How to build a digital product from scratch, following a design thinking approach
Over the last few months, our lives have changed, and we are all trying to find our new normal as we navigate through these difficult times. It became clear how important it is to support not only each other, but also the heart of our communities — our local businesses. By making conscious decisions to support local entrepreneurs, we are embracing our local economies and empowering our cities, our neighbours and ourselves to grow and thrive. In the age of global economic, political and social instability, buying locally matters, because it keeps wealth and jobs flowing within the community.
The challenges faced by consumers in a global market is that it is difficult for them to identify which products are produced locally and to learn the story behind those brands.
The core question in any creative or design project is how to get from point A — “Don’t know” or “Could be” — to point B — “Do know” or “Should be”.
This process might seem finite and straightforward at first sight. In reality, it is a never-ending process, as creativity is the habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference to our life (Hyper Island, 2016).
The creative process of finding a solution to a problem can be a maze. That’s why we are going to follow the Double Diamond model, a structured design approach to tackling challenges in four phases:
Discover — Research Phase
Understand the initial situation or challenge and gain insights into the problem.
Define — Synthesis Phase
Understand your research to define whether you are solving the right problem and phrase your vision accordingly.
Develop — Ideation Phase
Start developing potential solutions for the problems and issues you have deduced from your research synthesis.
Deliver — Implementation Phase
Design, craft, develop, or do whatever it takes to turn your ideas and potential solutions into something tangible. Build, test, and fail to learn and to do it again.
There are two types of phases: diverging or converging. During a diverging phase, the idea is to open up as much as possible without limits, whereas a converging phase focuses on condensing and narrowing the findings or ideas.
Phase 1: Discover — Research Phase
The very first stage of the Double Diamond model consists of learning more about the different variables that affect the problem and its possible solution. The objective of this stage is to identify and contextualize the actual problem or opportunity.
One of the most important phases in UX design is to understand your starting ground. We should start this process by laying down the problem, presenting the hypothesis, and defining ways by which we can learn more. Before building a product, the context for existence should be understood.
The product definition phase sets the stage for the success of a product. During this phase, UX designers brainstorm the product at the highest level with stakeholders.
App concept idea: We want to create a business-to-consumer online showroom/gallery designed to help people find and get to know unique and quality local brands and to boost local economies by helping local producers promote their products online. It empowers both buyers and sellers to take charge of the purchase process.
“The mission is to provide brand awareness for the local producers quality local products and boost local economies by connecting people with local producers. With a Think Global, Buy Local approach we want to enable consumers to discover amazing and unique products of interest produced in their community.”
As the old saying goes: If you have four hours to chop down a tree, spend the first three hours sharpening your axe. The same goes for designs. Before you get started with any project, you need to get your research straight, which means understanding the problem.
Once the product idea is defined, product research helps in grasping a deeper understanding of the problem. Good research helps you to make informed decisions regarding the future of the product and the fact that it comes early in the design process helps save a lot of resources (time and money) further down the road (as fewer adjustments need to be made).
There are multiple methodologies used for user research and a guide on that can be found in this article I wrote:
The right way of doing user research
User research helps place people at the centre of your design process and your products.
For this project, conducting user interviews was the method chosen. User interviews are a standard research method that is applied during the discovery phase of a human or user-centred design process. They help you gain a deeper understanding of people’s behaviour and their reason to do what they do. The preparation of the interview was done accordingly to another article I wrote, that can be found here:
How to conduct and analyze user interviews
Gather meaningful insights, create better experiences
The interview was focused on the following:
- Shopping habits
- Open discussion on their reasoning for buying locally produced items and their experiences with that before
- What attributes they are looking for in a product and what characteristics would convince them to spend more on them
- What impact the story behind the brand has on their decision to support that brand
As the target market for this product was Romania, the requirement when selecting participants was to be part of these demographics. For diversity and valid results, users with different profiles (age, profession, gender, etc) have been interviewed.
Phase 2: Define — Synthesis phase
The definition stage in the Double Diamond model consists of filtering through all the information you got from stage one and elaborating on it. This can mean identifying bottlenecks and seeing hidden opportunities.
The aim of the Synthesis phase is to draw insights from data collected during the Research phase, in this case, the interviews that were performed. Capturing, organizing, and making inferences from the “what” users want, think and need can help in understanding the “why” behind. The reasoning behind analyzing the data is that it leads to focusing on relevant information, reducing the chance of failure in the design outcome. The goal of this phase is to confirm that the most important assumptions being made are valid.
The analysis process follows the steps:
- Transcript of the interview (the transcript can be done manually or by software)
- Tagging — This method consists of selecting relevant parts of a transcript and giving that part of the text an appropriate tag. The tags can be predefined or created during the analysis of the text.
In this case an open approach was chosen, so I created the tags dynamically, based on the content of the interview. The biggest challenge with tagging is that it started incredibly unstructured but patterns emerged over time.
- Affinity diagram — An affinity diagram is a tool used to organize data and ideas. Affinity diagrams help in organizing information into groups of similar items to then analyse qualitative data or observations.
For this project, after the text has been tagged, the tags with the corresponding copy have been grouped to a topic that reflect the main idea.
There are multiple tools online that reduce manual work in the process. My favourite is Dovetail as it has multiple capabilities such as editable transcripts, text & video highlights, tag management, structured data, filtering and many other features that ease your work.
Based on the analysis, the Value proposition canvas and the user personas have been created.
The Value proposition
A Value Proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated and acknowledged. This deliverable presents the What and Why by mapping out the key aspects of a product: what it is, who is it for and when/where it will be used and helping the team visualize everything the product could be, before narrowing down and creating consensus about what the product will be.
Product & services: Online <showcase / showroom / gallery> of the local brands
- Increase brand awareness, acknowledgement and reach for the local brands
- Offer exposure to new or unique brands and products
- Showcase unique products
- Increase the trust in local brands and producers
- Presents the history and the story behind a brand
- A curated list of trusted & certified local producers
- Easy to access a database of local producers with a presentation of their profile
- All the information in one place, easy to access
- Offers clear indicators (addresses/links) where to find the products
- Easy to use
- Find ethically sourced and produced goods
- Promote a sense of fulfillment as they are helping the community in which they live
- Possibility to learn about new brands
- Get to know the story and the people behind the brand
- Not knowing where each product is produced, as many times it is not very clear from the label
- If they want to buy locally, they feel restricted to the brands that they already know
- There is no existing catalogue of local brands, so it requires a lot of research if you want to buy locally
- From the websites of the producer, not clear if they have a local store or where the product can be bought
- Reticent to try new things that have not been endorsed by other people
- Getting to know new brands only by word of mouth, commercials or influencers
- Find a variety of categories of products
- Buy from local producers to support their community
- Find articles that are in their budget
- Find unique products
- Buy products that are socially and environmentally conscious
A persona is a representation of a user, based on user research, that incorporates the user’s goals, needs, and interests.
Based on the interviews performed, the following two personas have been defined. The personas represent two different types of users with different goals and needs that align with the value proposition presented above. As it is visible in the personas as well, the product is tailored to a population that has the desire of exploring different brands, with a certain curiosity in trying new products, but as they have different demographics, their needs differ from one another.
Phase 3: Develop — Ideation Phase
After defining the customer challenges or problems through gathering data and insights, it is time to brainstorm and generate as many ideas as possible, as potential solutions. The main aim of the Ideation phase is to use creativity and innovation in order to develop solutions.
As Don Norman explains in Rethinking Design Thinking, ideation is crucial in getting us to question the obvious, challenge the norm, and come up with new ideas.
“It is by questioning the obvious that we make great progress. This is where breakthroughs come from. We need to question the obvious, to reformulate our beliefs, and to redefine existing solutions, approaches, and beliefs.” — Don Norman — Rethinking Design Thinking
During phase 3, the deliverable that has been created is a mind map. A mind map is a visualization of connections between different sets of ideas or information. In this case, I started with the problem statement, breaking it down to individual smaller problems for which a list of potential solutions has been presented.
Phase 4: Develop — Implement the solution
After a set of potential solutions has been presented, it is time to evaluate the final one and the way it needs to be implemented or executed. An MVP — minimum viable product — will be built, which will offer enough tangibility to find out whether it solves the initial problem or it answers the initial question.
Mood board: The first thing in the creative part was to make a mood board that would be used to communicate one of the most important tenet of design language — emotion. What will users feel when they use the product? For this project, I wanted to use elements from the Romanian folk so that the users will be reminded of their origins, of the stories that they have been listening to when they grew up, but in a style that is new, fresh, and adapted to the modern life. As can be seen in the mood board, I tried to adapt elements from the folk craftsmanship into the digital design.
Wireframes: After the team and style of the UI has been determined, it is time to start constructing the wireframes. Next, the basic flow of discovering a brand is presented. The landing page presents the main idea of this product; what it’s offering and what you will get from interacting with this website. Next, the Explore page is presented, where a list of brands that can be filtered based on categories. Ending the flow, we get to the individual page of a brand, where the user can get all the needed details about the brand.
After the wireframes have been developed, the next step is testing. As a first usability testing session, what we want is to get the product exposed to people and watch what happens. We are looking for problems that people fall into and what works well for them and why. At this stage, having anybody go through the product will offer a new perspective on what works and what does not.
In usability testing, we are trying to understand what problems people have with the design as they go through the product, trying to complete certain tasks. What happens, in this case, is that often we are starting to see the same problems repeating, again and again. This way, we start to learn that this is a problem for everyone. There might be problems we can see right at the beginning of the study, even after one or two participants. And if we realize that they are right, it makes sense to us, in that case, to not need to test any further. We can stop, solve the issue, and then start another session of usability testing. Usually, after testing with 5 or up to 8 users, we can identify the majority of the problems. If we carry on testing, we might identify other problems, but the most crucial problems have been identified previously and it will definitely be diminishing returns on the extra ones.
A good combination of techniques that can be used is a moderated, in-person usability study combined with a short feedback interview and a UEQ (User Experience Questionnaire). This is an easy method, used to collect large amounts of qualitative data about the first impressions or reactions that people have to the platform and also identify barriers that keep the users from completing the tasks.
Usability testing is a task-based activity, so tasks have to be created based on product functionality. In order to do that, we have to identify the most crucial user journeys and to make the participant “walk through them”.
Before we start with the usability test we can form some hypotheses that can be proven right or wrong during the test.
UEQ questionnaire covers a comprehensive impression of user experience. Both classical usability aspects — efficiency, perspicuity, dependability — and user experience aspects — originality, stimulation — are measured. The UEQ contains 6 scales with 26 items:
● Attractiveness: Overall impression of the product. Do users like or dislike the product?
● Perspicuity: Is it easy to get familiar with the product? Is it easy to learn how to use the product?
● Efficiency: Can users solve their tasks without unnecessary effort?
● Dependability: Does the user feel in control of the interaction?
● Stimulation: Is it exciting and motivating to use the product?
● Novelty: Is the product innovative and creative? Does the product catch the interest of users?
The results of the UEQ will tell us if the product fulfills the general expectations concerning user experience. Such expectations of users are formed by the products they frequently use.
After the usability test has been performed, it is time to analyze the results and come up with a list of improvements based on user’s feedback. This iterative process of prototype, test, and iterate enables an objective assessment of the project’s status and it enables the team to leverage lessons learned, and therefore to continually improve the process.
The Double diamond technique is one of the many Frameworks For Innovation that exist out there. I would also like to emphasize, that even if the original model is basically presented as a linear model, the design is not a linear process. The whole Agile movement and Lean Startup’s thinking made it clear that design is not a linear process. It’s iterative.
Creativity is the habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference to our life (Hyper Island, 2016).