Product design is a process that requires some thought. You want to create something that is not only appealing to your customers, but more importantly meets their needs and exceeds their expectations.
Repeat guest Radhika Dutt has written a whole book on the topic, and shares some of her best insights in this interview.
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In the podcast:
Some product design principles aren’t just for product design. Discover how they can apply to the rest of your business. [01:26]
Sometimes the design process is a series of subtractions. [04:01]
Are you building products for your customer, or for yourself? Here’s how you keep it real. [06:06]
When you think more of what you want than what the customer needs, there’s a term for it. [11:24]
There’s such a thing as too many products. [14:47]
Here’s where you weigh vision fulfillment against financial survival…. [18:17]
There’s a who, what, why, when, how to product vision. [23:45]
Vision and survival are dynamic things, and you have to work with that. [25:29]
Radhika offers a simple framework for building a clear strategy. [28:58]
You have to deliver, and you have to measure. [31:50]
When is a metric important, and when is it mere vanity? [34:31]
Get a pro’s perspective on your business
James considers his first episode with Radhika Dutt a sort of milestone, because it was so relevant to what he does in coaching and in business.
One of the big points he took away then was that sometimes we’re just focusing on iterating and iterating, when we should be really coming down off that little molehill and going over to some bigger mountain.
He’s used that idea a lot in discussions with clients, and sent many people to check out Radhika’s book, Radical Product Thinking.
Radical thinking applied to more than products
Radhika loves that about their last conversation, that James recognized her book was not just applicable to product creation but to business overall.
It could be used in goal-setting, says James, even by someone who’s not business-ey. A lot of people are dissatisfied with life, and upon examination, it turns out they got to where they are by a series of pivots. The way out of that is to determine what you absolutely cannot do without, scrap the rest, and start over from scratch. And he’s re-engineered a lot of people’s visions using that kind of mental framework.
Radhika has, herself, hinted towards the end of her book that her ideas can be used systematically to effect change in society or elsewhere outside of work.
When there’s nothing left to take away….
Through the product design lens, James is interested in the idea of simplification. Everyone in business has heard or read about or used Apple’s products, the design philosophy of which was influenced by visits to Japan.
And people like Perry Marshall have approached this in books like Simplify, about making things more useful and easier to use.
In the area of web design, James sees this manifested in a platform like 10XPRO, where all the tech complexity is removed and everything pre-loaded, so that you can create things at a click.
Who is your solution really for?
But just as some things are becoming more user-friendly, there’s still the temptation for product makers to become bogged down in what they want out of a product rather than what the customer needs. So where would Radhika recommend we start, to create a great solution for our audience?
The key, Radhika thinks, is centering all of our design on the pain point. What is someone suffering that brings them to your product? What is the desperate need that you’re going to solve? She thinks the problem with design often is that we don’t really center that design on that main question of, what are the pain points?
Take a recipe she saw – it contained a number of ingredients, all gorgeously illustrated and labeled. Very pretty. But nowhere was the exact quantity of each ingredient, which was what she really needed to buy and prepare the recipe.
That is the failing of a lot of design. People think something should be interesting, engaging, etc. What they lose sight of is what the user needs and how to deliver it.
Likewise, coming back to James’s topic of simplification, what you need in order to simplify, to strip something down to the bare minimum the user needs, is a really clear understanding of the pain point. Without that, you don’t even know what to subtract.
“People are over-engineering stuff. – James Schramko”
James created a product, basically a paid Q&A box, that featured one page where people could type in their questions and get answers. It was a great little product, he says, and it proved to him that people are over-engineering stuff. So the main point number one really is, think about your customers’ perspective, not your own.
Beware the narcissist complex
In her book, Radhika speaks of something called the narcissist complex. This is when we are so focused on what we want to deliver in a product that we disregard what the user and the customer might need.
Customer input is important. Listening to customers is like being in a car as you’re driving. You know your destination, you have to roll down the window sometimes and ask your customers, Am I going the right way? And that’s what customer feedback is like. And you need that feedback to make sure you’re going the right way.
“What’s your end state of this vision and the change you want to bring about? – Radhika Dutt”
But you do have to be centered on this idea of, where are you going? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s your end state of this vision and the change you want to bring about? And this is how we can use that customer feedback.
Even Apple did extensive user research. And they invented the touchscreen phone because it was hard for people to type on a keypad.
Can you have too many products?
One of the great things Steve Jobs did, says James, was when he scrapped Apple’s whole lineup and announced they’d have only four products. Does Radhika think it’s common for people to have too many products?
“It’s difficult when you compare someone’s finishing point to your starting point. – James Schramko”
James’s one-page product was a great experiment, and it inspired a lot of people to do something similar as a starting point. But it’s difficult, he says, when you compare someone’s finishing point to your starting point. It’s a bad comparison to make. So for him, having other, better products, it made sense to delete it and move on.
Radhika is very much in James’s camp. What happens, she thinks, is something she calls strategic swelling, where people start to have a lot of products. They spread themselves thin over multiple offerings, and never achieve anything at a breakthrough level.
An example she can mention is Yahoo. When you have to alphabetize your list of products, she says, you know you have an acute case of strategic swelling.
To avoid this, you really have to think about your vision, and the pain points you’re trying to solve, and then prioritize those pain points. Then you can determine how your different products address those pains, and cull whatever isn’t effective.
Survival versus vision in product design
When you have multiple choices and options, says James, do you have a methodology for scoring or assessing which of those potential paths might be a good way to build out your design?
Radhika typically uses something she talked about in their previous episode. She draws up an X and a Y axis, where Y is the long-term vision you’re trying to achieve, and X is the survival, whatever is making a lot of money in the short term.
It’s a matter, then, of finding the right balance. There might be a product that doesn’t sell much in the short term, but promises big payoffs visionwise, in the long term. Then you might have an offering that makes you money, but isn’t really good for your vision. And if you sell too much of that, take on too much vision debt, it could confuse people as to who you are, what you actually offer.
When you’ve listed your products in the different quadrants, you can decide what to cull, based on a clear vision and how well something is helping you financially.
James has a couple of questions on vision. First, what happens if you get to a point where your vision changes? He knows, for instance, someone who wanted to be famous, and went about achieving this doing influencer-type things – the content, the Instagram posts. This person then did an about-face, and decided they didn’t want fame, because of the restrictions it would put on their freedom – stalkers, having to be on best behavior and the like.
And two, what about people who just don’t know what their vision is? Is there any technique to discover one’s vision?
A vision, in the first place, says Radhika, is crucial. And writing a vision statement for your company or work is in many ways easier than writing a vision for your life, for what you want to do. James seems to be extrapolating from the former to the latter.
The distinction, James says, is that most of the people is his and Radhika’s world are so tied to the business. Often the health of the business depends on the health of the person. And he’d put himself in that category.
The who, what, why, when, how of vision
That’s Radhika’s approach as well, she says. Her work is closely tied to her vision. She wants us to build better products, and do it without creating a lot of digital pollution.
When you think of vision that way, she says, you can address it in a very detailed way, by answering the who, what, why, when and how questions. She’ll give an example with her book.
Radhika didn’t write Radical Product Thinking for everyone. So she asked, whose world am I trying to change? It’s the people who realize that iteration is not how you build world-changing products – we need to do something differently.
What is these people’s problem? They don’t have a methodology to be able to effect change very systematically. This book provides that.
Why is the status quo unacceptable? If we continue what we’re doing, we’re just burning out and building things that don’t make sense. We’re also creating digital pollution.
What is the world that Radhika envisions? It’s one where it’s really easy to build products very systematically, going from vision and translating that into action.
And finally, how is she bringing about this world? For her, it was through a free toolkit and through her book, and giving people the step-by-step process.
In Radhika’s book, she has a fill-in-the-blank statement that makes it easy to flesh out your vision without getting stuck in the words.
When vision and survival change…
To answer James’s question, what if your vision changes, the answers to the who, what, why, when and how may indeed change. And that’s okay. What’s important when it does change is to go back, revisit it, and rewrite the answers to the fill-in-the-blanks statement.
And, says Radhika, your vision versus survival priorities might change as well.
“When you create time and money, and you didn’t have that before, it’s like, whoa. – James Schramko”
James had the occasion to reflect on survival when he moved house and had to go into quarantine. Everything was stripped back – no assets, no furniture, nothing. Then he knows of other people who have climbed the material mountain but lacked vision, and are now unhappy. Or they’ve met their vision are at a loss what to do next. James experienced something of the same when he had gotten his routine to where he had time and money space for himself. When you create time and money, he says, and you didn’t have that before, it’s like, whoa.
A framework to clarify your strategy
So you’re clear on solving people’s pain points; you’re clear on survival versus vision; you’ve done The Who, what, where, when and how – now what would be the next step?
That would be having a clear strategy, says Radhika. You know what change you want to bring – what does that mean in terms of actionable steps? And the radical product thinking way, good product strategy, is, well, radical.
She offers an acronym, RDCL:
R – The Real pain points you’ve defined
D – The solution for the pain point (that’s Design).
C – This is Capabilities – what’s the engine that will power the design? Take the webpage where you answer people’s questions. What power’s that? Maybe on the backend, it’s you answering those questions, your knowledge. So how do you stay up-to-date with what you know?
L – This is the Logistics. What’s your pricing model? How will you support it? How will you train people on it? What are your sales channels?
James loves it. And a lot of what Radhika has spoken of, he says, is also applicable to people who do sales copywriting. The Who, what, why, when and how is like a sales letter template. And the radical formula is a great business planning tool, good for coaches as well.
The challenges of execution and measurement
So you’ve designed this thing, you’ve got the machine going, you’ve got the logistics in place. Where does Radhika find people have the most challenges from this point?
Last step, says Radhika, is how do you actually deliver, and deliver right? That’s where execution and measurement come in. And that’s the last element of her framework, because when you have the vision strategy, execution and measurement is really how you figure out, is your approach working? It’s where you test your hypothesis.
Take again, the example of the Q&A wall. Your execution is providing answers. How do you know it’s working? If You’re addressing a real paint point, a lot of people will be coming to the site and asking questions. And if they’re getting what they need, they’ll be coming back. Those are two ways you can measure success.
What are the metrics that actually count?
A question James often gets asked is, what measurements do you track? And Radhika gave a couple of good examples. Another metric James might look for is some positive reaction to his answers, a like or a comment.
Other things he’d look at in his dashboard was the number of current subscribers, because it was a recurring program. Churn would be a factor. He’d be looking for a solid increase over time. And if people joined but left quickly, that would be a red flag.
What James doesn’t look at is vanity metrics. And that’s a problem in online marketing. People are more concerned with getting a YouTube player button plaque than solving problems.
James feels greedy having had Radhika back twice, but if you’ve got a question you’d like her to answer, reply to one of James’s emails, and we may just have her back a third time.
You can get Radhika’s book from radicalproduct.com, and she has tools and frameworks there that you can benefit from. Follow her on LinkedIn – reach out and say you heard her on SuperFastBusiness.com.
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