How We Work and What We Do in K2 Product Design?

Find out how we create digital products and services. (The illustration below depicts our K2 Product Design team: Magda, Maciek, Ola, Piotr, Iwona, Marcin.)

Some time ago, we have decided in K2 to change the name of UX department to K2 Product Design. It was not dictated by the fashion: we gave it a lot of thoughts and we were quite disheartened by the way the “user experience” term operates on the market and how it is perceived.

We were struck by the realization that we do not work the way typical UX designers work in Poland. That we are focused on different things and we are fed up with being called just UX designers. We do not want to be asked to simply “do UX”. What does it even mean?! I addressed this subject a year ago in my article titled “2015 — the year the UX has ended”, which became quite popular. One of our main duty, I daresay always, was to create the product’s strategy and to plan the design process instead of designing user interfaces only.

Product Design means more than working on some “experiences” it is creation of digital products: starting with the strategy through concept and design to implementation, and with ever-present focus on delivery of real business value and not just a positive UX. Simple as that.

The similar change was introduced by the reputable British agency called ustwo and its owner gave such a statement during an interview:

One important change is that we have ditched “visual” or “interactive” designer as terminology, and we now call everyone “product designers.” I know it’s just a label, but philosophically we don’t want anyone to absolve themselves of this wider responsibility. If you say “I’m just a visual designer” then you might allow yourself to just think in terms of visual design constraints, but the reality is that a product touches a human being and product designers are responsible for how the product will work and how humans respond to it. The product designer mentality is our effort to make designers more responsible for the result and part of the wider steps of designers getting a seat at the table with the executive group. Designers need to be able to explain to them how their designs will help with user acquisition and retention, things like that. Because a CFO is not going to want to hear about visual hierarchy.
Jules Ehrhardt, ustwo co-owner

K2 Product Design is managed by me and Magda Bicka. I am dealing mostly with business development while Magda manages the project implementation processes. We have been doing this in K2 for more than 10 years now, so we may freely place ourselves amongst the creators of UX market in Poland. What we do in K2 Product Design? We help our clients to create and improve digital products and services. We can divide it into three main areas:

  1. Innovation strategy: Design-Driven Innovation.
  2. Product Strategy & Ideation.
  3. User Experience & Visual Design.

There is the forth area development. K2 has the development team (front-end and back-end) of 50+ people, though we also often cooperate with the client’s IT or other development companies. However, I would like to focus on design services and consulting now to show you how we work and what approach do we have. In order to keep it more interesting, I will start upside down.

UX & Visual Design.

We design mostly user interfaces for websites and web applications, but also quite a lot of mobile apps. Sometimes we are asked to do more untypical projects for instance interfaces for devices (like ATMs or a machine for servicing automobile air conditioning), chatbots, or service design projects where it is more about processes than interfaces (like the concept of banking branch of the future). We work on both very large and small projects. The first can last a year or longer, while the second no more than a few weeks or less. Some clients are working with us for 5-10+ years already, so their products are partially our products, because we know them very well and often work on them iteratively. We do not use many of UX methods as we find them not of a great use. And we think that post-its are overrated. ;)

We rely closely on Lean and Agile derived approach. Maximizing of work not done: doing more with less.

It is a frequent thing, for example, that we do not prepare wireframes. It is possible if UX designer and graphic designer go along well together and work together from the start. Then simple sketches on paper are enough. Sometimes wireframes are necessary, but in most cases, we don’t like to show them to the client, let alone to accept it with the client. They are no more than auxiliaries for the project. However, there are projects where it looks different and there are hundreds of wireframes. In order to create a good digital product, we believe we need:

  • Research  — to know the business, client, the industry, the competition;
  • Feedback  — it is always worth discussing designs with other people in the team, but the opportunity to compare your ideas against ideas of other designers is always the most valuable; in K2 we strive to consult our projects with each other as it always makes them better; sometimes we were asked for such support by the designers working at the client’s, where designing was not our responsibility;
  • Big idea/differentiator/advantage  —  concept, to keep it short. You need to have an idea that emerges from the market gap, that satisfies users’ needs, allows to meet business goals, but also reflects a unique nature of a product and its user experience, good if it's also hard to copy. And NO, an Excel spreadsheet with a list of features copied from competition is not a concept for a product!(Sometimes we receive such documents as briefs from clients, who believe them to be finished concepts – all you have to do is to make some pretty pictures on the base of it.)
The Design Squiggle – probably the best existing illustration of the designing process, by Damien Newman.

The Product Strategy and Ideation.

How to create the product’s concept and this whole big idea? What the concept is? It is no more than a list of assumptions, functions, priorities, which put together make a complete vision of a product  preferably illustrated with some sketches or a prototype of the user interface, because an image is worth a thousand words.

Design Sprint is a very good method to initially devise the product’s concept. It's the 5 or 3-day process of business problem solving created by Google Ventures.

Design Sprint was created to help start-ups to build better products. K2 adapted this process to the needs of big organizations, our usual clients. It has a workshop form and has 3 stages:

  1. Analysis. Understanding of problems, goals and threats mapping.
  2. Ideation. Sketching solutions. Critical estimation of solutions and selection of one to prepare a prototype.
  3. Validation. Prototyping and testing.

The third stage is sometimes skipped as Design Sprint is not as much about designing as about effective decision making. It helps stakeholders to achieve compromise and to create a vision.

Designing Sprint according to Google

In K2 Product Design we offer Design Sprint as a separate consulting service. K2 provides space to hold the workshop, the moderator and the Product Designer who is responsible for prototyping, as well as access to over 300 experts of digital marketing, technology and design from K2 Group. If your company needs help to create the concept for your new product, service, website or application we are the one to contact. If you are interested in Design Sprint let me know.

What are the benefits for the client?

  • Vision, detailed assumptions, prototype of the solution: project brief and action plan,
  • Decision making process cut down to couple of days,
  • Fresh perspective of designers and experts from outside the organization,
  • It is not to be forgotten that Sprint helps to build trust and the sense of common goal in the project's team.

Once the Sprint is over we can prepare more refined prototype of the solution, which is not yet “production-ready” design but still more than a project that could be prepared during the short Sprint period.

Innovation Strategy: Design-Driven Innovation.

Design Sprint is a very useful tool for narrowed, clearly defined problems it answers the question: “how to do it?”. But the most vital question is “what is worth doing?”.

We often have too many ideas the problem is to pick the best direction to move. Design-Driven Innovation may help.

It is the process of creating and selecting innovative business solutions based on Roberto Verganti method the professor of Management and Innovation of Politecnico di Milano.

Roberto Verganti

I have come across Verganti a few years ago reading one of his articles, written together with Donald Norman (known as the father of UX and human-centered design). In it they wrote:

We conclude that human-centered design, with its emphasis on iterated observation, ideation, and testing is ideally suited for incremental innovation and unlikely to lead to radical innovation. Radical innovation comes from changes in either technology or meaning.
Donald Norman and Roberto Verganti

Looking for the new “meaning” underlines the real innovation. Uber achieved success not because of revolutionary technology, but because it changed the meaning of what taxi is.

Many sectors face big and open challenges, for instance the finance sector (legal changes, fintech competition); automotive industry (self-driving cars, change in customers view regarding having a car), fuel sector (electric cars etc.), media (how to earn when users block ads), insurance (how to sell products when clients do not feel the need to have it and how to keep relationship with customers), and so on and on. These problems may be addressed in many different ways. The question is: which one is right?

In one of his books, Verganti describes the case of the Polish company VOX Meble. The founder of the company, Piotr Voelkel asked his managers the following question: how we should develop our products knowing that the European society gets older?” As the result of design-driven innovation the company has created the brand new and very popular line of products.

Design-driven innovation is a long-term process (it last about 2 months or longer, thought it does not require constant commitment) it is expedient, as the real innovation requires profound study. One-hour brainstorm is not enough, not even Design Sprint is enough. There should be between 10 and 20 people participating in this process preferably from different departments of a company and of managerial positions.

Design-Driven Innovation stands in opposition to Design Thinking (which I am really sceptic about). We do not start with users’ observation nor we avoid to be critical of ideas on their early stages. On the contrary the process is about criticism.

Design-driven Innovation helps to create one or a few ideas that we can pursues further, for instance by way of Design Sprint (solution recommended by Verganti).

The approach of Roberto Verganti inspires us for a long time, and therefore we offer Design-Driven Innovation as a service. If you find it interesting and you want to know more, or maybe have this process running in your organization —  contact me. We can help.

Creating products. 18.12.2017.
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