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Mapping design vision & principles while approaching transition period from digital to physical
Carlo van de Berg
Design Leader and Influencer
"Well, you mentioned IoT, that is where physical and digital collides. So two things, one of the things is product strategy, UX strategy or UX vision. For me, that is to set the direction of where to go. The things is that we probably never go there because it is an end state. (But what is imporyany is that you are then on the route towards that. You can constantly change to go towards that, which is a North Star that you want to reach."
Nowadays in IT and IoT industries, people talk about product vision a lot. To your point of view, what is product design vision? And why it is so important?
I do think it is important. Well, you mentioned IoT, and that is where physical and digital collides. So two things, one of the things is product strategy, UX strategy or vision, for me, that is sort of setting the direction of where do you want to go. So I did that in Philips of course, to create the digital experience strategy, which actually links to the physical products, Philips Hue, for instance. You sort of set the direction. So what it will be. It will never be there, it is an end state. On the route towards that, you constantly change and go towards that. Actually, you have sort of a North Star that you want to go to. The North Star shouldn’t be like the concept car for the future. But more like where do we want to start next year for instance. But if you remove that, there is a big risk of feature stacking, then you never know where you are heading to. That will deliver inconsistency and even like low quality products. That is why it is important to have a product vision.
The other element of it, is principles, or design principles. Normally you will have a brand, and from that brand, you will translate the value from the brand towards design principles. If you would do a very good job in translating that brand values into product principles, in a way that feels the same, the word “feel” is good here. So the way you push a button on the website feels the same for pushing the button for the iPad for instance. The feeling is the same. It is because we believe in this principles, and because we agreed upon that it should be always like this. Then you can make sure that it feels like a seamless experience, which is consistent and high quality. So I think those principles are very important. And one of the things that I am currently into is that sort of gap. There is a gap between what the brand promises to you and what the product actually gives to you. And I think it is very difficult I guess to have that one feeling at all places. But I just mean the translation between. If a brand value is something like “we are reliable” for instance, what does that mean for your product? That’s the translation I mean. A lot of companies forget that translation. They just say that “We are reliable”, they shout out that promise to the world. But then they never translate that back to the actual product. And they don’t really do sort of the art direction, something like “we use these principles to guide our quality”, that kind of stuff. Usually, it is a big trend to use data insights, and that kind of stuff. So of course that is important, so you constantly measure the users’ usage. There should be something next to it. And that is the principles. I think the successful product of Apple, that are coming from a vision about how to create a really good product. It is of course supported and validated by user insights. But it is also originated from great minds experimented it, tried out, and had a vision of how it should look like. And I even think the boost of Google design, coming from material design, like the things that we experience from Google nowadays, you just see all the principles backing it. That is related to a vision I guess. So if you created a vision, it should connect to a brand. You can support that by having these translation, so principles, to make sure that the product is following.
So is there any process of how to make product vision?
I think the first step is always to do sort of “Audit”. So what is the current state? Do we have a brand value, do we have a promise? What do we think of that? And from that identify focus points. Because some companies are huge, so you have to say that "okay, we are looking at the cars, not the trains". And from that, start the design thinking workshops and create sessions. Start with a blank paper from what you have first, and work backwards to create a strategy to get there. That would be my ideal process to do such things.
This digital world has been changing a lot. Now we see more and more products include both digital and physical part, which can be really challenging for us as designers. So from your opinion and experience, how to manage this change as a designer?
I think you are right, I think it is a big challenge. And I don’t think only designers themselves can face this. Because I think it is also the schools, the education. Because being a voice designer, or an AI designer, is something different from to be like a UI designer or a visual designer who create UIs. So I think it has a lot to do with making sure our profession of designers is also openning up to the new world. And what does it take to create a really good voice designer. And that information has to be shared with education. So people can even be specialized in this. Otherwise, we maybe end up with using same principles as we do in visual design on voice design for instance, which doesn’t really make sense, because they are in completely different environments. That is one thing. There are people, for instance, are very good at making motion design. You can see that a lot with Pixel movies how many people work on that. Or Marvel movies, you see the credits rolling, and then you were like: "my god, there is like tons of people working on it with all kinds of specialties/expertises". And in the end, there is a movie as a result, which I think is mind blowing. There are so many people working on it.
The other thing which relates to this challenge, I would say, is about the product vision. And it is the principles. So if you make sure that the same principles applied for, for instances, you have a product there you need to integrate voice, AI and data, interface, and App, whatever. Or maybe even physical stuff. You can make sure and direct the design teams still use the same principles over all these things. So you make sure it is seamless and consistent. I feel that if you don’t do it just like the movie, it will become a mess. So you have to direct it, and that is why each movie has a director I guess. But there are multiple directors and producers, there is like a lot of leaders who make sure that everyone is aligned on this page. So in the end, it becomes this one result when everything comes together. Yeah, it takes a lot of organizational skills to do that. But you also need this product vision, this guiding processes, when you design stuff, whether is physical or digital. You always use the same thing that comes from your brand, we at whatever companies, we do always like this because our principle is like this. If you do like that, hopefully you can make sure that these things connect to each other. And that whether people use the voice thing or the interface, they feel like they are the same thing.