unsure what this is based on since I haven’t been on any on boarding journey where I, for example, started following other TikTok users or indicated my content preferences. Presumably, I’ll need to create a TikTok account first in order to be able to get tailored content and be able to create my own content.
What’s on boarding like? TikTok’s on boarding process is pretty straightforward: (1) it asks for my birthday (which won’t be shown publicly) (2) I can then sign up via my phone or email (3) set a password and (4) slide puzzle piece in the right place to make sure I’m not a bot.
Getting started – The first video in my personalised feed is a video from “cameronisscoooool” in which she shares her realisation who she is and describes herself as a “piece of sh*t”:
I realise straight away that I’m not the target audience for TikTok, which is totally cool – painful, but cool 🙂 Understanding how I can start either discovering new videos or creating my own is very simple; tapping on the “search” icon at the app’s bottom navigation displays trending content and tapping the black “plus” icon on the same bottom navigation.
Did TikTok deliver on my expectations? Yes. Based on my previous familiarity with musical.ly I was expecting just user generated music videos, but I like how TikTok has now broadened this out, combine music and video content.
“Values are like fingerprints. Nobodies are the same but you leave them all over everything you do.” Elvis Presley
“Values” – each organisation has got them. Whether they’re explicit or implicit, strong company values underpin everything a business does (and doesn’t do). “Serve Our Users” for instance is a core value articulated in the Google Code of Conduct: “Our users value Google not only because we deliver great products and services, but because we hold ourselves to a higher standard in how we treat users and operate more generally.”
As product managers we use product principles, a clear set of standards and goals that connect company values with the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve, both for customers and our company. Before we look at example product principles, I believe it’s important to cover some terminology first:
- Product principles – Specific principles that affect product development and decision-making.
- Design principles – Specific principles that drive product design, both in terms of the user interface and the experience. For instance, companies have design principles around their app content or navigation.
- General product principles – Those principles which apply to building great products and whicvh are agnostic to company values and apply to every product.
Granted, lots of of people seem to talk about design and product principles interchangeably, but I treat them very much as two distinct concepts. For instance, “we’re always 100% transparent with our users” I see as a good example of a product principle, and one that which subsequently drive the design of the product or service as well as many other aspects of the product. Here are some key things to bear in mind with respect to product management principles:
- What to use product principles for? – Product principles can be very valuable at each stage of the product lifecycle, whether the product is at the idea stage or being considered for termination. In my experience, product principles ultimately help with decision making. Questions such as “should we add feature A or B?” or “which channels should we use for this product?”, can all be determined with the guidance of the overarching product principles.
- Who should use product principles? – Everybody in the business. Just as much as company values apply to all employees, I believe that product principles work the same. To think that product principles sit exclusively within the domain of a product person feels limiting. People across the business are involved in the product and should therefore at least be aware of the product principles.
- What do good product principles look like? – In essence, good product principles should (1) link closely to the overall company mission and values (2) be concrete enough to enable decision making (3) be easy to remember and (4) be specific enough within the context of customer outcomes. For example, at ecommerce platform Shopify the mission is “to make commerce better for everyone, no matter where they’re located or their level of experience.” From this mission statement, Shopify has derived its (product) principles: (1) put merchants first (2) empower but don’t overwhelm (3) build a cohesive experience and (4) be polished but not ornamental.
Taken from: https://polaris.shopify.com/guides/principles
Main learning point: Whilst I appreciate that values, design and product principles are often being talked about in the same breadth, I do recommend looking at product principles as its own concept. Well defined product principles can add a lot of value to product development and collaboration throughout the product lifecycle.
Related links for further learning:
What makes a good product? What makes a well designed product? A few years ago, I learned about design principles and how principles such as “not getting in the way (of the user)” and “content first” can drive product design. Imagine my initial confusion and intrigue, as a non-designer, when I first heard about a “design system”. Chris Messina – former designer at Uber – has come up with a useful definition of what a design system is:
“Design systems provide a convenient, centralized, and evolving map of a brand’s known product territories with directional pointers to help you explore new regions.”
Later, Messina went on to add that “Design never was just how it looks, but now it’s also how it sounds, how it speaks, and where it can go.” Apart from capturing how brand and product communicate, look and feel, a design system is also a critical component when it comes to scale. Just take this statement by Vikram Babu – product designer at Gigster – for example:
“The problem facing design today isn’t a shortage of skills or talent but that design doesn’t scale when you move from a few screens of designed components to a platform of developed patterns where adding people only complicates the problem… hence design systems.”
The key thing I learned about the value of design systems is that they intend to go beyond just a collection of design elements. Typically, companies will have a style guide. However, more often than not these style guides contain a bunch of design elements or patterns, but not create a fully comprehensive design language or tone of voice, as Nathan Curtis – owner of the EightShapes design firm – explains:
“A style guide is an artefact of the design process. A design system is a living, funded product with a roadmap & backlog, serving an ecosystem.”
This raises the question how one goes about creating a design system. Some things that I’ve learned in this respect:
Before you get started
- What’s your company vision look like? And is mission?
- Which problem is your company looking to solve and why? For whom?
- What are the company values which underpin your company culture, product and service?
- What problem(s) are we trying to solve through the design system? Why?
- What’s the desired impact we expect the design system to have on the way we work?
- What does the current design and design look like? What works and what doesn’t? Identify the gaps.
- Define some underlying design principles, which underpin a fluid and developing ‘design ecosystem’ (see Airbnb as a good example; Fig. 1 below).
- Create a visual design language, which comprises a number of distinct but ever evolving components (I loved Adobe’s Nate Baldwin breakdown of some of these components; see Fig. 2 below). Common components of a visual design language are: colour, typography, iconography, imagery, illustrations, sizing and spacing.
- Create a User Interface and pattern library.
- Document what each component is and how to use it.
Fig. 1 – Airbnb design principles – Taken from: https://airbnb.design/building-a-visual-language/
- Unified: Each piece is part of a greater whole and should contribute positively to the system at scale. There should be no isolated features or outliers.
- Universal: Airbnb is used around the world by a wide global community. Our products and visual language should be welcoming and accessible.
- Iconic: We’re focused when it comes to both design and functionality. Our work should speak boldly and clearly to this focus.
- Conversational: Our use of motion breathes life into our products, and allows us to communicate with users in easily understood ways.
Fig. 2 – The foundation of creating a Visual Design Language by Nate Baldwin – Taken from: https://medium.com/thinking-design/what-is-a-design-language-really-cd1ef87be793
- Clearly defined semantics (and no, “error”, “warning”, “success”, and “info” aren’t nearly enough)
- Thorough and mature mapping of core elements of design with clear purposes and meanings
- A solid family of UI components and patterns that effectively support the semantics, and use design elements (based on theirmeanings) to support the meaning of the components
- Thorough, comprehensive documentation about the visual communication system
To make this a bit more concrete, I’ll look at three good examples of design systems, by Google, Bulb and Salesforce.
Google Material Design
Salesforce Lightning Design System
Main learning point: It’s important for product managers to understand what a Design System is and the purposes it serves. Even if you’re not directly involved in creating or applying a Design System, it’s key to understand your company’s design language and how it applies to your product.
Related links for further learning:
My quick summary of Forest before using the app – I think I first heard Nir Eyal, who specialises in consumer psychology, talk about Forest. Given that Nir mentioned the app, I can imagine Forest impacts people behaviour, helping them achieve specific outcomes.
How does Forest explain itself in the first minute? – “Stay focused, be presented” is Forest’s strap line which I see first. This strap line is followed swiftly followed by a screen that says “Plant a Tree” and explains that “Whenever you want to focus on your work, plant trees.” This suggests to me that Forest is an app which aims to help people focus on their work and eradicate all kinds of distractions.
How does Forest work? – The app first explains its purpose in a number of nicely designed explanatory screens.
After clicking “Go”, I land on a screen where I can adjust time; presumably the time during which I want to focus and avoid any interruptions.
I set the time at 10 minutes and click “Plant”. I love how, as the time progresses, the messages at the top of the screen keep alternating, from “Don’t look at me!” to “Don’t look at me!” to “Hang in there!” Nice messages to help keep me focus and not fall prey to checking my phone. At any stage, I can opt to “Give up” which presumably means that the tree that I’ve been planting – through staying focused – will be killed.
I’m motivated to see this through and plant my first tree. When I complete my 10 minutes of uninterrupted time, I expect to see a nice tree right at the end of it. Try and imagine my disappointment when I don’t see a tree but instead am encouraged to create a Forest account.
Did Forest deliver on my expectations? – I can see how Forest helps people to focus and avoid checking their phone constantly. Just want to explore the gamification element of the app a bit more.
I wrote earlier about Michael Margolis’ Startup Lab workshop, in which he teaches attendees about “User research, quick and dirty”. Michael Margolis, UX Research Partner at Google Ventures covers user research topics such as user interview types and getting to the right learnings. He also offer a number of practical tips with respect to recruiting users and how to best conduct user interviews:
Margolis mentions that recruiting 5 people to get feedback from is often sufficient, especially when you’re doing usability testing. He does stress that it’s worth the effort recruiting these people selectively and carefully, as this will help generate better results and avoid wasting time. Creating a simple participant screener document or survey is a good way to recruit the ‘right’ users (see an example in Fig. 1 below).
Fig. 1 – Ethnio.io screen survey example – Taken from: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/live-intercept-remote-test/
Margolis lists a number of very helpful questions to feed into your screener document, in order to engage with the right users (and exclude those that aren’t right):
Users to include
- Who do you want to want to talk to?
- What exact criteria will identify the people you want to talk to?
- What screening questions will you ask? (questions shouldn’t reveal “right” answers)
Users to exclude
- Who do you want to want to exclude?
- What exact criteria will identify the people you want to excliude?
- What screening questions will you ask? (questions shouldn’t reveal “right” answers)
Conducting a user interview
Fig. 2 – Arc of a typical user interview, by Michael Margolis – Taken from: https://library.gv.com/the-gv-research-sprint-finalize-schedule-and-complete-interview-guide-day-3-b8cddb8f931d
The representation of the user interview in the form of an arc, I probably found the most helpful aspect that Margolis (see Fig. 2 above). This arc really helps in structuring an interview, identifying the appropriate sequence of activities during the interview.
Main learning point: User research doesn’t have to be complicated, super time consuming or overly expensive. A huge thanks to Michael Margolis for sharing such a wealth of very useful and practical user research insights!
Related links for further learning: