My career in the digital industry started in 2005, and since then, I have covered almost every step in the product process, from front-end development to project management. Design appeared later in my life, but it turned out to be my greatest passion. The products and experiences I built fully explore the balance between user needs and business strategy. If I compare how most businesses operate today, relative to how they did in the past, I would say that I pretty much work in a totally different industry. The approaches are different, the concepts and methodologies are different, and even the roles and responsibilities of designers are different.
Back in the 2000s, when the world experienced the dotcom bubble, every company moved online in order to be ready for the future. Businesses were investing a lot of money, time, and energy into design and development to build a website as soon as possible. However, a problem emerged when most companies realized that they did not have an appropriate business strategy to increase revenue through this brand new, online business model.
Around 2010, I observed another bubble — every company was running to build the next billion-dollar mobile app. Most companies experienced the same problem: they spent a lot of money building a new mobile service without first digging a little deeper into strategy, market penetration, and product usability. After well-known companies, venture capitalists, and investors burned billions of dollars to build a mobile app without user validation, most of them changed their approach. Around the same time, designers gained a seat at the table and began to play a strategic role within companies as never before.
Nowadays, there are still many companies missing the strategy phase, and are launching products and services with a lack of research. On the other hand, I do see more maturity in the industry, especially when comparing it with past years. If you follow industry news, you know that corporations have been announcing partnerships with startups around the world, and together they are exploring new avenues.
One of the most exciting things we are experimenting with in innovation strategy today is the human-centered design (HCD) approach. This methodology is focused on placing clients at the center of the business strategy. To do so, we needed to leave our comfortable chairs at our offices, go outside and talk with real users to understand how they feel, how they interact with products, and how long it takes them to get wherever they want within the products. The HCD process states that we should focus on quality research rather than quantitative research. In other words, spend more time understanding human behavior rather than numbers. Although this may sound simple to execute, it should be done by an experienced User Experience Designer (UX Designer), which itself is an entirely new profession to enter the business world and is now one of the key players in this industry. The UX Designer is responsible for conducting user interviews, gathering insights from different users, and compiling all captured information in order to present a solution for the problems based on user feedback. Last but not least, the UX Designer will prototype a solution, test, learn, and then repeat this process until the product meets user and business goals.
Testing a prototype with real users to get feedback will save time and money, and businesses will also avoid refactoring during the development stage. It will help to identify what the user really wants and will capture possible improvements. The sooner the problem is identified, the faster the team will learn and present new solutions. Basically, the idea about prototyping is “fake it until you make it,” because a designer first pulls together the most bare-bones version of a product, takes in user feedback and then makes improvements until things are just right, and then they create the full product. Prototyping is a powerful stage in the digital design process and most companies should adopt it in their early stages of production. This stage is applicable to every company, regardless of the size of the business, startups, medium-sized companies and enterprise.
Some of the enterprises I have worked with in the past, and others that I follow online, have not fully grasped this principle, and so, are still spending money building products that people do not want to use, or do not know how to use. As you may know, there is even an entire museum in Los Angeles dedicated to failed products. Given this, I believe we will see a huge impact among Fortune 100 companies in the next 10 years — some of the current leaders will no longer exist as they are not open enough to embrace HCD and to fully understand their own clients, while most innovative companies will continue to use human-centered design to drive their businesses.
Generally speaking, it is impressive how businesses have changed in the past 20 years and how new professionals are transforming company cultures with a new approach toward their clients. I am really excited to see what is coming next, and I hope it will be more focused on bringing better solutions for people, rather than just making more money. There are still many opportunities to explore and new trends that might change the game. The next trend for 2020 may be related to new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality. A PwC report estimates that Artificial Intelligence could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined. Of this, $6.6 trillion is likely to come from increased productivity and $9.1 trillion is likely to come from consumption-side effects. It will be interesting to see how this new trend shapes industries: will be another bubble?
Given all these points that I shared in this article, if you work in a company with an old school mindset, I would encourage you to explore this methodology and contribute by building more effective solutions for your clients. But of course, only after understanding them.
Aurelio Arantes started off his career covering every step in the product design process in 2005. The products and experiences he has built derive from valuable business opportunities to fully explore the balance between user needs and business strategies.
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