Designing for difference

19 June 2018Cassia Thomson

Everything we do in digital requires some form of design. Whether it’s interface or back end, whenever we launch into a new project we have to stop and think about who we are designing for and what experience we want to give them. But this begs the question, what do different customers want out of their digital experiences? In a global world, how do you broadly design an experience which works across cultures, without sacrificing the quality of the experience for the customer?

To help us answer a few of these questions, we recently went to a Pi People event, hosted by Adaptive Labs which focused on product design. They showcased two very interesting case studies. Firstly, DAZN’s Scott Byrne took us through the process of launching their sports streaming service across very different markets and the challenges they faced in the process. Having launched in multiple markets, DAZN soon found that there were significant differences in the way they could best display video, with the greatest contrast being between Japan and Germany.

Cultural Extremes

Even something as simple as colour plays a part in designing for different cultures. Starting out with a darker design with light text on top, DAZN sought user feedback and found some interesting results. User surveys found that German fans thought it looked sleek and modern but Japanese fans thought it was morbid and death-like. Taking this on board, DAZN adjusted their colours for the Japanese version.

Even more dramatic, was the response to different functionality. DAZN started out believing that customers would want to see video and nothing else in a clear, uncluttered experience when entering the product. This proved true in Germany, where customers interacted well with the simple interface. However, in Japan, customers wanted more information (stats, names, news feeds etc.) all laid out around the main video. To a Western eye, this is cluttered, confusing and, actually, quite painful to look at. In fact, to us, it’s bad design.

When is “Bad Design” good design?

The message of the topic was that all cultures are different and respond to different things. In looking to make a great product, DAZN found that Japanese users were more used to complicated interfaces and that the best way to engage them was to give them an overload of information - something which we in the West may consider bad design. And this is an interesting challenge, especially in our world. How can we, within our own cultural context know that we are designing a product which translates across cultures? Ultimately, whatever we design will be based on our own biases, our own understandings. What looks cluttered to us might be interactive for users in Japan, and equally, a designer in Japan might be surprised to see how little information we want around our content. The only way to get around these cultural design differences is to take the bias out of the equation and convert everything into a measurable metric.

Let the data decide

DAZN didn’t share all their secrets around how they measure what works, but Scott did tell us that every design choice they made was data-driven, with data coming from user surveys, conversion rates, interaction data and other items. They truly believe in data-first choices, avoiding biased opinions like the plague. It seems that this is their secret to perfecting a product - separating themselves from their own ideas of what “should” work and using data to determine what “does” work.

Accessible design

Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa showed us a different application of the data-first methodology. Jessica has cerebral palsy and started to design products for herself and others with various disabilities when she found that the items provided by healthcare specialists often had a “hospital-look” to them. She wanted to design something that was useful, accessible and also reflective of the users’ personalities. This includes a zip pull designed to look like a dog tag necklace and a button aid which is also a pink hair clip.

Jessica aims to build products which will give users the functionality they need while also letting them express themselves with colour and style. Working versions of these products (or what we’d call an MVP) already existed, but with limited time scales or budgets, product design had stopped entirely once hitting that minimum viable product. Her focus is to improve upon something which functionally has met its requirements but could easily be improved. This is not dissimilar from our platform-first approach, where we build up an MVP to meet functional needs and then improve form, based on data, rather than trying to predict what users might respond to.

We often talk about minimum viable product. It’s a really valuable tool for making sure you deliver something testable which can then be evolved, improved and perfected. In this, Jessica and DAZN have exemplified agile delivery by taking their MVPs and organically drawn requirements (for improvement) from various data. At the heart of this is the philosophy of test, improve, repeat.

How do we test a product?

Scott and Jessica’s approaches were tailored to their environments and scale. Both tested their versions of the product several times over, getting feedback and building on the product based on that feedback. But DAZN used a broad overview of data from thousands of users, whereas Jessica’s approach was to design for individuals. Both hold the customer at heart, building up insights from the data they give you, whether that’s in their interactions or in their words. But both follow the same philosophy at their core - test and improve, and always move towards the “perfect” product based around the customer.

Here at Cognifide we’re constantly working with data. Turning opinions into metrics means we can test objectively and help our partners build the best possible product. By building an MVP first and then improving on it, using data which transcends opinion and culture, we can find completely new ideas about how best to deliver experiences to customers all over the world. If DAZN hadn’t relied on data, they would have delivered a poor experience to their growing Japanese market and if Jessica hadn’t talked directly to her customers, she might not have created something designed for their specific experience.

In his blog post, ”Why product and experience are no longer separable”, Kieron McCann says, “Experience IS the product”. This is absolutely right. The lesson we’ve learned over the years - and were reminded of at this Pi People event - is that the experience must be informed by data, so that experience designers can make objective and unbiased decisions. Designing for difference is all about putting the customer at the heart of the experience.

Author: Cassia Thomson
Published: 19 June 2018
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