How User Experience Has Changed the Concept of Product Design and Marketing in the Digital Age.

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” -Bill Gates

It is hard to believe that 2009 was a decade ago, and even harder to acknowledge that iPhone had just released then and Amazon was primarily known for selling books. There was no Netflix or iTunes, and we were truly happy waiting a whole week to watch the next episode of Breaking Bad. Good old days! The customer-seller relationship had also transformed from being ‘primitive’ to ‘proactive’.

Now, let’s go back to 2005, and imagine you walked into Trader Joe’s to buy toothpaste. You are standing in front of a wide shelf that has ten brands of toothpaste – all with smiling teeth, some even with a little spark in one of the canines, as their obvious messaging. At this moment, you are looking at some of the common factors to decide which smile you should take home – the attractiveness of the packaging, clarity of information, and positioning of the toothpaste on the shelf itself. Coined in 2005 and celebrated by marketing frameworks, this is your “First Moment of Truth”. Simply, it refers to a customer’s decision-making process while buying a product.

Now enter 2015! You are standing in a much bigger Dot Com store, sifting through thousands and thousands of brands to buy toothpaste. With the most modern and sophisticated smartphones at your disposal and access to any information literally at your fingertips, you are automatically looking beyond the shelf. While your everyday needs haven’t changed, the way you search for them and eventually buy certainly has, and so has your experience. With a click of a button on “add to cart”, the toothpaste is delivered to your doorstep. Coined by Google in 2011, this is your “Zero Moment of Truth”, which describes how digital channels influence the customer’s journey.

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The communication between the brand and the user is no longer one-way. In fact, the user now chooses what messages he wants to see, when he wants to see it, and how he chooses to see it. The tables have definitely turned. Today, user experience in the digital world determines the brand’s innovation, positioning, messaging, packaging, and marketing. And one of our earlier projects – the world’s first Massager Backpack, Eume is a testimony to that.

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The Power of Unparalleled User Experience

User experience (UX) often gets oversimplified to ease of use of a digital product, however, it is a lot more than that! While usability is essential, it is no longer just sufficient. As product research has changed, UX has grown to account for how one interacts with an experience, whether it is going to a restaurant or navigating a car’s dashboard. Today’s world is witnessing either purely digital or a hybrid of physical and digital products and by putting the user at the center of it all helps design labs build an easy to use and emotive product and experience. And this is where Use Cases and Persona building come into the picture. By identifying gaps or possible areas of innovation with the existing products, use cases can help in better user research. Similarly, with persona building, one can empathize with the user journey – once again reaffirming the gaps and filling them accordingly.

It is easy to think of UX as a modern concept but its roots can be traced back to centuries. Looking at the history of how UX evolved to what it is today provides a better understanding of where UX is headed. Let’s go back in time, shall we?

Da Vinci & the Feast And Designing for Humans

Did you know that the foundation of user experience can actually be traced all the way back to the Renaissance (Yes, we are serious!). Here is how the story goes – Leonardo Da Vinci was commissioned to design a kitchen for a royal feast, and Da Vinci, being the creative eccentric, went on to design the kitchen with conveyor belts and sprinkler systems – talk about experience design! But, the technology he integrated into the kitchen did not work and caused a nightmare for the workers. It was aptly termed a disaster and became a classic example of bad user experience.

On the other hand, efficiency between technology and humans started with Tom Ford and the industrial revolution progressed further with the Toyota Way. The massive success of each of these revolutionized user experience, product design, and manufacturing, and highlighted the interdependence of humans and technology. American industrial engineer, Henry Dreyfuss, emphasized how design has failed if the point of contact between people and product causes friction.

Product point of contact ⇒ gives comfort ⇒ is efficient ⇒ brings happiness ⇒ design is a success

Disney, The Happiest Place on Earth Indeed

Leave it to Disney to create some of the most significant memories, build emotional connections, and force companies to start using technology to bring joy to customers. While this shift was not labeled UX, it certainly sowed the seeds for using technology to build emotional connections and experiences. It is where the concepts for interaction design and experience design were built and executed. However, the success of this implementation lies in the consistent emotion Disney evokes across multiple touchpoints. And this is the result of a well-designed Design System. This is what keeps the user experience intact and stable across multiple channels and different regions. Now, we might as well start believing in a little magic!

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Don Norman, Who Started it All

Don Norman, an electrical engineer and cognitive psychologist, actually coined the term “user experience” during his time at…guess where?…Apple (surprise, surprise!). He came up with this term as a way to explain all that UX stands for. He even authored the highly influential, and still relevant, book “The Design for Everyday Things”. Don’s team was tasked to develop a line of human-centered products, and what followed is well, you know is history.

iPhone, The Boom of User Experience

Ever wondered what made the iPhone so successful? What was it in the iPhone that forever changed the way mobile technology is used? Hands-down, it was the touchscreen technology, the ability for people to manoeuvre through pretty much a mini computer without the headache of buttons (remember trying to type a text message before touchscreens?), and a mouse. The whole swipe left/right, pinch to zoom, and selfies would not have been possible without Apple’s complete focus on delivering unparalleled user experiences.

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As technology, physical features, and the digital platform continue to become a seamless part of our lives, we can expect user experience to become even more important as users access all three streams together, almost subconsciously. With conversational UX and virtual reality picking up, we might not be too far away from living the Jetsons’ life!

Innovating Products in The Digital Age

There are different types of innovation all around us, but to keep up with rising expectations, companies can no longer afford to follow the rigid, trickle down product development process. As digital technologies are changing the way enterprises function, the entire new product development process (NPD) is being overhauled to an agile and adaptive flow that can meet the evolving market requirements.

As organizations follow the traditional NPD process called ‘Waterfall model of innovation’, which usually starts with a scope, moving on to specifications, detailed requirements, and an estimation of the resources required; there arises the need for change. Not only is digital transformation having a great impact on the NPD process, but it’s also transforming the very nature of physical products themselves.

Do You Want to Be Google? Or Yahoo?

Dr. Peter Wilton, faculty at Berkeley Haas School of Business, describes Google as the “company that lives and dies by reframing innovation.” Google’s success can be attributed to not only meeting customers’ changing expectations but also venturing out into new areas such as GoogleGlasses, G-Suite, and GooglePay. Yahoo, despite having the technology, became comfortable and remained an email and search service.

So, if you want to stand out and be the Google, not Yahoo of your industry, here are some trends that you should consider:

 

Unitary NPD and Agile NPD: For further product personalization and to enable agile prototyping, swift and augmented design processes and on-demand and affordable manufacturing are on the rise. With the wind blowing with all its might in the digital direction, co-development of physical and digital components is of utmost importance and for that companies need to adopt new methodologies to support the entire product design and development process.

 

Automation: To reduce human input and increase the quality, companies need to focus on automating production and infusing robotic assembly lines, thereby, not only identifying new approaches to the manufacturing process but also in the maintenance of the equipment. Along with this, analytics and AI are equally being incorporated into product development to change the behaviour and properties of new products and to identify patterns of product utilization and even foreseeing product failure.

Augmentation/ Visualization with Context

Remember how quickly Pokemon Go bought hoards of people out to the streets looking for purple rats? It should not come as a surprise that augmented reality is becoming a critical part of new product development. While CAD drawings enable you to see how your dream room might look, augmented reality superimposes that model right in front of you, allowing for better visualization of the product. It won’t be too far-fetched an idea to expect augmentation, coupled with development in sensor technology to speed up the evaluation and development process. A great example of this would be Google’s initiative towards infusing AR in Google Maps. Now, that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

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Prototype Like a Lighting Bolt

Traditional prototyping involves multiple vendors, minimum quantity requirements, and longer time frames. Innovation in today’s digital age has to be like Usain Bolt = lighting bolt. Augmented processes along with the rise of 3D printing, will allow for a single iteration of the product to be perceived, designed, and printed in a matter of hours, and that too at a reduced cost!

Digital, Spelt as Agility

With the boundaries between digital and the physical product merging, product development teams have to design for both experiences. Digital acceleration is demanding integration of physical and digital products. Products like Stok, Garmin or Wildcraft link to an app and the interchange between the mediums is seamless and purposeful. What does it mean? Digital acceleration is transforming how companies innovate. Rigid, comfortable, and waterfall product development process can become a roadblock to your success.

Whichever industry you are in, to stay relevant, innovating for today’s age will demand you be more rapid, agile, and responsive. And if product innovation is not something that you can afford at this time or are not looking at, then reimagining and reinventing will be the game changer for you!

Designing in The Digital Era – Your Moment of Truth

Digital transformation has brought about the zero moment of truth to the customers today and that has also given them the power to control their entire buying process, without needing any information from the sellers. They are smart, intelligent, and know how to make it difficult for the brands to understand what they want as their preferences keep changing faster than the medium of information itself. Needless to say, marketing products in the digital world has become even more difficult as the whole product experience has shifted.

As the prospects travel through the funnel and map the journey from awareness to decision, even a single piece of wrong or irrelevant information from the brands can have them drop off the funnel and possibly never return. On the other hand, if the brands have understood their customers well, then they can have them walk through all stages of the funnel very seamlessly, without taking the power of decision away from them.

Since the entire customer journey has gone from days to mere seconds, consumer experience strategy needs to be redefined. According to McKinsey, only those brands that can somehow eliminate the “consideration” and “evaluation” stages and offer a more seamless brand experience will be at a competitive advantage and eventually rule.

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This also means not only sending the most relevant information to the customer but also in the shortest amount of time. Automatically, this means being ten steps ahead of the consumer and pushing that information in the exact moment the need for it is generated.

From Packaging a Product to Packaging an Experience

“Digital transformation allows brands to empower employees, engage customers, optimize operations, and transform products.” – Meetul Patel, COO and CMO, Microsoft India

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are more devices connected to humans than humans connected to each other. And with that, human and technological traits when combined together is creating a massive shift in the way people shop today. Giving into their sense of sight, the first connection they make with a product is through packaging. Since there is no need to go to a physical store anymore that they prefer shopping from, it becomes all the more impactful for brands to have the right packaging done to attract consumers. And this behavior is highly influenced by millennials and their thought process.

With no time to spare or to sit through endless trial rooms or pushing the trolley through uncountable aisles, millennials are mainly driving the packaging in the digital era. Even the world-wide sustainable movement is giving modern packaging a new direction. As consumers are becoming more and more aware of themselves, their preferences, the environment, and how their actions impact their surroundings, they are driving the brands to think hard on cutting down plastic and other harmful materials used commonly in packaging. So, not only do they have to think about striking design for packaging to stand out, but they also need to make sure they are doing it the eco-friendly way.

So, how can technology help?

“Digital technologies are revolutionizing every industry, and it’s exciting to make the latest innovations work for our customers. We are pleased to be the first to launch digitized services, offering customers reduced costs, enhanced efficiency, and peace-of-mind. This is just the beginning of what promises to be a very exciting journey for us and our customers.” – Dennis Jonsson, President and CEO, Tetra Pak.

Tetra Pak has been deploying Microsoft’s HoloLens technology for monitoring and providing services such as real-time data access and e-beam to make the packaging sterile, giving its consumers faster and direct access to Tetra Pak’s expertise in making the most of the digital technologies.

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Instead of focusing only on the packaging of the product, brands now need to think about packaging experiences for their consumers. Along with product positioning, the industry has a lot of opportunities with product packaging to create software that can handle the aesthetics and merging applications that can give real-time access to brands’ digital identity to their consumers whenever they need to be plugged back it.

Marketing in The Digital World

Brand 1 – “Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and offer seamless experience. We think they’ll add tremendous value to your life. Click to buy.”

Brand 2 – “With our every innovation, we aim to create products that reinvent your life. We aim to challenge the norms and think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Click to join our world and experience for yourself the value they add to your life.”

These are two different kinds of messaging from two brands that sell the same products. The messaging states very obviously which brand is able to do their product marketing well. And the reason is pretty simple. As humans, we want to be a part of something, we want to feel connected. And brands that use the right marketing strategy to fill the gap between the physical and digital worlds are the ones that eventually make a place in the top ten list and consumers’ minds. So, how can more brands achieve that? Here are some tips on acing marketing in the digital world:

I. Start with ‘why’: Simon Sinek, in his book, Start With Why talks about how leaders inspire consumers to take relevant actions by sharing their actual stories. So many brands focus on ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ to market their products, without realizing that it is the ‘why’ that reflects a brand’s values and core beliefs. Why do you want to sell gadgets? What’s your story? When focused on ‘why’ instead, brands can offer better emotional connection to their consumers in exchange for their eventual loyalty.

II. Move away from mass messaging: Everything has changed with the arrival of the internet. As much as ideas and creativity are important, to be able to engage on a personal level with the consumer, it is important to move away from mass messaging and focus on personalization. In an Ad, Nike showcased Messi as a role model and it did wonders for the brand simply because it made a personal connect with their audience. Having that kind of connection inspires real conversations and eventually leads to building a strong relationship with the consumer.

III. Be a socially responsible brand: It turns out ‘good girl’, ‘that’s like a good boy’, etc weren’t simply to lure children into doing something good. ‘Good’ in itself sends a very positive message as it’s an inherent part of everyone’s core values. And it makes sense for brands to market themselves as the ‘good guys’ as people naturally get more inclined towards them. Showcase your social commitments and make that an effective part of your marketing strategy and ultimate business goals.

IV. Develop a customer experience vision: It all starts with what is important to customers and how a brand can deliver it. While a lot of brands do focus on customer experience, it’s still not a part of their marketing strategies. From establishing an overall architecture in the form of purpose-driven principles to inspiring the employees to work towards driving that change, how a brand approaches the customer experience strategy can make or break their footing. And this starts with understanding customers and their journeys well.

In a Nutshell

In the words of Don Norman – “I invented the term user experience because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, user interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.”

As user experience their weapon in the digital battleground, brands are leveraging technology to reach out to their customers better, faster, and more seamlessly than ever before. The digital era is not only changing the face of product design itself, but it is also enforcing brands to have more thought-out strategies when it comes to product positioning, packaging, and marketing. Visual aesthetics add credibility to products and make users overlook any design issues. Don Norman, in his book Emotional Design, talks about how pleasing aesthetics influence the users and have a high probability of easily being used despite actually having ease of use. That’s the power of aesthetics. So, it’s not just UX, but also UI and visual design that’s going to keep the user hooked to brands. Taking user experience, off-beat technologies, and design thinking as key forces, brands can showcase their abilities to strategize in the direction of digital that resonates best with today’s consumers, at the same time bridges the gap between both – digital and physical worlds.

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