I don’t know how to drive a manual car, or better still, I’ve never tried to drive a manual car, do I drive automatic? Yes, but manual I don’t, it’s not like I don’t want to learn (I really don’t want to learn), it’s just that most car manufacturers these days don’t build their cars with manual gear transmissions. What that means is that in 80–90 percent of cases, if you see a manual transmission car, it’s probably an old car model that the manufacturer has probably stopped producing, and in some cases is already giving the owner performance issues. I don’t think I want to drive that kind of car.
When the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable, and I mean this literally, If you really don’t know why you should do something, you’re likely going to misuse it, and that’s the thing about technology.
Technology makes life easier. When my parents were dating, they sent themselves letters, and the post office may deliver in a day or two, today you can send, “Letters” today, get it read today, and get feedback today, oh and did I forget to add that all that could happen in an hour, thirty minutes if you can type fast. Technology changes everything, technology makes life easier.
Technology makes life easier, but from a business point of view, the real question isn’t whether technology makes life easier, because we all agree with that (if you don’t, then you should have waited for this article to get to the newspapers rather than reading it here on the internet), the real question is who does technology make life easier for? The customer or the business?. Now I know it’s easy to say both, and I’m guessing that’s what a good majority of people reading this would say, but let’s take a step back and actually analyze that. So back to the manual and automatic car example, the shift from manual to automatic gear transmissions was made possible by technology (to which I remain forever grateful), and that technology elevated the user experience. Yes I know that some people enjoyed and still do enjoy the experience of driving a manual car, but automatic gear transmissions have made life easier, less stressful and have largely lowered the barrier to entry for drivers. That’s an example of technology that made life easier for both people, and probably automakers too.
Another example; Our Telco operators in Nigeria are lovely, they got so tired of listening to Nigerians complain about everything from bad network to running out of airtime too quickly, to other unnecessary complaints that in some cases didn’t make sense, that they introduced self-service options on their customer care lines. The idea was simple; instead of addressing our customer care representatives, you can now address our Voice enabled Chatbot operators on our customer care lines, who can help you solve your problems with minimal human contact required. That’s the problem; minimal human contact, we all want human contact, I don’t want to talk to a preprogrammed chatbot when I call customer care, I want to talk to a real person, a real person like me.
So I devised a strategy, I literally have the exact numbers I press when I call my network providers customer care lines to get me to speak to a real person on the other side of the phone. That to me, is an example of technology serving the business alone, and not the customer. There was a time one of my network providers had two customer care lines; one only interacted with a preprogrammed voice enabled chatbot, while the other allowed you to talk to a real person. The problem was, the second one, the one you’d probably go straight to if you needed to call customer care, would cost you #30 per call, they were literally charging you to get help. Whoever thought that was a good business strategy must have been deluded. Thank God they’ve stopped that now.
When you embrace technology, you must seriously consider your user experience. If a technological advancement doesn’t promote your user experience, then it’s really of no use to you. Ignore all the buzzwords and whatnot, if it doesn’t make things easier for your customers in a way that’s affordable to you, then you don’t need it, or at least not yet.
So if Transsion holdings (Parent company of Tecno, Infinix and Itel), were to decide today to make all their phones capable of performing some high level blockchain processes by introducing some high performance processors in their devices, we would say they were embracing technology, but when the introduction of that technology boosts the MRP (Manufacturers Recommended Price) for that product and 80-90% of your target market finds no value in that feature, do we still call that Innovation? Definitely not, Innovation isn’t embracing technology, it’s embracing technology that solves a human problem, and makes life easier.
Embrace technology, but not at the expense of your User Experience.
Design is actually the language of Innovation, all innovative companies embrace the power of design, whether its Nike, Apple, Airbnb, you name it, at the heart of their process is design and a designers approach to solving problems and tackling issues. Why? Because design is a people oriented process. Design doesn’t elevate the technology above the user, in fact it does the exact opposite, it elevates the user above the technology, why? Because your user experience is really your competitive advantage. That’s why someone would drive kilometers away from home just to patronize a hair salon that will probably charge him more than those around where he lives, he isn’t dull, it’s the experience at that salon that keeps him coming back. Most people that buy an iPhone usually don’t go back to using Android phones later on, why? It’s the experience. If you have ever driven a good BMW, you would pray to God you don’t have to drive another Toyota, why? The experience (not that Toyota doesn’t make some nice cars, but you get the point).
Your User Experience is really your competitive advantage. This is how Design helps you create Innovation.
At the root of design is true empathy, understanding your user, understanding their context of use, not assuming they would like a product or find it fascinating, but really going out to talk to them to find out if they would. If you’re a business leader reading this, you’re fully well aware that you cannot just “Assume” your way to the success of your business, you need data, you need to really understand how your users think, what would work for them, what they would find appalling, what would ring a bell, and what would definitely turn them off. You can’t assume any of these things, it’s like running into the jungle blindfolded, the question isn’t whether you will get eaten or not, the question is when you will get eaten.
Empathy is about asking questions, but not just asking questions, but asking the right questions. You don’t ask your user if a product is good, you find out how they FEEL about the product, and how it addresses the specific pain point they’re EMPLOYING it to solve.
The only Nigerian Fintech app I use is Barter by Flutterwave, there are so many other Fintech apps out there, but the truth is I don’t need an app to help me transfer money, pay bills or buy Airtime, my bank does that pretty well, the major reason I use Barter is because i have access to Dollar cards that i can use to pay for services from companies like Facebook, Netflix, Amazon. That’s the real selling point to me, that’s the JOB I employ the app for. If they removed that service from their app, I wouldn’t have a need for it anymore, I would probably end up FIRING the App, by removing it from my phone (you get the point).
When you begin to empathize and seek to understand your users, you are likely going to begin to observe patterns. These patterns would begin to inform your decisions and help you to see the problem for what it really is. It helps you simplify the problem and define it in more clear and straightforward terms.
The best, or one of my favorite parts of the design process is the ideation part. The true beauty of Design is that everyone has a sit on the table. In most corporate decision-making processes, Executives or Senior leadership just makes decisions based on the data available to them, and Even though this isn’t always wrong, companies that do so are actually missing out on the valuable insights and ideas that are available to them by letting employees take central stage here, employees who are in the trenches, interacting with the users, and/or building the solution itself.
The design ideation process employs a multidisciplinary approach, people from various teams, and diverse backgrounds are allowed to brainstorm solutions, and all give valuable insights based on their area of specialization to come up with a feasible solution. So we have the people from engineering who are actually going to build the solution telling you what is and isn’t possible, customer care operators telling you what they’ve observed users complain about, Marketing, Design, and even senior leadership making sure everything aligns with the company’s goals and objectives.
The ideation process draws upon the insights, and experiences of a diverse range of stakeholders to generate the most preferred solutions.
The Design process is an iterative process. After the solutions in the ideation stage are documented and properly outlined, the next thing to do is to build prototypes of your intended solutions, and test it with real users to get real time feedback on what they think of the solution. The design process doesn’t rush to scale solutions, but makes sure they align with user goals before scaling them. If they don’t, the process returns back to the step deemed to be the source of the misalignment, whether it is the empathy, problem definition, ideation, or even prototyping step.
The solution goes through the pipe again, and is tested with users to get feedback. It is however important to test solutions with users that fit your ideal customer profile, and not just random users.
At the heart of any successful business is the prioritization of their User experience. The real value of technology to the business is elevating user experience. One of the ways to elevate your user experience is to become more design driven and design oriented as a business.
And at the heart of any company that is innovative is a design culture.
Remember, Innovation isn’t embracing technology, it’s embracing technology that solves a human problem, and makes life easier.