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How to Persevere Under Extreme Uncertainty – the Biology & the Method

Dewy lawn and fresh air—the perfect weekend to be attending a college graduation. The backdrop of the stage reads “Greatness Meets Goodness,” a statement that elicits a feeling of confidence and achievement. But I soon realize that these graduates are diving head first into the world that is not so ideal, many in student loan debt and vying for jobs that are not guaranteed. I started imagining how the level of uncertainty for a recent grad is so similar to product and service innovation—we may suffer from lack of funds, time, and resources—but somehow we are still eager to try to triumph over the odds.

So how do we prevail with so much uncertainty? What kinds of systems are at play to make sure we are on the right path to turn our visions into reality?

Uncertain

 

Here are some things to consider before setting off on your next digital project.

1). The Science of Prospection: We Are Always Looking Ahead

First, we as a human species are hardwired to not live in the moment, but to contemplate the future. Neuroscientists and behaviorists are drawing more compelling conclusions demonstrating that we thrive by considering our prospects. A recent article published in the New York Times states, “We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected.”

This is what marketers and designers do so well—we observe the past and present to make educated predictions, but in fact, we occupy the future with most of our thinking. With this ability, we are able to collaborate and learn from one another until we have a joint vision to work towards.

2). The Refinement Loop: Build–Measure–Learn

When we think of innovation, most people imagine the polished product of the “next big thing” or something that is award-winning—but really, success lies within small refinements, and doing them over and over again. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, believes in validated learning—which is to systematically test your assumptions and eliminate any waste that users don’t want.

For example, the “Build-Measure-Learn” refinement loop is a technique that can be applied to designing and developing websites. The first step is to build the minimum viable product (MVP) to establish a baseline. This may be a prototype to test against business requirements established by stakeholders and informed by user stories. User stories describe the feature from the point of view of the target customer. Adjustments are made based on various tests and it is best to test the riskiest assumptions first. From here, the next learning milestone is defined and undergoes testing and feedback. As this process continues, you are tuning the engine and making progress towards the original product vision. However, along the way you may encounter that a feature is not resonating with the user—therefore, team leaders will be forced to make a decision—to pivot or to continue to persevere.

As you’re working in this cycle, there is also a larger framework at play. The vision is the foundation that rarely changes, while the product changes constantly through optimization. This approach keeps product owners engaged, even in moments when complex project plans may seem overwhelming. The uncertainties of a vision can be identified and better defined, and eventually visualized as sure things.

3). Experience First; Not (Always) Mobile First

Building the heart of your UX forces you to prioritize features that are the most important to the user. There are advantages to mobile-first design, but if the main goal for a product is education, designing for desktop for deep research still remains relevant. Take consumer health websites, for example. The build requires layers of regulatory content and from a budgetary perspective, many pharma companies prefer to allocate funds for a responsive design over native apps or a separate code base for mobile devices. But there’s also no denying that mobile devices are an extension of our lives—a fact that transcends age, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Thus, brands find value in staying connected with users on the go, and that’s where experience design comes in.

Patrick Newbery, Chief Strategy Officer at design firm Method, says in Wired that he believes that everything a business does should be based on the following assumptions:

• An engaged customer is worth more than a loyal customer
• Engagement comes from meeting expectations, which means being relevant, which means providing value
• It’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, so figure out how to grow value for existing customers while they still are customers

In closing, we’ve considered how innovation is not miraculous, but actually our biology and our ability to work with one another allow us to shape our future goals. When designing a product to change consumer behavior for the better, we can follow the “Build-Measure-Learn” refinement loop model as a way to maintain a sustainable product with discipline. And with the emerging field of experience design, we put customers and users first, proving value and building trust. If your business division is looking for tailored experiences, Cadient offers a variety of services—from website optimizations to conducting workshops. Please contact us through chris.mycek@cadient.com, and let the work commence!

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Kelly Lan
Kelly Lan is a UX Designer that leads structural design of content and visual principles in the digital space. She has comprehensive experience in the e-learning and nonprofit sectors with a passion of expanding her portfolio in healthcare advertising. Kelly enjoys spending her free time exploring new places to eat and planning for her next travel adventures abroad.

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