One problem that many professionals especially in the tech industry have, is that when faced with any idea, we imeediately frame it within our knowledge. For example, someone might be explaining to me an app they are working on and I start imagining the interface of the app, the pages it might have, the buttons and the animations between the screens that might be there. A developer might be listening to the same conversation, but they would think about the back-end requirements, the libraries and frameworks that might be needed, and how much of it can be made with native elements.
Thinking on the frame of our knowledge is a trick that our brains have learnt through evolution to save processing power. There’s simply too much to process and we use tricks like pattern recognition to have a more efficient thinking process so that we can survive more. But in areas like tech, being stuck in the pattern recognition mode is not a good thing. In tech, you want to go a step beyond and find the truly innovative and disruptive ideas.
Let me show you with an example. I picked the simplest app idea I could think of: an alarm clock app.
The first thing I like to do with every project I’m working on, is to get a full understanding of all of the features and functions by creating a mind map. A mind map for an alarm clock would look something like this:
It’s very straighforward. User opens app, sets wake-up time, and goes to sleep. The app then detects when the set time has come, plays “Never Gonna Give You Up”, and presents the user with two options: turn off, and snooze. Snooze would send the app in a 5 minute loop until the user hits stop. Very straightforward.
At this point, as a designer, I might start thinking about the screen where you set the alarm. Is it a regular time-picker or should there be a fancy slider that you can use to set the time. The snooze/off buttons; how are they going to look like. And a developer might start thinking about how the time is going to be stored, or what frameworks are needed, or what native features of iOS and Android might help making this app easier.
But that is the problem. We are thinking in the frame of our own knowledge and we need to step beyond it. Instead of thinking: “What can I build with what I know?” we should be thinking: “Let’s dream what this can be, and figure out a way to make it!”
The easiest way would be to pick any step in the mind map, and ask yourself this simple question: “Can I still make this idea work, if I remove this step from the process?” Well let’s have a look. Removing the “User opens app” step might at first seem crazy. But let’s see what other options we have. Maybe we can take advantage of the notification system?
Let’s see how this has changes the user’s journey in the processflow / mind map we have created.
Well here’s the updated mind map. There is now a new path the user takes to set the alarm. It looks like we have made things more complicated but at least now the user has an option. It doesn’t feel like a major improvement. But if you really think about it, the mind map should look something like this now:
Without the notification, the user had to remember to set their alarm everynight. That is a big task to ask of our easily distracted monkey brains. We forget things all the time. But with the notification system, the user no longer needs to remember! We have removed the burden of remembering something from the user and that’s fantastic. Every time you can remove a step your users need to take to accomplish the same results, do it! Human beings are lazy, and we like it when things are done for us. Now we know that we are moving in the right direction, so let’s keep on going. We have a notification, what else can we do with it?
Maybe we can look into the user’s past behavior, and see that 90% of the time the user chose 8:00 or 8:30 as their alarm. So we can present those options as default ones right away. That’s another interaction the user no longer needs to have. Great! We’re on fire 🔥🔥🔥 let’s keep going.
Maybe we can look into the user’s calendar and see that they have a dentist appointment tomorrow morning. We can give the user two options based how long they would take to prepare.
Let’s take a look at how this compares to the what we started with. Initially the user had to check their calendar to see when the dentist appointment was. Then they’d have to check google maps for driving direction and time, and think about how long they take each morning to prepare. Then do the math and work their way back from the 8:30 appointment, 35 minutes drive, and 30 minutes preparation time. Now, all of that is already done and prepared for them. A highly contextual and personal experience. Let’s keep going.
Maybe the user always takes 30 minutes to prepare. And instead of showing different preparations times, we can show different modes of transport. Showing different modes of transport rather changes the nature of the notification though. Biking is obviously the better choice for the user. What if we take advantage of that and add some encouragement for the user?
Maybe we can show how much each option would cost. We’re not saying that the user should bike there, were just pointing out how much each option costs. Be careful to not assume and say things that might offend people. Millennial are very sensitive and they need to be protected. 🙄
Getting off track there a bit, what was I saying? Right! Encouragement. How else can we encourage the users to take the healthier option?
Maybe we can also show how many calories each of those options would use. Very neutral, yet informative and caring.
The ideas can always be taken to the next level. Especially if you have a group of people and an environment that encourages out of the box thinking and new ideas. Simply by asking that one simple question, can we have an app where the user doesn’t open the app, we have transformed our alarm from a regular boring one, to one that really cares about you.
If there is one thing I want you to remember from this article, it would be this: Question Everything! Because it’s when you question the mundane, the boring, and the usual, that you break the boundaries of what’s normal and you come up with creative, genuine, and disruptive solutions.