On Product Design And Expectations

For whatever reason, more business and product design concepts have been bothering me. As is typical, Seth Godin writes a timely post that gets my brain moving. Things are different this time, this time he wrote two. His posts and my recent rant on communications guided my thoughts further. How you design your product influences expectations, whether those are expectations on how the product works or even how a company will communicate to its users. The expectations are also driven by the users’ implicit expectations. As an example, look at my communications post. LinkedIn is a business social network, so its communications need to be polished otherwise the users will find the communication amateurish. Because Twitter is more related to infrastructure and development platforms, their communication is expected to be less polished than LinkedIn. Seth Godin uses an excellent example about apples and blueberries:

If you sell apples, then, the goal is to make the great ones great, really great. If you’re in the blueberry business, on the other hand, the goal is to eliminate defects.

The fundamental question here is are you building something that needs to be defect-free (blueberries) or something that is interesting? Obviously, interestingness is very subjective, but defects are definitely less subjective. In terms of applications that need to be defect free, look at all of the new group messaging applications. They need to ensure that the messages are sent to all members of the group every time. There must be a limited number of defects in the system in order for people to adopt the product. On the interestingness side, you can look at Twitter and Facebook. They have plenty of defects that they are constantly correcting. In Twitter’s case, there has been a lingering bug on the search results page where if there are no results found you get a message of “No Tweet results for  .” It is a minor defect that the search term does not appear in the message, but it is a matter of expectations. Seth Godin has a nice summary of the differences here as well:

When an interesting person is momentarily not-interesting, I wait patiently. When a perfect organization, the boring one that’s constantly using its policies to dumb things down, is imperfect, I get annoyed. Because perfect has to be perfect all the time.

In most startups, they strive for interestingness because it is an easier path to user adoption. However, interestingness is not a desire of enterprises adopting new technology. Enterprises look for stability, and something that solves a problem. By the time enterprises are looking to adopt a technology or service, it has likely lost its interestingness. Again, this is a difference in expectations. As an early adopter, I have different expectations of a new service than I do for an RDBMS like Oracle. New services are expected to have bugs, downtime and some awkwardness. In an enterprise database, these same traits are entirely unacceptable.

So, in the area of expectations, who do you expect to be your users? Are you expecting your users to be typical early adopters? Or is your target mainstream users? Mainstream users have different expectations as well. They are not as forgiving as early adopters, but they will live with some smaller defects. However, the mainstream user has much different expectations when it comes to product design. Early adopters are willing to hunt for features and to try different things in order to get the application to work in a particular manner. Mainstream users just want something to work as advertised, and it needs to be easy to use. This is why mainstream users complain so loudly when Facebook removes a button to post a comment, they are used to clicking that button and expect it to exist.

Overall, you need to really think about the product that you are building. Who are your customers? What type of customers are they? Are they early adopters, mainstream users or enterprises? What expectations will they have? If you can answer all of these questions, you may be able to build a product that your customers will use.


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