The tone of effective product design


I’ve been passing on some of my limited musical knowledge, through two ‘introduction to piano’ sessions, arranged through the always more-and-more fantastic-er Impossible community.

Of course you’ll remember I wrote about the fledgling app a few years ago.

My own introduction to piano came when I was around six or seven, when I would walk a few streets to my teacher Mrs Owen’s house for lessons in simplified versions of Schubert and Grieg pieces. My memory is of hating every lesson. Mrs Owen was very patient.

Music only really came alive for me when I could play alongside other people, and it’s defined most of my life in some way since. That’s a whole other post.

Piano student working through her piece at the piano

I realised that preparing a lesson about a subject that is so deeply engrained is quite a challenge. I’m not technically great at piano, but it’s been fascinating breaking down the little chunks that I do have into nuggets to help someone who is completely new to the keyboard. I wondered if the process I’ve been through could help inform or reinforce an approach to useful product design.

Interfaces shouldn’t be complicated, but we’re putting ever more complex tasks into a digital space. In the past, important transactions will have been associated with a letter, a phone call, or over a counter. Online, people’s attention is split between listicles and likes, tweets and twerking. Times this by a gazillion if someone’s on a mobile device in a living room setting. Meanwhile, increasingly important admin tasks are being migrated online. We need to go back to basics on these projects so that no one gets left behind:

Understand user needs.

This one is obvious to most people, but even then it’s easy to forget. And I think the crucial point is understanding why there’s a need in the first place. My second session got off to a bad start because I’d made assumptions about my ‘student’ which she turned out to be way ahead of.

Learn everything, and understand what’s important.

The nuances of a product, the way it corresponds to other parts of the ecosystem, are the make-or-break moments. If a product seems to mis-understand your needs as a user for some reason, you’re less likely to trust the other information it gives you.

Then forget it all…

…because the average user will have little knowledge of how your offer is facilitated, or how they can get involved. Piecing this story together in a way that flows naturally and memorably is an art. As designers, we need to get into our users’ heads and understand what questions they’ll be asking, and when, so that we can provide the answers in the right order.

Sketch pad with an introduction to time signatures in musical notation

I’m actually quite excited to try a few more sessions, if anyone will have me. My better Impossible experiences have been the ones with face-to-face interaction with someone, where there’s an element of time given away. In a sense, you get to see the results of your work straight away, and gain some personal reward in that as well.

If you haven’t joined yet, I’d recommend the new version of the app, Impossible people. Get in there and start offering yourself up, but also see what people have been asking for. You may be surprised what you can contribute!

PS: A massive thank you to Lily for donating some clothes for our new nephew at the same time!

Posted in Human-Computer-Trust, Ideas, life update
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