Skip to main content

Let's Talk UX (wait, U what?)


Like it or not, if you’re in the product business, you’re in the UX (user experience) business. And if this is something you thought only software companies care about, think again.

A recent industry article on P&G’s Agile-esque approach to product innovation had me jumping up and down with ecstatic shouts of "Amen!" the likes of which you’d expect to hear in a Memphis gospel church.  Embracing the speed-to-market tactics of software start-ups is the modern approach to high-impact consumer product development. That is, if you want speed and you’re willing to go all-in and integrate product formulation, marketing, retail execution, consumer insights and packaging.

I mean, really integrate them.

Remind me what Agile is again:
agile | ˈajəl | adjective
1 able to move quickly and easily able to think and understand quickly.
2 relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

When I studied Agile project management and UX I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between design thinking (a passion of mine) and the practices that drive an Agile process (you can read that article here). Our best launches when I worked at Merck were those that came out of a team so well-meshed the chemist and the marketer could finish each other’s sentences. Everyone was on the same page, everyone understood the preeminent goal, and nobody hoarded information or siloed themselves off in a separate work stream. The team was gung-ho and communication was flowing. But a fast launch was a desperate burden on everyone involved because the processes for a standard launch timeline were the same as an expedited one and pulled from the same set of resources. 

In contrast, an Agile team is small, nimble and laser focused. An Agile approach would have insulated the project team and given them a dynamic new set of rules to follow in terms of iterative (daily) progress expectations.

UX or Bust

The other breakthrough approach Agile offers is an in-your-face, can’t ignore or reinterpret, consumer-driven product experience expectation. The user experience comes first, and your role on the team is to bring a dynamic and innovative mindset to creating and upholding that experience. Lack the technology to create that unique texture? Find someone who can help you source the capability. Don’t have a test method for that characteristic? Develop a new one. Struggling to get in-use feedback from your target user? Break the experience aspects down into simple prototypes and screen them individually.

If you follow your established internal processes to the letter you may find the project wandering away from the core of the experience you need to deliver. If you want to do something breakthrough that delights your customer in a way nobody else is offering, chances are you don’t have all the processes in place to deliver that yet. You need to forge new pathways and craft new thinking.

Harnessing Your Super Powers

My focus just before I left Merck (Bayer at the time) was to bring even more richness to our early development phases by integrating the marketing insights team with claims testing and packaging. That might not sound like a tall order, but it truly required a new way of thinking, sharing and working together.  Consumer work can be tricky, but the sooner and more often you can do it the clearer the direction you’ll have in development and the stronger your final product will be. Structural package design requires a unique approach to testing; the package is as experiential and emotional as the product it contains (can I get another "Amen!"), so you need behavioral research. It goes well beyond getting the color and the messaging right. P&G understands this and works hard to fully leverage the power of their packaging.

The other thing P&G does is integrate their innovation functions, including packaging, from the very start. They’ve decoded how to make each of their global business units innovate like their billion-dollar brands, investing in prototyping capabilities that enable them to iterate designs quickly, gaining critical consumer feedback very early on to avoid costly project detours. Their use of Agile's tightly integrated functions approach gives them an edge in keeping product experience as the nucleus of every decision and action taken by the close-knit project team.

The other thing P&G understands, perhaps more than most companies in the consumer space, is that packaging is the vehicle to create a seamless product experience from start to finish. Their Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer, Kathy Fish, stated it beautifully. 

“It’s so much more than a container. From the time they first see the item to the moment they are shopping, to their use of it in the home, to when they tell their friends about it. [And with eCommerce] the burden on the packaging to tell the story to the consumer is more important than ever.” 

The structural package and the product it contains and the messaging that graces the front panel must all sing the same tune. And that tune needs to Rock. It. Out. Whether arriving via a brown box on the porch or sitting on a retail shelf. Whether dispensing the product or working its way to a material recovery center. 

Agility for Awesomeness

Delighting your user requires a holistic understanding of the product experience. Delivering that delight in record speed requires a hyper-integrated approach to development. And Agile is a terrific model for achieving this.


If you're interested in a fresh product design perspective or a design-focused approach to product packaging, reach out 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Shine in the Beauty Aisle

Beauty is such a fun market to play in, and a smart one to play in too. Lipstick and nail polish, though not considered true economic indicators anymore, are still some of the most stable consumer items, seeing healthy sales even through financial recessions. Beauty is a small-ticket indulgence that can be scaled up or down as consumers flow through lifestyle transitions. Why is beauty so fun? Because it’s full of emotion. It’s vibrant. Moody. Dramatic. Playful. It has personality, because it exists to inspire . Celebrities are often called on to show off the products, serving as aspirational role models for glamour. But strangely, as much fun as this segment is in terms of brand imagery and inspiring, dramatic advertising, the cosmetics retail aisle for these products feels disjointed and definitively uninspiring.  Why is that? Part of the challenge is the nature of the packaging; beauty products come in small sizes that collectively form a busy mosaic in the aisl

A New Chapter.

What does a closet creative do with 20+ years of technical experience, an addiction to innovation, and a fearless spirit? Become an entrepreneur! I learned the corporate ropes as a Packaging Engineer at  Schering-Plough Healthcare Products .  Expanding my scope as a leader and innovator at  Merck Consumer Care  and then  Bayer Consumer Health ,  I found my groove as an advocate for rich understanding of consumer behavior. Not just how consumers  feel about brands or messaging, but how they deal with everyday healthcare issues. I coached my teams on the technical aspects of designing, developing, and validating a new package structure,  and  made sure we were focused on how product delivery formats can transform mundane or unpleasant tasks. Why? Because that's how we could best help our brand teams differentiate our products on crowded shelves, and that is how we could honor the consumer experience. We were champions of user experience. I gave a presentation once, s

Fascinating Material Inventions.

Plastic is on the forefront of a passionate debate about our planet and how we use it’s resources. The UN is pushing change , and the EU is driving new thinking on single-use plastic (think forks, straws, etc) in an effort to tackle persistent ocean debris. This is sparking some excellent work around material solutions that are creative, surprising, and aspire to shift packaging more completely into the circular economy. I admit to having felt a bit numb on this topic; a bit overwhelmed and perhaps even defeated. But the more I research it, the more I appreciate the possibility for innovation to solve for these environmental challenges. There are some cool developments on the horizon that bring me hope and inspire me to more deeply consider possibilities. I hope they do the same for you. So, in this challenge there are two lanes of attention needed: 1) Get much better at recycling, and 2) Get better at using materials that degrade quickly and easily after their useful life