If your product is a representation of your company, then your UI (user interface) is a reflection of how your business is run.
Building Great Product
Yesterday our post on mission statements took us to a conceptual level higher than ZURB's sweet spot of building great products. We're not a business consulting firm, but defining a "mission statement" is important for communicating the strategic goals in order to build a solid product.
Over the last couple years we've been tweaking our design strategy framework to help businesses build better products. Its been a great tool for keeping things focused, but it's also difficult for many people to immediately understand how it solves product development problems. Let's explore this concept further from an organizational perspective.
Drawing a Picture of the Problem
A few weeks ago Luke Wroblewski gave a ZURB Soapbox lecture on product excellence. A key concept of his talk emphasized that great product development happens from the "outside in." To summarize, great products happen when companies observe and use customer insights to drive product innovation. Most people would agree that this concept makes sense, so why do companies struggle to use customer insights?
Below is a quick sketch diagram to visualize where product development breaks down in a company. We'll state up front that these ideas are broad; there is a myriad of potential problems every company faces when building products. The key takeaway from this post is that a company's product UI can highlight where the business is having organizational issues.
Two Key Issues in Product Development
In many businesses the interaction between the engineering, marketing, and business teams are unstable or one group's voice is too dominant. Take Google for example. The engineering teams have a dominant voice in the conversation. It's an engineering strategy they've implemented to be data driven, which for free products is fine, but as margins and revenue in specific product categories become more important, then the voice of marketing and business teams must play a larger role to improve the products. In most of their products, the UI lacks refinement and user satisfaction.
Another big challenge businesses face is translating the conversations they are having with customers into meaningful action items to improve product development. Customers have an uncanny ability to give companies a healthy mix of horrible and good ideas (to no fault of their own). This balance is typically weighted in the "horrible" category, but a company with a strong vision will be able to laser in on "good feedback." The opportunity lies in translating and conveying those ideas to the product development team.
What These Problems Expose
In most of our consulting engagements, companies ask us to fix their UI. On a surface level, it's very easy for us to make quick fixes that have a huge impact on a business. Many immediate interface problems are universal and not necessarily tied to the business. However, the challenge most businesses face is iterating on our feedback. The reason? Companies struggle to support continual development because its business units (which may even be just a couple of people!) can't work together to nail opportunities. They get stuck.
Improving your product starts by looking at the interface (UI) and determining what parts are broken in your organization. This will help your company look at your product "outside in."