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. 

Advice for Developers – Product Doctor Diagnoses (OTA 2010)

This year at Over the Air 2010 (OTA) I set up a Drop In Product Surgery for mobile developers, which focused on how to make their products more commercially successful.  OTA is a two day grass-roots mobile developers event which is in its third year and offers an interesting schedule of keynote speakers (Sir Tim Berners-Lee headlined this year), sessions, panels, workshops and competitions for the all-night hack-a-thon.  This is a really unique event with a great atmosphere; it also presents an opportunity to try out new ideas and work on them alongside some amazingly clever people.

OTA Hacking in the Great Hall, London Imperial.

Here are some of the most common prescriptions that I wrote at the surgeries.

1. Talk to your end users, early and often

  • It is NEVER too early to talk to end users – you don’t need to wait for a prototype – start with the concept
  • You can check that your assumptions about their current behaviour are correct
  • You can try to discover pressure points that need solutions
  • If you have a great piece of functionality, get end users together to help you “productise” it – if the user session is properly facilitated you can get them to build the range of potential propositions for you
  • Even if you have already imagined or built a product, you still shouldn’t be afraid to do the above; let users to strip it back to its functionality and see what propositions they come up with
  • Users can also help you prioritise your feature list – this helps get the user angle in to your roadmap
  • There is nothing stopping you engaging with your end users now – just go and mingle – if you think people will use your product at the bus stop, then go and talk to people at bus stops!

In every user group that I have run over the years, I have always been surprised by the reactions and suggestions that come up.  It is crucial that users are involved in the process from concept through to launch and beyond, to ensure continuous improvement of the product.  Think of how many innovations fail – and the cost that gets sunk in to development.  Try to understand your end users as well as you can; get them to help you to define the key benefits and how are you going to communicate your message.  This theme re-occurs again and again throughout this post!

2. Size your market & know your competition

  • Size your market opportunity – this will help to inform your initial commercial viability and validate assumptions on your revenue forecasts
  • Think about the different end user segments for your product – who is going to use your product? (again, this is where end user input can be crucial)
  • Do your competitor analysis; write up your SWOT analysis and that of your competitors. It will help you to focus on what you are – and are not – and to find your competitive advantage.
  • Ask yourself what you have that is special. Unique can be perceived in many different ways – it may be that your user experience is unique although the functionality is not.  Perhaps you have a special route to market that will help you to reach your end users
  • If you can’t believe why your idea has not been done before, research it fully – you may learn why it has never been brought to market

3. Define your product

  • Avoid feature over-load.   Can you define your features and corresponding benefits in 3 bullet points? Find the real jewels in your offering and focus on them. You can save yourself time and money
  • Be aware of taking on the giants. For example, if your product is offering photo uploads as part of the offering, from a user perspective you may actually be competing with Flickr!
  • Getting people to change their behaviour is very difficult. Think through what you are asking people to do and whether there is already an established way of doing it
  • Think carefully about creating a new community – how can you plug in to online communities that already exist? Building and managing a community is a significant piece of work with ongoing overheads. If your product is dependant on that community remember that it can take years to build up
  • People now want to have conversations. There are growing numbers of people that want to engage with products, be that just by reading or making comments or sharing their opinions with their friends on social networks. Where this is appropriate for your product, do consider building in these features. This is a core part of the product design and it will delegate some of the marketing effort to your users

4. Recycle!

  • Think about what technology you already have built – before you shelve it, talk to users and think about the scenarios where it could be “productised”

5. Consider your routes to market

  • Are you going direct? Are you going to have the resources to build and execute a marketing plan yourselves – and set up the customer support function?
  • How will you drive people to find your App in the App store?  Research ways of  “DIY PR” (Lisa Devaney & Lauren McGregor) to get the best value!
  • Do you have some functionality that could be really useful to an existing brand? Again, this is another great example where end users can help you to identify how their existing brand experiences could be improved by what you have to offer
  • User insights can really help to strengthen a pitch. “We have run insights workshops with these different segments, and here are prototypes that have come out of that”
  • Which brands are in a highly competitive market and have some money to spend? Many brands want to be “in mobile” but they don’t quite know how to weave this channel in to their offering

Closing Comments

It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with some really talented developers.  I hope that I helped them think through some of the more commercial and user-focused elements.

I was also proto-typing the “Product Doctor is in” event format.  The name “Product Doctor” and the offer of “Product Surgeries” worked well as a short-hand descriptor and there was a clear understanding of what the appointments were for.  At 25 minutes long, the appointments were convenient and accessible for event attendees.  Although the OTA event environment is informal, these sessions felt quite formal – as it is with any doctor.  This level of formality meant that the conversations were very focused and in 25 minutes, we could diagnose and identify some treatment.  The feedback from my patients was that I had them looking through a totally different lens.  I hope they will take their medicine!

Finally, thanks to Katrina Damianou for helping to develop the concept; Flora Gordon for spreading the word; my patients for being great guinea pigs and above all, the OTA Team – Helen Keegan and Daniel Appelquist in particular for letting me experiment!

This year I am the Product Doctor at OTA

Following the success of the Travelling Teen Panels at OTA 2009, I am delighted to be returning to OTA this year as the  Product Doctor.

Let’s talk product – how can you maximise your product to reach your objectives?

Do you have tight product goals? What user need / desire are you meeting? What is your market opportunity? Do you have a product roadmap? Do you have a revenue forecast? How will you encourage repeat use of your product? How are you going to target new users? How are you engaging users to input to your product plans and design? How are you measuring user satisfaction and getting constructive feedback? And more….

The Product Doctor will ask you these and other searching questions and help you bring structure, logic and reality to your product planning.  I am holding a Drop-In Surgery during the event and offering a number of 25-minute complimentary appointments.

To book a consultation, please email me : julia@product doctor.co.uk or catch me at the event.

Friday 12:15 – 1.15 and Saturday 10:30 to 12:10 in 344c, London Imperial.

Can’t wait to get my stethoscope out!