Why Do We Design People-First Experiences?

IfThen’s Senior Vice President, Dave Rickett, recently sat down to discuss why IfThen takes a people-first approach to designing user experiences, including the benefits to clients and their customers, and how people-first thinking lets disruptors dominate their categories.

What does it mean to design user-first or people-first experiences?

It means putting the user's needs above all else. What do they want? What do they need? How do they think about it? It's providing the ultimate experience for that end user.

What are the benefits to your clients of user-first design?

If we can make the experience easy and pleasant for customers, they're going to buy more and buy more often. They're going to engage more and keep coming back. Our clients are going to build brand loyalty.

What makes the difference between a good user experience and a not-so-good experience?

It comes down to being intuitive and easy to discover. So if it's the first time I'm interacting with a gas pump at a station that I haven’t been to before, I should be able to look at it and automatically know how it works. I should not have to figure out where the buttons are or what I need to do. It's about walking into a situation and knowing what to do without having to learn.

What prevents brands from staying committed to user-first design?

Part of it is risk. People are risk-averse. They don't want to put their neck out there and try something new because they're afraid it's going to fail.

People get indoctrinated into organizations, and they learn how the organization does things. Then they let that drive their decision making. They believe they know better than anyone how their customers want to buy from them. They’re putting themselves into their own box.

Or they're so focused on numbers and conversions and retention rates that they overlook the humanity of what they're doing: that they're actually selling to people. They dismiss user-first as “just design.” It's feely and fluffy. Yet if they make more of an effort to understand the people they're selling to, they could actually improve those numbers even more. How do you convince them that there is real value beyond the feely and fluffy?

Through numbers. And it's hard because we can't do that until we’ve implemented something. So the other way is to show numbers from other people. Work we've done with other clients, or case studies about how changing user experience can impact the bottom line.

Look at Apple. Until the iPhone came along, there were all kinds of phones out there, and it was pretty segmented. Then Apple totally changed the game largely due to their user experience. Everybody wanted it, and it built so much loyalty that they reigned supreme for a really long time.

So we can tell all those stories, but then we have to prove it through testing. That's where we can really show the value.

What's the risk of not doing user-first design?

The risk is always abandonment. They're going to leave our clients and not come back.

In this world, there are so many alternatives to just about every product and experience and service out there that you really have to have a good experience just to make it in the business. If you offer a great experience -- if you really spend time optimizing it -- then you're going to do well.

That's what disruption is all about. Look at all the disruptors that have come out in the past ten years. Uber, Casper, Markforged, GoodRX, Instacart. That's their whole purpose: to make things easier for people. All of those disruptors are really focused on the end user, and that's how they're disrupting these companies that have been around for decades but have lost sight of their customers.

Think about how rapidly our world has changed, largely from disruptors. And COVID is only accelerating that.

Why do you have to be focused on the end-user to be a disruptor?

It all comes down to knowing your customers and what they want. What’s going to make their lives easier?

Customers don’t always know that, but we can do research, ask them questions. What’s hard? Where’s the bottleneck? What do you hate?

So say it’s mattresses. People hate shopping for mattresses. It’s such a chore. They hate lying on all these mattresses that other people have lain on. Maybe they don’t know a better way to do it, but, if we ask them, they can tell us what’s wrong.

Once we understand them -- how they think, their problems and stories -- then we can brainstorm and ideate solutions. We take those preliminary solutions back to the customers and ask them again. What do you think?

This is how disruptors work. It’s very iterative and very fast. They try something, run it by people, get the customer voice in there, then adjust until they get it to the point where they feel they can take it to market. How does being people-first impact a disruptor’s results?

If you look at the disruptors that have gotten to know their audiences well, they’re no longer disruptors. They’re category owners.

Take Netflix. Blockbuster never thought this little mail-order company would be able to beat them at the home movie game. But Netflix better understood what people wanted. They knew that people didn’t want to have to go to a video store, browse, maybe wait for the movie they wanted to come back in.

So Netflix told customers they could get the movies shipped directly to them. They understood how people wanted to engage with movie rentals, and they brought that to market.

Netflix now dominates the home movie category. Blockbuster ceased operations 10 years ago.

This is what successful disruptors do. They start small, but they develop a better understanding of who the customer is and how they want to engage with a product or service. That understanding propels them past the bigger competition, the legacy category owners. And in the end they kill the goliath, the market owner. Little David beats them easily.

Is there anything an established company can do to capture that disruptive approach?

Big companies do try to do the same thing as disruptors. When Netflix started dominating, Blockbuster tried a mail-order offering for a minute. But it didn’t work. People had already abandoned Blockbuster and were ingrained now with Netflix.

Some of the legacy mattress companies are trying to copy Casper’s approach to mattress sales, and it’s too soon to say if they’ll succeed at that.

The problem is that these companies are copying without understanding. They’re copying a business model without understanding the customer and without improving on the customer experience.

If you want to beat Casper, then you have to figure out what customers don’t like about the Casper experience. Then build a better experience from there.

That’s the only way to beat the disruptors at their own game. Think customer-first, and understand the customer voice.

It's an ongoing process though. We launch something that’s user-first, then we test and see how it goes. The market is always changing. People are always changing. So we need to keep adjusting. We’re always improving. We’re always trying to better understand them.

If we commit more broadly to people-first experiences, how does that change our daily lives?

It's building a world that's easier, more convenient.

Just look at the advances we’ve made in the past ten years. Think back to the days when there wasn't an Internet, when you didn't have a smartphone, how much time it took to do things.

Ideally, everything we're doing is making it easier for customers to get what they need, for people to do what they want to do, to find what they're looking for. And when we make that experience easier, that gives them more time to spend with their families, to do things they want to do.

As the world changes, you've got to be able to adapt, respond, and change your business. The only way to do that is to understand what people want.