Being an entrepreneur seems effortless to non-entrepreneurs. But the people who have taken the plunge know just how stressful and chaotic it can be to build a business. You must creatively work your way around unexpected setbacks, you have to keep a strategic mind and overview and be truly dedicated. Because in all honesty, you will get knocked down a few times before getting it right.
Now, time for some good news: there is something that can help you deal with these set-backs. It is crucial in modern business for differentiating your value proposition from your competitors. This element can be the driving force behind transforming your entrepreneurial aspirations into true success, enter ‘thoughtful design’.
While ‘design’ is everywhere, ‘thoughtful design’ is the design that is there to delight your customer. It excludes the unnecessary design efforts. To further explain, it helps to divide ‘design’ into ‘design disciplines’. As an entrepreneur you can think of these disciplines as superpowers. Depending on your business challenge you’ll use more of one superpower over another. To overcome any challenge, it’s essential to know the powers at your disposal and which are most fitting.
This discipline is overlooked by many, yet it is almost always relevant. Whether you’re offering a physical or digital product, in B2B or B2C, service design is a design discipline you definitely should master. It’s the backbone of your business. If you can think customer-centric and succeed in your customer journey with the right touchpoints, your customers will be loyal and choose you over your competitors.
Service design in a nutshell:
- Understand your target audience (their pains, needs and desires)
- Envision how your customers will interact with your business (when, where, how, what are the key moments to create delightful interaction moments, what customer actions can you automate,..)
- Envision how the entire business will operate behind the scenes (what information will be stored where, when must which employee or department be in contact with whom, how, etc.)
- Iterate and improve (ask customers on a regular basis to provide feedback so you can continuously improve your services and maintain your competitive edge)
At Achilles Design, we believe that product design stretches widely. For instance, when our product designers work on beautiful furniture for a fancy event, the look and feel of the design is what matters. But when we design a medical device for hospitals, we focus on material characteristics such as cleanability, usability, efficiency, etc. The aesthetics are less of an issue here. So, product design is not just about looks. If you want fancy renders, you can easily use tools such as Midjourney or Stable Diffusion. We also rely on these AI-tools to efficiently come up with design directions and idea spaces. But product design goes beyond what you see in an image. Great product design takes into account functionality, usability, human emotions… and let’s not forget: sustainability.
Product design in a nutshell:
- User-centered design. You have to gather insights on the needs, wishes and interactional behavior of the people who’ll use your product.
- Create a beautiful balance between form and function. Depending on the product type and goal, the scale can tip over to either one.
- Aim for usability by adopting best practices, industry standards, and through user testing.
Digital products are all around us, you’re looking at one right now. As an entrepreneur you won’t always need to develop a physical product, but you might still need a digital product design, such as a website or a platform for your customers. Thoughtful digital designs, same as product designs, go beyond the aesthetics and technical development. For example, think about how a user flow can be optimised for fewer clicks and how this boosts conversion rates. Or how an intuitive design can reduce the amount of false user interactions.
Digital design in a nutshell:
- The same bullets of product design apply here as well, the importance of iterations for instance. Physical products are user tested to be improved. Digital products generate massive user data that are insightful for improving your design as well.
If you’re active in B2B, your brand experience is heavily defined by the way your customers interact with your business. That’s what service design is all about, remember? Brand design definitely plays a role in B2B, but it’s critical in B2C. In this type of market, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential consumers if your branding is not right. That’s because today’s competitive landscape is, well, extremely competitive. It has become a crowded place, so your brand needs to stand out. Thoughtful brand design is about communicating values in a genuine way, it’s building an identity that your consumers will resonate with. Well-designed brands make impressions that their intended target customers won’t easily forget and will have a distinct advantage over their competitors.
Brand design in a nutshell:
- Determine your brand mission, values and identity. Once these are clear and aligned, designing brand assets (like the logo, typography, colour palettes, tone of voice, etc.) and all your touchpoints will feel more natural.
- Coherence. All your brand communication must be consistent in its look and feels. That’s what makes a brand recognisable and trustworthy.
If there’s a space that is highly important for your business operations or your customers to visit, spatial design is essential. For restaurants, hotels or retail it is clear that a space that appeals to visitors equals returning customers. But spatial design also covers optimising your business processes that take place in a physical environment. Think of smart back office projects, such as the design of an automated dark store.
Spatial design in a nutshell:
- Think of how people could, would, should and should not act in a space.
- In case the goal is to impress or please visitors, there are a lot of things to consider: lighting aesthetics, materials, brand consistency across all interactions with the space, staff, interfaces, etc.
- If the goal is to increase efficiency, there’s also a lot to take into account. There’s the accessibility of the space, positioning of elements that are related to complete a job, ergonomics, enabling technologies to speed up or entirely automate processes, flexibility in converting the space to fit new processes, and so on.
It’s safe to say that the entrepreneurial journey entails more than a good business idea. It requires strategy, dedication, a can-do mentality and a commitment to the art of design. Service design that orchestrates outstanding customer journeys. Product design and digital design that build highly functional and beautiful products. Brand design that creates unique brand identities and experiences. And last but not least, spatial design that maps out the environments for your customers and staff.
These 5 design disciplines and the seamless interactions between them make a business not just survive, but thrive in this competitive and crowded marketplace. Remember, these 5 superpowers are about more than just good aesthetics. They are the tools to build impactful value propositions and create meaningful experiences. As you build your business, be open to adopt these tools and see where they can take you.
Are you starting a business and want to learn more about how these design disciplines can help you?Then definitely join us at the first edition of our startup event 'Afternoon brews & breakthroughs'. You learn more about choosing the right business model, how to validate your business ideas and find out how our design services can help your startup grow.
Are you a designer? Do you feel like that service design brief hit you in the face with a three-pound hammer? No worries. You’ll manage just fine. This article might help you with that. We’ll go through the universal user steps that we consider in almost any customer journey. Also, we’ll cover a few key research questions to ask during each user step.
Note that not all service designs will have an impact on all user steps. And note that not all user steps must be performed by the same user. And now that I think about it there’s a whole other bunch of notes. But let’s not go there. That’s content for a future blog post.
Guess that’s enough for an intro. So let’s hop to the universal user steps and the corresponding research questions you should try to answer.
The first step in any customer journey is that someone -let’s call her Lisa- must get aware of a user problem. During this step, Lisa can also learn about your value propositions to solve the problem. Lisa isn’t necessarily your end user though. Maybe her kids are. Key questions to ask yourself as a service designer are:
- Who should be the discoverer? (e.g. Lisa, her husband, her kid, her doctor,..)
- What should be the discovery environment? (e.g. a hotel room, a social media platform,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to target marketing messages to specific user groups)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to understand the your value proposition)
This step is about getting access to the product or service. You buy it. Then you get it -or at least you get a document as proof that you own the thing. This step can be physical (the sales guy hands you your new shoes) or digital (you get a mail, thanking you for purchasing that concert ticket). Key questions for service designers:
- Who should be the acquirer? (e.g. Lisa, her boss,..)
- What should be the acquisition environment? (e.g. a desk near the entrance of the event)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to provide proof of owning a valid concert ticket)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to acquire concert tickets)
Your solution may need to be relocated. Say Lisa bought a washing machine. That thing needs to get to her place, scratch free preferably. Ask yourself this:
- Who should be the transporter? (e.g. Lisa, a UPS guy, an FTE from the company that sells washing machines,..)
- What should be the transport environment? (e.g. Lisa’s car, a UPS van, a cargo bike,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to absorb shocks on a bumpy road)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the risk of damage during transport, lowering the effort Lisa needs to put in, minimizing the transportation time,..)
4: Store before useLisa ordered her groceries online. These products need to be stored at some point, regardless of whether the groceries are delivered or take-away.
- Who should be the safekeeper? (e.g. a grocery store FTE, Lisa, her neighbor,..)
- What should be the storage environment? (e.g. a separate storage space in the store, a cooled reusable box at the front door,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to stack multiple boxes, to keep groceries cool for a few hours,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the space needed for storage)
Let’s get back to the washing machine. Lisa needs to have this product installed before she can use it. The installation is all about getting a solution in place so that the user can start using it. Again, the one doing the installation isn’t always the end user.
- Who should be the installer? (Lisa, the delivery guy,..)
- What should be the installation environment? (e.g. a tiny room on the 5th floor)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. a step-by-step guide, troubleshooting,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of actions/technical knowledge/handyman tools/skills/.. needed to install the washing machine)
6: Set up
Okay, so the washing machine has power supply and is connected to the water pipes. Now someone needs to configure the machine. You know the questions by now, don’t you?
- Who should be the configurator? (e.g. Lisa, a tech person, the machine itself,..)
- What should be the configuration environment? (e.g. an app on your phone)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to set sound volume, clock settings,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the set-up time)
7: Learn to use
A user needs to learn how to configure, use and maintain the solution.
- Who should be the learner? (e.g. Lisa, a tech support person,..)
- What should be the learning environment? (e.g. an app, website, a display on the washing machine, a classroom,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to give feedback during use)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the learning efforts)
8: Prepare and confirm
This step is about making the solution ready to use. Someone must hit the power button of that washing machine, feed it with washing powder and some fabric softener maybe. Also clicking ‘start washing’ is part of this step.
- Who should be the initiator?
- What should be the preparation environment?
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to alert the user if (s)he forgot to add washing powder)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing room for human errors, like forgetting to add washing powder)
9: Execute and operate
This is when the end user actually uses your solution to get something done. That ‘something’ is the user’s reason for using your solution. Lisa wants clean clothes. That’s why she uses the washing machine. The end user is not always the consumer. Maybe Lisa has a laundry business and she uses washing machines to clean clothes for her customers. In this case Lisa is still the end user of the machine, but her clients are the consumers of Lisa’s services.
- Who should be the end user? (Lisa, Lisa’s customers,..)
- What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to source water)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of clothes one can wash in a single go, minimizing the time needed to get clean clothes,..)
During this step Lisa gets feedback from her washing machine to check if the machine is running smoothly or if something is wrong.
- Who should be the examiner? (Lisa, a tech support person,..)
- What should be the monitoring environment? (an app that comes with the washing machine, an on-machine display, a remote display in another room,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should measure temperatures, humidity levels, vibration patterns,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of relevant data for the examiner, minimizing the risk of long/costly repairments,..)
Now we’re ending the usage of our solution. This is Lisa taking out the freshly washed clothes.
- Who should be the one ending this step? (Lisa, the machine itself,..)
- What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to call someone to take out the clothes, to turn itself off,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk that humid clothes stay in the machine long after the washing process has ended)
Let’s drop the washing machine example for a better one. Lisa also owns a motorcycle. She enjoys taking it for long rides on the curvy roads in her country. But she also loves the cleaning process. Wiping the dirt off that retro bike provides her with and a meditative sense of awareness and fulfilment.
- Who should be the cleaner? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
- What should be the cleaning environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine that need regular cleaning, the ability easily access cleaning tools that speed up or ease the cleaning process, the ability to withstand detergents,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk of high maintenance bills, maximizing the enjoyment the user gets from cleaning the bike,..)
13: Store after use
After Lisa has cleaned her bike, she looks at it with satisfaction for a few seconds. Time to store the machine until the next ride.
- Who should be the safekeeper? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
- What should be the storage environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the house,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to withstand rainy and cold weather, the ability to withstand theft,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of space needed for storing the bike, maximizing the feeling of certainty that nothing will happen to the bike,..)
Users may want to replace parts of a product or add new stuff to it. This can be software or hardware upgrades. Lisa picked the latter. She likes the original looks of her motorcycle, but she did purchase a windshield to upgrade the riding comfort.
- Who should be the upgrader? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
- What should be the upgrade environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to install third-party components)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of possibilities for adding third-party components)
You could say that cleaning the bike is also maintaining the bike. You’re right. Maintenance goes a little further though. It’s checking the oil, maintaining the tire pressure or even changing the tires -okay, that’s upgrading if you will. See how these user steps can blend into each other sometimes?
- Who should be the maintainer? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
- What should be the maintenance environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine, the ability easily access maintenance tools for common maintenance rituals,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the amount of maintenance needed, maximizing the ease of maintenance rituals,..)
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Lisa filled her Kambukka thermos flask to the brim with hot coffee, puts on her helmet and pushes her motorcycle off the driveway. She only plans to return once the sun goes down. But the damn engine won’t start. She checks the battery and the start relay. Nothing wrong there. Fuck that. This is where her technical knowledge on bikes ends.
- Who should be the one to repair the bike? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
- What should be the repairment environment? (Lisa’s garage, a professional garage,..)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to access every single part of the bike, the ability suggest what’s wrong with the bike,..)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the lifetime of each part, minimizing the amount of repairments,..)
Fast forward to 2040. Combustion engines aren’t allowed in nearby city centers anymore. Lisa cannot drive or sell her bike anymore. She took good care of her bike but the thing has finally come to an end. In 2040 we cannot dump a bike on some graveyard. We should disassemble and recycle as much as possible.
- Who should be the disposer? (Lisa, the seller of the bike, the manufacturer of the bike,..)
- What should be the disposal environment? (e.g. a local drop-off point)
- What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to disassemble into single materials)
- Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of materials that can be recycled)
A great UX is designed around how people think.
1. Limit the amount of options a user hasWhen you limit people’s freedom, they will react negatively (Zemack-Rugar et al., 2017). So you don’t want to offer too few choices to your user or to force him/her to act a certain way. But you also don’t want to maze users with too many choices either because this increases the time and effort a user needs to make her/his decision (Nikolov, 2017). Booking a hotel on Airbnb could be way more streamlined if Airbnb actually anticipated what you’re looking for. Instead of scrolling through all options, Airbnb could suggest a handful of options by knowing already what you would want to spend per night, by knowing you want a King size bed and a gym nearby, and that you want to live in a young and vibrant area. It is better to already personalize and provide a targeted selection proactively. Key takeaway; Don’t ask the user to make too many selections her/himself. Already anticipate what the user wants and display a selection of all options.
2. Don’t force users to do something, but suggest them insteadLet’s stay with the example of Airbnb here. The platform nailed this technique pretty well. Users are not forced to select any dates or the amount of guests, but they still get to see places to stay. Airbnb just suggests that it is better to select dates and the number of guests to see accurate prices per night. Getting an accurate price is a good reason for the user to enter the dates and the amount of guests, so the user will enter her/his preferences without feeling forced to do so.
3. Users copy the behavior of other users, so use social proof to steer behaviorWhen people don’t really know what to do or choose, they follow the behavior of others (Cialdini, 2006). For this unknowing user it is easy to think that the right thing to do or choose, is to just copy others. The more people have shown a certain behavior before, the more an individual thinks it is right to follow the others.
4. Users value something more if it is scarceScarcity is a trick to boost conversions (Cialdini, 2006) and it is often scarce on purpose, just to increase the perceived value. This technique is often used is a sneaky way to create more revenue. An example of this is an expensive limited edition bag that is as costly to manufacture as the generic edition that is reasonably priced. But scarcity can also be used to stimulate good user behavior by leveraging actual scarcity, instead of faking it. A great example of real scarcity to steer good user behavior is found in the UX of Uber Eats. Here, users can share the delivery costs with others if they order fast. The timing of deliveries really is scarce and this can be used ethically to convince users to order a dish. A user that orders right now, will get it delivered at a lower price because (s)he can share the delivery costs with another user. A win-win for both users, but also for Uber Eats because users are better convinced and deliveries can be more streamlined.
5. Users want to stay consistent with their past behaviorPeople think of new tasks as something negative. To lower that negative feeling and to convince people to perform the action, make sure their initial new task is very small. Once your user has performed that one small task, you can ask your user to do a slightly bigger task that is linked to the smaller one. Your user will want to stay consistent with his/her past behavior and will now be more likely to take the rest of the tasks (Cialdini, 2006).
Did you spot the least ethical UX? It was the one on social proof. This UX steers an uneducated user towards a purchase that might not be best for her/him, while the other examples reduce mental effort for the user in a less intrusive way. These are just a few examples to explain how knowledge of behavioral economics is key to UX design.
Why use this method?
How to get started with this method?
- Create a physical or digital space to map out your ideas.
- Create a physical or digital template for the phrase used in the method.
- Use the perspective of the consumer and try to come up with as many statements as possible for the first part of the total expression.
- Keep track of the data used to come up with them and make sure it is somehow traceable to each statement. If no data is used, ensure that team members are made aware the statement is an assumption.
- If necessary, validate assumed needs through adequate research methods.
- Organize a review to filter out and select the most relevant statements. Ensure that both the voice of the user and the company leadership are adequately represented when doing this.
- Enrich the selected statements with the second part of the total expression.
- When statements are complete, translate the rather technical expressions to better suit the needs of follow-up activities, such as design sprints or market research.