Cultivating Product Mindfulness "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 13 May 2016 True Emotional Design, Experience, Product Design, Product Psychology, User Experience, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 832 Simon Norris talks about 'Product Mindfulness' at ProductTank London Product Management 3.328
· 4 minute read

Cultivating Product Mindfulness

Simon Norris has over 20 years’ experience in bringing his psychology background to bear in running digital businesses. After his first 6 years working at the digital cutting edge for brands and corporations, he has focussed consistently on the experience that technology and businesses provide their customers, and took to the stage in London’d February ProductTank to share his perspective.

When Simon explores about product experiences, he very explicitly prefers the term “mindfulness” over the more commonly used “empathy” – primarily because empathy is one aspect of being more mindful. And to clarify his terminology, Simon uses the idea of mindfulness to refer to the entire ecology of product design, observation, and designer and user intent.

In this whistle-stop tour, Simon showcases some of the models that he and his team find useful at Nomensa, where they focus on “humanising” technology.

What is experience?

As a starting point, it’s worth trying to explore what is meant by the term “experience”:

  • Direct personal participation or observation; actual knowledge or contact.
  • Accumulated knowledge, experience of practical matters; “a person of experience”.
  • A personal experience; something of subjective significance.

The idea of experience is – clearly – deeply tied to human memory, but our understanding of human memory is rather fragmented and, particularly beyond the field or professional psychology, incomplete. But beyond that, what does “product experience” mean? We tend to think “interaction”, but what is the context of someone’s use of a product?

Consider cross-channel interaction – using a service on multiple devices throughout the day, or with different levels of granularity on difference devices. It’s an experience that spans time. For example, Amazon have a ‘pervasive basket’ – the basket persists over time. Other retailers time-out their shopping cart, which is designed by function / infrastructure, not by experience. Rather, you should start with the experience, and then work backwards.

Hierarchy of Experience

When you’re designing experiences, there is a hierarchy to be considered:

  1. Fundamentals (Technology)
  2. Believability (Content, Style)
  3. Meaning (?)

At the top of that hierarchy you might hope to find “Great meaning”, which leads to “peak experience” (similar to “flow”, or the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy). While this is an ideal design goal, it’s worth bearing in mind that not everything can have ‘peak experience’ – forms and transactions are not candidates!

How Do we Design Meaningful Experience?

At Nomensa, when trying to shape and design experiences, they use an “Iceberg model of meaning”:

  • Surface meaning (Cognitive factors – thinking, reasoning, decision-making, logic, recovery, attention, perception)
  • Deeper meaning (Emotional factors – Surprise, anger, happiness, fear, love, acceptance, expectation, disgust, sorrow)

The question to ask is this: “What is the underlying meaning that drives the surface behaviour?”

Blended Experience

It is perilous to start drawing sharp boundaries between User Experience and Customer Experience – they are both striving to do the same thing in different ways. As an example. Chemistry and physics are branches of science that both study matter, and the difference between the two lies in their scope and approach.

Customer Experience is the sum total of all interactions between a customer and your business. User Experience is the total of all digital interactions. Once you have those definitions, you can blend the two, and recognise the overlaps.

The differences between physical and digital interactions are marked and real – the rules are different. However, humans are able to use an “anthropological space” to extend our understanding from one space to another (e.g. physical to virtual), in a process called “inversion”. Anthropological space encompasses both physical and digital spaces, meaning (as a simple example) that once you understand how a physical store works, you have a decent baseline understanding of how a virtual store works.

Business Models and Design

While it’s reasonably common for smart designers and businesses to focuse on being user-centric in their work, being user-centric isn’t enough. You need to understand your business model, and the context of how it interacts with the user. Specifically, what your product provides or means to your potential customers, how much value it provides (leading to pricing & cost decisions), and thus how you might go about testing it in the market:

  • What do you offer, and to Who (value prop)
  • How is the value prop created, and for Who (Value chain)
  • Why does the business model generate profit, and for Who (Profit mechanism)

Even companies with amazing user experiences will fail if they don’t have a deep understanding of their business model, and how that is reflected in the design. In a fundamental way, your Business Model is “equivalent” to Experience Design.

Wrapping Up

If you want to cultivate a mindful approach to product design, there are a few key things you need to appreciate:

  • We are designing cross-channel experiences
  • We need to understand the blended experience
  • We need to understand the business model – it’s a critical factor for good design
  • We need to make the business model equivalent to the designed experience, ensuring that business value links smoothly to customer value.

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