DIY User Engagement

Me, Katrina Damianou and one of our patients: Ketan Majmudar at the Product Doctor Surgery, OTA 2011. Photo courtesy of the fabulous Paul Clarke - paulclarke.com

This year at Over the Air in Bletchley Park, Katrina and I set up a Product Doctor Drop in Surgery offering 25 minute complimentary sessions. On a scorching couple of days, we set up outside and were happy to have a continual stream of patients, including the wonderful @Documentally and @Bookmeister.

Listening carefully, as we always preach, we are considering next year calling it “Product Therapy” as the sessions seemed to have a cathartic effect!

Rather than blogging a long post, here are the contents and the full paper is available for download below.

  1. It is never too early (or too late) to engage end users
  2. What do you show users?
  3. How to find your end users
  4. Can you have the conversation with end users?
  5. How to begin the conversation
  6. Write a test script
  7. “I can’t explain what my product does”
  8. Showing a prototype
  9. Testing for usability
  10. Keep checking back with users as you develop and improve each new feature
  11. Build and test your product before developing your brand
  12. Be honest with yourself as to why you are developing the App
I hope you find this useful and as always, please do get in touch or leave comments below.

Creating learning opportunities for young people through user centred design

I was invited to speak about Designing Products & Propositions for the Youth Market by Luke Mitchell of Reach Students at “Youth Marketing Stategy 2011”.

There was an interesting mix of speakers covering the youth market from a number of different perspectives; ranging from insights, marketing and creative agencies, community management and viral marketing to universities and graduate recruiters. This was a great place to share my insights about the youth market and to encourage all these players in the youth space to create learning opportunities for young people through their projects.

Here is the presentation that I gave. It gives many examples of how I have engaged young people in the design of youth products and the value that created for the producers.

Here are some further highlights from the day:

Understanding Youth Tribes – a new way to look at youth segmentation
This visual was created by a teenage boy who was asked to describe his local neighbourhood.  This was shown by Neil Taylor & Joe Beck from Channel 4.  This insight inspired their UK Tribes research on youth segmentation, insights and motivations and is definitely worth a read.
Here are the main tribes that they went on to identify through further interviews with young people.

Educational Institutions

Brunel University showed how social media can be used in educational institutions.  They had run focus groups to get some initial insights.  Great opportunity here for one of my pleas… run co-design sessions with students and the project team.  Start by sharing the intended business objectives and benefits. Move on to exploring and identifying the user benefits with the students and then to brainstorming user stories (Scrum reference) as you go.  “As a user I would like to ….. so that …”  Then co-design the user experience of products, systems and processes together.

For me, traditional “focus groups” are often not focussed enough.

  • The participants feel like the fish being watched in the bowl so are often not natural in their behaviour.  Smash down those viewing gallery windows and get the client in the room!
  • Participants feel that the researcher is wanting a particular answer and the session will often become a “guess the right answer” game.
  • Before going to research, the researcher / client will usually have done quite a lot of work designing the proposition based on assumed user needs – so save time and get in with the user early on to test any assumptions from the start.
  • Often clients will take the output of a focus group and months later, they may return and test out their solutions.  No! Keep going back – preferably every 2 weeks, within a scrum structure, and get users to sign off what has been developed as you go. Again, this will save time, money and effort.

Helen Pennack, Head of Marketing & Communications,  University of Leicester is an award-winning marketer who has been developing a portal and integrated social media marketing plan to both attract potential students and provide support to existing students at Leicester University.  She heavily engaged end users in the design and the community management of the portal. Another one that is worth a look and another way to help young people develop their real life skills and CV build as they go.

Not going to Uni!

Spencer Mehlman of notgoingtouni.co.uk provided a particularly refreshing and pragmatic alternative view to graduating and not finding a job.  Here is the leading paragraph from their website which says it all: “…So you’re thinking about not going to uni. Congratulations! You’ve just proved that you’re not afraid to think differently. Contrary to what the masses may say, university isn’t the only path to success. From apprenticeships to debt-free learning, there are literally thousands of other opportunities out there…”

Do Students Matter in Youth Marketing?

Ben Marks and Melanie Cohen of Opinion Panel gave some good reasons to engage students:

1. It is a population that’s large enough to matter

2. They are enthusiastic early adopters who take products viral

3. Student trends have always lead the way

4. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wealthy citizens and opinion leaders

Opinion Panel run online real-time moderated focus groups. The benefits of this method are that groups can be run with users from different locations and that many insights come from the conversation between users rather than those between moderator and respondent.  Trick here is to make sure that this is an appropriate method for the key questions that you have.  A good researcher will gain a huge amount of insight by looking in to the respondents’ eyes – some questions will always need to be face to face.

James Eder from Studentbeans.com gave a very engaging talk on how they have the largest student subscriber base in the UK for research through their special discounts and offers incentives. They work with many brands to solicit student opinion.  Again, this is online.

And for a great finish…

Get Tom Scott to speak at your event – I cannot think of anyone that could help your event finish on such a big high. Google him for examples of his viral successes. Importantly, he encourages us to try lots of different approaches, not to settle on one. This way we have more chance of succeeding.

All in all this was a good conference and I hope that Luke does another one!  As with all conferences, not all the sessions were useful for everyone as it was quite diverse around the sector, but there certainly are possibilities for them all to create real life learning experiences for young people and I hope that they do.


Please start with the User Need!

Last week I went to App Circus in London, sponsored by Nuance (@AlexCraxton was there) and BlueVia (@jamesparton and @bookmeister), to hear developers pitch their Apps for the chance to win a slot to be nominated for the 2012 Mobile Premier Awards at Mobile World Congress 2012.

I have seen many Apps pitched and it always bemuses me quite how many do not start with or even include proof of the user need; be that the pain point that they are addressing and / or a way to significantly improve the user experience of something that they already do.

The winner of this round was Masabi – “The ticket machine in your pocket” where “…UK rail travellers can now check train times and book tickets from almost any mobile phone – no complex sign-up required…”  I have seen the effervescent Ben Whitaker (@Benmasabi – Founder), present this product before and he is enjoying some well deserved success as the product is now live with many rail operators in a number of different countries.  Masabi addresses a real user need, vastly improving the user experience of buying train tickets, who no longer need to stand in line, and in turn providing brownie points to the rail operators that have signed up.  Listen to Ben and how he starts with the user need, and how lively this crowd was (after a few beers as the marvellous @Jorabin pointed out to me!)

Conclusion is to make sure that you are addressing a real user need as you develop your clever Apps.  If you are going to pitch your App, start with your user insights. If you don’t have user insights, go get them!  You can read more in an earlier post on this blog: Advice for Developers from my Product Doctor Drop In Surgery, OTA 2010.

Product Doctor has a number of innovative formats to help bring user insights to your business, product, conference or event.  Please feel free to contact me for more information. 

Social Innovation insights at Central St Martins

I was invited by Dr Jamie Brassett, Innovation Management MA Course Director at Central St Martins to join a panel all about Social Innovation.  I was joined on the panel by Professor Lorraine Gamman and Kate Oakley PhD.  At this point, I also want to add my LLB letters to my name!  It was the inaugural “Insights Exchange” on issues of Social Innovation/Enterprise & Public sector and the new concept was to mix up the academic with the non academic practitioners.  It was attended by 1st and 2nd year Innovation Management MA students and some other interesting and interested people!

The insights I talked about and suggestions I made are based on my experience directing the Space Makers Brixton Market project Nov ’09 – Nov ’10.

1. Stakeholders – When working on a community project, like Brixton Village, the stakeholder has a broader definition that just those you would expect. They also become apparent as you progress through the project.  I was pleased when I opened this question out to the Innovation Management students that they included shoppers, present and future, to be stakeholders too.  Many of us have a public place we feel to be “our” place – it may for example be somewhere that has family meaning for us.  So true of Brixton Market. You will also find local self-organised groups that are also working on community-focussed projects that become apparent as time progresses.  Realise also that your continual communication with your (loosely termed) stakeholders actually needs to work for those that are digital and those that are not.

Physical paper Poster

2. Identify the Benefits and Beneficiaries – Again, this will evolve as you go through the project.  List out all the benefits that different groups could get from the project.  This is important in helping to communicate to people why they might want to be involved; to turn around those that may be resisting change and will set a clear vision for all those that get involved with the overall project.

3. Open Source – Embrace the diversity that throwing the gates open can bring.  I do not remember turning away any pop up activities other than for health and safety reasons or those that were in direct competition with projects in units, such as food stalls. Another example is the open meetings that we held every Tuesday night in the local pub (Dougald’s brain-child response to the sheer amount of people that were contacting us to be involved), so that anyone who wanted to get involved with activities in the market could come along. There were many collaborations formed and events curated through this.  It also brings in additional resource; people were happy to dip and out and the overall project benefited hugely from extra pairs of hands to make the space really unusual and inclusive.

4. Basic Structures – Hand in hand with the open source idea are basic structures that allow for creativity and innovation to flourish.  Yes, you need some basic rules but we were careful to keep these minimal – give people enough so that they are comfortable to experiment in the space. No idea is a bad idea and we do not know failure!  This way, the project could again, evolve, learn what worked and what could be improved upon.  An example of a basic structure was this Performance Zone that was put in place on the forecourt to encourage passing performers.

Basic Structures - Encouraging open and safe participation

5. Documentation – All community projects have loads they can teach to help other projects.  I encourage people to be open about what works, what doesn’t work and to make that publicly available throughout the live project, rather than waiting to the end. With a constant and fast moving project, you probably will already be working on improvements when you receive the feedback and it is good to show your awareness.  Take lots of photographs – great for photography student projects, and we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Andy Broomfield helping us out.  Document your processes, again, so they can be re-used by others.

6. Develop a thick skin! There will always be people that do not like change.  Some of those will work with you once you have understood their angle and they understand how in fact the project can also work to help their cause. Others never will.

For those that know the Digital Youth Project mission, you will know my view that that these projects create fantastic learning experiences for young people and I always encourage getting young people involved – the benefits they bring to a project can be huge.  You can read more about youth involvement in the Brixton Market project here.

The discussion that followed was most interesting – I picked up all sorts of new terminology and there were some heated discussions. Here was the buzz that I got; understanding the different types of social innovation; wicked social problems; how social innovation is now a label that many existing institutions are adoptin; the impact of political context on social innovation projects; how to ensure ongoing sustainability; how to measure success; accountability; how social values are exchanged, fraternalism and SO MUCH MORE!  I want to do that course!

Here is sound-bite from Jamie and one of the students:

Credits:

Katrina Damianou – who was instrumental in the Brixton project as part of her work placement from Central last year.

Andy Broomfield for fabulous photos

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like some Product Doctor advice for social innovation, community building and youth real life learning experience projects.

Co-Creation: Involve Youth in The Process

I was asked by Graham Brown of Mobile Youth to give an Expert Interview around the subject of youth sourcing. I hope you enjoy it!

“…We’re talking to Julia about how to engage youth within the product development process. Can big mobile brands increase the relevance and hit rates of their products by incorporating the target market into the idea generation and message shaping? Julia thinks so. We find out more about how co-creating innovation with youth is not only possible but vital to product relevance.

Watch the video to answer these questions:

* How can large organizations conduct better youth insights?
* How should you build youth panels for companies or conferences?
* What are the business benefits of involving youth in product development?…”

Digital Youth Insights & Learning Experiences Webinar

This is a webinar, that I did for the DCK TN and Mobile Monday London, 27th Jan 2011, and should be of interest to people that want a closer understanding of the youth market.  Through my experience in mobile and online community products since 1993, despite much time, effort and cost, I have seen many products fail to succeed or fail to reach their full potential. One of the key reasons is that end users are not engaged in their development. I set up the Digital Youth Project in 2005 to address this gap focussing on the youth market and to show how engaging young people in your projects can provide great real life learning experiences for them too. I illustrate the points using case studies from virtual world to mobile to community projects with a social media twist.

Thanks to those that logged in live, for my 4.5/5 rating and for the great feedback! It was a fun new experience talking to the aether!

Please click on this link to view and listen – you will need to register but it is free:  Webinar DCKTN / Mobile Monday London.

Here is the presentation, without me talking over it, and some of the key points listed below.

Key Youth Insights– see presentation for the case studies that support each point

1. Young people are practical & they want useful products too

  • Some adults incorrectly equate youth products only with fun; my case studies show that young people need and appreciate helpful products too, such as mobile mapping services.
  • In addition, young people can quickly tell you where your product is not practical – for example, they are worried about the security aspects of wandering around holding their phone and whether your service can be fully appreciated on a small screen.
  • They also want product naming to effectively describe the product – so say what it does on the tin.

2. Hygiene factors – what is now expected by young people as standard, basic features

  • Young people want choice, so for example if you are developing a music-based App, make sure that you have as many genres in there as you can.
  • They want to be able to use services on their mobile, pc and other devices such as i-Pod so multi-platform and channel access is important.
  • They are so familiar with certain user interfaces, for example, the Apple Store, so where you can, work with their understanding rather than feeling you need to create something different.
  • Time over I see that young people will dive straight in to using the product. They want to work it out for themselves – that is part of the fun, however, that is no excuse for creating something that is not intuitive.  If you are going to add help, first time tutorials can be effective, as long as they are interactive; making help information concise is essential and males have a tendency to look to YouTube for short videos.
  • Social functions are now expected. Facebook is the benchmark for being able to share, comment and converse.
  • Voice, text and camera are now the basic expectations of a phone.

3. Young people want to help with feature definition & market positioning

  • Before creating your visual presence, talk to young people and ask them how they would use the product; again, you will see case studies of where using the wrong visual will throw the user off track.
  • I have worked with many products where the functionality is fantastic, but the wrong user facing product has been developed – young people are very good at un-packing the functionality and putting it back together again in a more attractive proposition.
  • Competitor analysis, as we know, is crucial before you can work out your feature set and positioning; young people will tell you who they think your competitors are, which is far more valuable than who you think they are!

4. Young people need to be addressed with the right language for their age group

  • When considering the youth market, I suggest 2 year increments; 11-13, 13 – 15 and so on. I have found that your actual users will be those that are in the age increment below the one that you are targeting – young people are often trying to appear to be older than they are.
  • It is also important to realise that there is a lot of cross-generational traffic on sites that are populated by young people – particularly in the virtual world, social networking and gaming scenarios.  Aunties, uncles, godparents, grandparents, older siblings – particularly when they are remote – will engage with their younger contacts in their own environment.

5. Young people are savvy, so be honest, satisfy their curiosity and gain their trust

  • When presented with a new product, often a young person’s response is to think “where is the catch”, so if you have chargeable elements; sponsored content; integrated advertising and so on, just be upfront about it. This way you will show your respect for their intelligence and gain their trust.

6. While they are financially aware, this does not mean that they won’t spend money on digital experiences

  • There are already plenty of online and mobile experiences that young people enjoy for free – so there is no point presenting them with a similar experience that is chargeable.
  • However, young people are spending money on digital – as I found when looking at digital music products “who do you think got Tinchy Stryder to the top of the download charts?” Note also that digital goods revenue lines are still in growth.

7. Young people are social media natives, they can help you create content and awareness for your product, business and business event

  • You can offer great learning experiences for young people to help you understand how best to use social media to generate awareness and social media coverage of your business, project and events.
  • Media students are on the look-out for real life projects where they can provide media coverage for you whilst adding to their portfolio – think photographs, film, interviews and general journalistic comment.
  • If you are looking for creative content perhaps to add some spark to an event, think about offering an opportunity to young people’s arts and performance groups.

Adult Misperceptions

Throughout my work in this area I have come across some resistance from adults to engaging young people, so here are my challenges back:

  1. Young people are scary and they will automatically take a negative stance: Incorrect! Young people are encouraging about innovation and willing to take risks. You will find working with them energising.
  2. They just grunt – think Kevin the Teenager: Incorrect! Explain, listen, coach and ask open questions in the right environment – you will get very constructive feedback.
  3. You have just chosen the clever kids to work with: Incorrect! Great feedback does not just come from clever kids – often the most disruptive and under-achieving have the most creative and honest input.
  4. “What young people want is…”: Incorrect! Avoid generalising about the youth market – some just call and text; they don’t all have blackberries, they don’t all want an iPhone, and the list goes on.

In conclusion, by engaging users in the design of products and marketing, you will become more efficient. You will know when you have a dead horse to stop flogging; you can avoid endless internal assumption-based debates on features and user interface; you can generate new challenging ideas; you can get a good idea of how best to target the youth market and overall maximise your development and marketing spend.

Please do get in touch if you would like these insights presented at your business or event.

Teens from Digital Youth Insights session at Dec 09 Conference

Here is “The Really Mobile Project” interview with 4 of the 6 teen panelists from the youth insights session that I put together for Heroes of the Mobile Screen Conference.

I am delighted that the session was so well received and that it met my objectives of providing an insightful and entertaining experience for the industry group and a relevant and engaging learning experience for the young people. I will publish my key insights over the next few days.

Education Project with Teen Research Opportunity – Spring Term

I am putting on a Spring Term Learning Festival day at a school in Newbury. The school is a secondary co-ed, state school with mixed background and ability students. They are progressive, having previously worked with Becta and Futurelab on digital learning research projects and each year they provide enterprise programs for students with neighbours Vodafone. They have also trialled various digital programs for education providers.

This is a great opportunity for businesses to have some young people design solutions to challenges that you may have in the youth sector. Do any of these examples resonate with you?

1. You want to develop a social media marketing plan targeting the youth market.
2. You want to find out what young people are prepared to pay for.
3. You want to define a new offering in the youth space.
4. You need to address youth safety in the digital space.
5. You have a long list of product requirements and want user input to help you prioritise them.

If you can answer yes to any of the above, or have a different challenge around the youth market please do contact me – either by leaving a comment on this post or by using the Contact Form provided on this blog.