Designing Meaningful Products and Services Using the Behavior-First-Design-Later Approach

 

Scrimp on user research now, pay a high price later.

Do you have a startup idea that you’ve been meaning to develop or thinking about adding a new type of service to implement?

If you’ve been doing the conventional way of developing new products and services, chances are you’re following this format:

  1. You make prototypes of your idea or create a blueprint of your supposedly new type of service.

  2. If you’re lucky and you have sufficient funds, you assemble your team of developers and creatives to help you make your idea into a tangible product or service.

  3. When your product or service blueprint is done and ready to implement, you cross your fingers and do every new marketing trick you’ve read about online to help spread the word about your new offering.

With this approach, you will likely end up with the following scenarios:

    • If your marketing team did a great job, you’ll end up luring new customers but it turns out that there’s nothing valuable or innovative about your new offerings. In the end, you end up losing these new customers.

    • No one understands your new products or services because you don’t know your prospects enough. You end up blaming the marketing or advertising team for doing a lousy job.

    • After noticing a lackluster response to your new product or service, you decided to do some market research to help you “market” to your prospects the right way. Your market research team gathers demographics data such as age, gender, location, etc.

Fun fact: All three scenarios are far from giving you lasting success when creating new products or services. In this approach, you’re putting user behavior as an afterthought instead of considering it front and center.

For instance, a local bank advertised that setting up a new bank account with them is super easy. I can even do it online! However, it turns out that when I (as a prospect) tried to sign up online for a new account using my mobile phone, their mobile website ended up telling me that I need to use Internet Explorer on desktop mode. I left their mobile site feeling that they’ve let me down. I decided to go for another bank instead.

Falling Short on UX Research

Although it looks like they’ve done their market research (one of their ads mentioned that this type of savings account is ideal for freelancers like me because linking my PayPal account is quick and easy), the bank fell short in terms of user research.

If they’ve done user research, they would have realized that their target prospects are more likely to use their smartphones or a different browser when signing up for an account online. Furthermore, they would have found out specific nuances and quirks in their prospect’s behavior when signing up for a new savings account.

When done right, user research can help create long-term success when introducing new products or adding more services.

Instead of following the traditional design-first-behavior-later model, how about giving the reverse a try?

The Behavior-First-Design-Later Model

Image courstesy of The Membership Puzzle Project

This model is the core of human-centered design. The team behind the Membership Puzzle Project calls it “behavior first, rules second” philosophy.

Many brands, companies, and organizations market themselves as purveyors and advocates of creating wonderful, meaningful (and who would even forget “delightful!”) user experiences these days. In reality, they don’t even prioritize hiring UX researchers and product designers in their teams. They put a lot of effort hiring programmers, visual designers, and marketers but the UX team takes the backseat.

In the behavior first, design later model, the bank would have done the following:

  1. Assemble a UX team composed of researchers, designers, and content strategists (or a UX writer). In some cases, a designer or writer can be a researcher at the same time or vice versa. It’s extremely rare to find one person who can do all of these aka the UX unicorn.

  2. The team organizes a meeting with stakeholders including teams from marketing, sales, and customer support to figure out the organization’s business goals or the current demand from existing customers. If it’s a new company, the UX team will conduct user research to validate your product or service idea.

  3. While doing UX research, the team will look for in-depth answers to the following questions (by the Membership Puzzle team):
  • Who are we designing for?
  • What do people what?
  • Can we actually make what they want?

Once you have the research findings laid out, you can proceed to the first step of the traditional model mentioned earlier: you make prototypes of your idea or create a blueprint of your supposedly new type of service.

Afterward, you can perform usability tests, reiterate when needed, and release your product or service into the wild. Rinse and repeat.

Besides increasing the likelihood of successful products and services, the behavior first, design later model can also potentially save you precious time and funds in the long run. Scrimp on user research now, pay a high price later.

Instead of offering a solution without knowing the specifics of the problem, the behavior-first-design-later model allows you and your team to design well-thought-out products and services that your users and customers actually need.

What I Mean When I Write “Nestled Within a Comma’s Curve”

Months ago, a curious stranger who stumbled upon my Twitter profile asked: what the heck do I mean when I write “nestled within a comma’s curve” as my whereabouts in this corner of the universe?

I began using the phrase around three years ago when I felt uncomfortable sharing my exact location on my social media profiles. Although there’s no doubt that Zuck and his minions can easily figure out my exact location through their sneaky algorithms or some ancient alchemy, it was at least comforting to think that I’m not giving my coordinates that easy. In hindsight, it gave me a false sense of privacy.

Privacy stuff aside, what am I hinting at when I say “nestled within a comma’s curve”?

1. Let’s start with the most obvious. A comma is a punctuation mark that you’ll end up wrangling with when you’re writing — from print ads to thousand-word essays to lengthy novels that you can’t seem to finish reading.

Whenever someone reads “nestled within a comma’s curve” and takes a pause for a second to think about what it means, my writerly heart jumps with glee! All the more when they’ll associate the phrase with writing, words, or any form of wizardry that involves putting letters together to tell a story. After all, it’s what I do for a living.

2. As for the not-so-obvious meaning, what comes to mind when you read the words nestled and curve?

Can you envision someone who’s sitting comfortably in one of those cozy lounge chairs?

If you can, hats off to you because it’s exactly one of the images that I want you to think about when I wrote that phrase!

As someone who scores high on the introversion scale, I’m perfectly okay with the idea of lounging cozily in a chair with a good book or listening patiently to a friend who’s sitting across me.

3. Finally, let’s take a look at its metaphorical meaning by considering one of the comma’s major roles in writing: to join two or more independent sentences.

With that said, I have this slight obsession with unifying contradictory opinions, ideas, or thoughts.

The idea of finding that one main thought or commonality that unites two or more opposing ideas sends me into a frenzied state of aha moments.

My reasons (particularly the last one) may sound too far-off to you, but there’s a certain sense of allure and artisty when making up new metaphors or symbolisms in language.

Do you feel the same way?

UX Research: To Be There as Little as Possible

Yesterday, I came across this gem by design researcher and strategist Audrey Crane on the qualities of a good UX research moderator and its similarities to a crystal goblet.

What struck me the most about this short article is Audrey’s analogy. Here’s my favorite part: 

As a researcher, I believe my job is to be a crystal goblet: to be there as little as possible. To make space for the research participant to fill. To, “reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain…”, indeed to be, “worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

3 Things that Copywriters & UX Writers Do Besides Writing

A new acquaintance asked me recently if I’m one of those writers who is a perpetual insomniac, scribbles poems at the back of receipts, and lives on copious amounts of alcohol so I can write drunk, edit sober. Plus, do I deliberately seek heartbreaks and drama in real life so I can have the best material ever for the next Dear John?

I’ve probably done one of those things in the past. But for now, I told her that I use words not as an excuse to guzzle on alcohol, but for nobler (hopefully) and practical (there are bills to pay of course!) reasons.

As a copywriter, I persuade people to take action. This could mean signing up for an email list or clicking the Order Now button.

On the other hand, I help people complete a specific task with ease (minus the “wtf is this app about?!” moments) within an app or website as a UX writer.

What do they have in common?

Endless curiosity about human behavior.

Apart from figuring out the right words to say (or write), here are three things copywriters & UX writers like me do on a regular basis as a student of human behavior:

1. I research (or stalk people) until I get to the bottom of things.

There are days when I don’t write a single word but I’m still doing my job. Instead of writing, I wear my Sherlock Holmes’ hat (with or without Dr. Watson!) and get as many insights as I can about the people I’m writing for. This will also help me put myself in the place of the people I’m writing for and anticipate their concerns.

Let’s say that I’m writing for an audience of small business owners. For research, I will probably visit the Reddit sub for small businesses and try to understand the pain points and common concerns of redditors in the sub.

Besides knowing what my copy or content should be talking about, it’s also a great way to understand the “language” as well as context and nuances of the problems that they’re trying to solve. By doing so, I can create copy that will be more relatable and resonating with them.

2. I find ways (might include “sleeping on it”) to keep my words simple, concise, and useful.

When I started writing essays in elementary, I’ve always thought that the more “big words” I have in my composition, the more I will impress my teachers and classmates.

Decades later, I eventually learned that these big words have no room in copywriting and UX writing.

While there might be exceptions to the rule, using plain and concise language is 10 times better than using empty, big words and phrases that will only confuse the heck out of your readers or users.

Instead of writing “in the event that”, how about writing “if” or “when”?

Instead of using “nominate your password online”, how about writing “create your password online”? Who am I nominating?

 

 

The more concise your copy or instructions, the more you can get your reader’s attention or help them complete their task as soon as possible.

As a copywriter and UX writer, this means going over my draft several times. One of my favorite things to do when reviewing my drafts is to “sleep on it” and read it again the next day. Sometimes, you have to test your copy with the product/ marketing team, and reiterate as indicated in your test findings.

3. I create scenarios in my head and transform them into compelling stories.

Being clear and concise doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write dry, boring interface instructions or create lackluster email copy. After all, the best way to get your message across is by using anecdotes and telling stories. It’s no secret that the best way to a human’s brain, heart, and gut is through stories than plain facts and figures.

When writing for marketing and UX teams, I make it a point to find a balance between clear, concise writing and writing with style and tone that is unique to the brand. This is what style guides are for. I love working with brands who have style guides already in place, or clients who are interested in working with me to create their own. Shopify’s product content style guide is one of my favorites.

How do I exercise my storytelling skills?

Reading and exploring various genres tend to work for me. When I’m reading a book that is completely unrelated to a project that I’m working on, I still consider it as part of my writing job.

In hindsight, it exposes me to different forms of storytelling and helps me look at a project or writing task from a different angle. Listening to other people tell their stories is also good practice.

Binging on Alcohol Can Be Helpful Too

For me, the best part about writing for the web or other digital interfaces is how I almost always learn new, interesting insights about humans and the world every day. Not to mention that stories have the power to connect people from various backgrounds. For a brief moment, someone from Asia will recognize the same feeling, sentiment, or idea in a story or essay from someone living in the Antarctic.

There’s also the occasional alcohol binging part so I can “write drunk, edit sober” and fit myself into one of those writer stereotypes. Heh.

Just a Quick List of My Favorite Podcasts in 2017

While listening to Headspace Radio’s newest podcast episode on relationships this morning,  I had a couple of aha moments with my own relationships (not just the romantic kind but with friends and family too). Consequently, I also realized that I had the same aha moments while listening to a number of podcasts the entire year.

Listening to podcasts has made a significant difference in how I work, interact with people, and do certain things. Tuning in to other people’s conversations and thoughts is like having a mentor, friend, and a therapist at once.

Like books, podcasts can also influence the way you think, feel, and react. If you’ve been looking for good podcasts to listen to while stuck in traffic, washing the dishes, or exercising, here’s a quick list of podcasts that I regularly listened to for the past year.

It’s probably too hyperbolic if I say that they’ve helped me grow as a person this year but think of podcasts as food for thought. You’re not going to notice its visible impact on your health and well-being right away but it helps in the long run. I hope that you’ll find something of value from these podcasts too.

Sunday Dispatches with Paul Jarvis
Each episode is super short and Paul simply talks about his thoughts on creativity, freelancing, and building valuable client relationships.
Favorite episode: Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

The Tim Ferris Show
I admit that I’m not a huge Tim Ferriss fan when his books were just gaining traction but I noticed recently that Tim has improved greatly in how he does interviews.  He knows how (and when) to ask the right questions.
Favorite episode: Managing Procrastination Predicting the Future with illustrator Tim Urban
Runner-up favorite: Intimacy, Emotional Baggage, Relationship Longevity with psychotherapist Esther Perel

Pardon My French with Garance Dore
I’ve been a fan of Garance’s style and illustrations when she was just starting out as a style and fashion blogger (even before her breakup with Mr. The Sartorialist!). When she announced that she was doing a podcast this year, I knew I had to subscribe to it right away!
Favorite episode: Mating in Captivity with Esther Perel (Isn’t it obvious now that I’m turning into an Esther Perel minion?)

Hot Copy Podcast
Binge-listen to this podcast if you want to learn about copywriting for the web. It’s also a bit weird that I like listening to this specific podcast while exercising.
Favorite episode: Why your sign off process is SO important

The Copywriter Club Podcast
This podcast for copywriters is like the American version of Hot Copy Podcast (which is hosted by two Australian copywriters). You don’t have to choose between the two because their podcasting styles are different and both offer a lot of value.
Favorite episode: Interview with conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe

99 Percent Invisible
Subscribe to this podcast if you’re curious about design and culture. Plus, Roman Mars’ voice is oh-so-sexy!
Favorite episode: The Trend Forecast

The Futur
Chris Do is a visual designer and helps creatives build their own businesses by providing valuable insights, tips, and hacks. I may not be a visual designer but I’ve learned a lot from this podcast, particularly when it comes to building client relationships.
Favorite episode: Feeling Overwhelmed-Information Overload ( I originally watched this interview on YouTube)

Design Matters with Debbie Millman
If I can choose one mentor from today’s thought leaders and influencers, I’d probably choose Debbie Millman. There’s just something about the way she makes people feel at ease during interviews.
Favorite episode: Interview with Brene Brown on belongingness, courage, and vulnerability.

How I Built This with Guy Raz
As written in their NPR link, this podcast is about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.
Favorite Episode: Interview with Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard

This is Product Management by Mike Fishbein
I’m not a product manager but most of the podcast episodes are focused towards topics that I usually gravitate to like user research and technology.
Favorite Episode: Behavioral Psychology is Product Management

True North Podcast
This podcast uncovers stories that intersect between design and innovation.
Favorite Episode: Behind Facebook’s Logo

Personality Hacker Podcast
This is a decent podcast (the only one I can find) about personality types. I like how they tackle personality types based on Jung’s cognitive functions rather than the usual four letters on the MBTI.
Favorite Episode: Your Personality 3-Year-Old Inferior Cognitive Function

Hurry Slowly
I just discovered this podcast on what it means to pace yourself while living in this tech-driven era and I’m hooked!
Favorite Episode: Craig Mod I Want My Attention Back

Freakonomics Radio
This is a good podcast for anyone who wants to know “the hidden side of everything”.
Favorite Episode: The 3-part series on Bad Medicine

You Are Not So Smart
If you like to challenge your own assumptions on almost everything out there, this podcast is for you.
Favorite Episode: Sleep Deprivation and Bias

Other favorites that I’ve been listening to for the longest time (and not just in 2017):

Do you have any recommendations? Share in the comments below or if you want to carry on with your air of mystery, send smoke signals instead. 🙂