A Crash Course on Product Design

I signed up for a Product Design course by Udacity because I have been fiddling with a couple of ideas and I wasn’t getting anywhere close to choosing one. This course provided me great inputs to take my ideas in the right direction. It is structured well and brings in the expertise of many people such as Nir Eyal — author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”, Aaron Harris — Partner, Y-Combinator, Kaushik from Locket,  Pete Kooman from Optimizely, many user design and experience experts from Google such as Richar Fulcher, Jen (Kozenski) Devins, Amir Shevat and many more.

My biggest takeaways from the course are how to conduct user research, metrics that matter and how to conduct design sprint.

The course consist of four modules:

  1. Ideation and validation
  2. UX and UI
  3. Design Sprint
  4. Metrics

I took the course over three weeks devouring through the materials and videos. It takes at least about 10–12 hours per week to understand the concepts and to practice them.

Allow me to take you through a Crash course on Product Design..

(Download PDF version)

Ideation and Validation

Step 1: Idea Generation

You see novel ideas everywhere and there are a plenty of inspiration for new ideas around us. You often make a mental note of several such ideas. But when you sit down to write ideas in detail, the ideas become a little murky. Coming up with an idea that your sparks your interest and passion is not easy. Therefore the first step to great product design is to generate a lot of ideas.

Idea Types

The course introduces you to different types of ideas.  There is a good chance that you might have come across them while reading books or articles. For you reference,  here are the types of ideas:

  • Simplify — Layout by Instagram — It simplifies combining photos.
  • Me too — Flipkart — It is an e-commerce platform just like Amazon but in a different market — India.
  • Remix — Slack — It combines chat, email, messaging in to one team communication tool.
  • Virtualize — Lyft — Cab services virtualized.
  • Mission Impossible — Project Loon by Google — Aims to provide connectivity to the world by sending baloons to remote areas.

To do: Idea Gym: Using the above types of ideas evaluate the existing ideas and then create some more. This makes up for a very good warming up for the next task.

Look at Problems

A good way to start thinking about ideas is to look at problems.

  • List the problems in your life/work
  • List out possible ideas to address the problems. (You are allowed to go crazy here)

The reason to start with the problems in your life is that you become an user to the product and it becomes a lot easier to understand the user needs. This is very well explained by Paul Graham from Y-Combinator.

Excerpt from Paul Graham’s Essay — Start Up Ideas

Look at What’s Bugging You

I made it myself. In 1995 I started a company to put art galleries online. But galleries didn’t want to be online. It’s not how the art business works. So why did I spend 6 months working on this stupid idea? Because I didn’t pay attention to users. I invented a model of the world that didn’t correspond to reality, and worked from that. I didn’t notice my model was wrong until I tried to convince users to pay for what we’d built. Even then I took embarrassingly long to catch on. I was attached to my model of the world, and I’d spent a lot of time on the software. They had to want it!

The danger of an idea like this (pet social network) is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that.” Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad

Noticing

When you find the right sort of problem, you should probably be able to describe it as obvious, at least to you. When we started Viaweb, all the online stores were built by hand, by web designers making individual HTML pages. It was obvious to us as programmers that these sites would have to be generated by software.

Another way to start looking at problems is to think about big problems in the world. Y-Combinator has put out a great list of big problems which is available here. Use them, if you are finding it hard to list out the problems you have.

Big ideas generally

  • Solve a Novel Problem — Google Search
  • Extend an current solution — Coursera, Udacity (similar to idea types)
  • Disrupt an Industry — Uber

Questioning the Problem-solution the Idea:

Do startups only solve problems? Facebook doesn’t solve any problem, neither does twitter, then how are they successful?

Facebook didn’t not start out solve a problem. As Nir Eyal puts it,  Facebook started out as a Vitamin – nice to haves. But then again, can you do without with?

 How often do you feel the need to update your Instagram? How long do you look at Facebooks news feed?

In Nir Eyal’s words,

Pleasure Seeking (vitamins) over time becomes Pain Relieving (pain killers) by creating habits.

So yes, you still can go ahead create the next social network for pets, but make sure you are able to form habit around the product that would prompt users to keep coming back to your network.

Step 2: Evaluate idea or Research

Once you have a couple of ideas on your list, you should start researching on:

  1. Similar product ideas
  2. Market demand

You can use Similarweb, whois.net to find out similar ideas and details about existing players.

A good place to look for the market demand online is to use Google tools such as Google Trends, Keyword Planner, AdWords.

Step 3: Validate an idea.

You can talk to people, but the best way is to put out the minimum viable product (use deadlinks if need be) and let users interact with it.

Step 4: Value proposition

Value propositions serve to inform a customer what problem are being addressed and how the product is a solution to that problem.

It is quite common for value propositions to specifically define a pain point present in the customer’s life. Essentially, the Value propsition could look like this.

  • For (target customers)
  • Who are dissatisfied with (the current alternative)
  • Our product is a (new product)
  • That provides (key problem-solving capability)
  • Unlike (the product alternative)

Example provided in the course:

Grocery shopping is often a time consuming and frustrating chore. With the Super Duper Shopping App on your phone you can find a store near you, pick out your groceries, and have them ready for pickup or delivery to your door.

To know more about value proposition, you can refer this deck.

UX and UI

I am going to be honest here. This portion of the course was a lot about user experience design and of course it had a lot to do with “UX design”. This is probably the first time I am learning about the topic. So, I do not feel comfortable about putting out the notes. However, I will leave a list of topics that was covered so that you could just google them. (If you are a UX designer, you may skip this part)

  • Interaction Design – Basically talks about all the tasks that the user would perform on your application or product. Then you dive in and describe the sequence of tasks the user performs.
  • Design Flow – From interaction design you know what tasks that user is going to perform, so how do you make it easier? That is, begin with the sketch board and start creating connections between the tasks.
  • Material Design – About continuity of usage across devices and bringing the element of motion to provide a intuitive direction to the user (read: after effects).
  • Accessibility Design – How to make your product accessible to say users who are color blind or users who prefer high contrast screens? I would’ve never thought about this before. But given the google’s customer base, such issues become quite important to solve.

Apart from this it had pointers to:

  • Home Page Design
  • Mobile Design
  • Payment Forms Design
  • Forms Design
  • Notifications Design

Design Sprint

Design sprint was developed and popularized by Google Ventures (now GV) to provide a quick idea to launch cycle. According to the website:

The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and morepackaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.

The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.

Essentially, Design Sprint Consist of 6 stages:

home-ds-flow-ill
Source: Google Ventures

The best introduction to design sprint is available in the deck below. (Wait for the slideshare to load..)

I found the material in Google Ventures library very comprehensive. In a series of 6 posts, the author Jake Knapp, Design partner at GV, describes design sprint along with various methods for every stage. I highly recommend you to read them.

Metrics

Metrics is one thing that is so easy to overlook. But in fact this is probably the single most important thing that has the potential to jet-pack or bomb a start up.

This reminds me of Silicon Valley episode in which Jared buys signups from India for their video compression application in order to keep the investors interest. Sure, the investors were delighted by the numbers (and then Richard of course breaks it to them that the sign ups were bought) but the real problem they faced was user retention. The app was simply too complicated for people to use it.

cyfe-dashboard-on-hbo-silicon-valley_1
Source: Cyfe

Therefore having the right metric is quite important. Otherwise you may end up solving unnecessary issues and wasting the little resources you have as a startup.

Said that, a metric to a start up is as unique as the idea itself. So you are at your liberty to choose the metric that reflects your success. Here are some of the metrics that you can use:

Net Promoters Score (NPS)

According to Wikipedia, NPS is a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships. NPS can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everybody is a promoter). An NPS that is positive (i.e., higher than zero) is felt to be good, and an NPS of +50 is excellent.

The Net Promoter Score, itself, is calculated based on responses to a single question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.

nps_
Source: Udacity

Here is an example of how Apple Retail Stores use NPS as a measure of productivity:

Every day, in every Apple retail store across the world, all the employees gather to talk about the net promoter scores (NPS) collected the day before. If someone gets a high NPS, the manager calls it out: “Hey everyone, Jenny got a great NPS yesterday.” The staff members clap. The manager then wants everyone to know how this was achieved: “Jenny, can you share with us what happened with that guy who came in with the iPad mini?” So, Jenny tells the story of the great service this guy received.

Because Apple’s employees are regaled every day with stories of great customer service, they all know what it looks like. They are not forced to remember so-called inspirational posters with corny customer service acronyms. Instead, they get praise from their managers—and they get the chance to tell their colleagues the details of what happened.

Retention Rate

As the name suggests, it is a measure of number of customers who continue to use your product or service. This is also known as churn or attrition rate. A simple way of calculating retention rate is:

retention-rate
Source: Newnorth

However, Abhay Vardhan takes a different route of not only calculating the retention rate, but measuring it as a function of habit by using cohort analysis i.e. study users as a group. He provides an interesting argument as to why this should be used. It’s a little statistical (read: graphs) and therefore I haven’t included it here. Hey, if you right brain itches to know more, head over to the blog.

HEART Framework

This one comes in handy when you are particular about UX.

Kerry Rodden, UX Reasercher at Google explains the HEART Frame work as follows:

  • Happiness: measures of user attitudes, often collected via survey. For example: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, and net-promoter score.
  • Engagement: level of user involvement, typically measured via behavioral proxies such as frequency, intensity, or depth of interaction over some time period. Examples might include the number of visits per user per week or the number of photos uploaded per user per day.
  • Adoption: new users of a product or feature. For example: the number of accounts created in the last seven days or the percentage of Gmail users who use labels.
  • Retention: the rate at which existing users are returning. For example: how many of the active users from a given time period are still present in some later time period? You may be more interested in failure to retain, commonly known as “churn.”
  • Task success: this includes traditional behavioral metrics of user experience, such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are very task-focused, such as search or an upload flow.

These can be applied at a number of levels — from the whole product to a specific feature. For example, in Gmail we might be interested in adoption of the product in general, but also in adoption of key features like labels or archiving.

heart
Source: Dtelepathy

 

Other Metrics

Of course, there are many other metrics that you can use. It could be as simple as Click Through Rates, Average Daily User (ADU), Average Weekly User(AWU), Daily Active Users (DAU), Monthly Active Users (MAU), Installations, Sessions Per User, Session Duration, etc. Based on the type of product you build, choose the metric that measures your progress.

According to Josh Elman, the only metric that really matters is

How many people are really using the product?

He goes on to explain that,

You need a metric that specifically answers this. It can be “x people did 3 searches in the past week”. Or “y people visited my site 9 times in the past month”. Or “z people made at least one purchase in the last 90 days.” But whatever it is, it should be a signal that they are using their product in the way you expected and that they use it enough so that you believe they will come back to use it more and more.

Well,  I cannot agree more! The ultimate test for a product is do customers use it?

Once you have chosen the metrics, you need to choose your goal because no matter what you think as a CEO, ’cause numbers don’t lie.

Hope you found this post useful. My intention to write this blog post was to share what I learnt with like-minded people. Help spread the word! Tweet about this post!

Many of the things I shared here are those that requires time to assimilate. So, I welcome you to come again and share your thoughts on the course, or the methods shared. I have already started thinking about a couple of products. I made a list of tools that could be used at various stages of process, hope that helps you get started with your dream startup!

Tools List

Evaluate Idea or Research

Market Demand

User Flows and Low Resolution Wireframes

Low Fidelity Prototyping Tools

High Fidelity Prototyping Tools

Analytic Tools

By the way, this is not a sponsored blog post. If you found it useful, don’t forget to share it with your friends. Tweet about this post!

I write on every Monday and Thursday on topics such as life hacks, startups, strategies and books. Subscribe if these topics interests you. 🙂

Timeless

This is an edited version of a post I had published couple of years ago. 

When was the last time you didn’t look at the time? I mean can you think of experiences from your past? May be you were dancing your heart out the song and before you knew it the dance floor was closing? May be working on your most favourite project, it was long hours, but you didnt know until the janitor passes by? May be you were running till your feet could run and there was a path in front of you and then realized that sun was way up above you?

Remember the time you were doing something you loved with all your heart and never bothered to look at time?

When was the last time you did look in to the time? Waiting for a train? Waiting for the lecture/meeting to get over? Signalling everybody in the room that I am done, its boring!? Waiting for a result of a exam you took which is very important to you? Waiting for your first client to show up and it’s been a month?

 

From the above two different scenarios, we can understand one thing. How often we look at the time, indicates our interest (love) for the task we are doing, don’t you agree? In other words, we don’t look at time when we do what we love, and we look at the time very often when we are doing things we don’t love. Don’t we?

0ble_t_m9pbr7eg_bImagine working on your dream project. You are lost in time. 4 hours have gone by and you didn’t notice. Suddenly, you have the urge to look at the time. It’s 11 PM. Immediately stress starts building up – you missed an appointment with your accountant, didn’t pick up your groceries for tomorrow, you forgot to inform your partner that you might coming home late, you have several missed calls on your phone. And in those 2 or 3 seconds you have travelled from past to future and already distanced yourself from the project you were doing. The dream project is not a dream project any more, because it is causing imbalance to your routine work.  Hence the enthusiasm doesn’t stay for long period time. That’s why there are few finishers .

Is there a way to hack in to this behaviour? Oh yes!

  1. Close your commitments: Best way to go about is, is to close your commitments. For example, shift the appointment with your doctor, call your partner before sitting for the job and say you will be late. Make sure you are absolutely free for next 8 hrs or even more. (Don’t underestimate your passion 😉 ).
  2. Stop: Yah, stop whatever your are doing when you have the impulse to see the time. Take a 15 minute time out. Close your appointments, go for a walk, meditate, take a nap. Understand, that you are looking at time because your body or mind is showing little weariness and that’s why it is most often an impulse and may be not an habit.
  3. Distraction less environment: As soon as you get the adrenalin rush for your dream project, close everything else down. Get rid of your smart phone. Keep it in silent mode (no vibration) and keep it in the back of the bookshelf that you never use. Get rid of notifications in your laptop (if you are going to work on it) else its best if it’s closed. It’s going to take you less than 30 secs to do given every single thing that’s going to distract you is within the reach of your hands (It always is! Irony is it not?). So you are not actually hitting the breaks on your enthusiasm . May be more like changing gears ;).
  4. Keep drinking water: Water is said to energize the system, that way you don’t get weary too often. That way, the impulse won’t be too often, you can go on for hours and just be in that absolute state of bliss where you and your project are the only two things that are breathing in this entire planet. 🙂

If your dream project is not taking major chunk of your time! It’s time you stopped looking at your watches. 😉

Image credits:

Featured:wonderfulengineering.com
Inline:QuotesNSmiles

Oh my Josh!

What happens when a group of highly motivated people get together and decide to start something something to refresh the minds of thousands in a matter of hours! JoshTalks (read it as J”O”sh) was born as a platform to provide “Josh” (a Hindi word roughly translated as “excitement,ethusiasm”). People from various backgrounds like art, sports, entrepreneurship, social activism take the stage, and share their story of struggle and triumphs.

I chanced upon Josh Talks while I was glancing through the tweets. I was hooked immediately! I browsed and found out more about it. Josh Talks was founded by two young college kids – Shobith Banga and Supriya Paul from Delhi. Started in 2014, this was their first event in Bangalore! I was excited looking at the list of speakers!  I knew a couple and their work they do. So, I was more than  just excited.

Scheduled to begin at 2 pm on May 9, 2015, I chose to start 2 hours early. Geography is not my strong area. So, I lost my way a couple of times before I reached the placed. With the amount of a little online buzz, I did go with expectations – which weren’t high. I thought a few people might be in, but was surprised when there were more than few standing. In fact the queue was so long, there was barely space for any movement. Savoring a cup of chat, I networked around and met some really interesting chaps. I could feel that “Josh” was in the air. The hosts made sure to keep it throughout the event with their constant buzzing and howling and really creative activities.

Joshtalks

The event started at 3. The anchor for the first session was Vasanthi Hariprakash, a NDTV anchor. As Vasanthi introduced the first speaker in, my excitement shot up! He was the man who lived on Rs 32, a man I read in newspapers a couple of years ago! I remember clearly my feeling after reading that newspaper article even today!

Story #1: The story of Wall Street Investment Banker who lived on Rs 32/day

Tushar

Tushar Vashisht, son of an IPS officer, who often had to shift schools because of the nature of his fathers job. He joined Delhi College of Engineering to pursue higher education. When he was 18 years, his father left him to the streets (not literally) to figure out his means to live. He traveled in a public transport for the first time when he was 18 years and saw the world for what it was. It shook him but more than that, it changed his life. He started helping street children out and found joy in it! He got an opportunity to study at University of Pennsylvania! He was a DCE kid, in a jungle of highly accomplished UPenn Students. How could he differentiate  himself? It wasn’t easy. He had to sit through 140 interview to get his first job. He was slated to attend one last interview before he left America for ever! He went in with “nothing to lose” attitude and told the interviewer “The reason I am sitting here in front of you despite all the odds, is the reason you should hire me“. You know the result of the interview. Tushar was hired! 6 Months later, he got a job at Deutsche Bank, in Wall Street. Tushar believed that

Achieving 1% odds is possible if you try the game a 100 times

And that’s what has pushes him even now. After a short stint in the corporate life, he started realizing the real reason he was where he was at that point of his life. The reason was the children in the streets of Delhi. If not for them, neither would UPenn have happened nor this job. That moment, he decided to pack up his bags and head back to his roots. He worked for the Unique ID Project – Adhaar which was that time, headed by Nandan Nilekenni. Working under such stalwarts showed him a crystal clear view of the reality. He got to know that average income of India was 3000Rs a month. So he chose to try to live the life of an average Indian at Rs.100 a day. That was the time when Government had proclaimed a new poverty line which was Rs 32/person/day. So, in addition to living 3 weeks at Rs100/person/day (excluding rent), he also lived at Rs 32/person/day for a week. We all know Rs.32 isn’t enough, but getting there and actually identifying the problems is a whole another dimension. So he and his friend Mat, packed their bags and rented an apartment in Kerala.  Tushar recounted an experience when he had to walk for 4 hours (didn’t have money for transport) to meet the Chief Minister(CM) of Kerala and when he told his story to the CM he immediately got an appointment to talk about the issues. Something, that never happens in a Indian political scenario.  He survived the ordeal, PR loved his story. But he wanted to do something more. He lost weight which he gained in his short corporate stint. He was transformed literally and figuratively.

To become something you have to unbecome.

After having lived below poverty line, he got to see the problem from bottom up. And decided that the best way to give back is to “healthify” India. He started Healthifyme, an organization whose vision is to healthify every single Indian. That is what he has been doing for the past 3 years and will continue to do for the rest of his life!

Good Luck Tushar!

The next speaker deals everyday with the cause I hold most close to my heart – women (human) empowerment.

Story #2:Sound Engineer of a different Kind.

Josh talks justaparna shreena thakore

Shreena Thakur grew up in a conservative family. To them, the real purpose of life for a woman is to serve her husband. But to Shreena all this was just a noise. A noise that troubled many Indian women. A noise that shuts their spirit down. Of course, Shreena didn’t follow the path that was set for her. She made her own.

She went to London School of Economics. That’s where it all began. Shreena along with a colleague realized that women face a lot of issues every single day. Not all of it are shared. Of those shared, no all of it make the news and of those, some part of the story gets muted. That’s when they realized that in order to conceptualize the experience, they need a structure. The structure was provided by theories. They started looking for patterns in how stories are shared. Especially, the stories or part of the stories that was excluded. She called it the systemic exclusion. While a usual rape story is a rich girl getting raped by a poor man in middle of the night. But what is excluded here? Poor girl being raped by rich men? Marital rape, domestic violence, male sexual assault, two finger test, custodian, and many more. On top of that, the blame is being shifted to the victim as most of the news runs a passive headline which subjectify the object, in this case the victim. Try it out now,

Version 1: A woman is raped every 21 minutes
Version 2: A man rapes a woman every 21 minutes

You see the difference? First version doesn’t give you the complete picture. Does it?

She also spoke about stereotyping as well and how common phrases that we use everyday like “Boys will be boys” “Don’t cry like a girl” create gender policing. She ended her speech by stating that

Change is personal and it has to start here, now, everyday and in the mundane things. We have to change the ordinary and the fight begins at home.

She has now dedicated her life for this cause through the organization she founded called – No Country for Women . In short, they combat systemic gender-based discrimination through education, conversations and actions. I encourage you to go through their website, it’s really interesting!

Pictures Courtesy: Centhil and Albert Arul Prakash


Hope you enjoyed the post! If you did, give a star. I relish conversation, have a similar experience to share? Do comment!

<Last edited:24 Sep,2015. Added Image Credit>