February 9th, 2010
Design as Conversation
This post was originally shared on Adobe XD’s INSPIRE, who were kind enough to ask me to blog for them this week. You can find many a great post from those in the user experience and design fields there. Please check it out.
On top of looking for ways to grab attention, brands should be thinking about how they can engage their audiences in conversation. Discussing the needs and values of your audience with your audience can help you find better ways to solve for their problems. Carrying on a conversation also shows that you care about what your audience wants. And if you as a brand can demonstrate that you care, well, maybe theyll care about you too. Brands that dont engage in a discussion end up doing a lot of talking before earning the permission needed to speak in any meaningful way.
The problem for most brands is that theyre not equipped with a process that allows for conversation. Brands typically take a plan and launch (and then leave) approach when attempting to engage their audience. This approach is great for gaining attention. But gaining attention doesnt equate to being liked or cared about by consumers. The plan and leave approach lacks the inherent back-and-forth thats part of any good conversation. All the talking points are created up front, and theres no time, or any one present, for response and adaptation based on audience feedback. This process takes the shape of a speech rather than that of a discussion.
To join in a conversation with their audience, brands need to adjust their thinking by incorporating concepts from the practice of iterative development. This shift is something I think well see more of in 2010.
When you deconstruct iterative development and a conversation, they start to look a lot alike.
Both are iterative; with each, you need to repeat the pattern through a number of cycles before you get something of value. Both are also responsive to feedback. Sticking to a pre-written script doesnt make for good conversation. Limiting yourself to an initial, static set of ideas usually doesnt work well either.
Designing with conversation in mind involves solving problems with people and making things that are useful based on what youve heard. Rather than attempting to anticipate and define all features up front, do less and share it earlier with your audience. Designing with less functionality and more flexibility in early releases leaves room for creativity amongst the community of users, allowing for conventions to surface and gain momentum.
Twitter is a great example of this. Their service, as it started, was dead simple. One blob of input and one constraint of 140 characters max (its a lot less intimidating to write when you know you cant exceed 140 characters). Then something interesting happened.
Within the flexibility of the text area, users started create their own conventions to accomplish things they wanted to within the service. The @, #, RT features each emerged this way. Twitter built the ability for users to provide feedback right into their product. Tim OReilly writes more here.
Aside from accommodating for conversation within the product itself, a conversational approach to design also requires significant thought with regards to the experience around the product. Because a discussion requires audience interaction and feedback, finding ways to make participation easy and meaningful for users is critical. The peripheral experience(s) used to facilitate the conversation about the thing you want to discuss become almost as important as the product experience itself. Finding ways to make users feel part of the creation process, provide recognition and rewards to contributors and develop an appropriate level of transparency regarding whats being delivered are all elements for consideration when thinking about this part of the experience.
It will be interesting to see how brands adapt from just speaking to include listening and responding as part of their efforts over the coming years. I think doing so will lead to stronger brands and result in many innovative, useful products.