Does your product design process meet the needs of it’s users — your team?

By definition, a process is an experience designed to behaviour. And when it’s your process, you and the people you work with are users of it.

But does your design process meet your team’s needs?

At Tictrac, like every other organisation, our team need to focus on what users need and not what they want; we need to validate our ideas and not rely on assumptions; we need to… you get the idea.

But did you know the words you use can make a big difference to how your team approach each phase of your process?

A Big Difference?

“In meetings, in Slack, in emails, and any other discussions, I’m making a conscious effort to use the word ‘tracking’ instead of ‘analytics’. A small intervention to remind myself of what these scripts mean for the user.”

–Jeremy Keith, co-founder of Clearleft

I first learned about George Lakoff, an American cognitive linguist, from Jeremy Keith, one of the founders of Clearleft. I found what Jeremy said to be very inspiring. So much so that I found myself digging deeper and deeper into George Lakoff and discovering the book and thesis that he is best known for.

As described in this book, Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff found that people are significantly influenced by the metaphors they use. The words people use to describe things could make a big difference to how they think.

The Lakoffian Influence

At Tictrac we are careful to use certain words throughout our design process to help us remember what’s important at each phase. You might have thought it didn’t really matter. But Lakoff has shown it does.

Design Thinking Phase 1: Empathise

— They’re “people”; not “users”

As Jack Dorsey put it, “the word ‘user’ abstracts the actual individual. I wouldn’t consider my a ‘user’ — she’s my .

By referring to the people we are trying to help as “people” we are forced to see them as humans, with all the emotions and irrational behaviour associated with that.

It’s also a subtle reminder that we need to constantly look outside the existing group of people we call our user-base in order to learn.

Design Thinking Phase 2: Define

— It’s “As a user, I need”; not “As a user, I want”

As product and design thinkers it’s our responsibility to understand what people need and not just what they want. When we define problems to solve it’s therefore important to emphasise the need that’s not being met, as well as the desires and expectations people have related to solving their problems.

For example, at Tictrac our research tells us that our target users want to select multiple things to change about their lives (our platform helps people behave more healthily), but can only successfully achieve 1 or 2 at a time. If we focussed on what they want instead of what they need then we would be setting them up for failure.

Consider Jack’s mom from earlier.

As Jack’s mom, I want to signal when I’m changing lanes on the freeway…

Does she? I don’t think anyone wants to do that.

As Jack’s mom, I need other drivers to know when I’m changing lanes on the freeway…

That makes more sense.

Wait. So if there are no other drivers around do I still need to signal? Good question. Think about it. It could make you a better driver.

Design Thinking Phase 3: Ideate

— Start with “How might we”; not “How can we”

The most creative ideas emerge when people feel it’s safe to take risks — safe to put themselves out there. This is the reason why Serious Play methods work so well and what led Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, to his formulation of the “How might we” statement.

“The ‘how’ part assumes there are solutions out there — it provides creative confidence. ‘Might’ says we can put ideas out there that might work or might not — either way, it’s OK. And the ‘we’ part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”

— Tim Brown, founder of IDEO

It’s the “might” that’s important here for my team. We ideate with people from all disciplines and it’s critical that everyone can contribute ideas, no matter how unconventional or impossible they might seem.

This is how you’ll get ideas that can have a meaningful impact on Jack’s mom — the time to discuss viability and feasibility will come later.

Design Thinking Phases 4 and 5: Prototype and Test

— Create “hypotheses”; not “designs”

This is arguably the most important of all. At Tictrac we don’t create designs, we create hypotheses using design.

The difference is big. Framing what we create as a hypothesis means that it must be proven or disproven and sets the expectation that it must be derived from research.

It helps us to remember that design is a craft and not an outcome. And if we’re designing for Jack’s mom then we have a responsibility to her, and Jack, that we are doing everything we can to have a meaningful impact on them.

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