A Wow & A Why

I recently had the good fortune to attend the first Untether Talks and experienced – yes, ‘experienced’ – @whurley‘s performance.

Probably the point that struck home the most for me was the reminder that every idea needs a “Wow” and a “Why”.

What a beautifully succinct way to ensure that all ideas need to be outcome-driven. There are many ideas that are ‘cool’ (however we wish to define that word), that are ‘neat’, ‘exciting’, ‘innovative’, etc. What makes an idea a good one is a compelling ‘why’ – i.e. does it solve a problem, serve an unmet need?

It’s Pervasive, Not Mobile

Similar to the point I made in the Finding Opportunities, Solving Problems post, framing the discussion around mobile computing misses the real point, the real opportunity. When we approach the issue as mobile computing/marketing/etc, we are essentially thinking once again in terms of channels.

Good ideas and executions can, of course, come from such a narrowly focused and tactical approach to problem solving or opportunity spotting. @whurey reminds us, however, that there are many, many more opportunities when the issue is more broadly considered from the perspective of pervasive or ubiquitous computing, where every surface becomes a potential interface. It’s not just limited to those canonically recognizable devices.

The questions we should be asking ourselves when seeking opportunities or solving problems should not include a tactical channel. Ask not “what can we do with mobile” but “what can we do to capture our consumers’ attention when they are at the park/in the mall/at the coffee shop/at the bus stop/etc.” When we limit our ideas and solutions to a certain channel, we’ve cut ourselves off from so many other possibilities. When we remove those channel limitations, the world, as they say, is our oyster.

Finding Opportunities, Solving Problems

20120627-204808.jpg I attended the first-ever Untether Talks these past two days, and @RetailProphet‘s presentation, Mobile Retail: the Destination is You, was worth reflecting on.

@RetailProphet’s key message was that mobile retail is not really about mobile as a medium. It’s about finding those moments in a customer’s life where there are opportunities for you to solve a problem or meet a need.

Finding opportunities and solving problems is not about channels – web, mobile, in-store, print, broadcast, etc.

It’s about identifying the paths to purchase.

In UX circles, we call it the customer journey. Marketing types call these customer touch points. Whatever we call it, it’s about starting our thinking and imagining the possibilities from the user’s perspective: what do they need in order for us to earn our spot in their minds, hearts, and/or wallets.

It’s about asking the right questions and framing the problem correctly.

It is never about a channel or a device. Asking what we can do in mobile, social, etc. is asking the wrong question.

@RetailProphet offers these access points to start asking those questions:
  • What are those customer moments that are currently not being served?
  • Where are those moments occurring?
  • What are the most relevant and available surfaces?

Put differently, the right questions, the right approach are the same as they’ve always been:

  • What is the user need?
  • What are the barriers to adoption?
  • Can the problem be solved or the opportunity be met using the tools we have on hand?
Channels and devices are tactical, implementational opportunities. They are the circumstantial aspects of an idea. It’s the difference between asking how can we make the horses go faster/further versus how can get from point a to point be faster/further. The former is incidental to horses (tactical), while the latter frames it as a transportation problem (strategic).

What separates bad design from good?

Jared Spool’s post today on the UIE blog is titled “Nobody comes to work to make a bad design” suggests that the cause of crappy designs is that  “the folks creating bad designs are missing…good knowledge and skills.”

But what constitutes “good knowledge and skills”?

I think the missing link is strategy.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary online defines strategy as the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal (source: Merriam-Webster online).

Merriam-Webster defines design as the creating, fashioning, conceiving and executing according to plan (source: Merriam-Webster online).

Design, in other words, is closely tied to a plan or goal.

Many designs fail (or are bad) because the designer did not fully understand the goal of the design. This is ultimately the result of poor problem definition. Why would you expect to solve a problem that you don’t really understand?

The ideal designer needs solid strategic instincts, but in real life, most designers need the backup support of a strategist.

The strategist is the one on a team who has the background training and/or experience to probe for the right business data, to chew on all the issues to identify the real problem from among an ocean of red herrings.

Great design is a team effort. It’s rare  that one person can or even has the time to understand all the details and facets of complex problems well enough to be able to solve them singlehandedly.