Good Design → Use → Data → Innovation

Recently I read a project brief that nicely summarized the problems with a web-based ordering system. They were able to see the connection — which is often indirect — between good design and innovation. The brief admitted the product both looked esthetically poor and was hard to use. As a result potential customers were lost to competitors (in this case, the product was poor enough that the delta between it and the competition was brutally clear).

Often the design argument would end there: the product wasn’t designed well and was resulting in poor sales, so design work is needed, period. But here’s where they were able to see deeper into their business, connecting quality with operations and even strategy. Because the product wasn’t being used, they weren’t able to gather valuable data about what their customers do, and so they didn’t have the data they needed to inform product innovation efforts. Qualities that were previously perceived as unimportant such as navigation and visual design were ultimately hindering their ability to develop one product into a product line, and to place development emphasis on the products customers really wanted.

Given this connection, we could (and, arguably, should) approach the problem from the other direction. If a company is getting beaten up by competitor’s products, we need to know why. In other words we need to gather data about the situation. In product strategy the challenge is not knowing which of the possible alternatives is the best, and the best data to inform this decision is only gathered after the product is in the marketplace. But if, as in our example, the product is already in the marketplace, it can be less expensive to improve it and get the needed feedback rather than costly experiments with new products. This is, of course, subject to relative development costs of each approach as well as opportunity costs.