Baking Innovation Into Your Design Process

by Jared M. Spool

For many organizations, innovation has become a top priority. If your organization wants to deliver better products and services, you’ll need to move beyond only matching your competitor’s functionality. You’ll need to solve problems for your customers and users that no competitor is currently solving.

To deliver innovation, your organization doesn’t need to build a special innovation team to invent new technologies or patent new service processes. We’ve got all the arrows in our quiver. We only need to use them effectively.

Research the customer’s problems nobody else is solving.

As our organization matures our user research efforts, we will start shifting the research from investigating solutions (Are we building our designs the right way?) to investigating problems (Are we building the right designs?). This shift is essential for identifying where innovations will benefit the customers and users.

For example, when online payment processor Stripe launched their first product, it solved an important problem for small and medium-sized businesses. For the first time, It was easy to build a website that handled financial transactions.

In those days, the business didn’t have alternatives if they didn’t want to use a platform like Ebay or Etsy. It was hard for a small chain of restaurants to build an online ordering platform. Or, for a training company to build a way to let its students register and pay for courses.

Stripe’s teams focused their research on what caused friction in the work of their users—the developers of websites for those small and medium businesses. Their research uncovered new challenges those businesses wanted to overcome, like handle recurring payments and multiple currencies.

It was in the users’ pain that the Stripe product teams realized they could offer an advantage. None of Stripe’s competitors were solving these problems. This is how Stripe innovated and became the industry leader.

Populate the product roadmap with customer’s problems.

True innovation is hidden deep within the problems that our users are currently experiencing. Armed with our research of the problems, we plan out our roadmap of future product releases.

Grouping the problems into related themes, we identify where they should go on our product roadmap. A themes-driven roadmap shifts the entire team from outputs to outcomes.

Our team moves beyond producing features which sound good, but nobody may need. Instead, we’ll ensure each release will solve problems we know our customers are facing.

A themes approach to roadmaps is an essential approach to innovation. It keeps the team focused on the customer’s problems, providing a forcing function to stay grounded in what will change the marketplace.

Innovative solutions come out of deep understanding.

The Kano model gives us insights on where to start. We look for expectations the users have that we’ve missed. Often these have an easy fix, yet because no-one has done the research, neither us nor our competitors have ever addressed them.

We also look for inexpensive ways to exceed our users’ expectations. By focusing on addressing their needs and reducing friction, we can identify improvements that make the users’ experience smoother.

Fix enough of these problems and our products and services become more coherent and thoughtful to the user. Our users, like Stripe’s developer customers, will have a better experience and achieve their desired outcomes.

True innovation isn’t about a new invention. True innovation is about delivering new value. When our customers and users receive a friction-free, delightful experience, they get more value from our products and services.

We don’t need to start a specially-skilled innovation lab to make this happen. We need only to pay closer attention to our customers than our competitors are. (And, right now, chances are they’re not paying any attention to those customers.)

We’ll be first to market with designs that fit our customers like a glove. We achieve that by baking sound innovative practices into our day-to-day design process.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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