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Becoming a Better Butler

Why creating great products and growing as a designer is all about serving people better.

When we use products with great design, the experience feels like concierge service. It carefully walks you through unfamiliar environments and makes you feel comfortable straight away. It feels personal, delightful, effortless and only there when you need it.

In most ways, I think growing as designer is about serving people better and creating products that feel like that concierge service. Of course we can’t personally help every person who uses the things we make, but the systems we create serve this purpose and it feels like we’re there the whole time.

I’ve found these ways help me do this better.

The Batcave
Start with the person, not the problem
Alfred always seemed to have the right tool, gadget or advice for Mr Wayne before he knew he needed it. Certainly this comes from his loyal years of service with the Wayne family right from Bruce’s birth.

The UX process tries to bridge this with Personas. While there is some debate to their effectiveness the basic premise still stands. Understand your audience first, then use this as a foundation to answer every other question there is in the problem-solution. For instance, suppose your primary customers are women in their 50's with little to no technical knowledge. Your solution or “design” will be completely different to one catered to tech savvy teenage boys. Starting with the problem first ends up with one size fits all solutions which feel mass produced and are much less likely to persuade people that you’re solving their problem.

There is a mammoth effort to abstract these sort of insights with data — but the real magic is in the interpretation which comes from a deep sense of empathy with people. Empathy is hard to teach because it’s so intangible, but the ability to see through someone else’s eyes is the core of what makes a good butler and great designer.

Solve their problems, not yours
I work with startups every day at Pollenizer and see the mistake young companies make focussing on business models, not people. They become so obsessed by chasing business goals and growth hacking that they forget that a business is about solving real customer problems. When this drives the design, nothing lasting comes of it. You see dodgy tricks like dark patterns emerging and products that are memorable or loved do not follow.

At the opposite end of the spectrum you have one of the companies doing it best, Squarespace. They do a brilliant job of making the website creation process extremely easy and customer centric. Signing up for the first time feels personal and thinking about you first. Before they ask for any details, you’re given the tour so you can start doing what you want before jumping through hoops or misspelling a CAPTCHA for the sixth time.