Dropbox. Square. Instagram. Slack. Facebook. Snapchat. What’s the one thing that makes us love each of these products so much?
The answer: the product managers care more about solving problems for the end user than they do about making money from the product.
It’s an approach called human-centered design, and The Great Ones all use it to create the products we most admire.
What is human-centered design?
It’s a design process people (not just designers) go through to gain a library of ethnographic research on the people for which they’re creating and in their everyday surroundings. They then use their findings to guide the process of building a product.
A well-known example of this is Instagram. It was originally called Burbn and more of a competitor to Foursquare where people could check in to a location from their phones. When the product wasn’t taking off, the founders noticed many people were also uploading a photo with their checkin because they wanted to share that moment with their friends, and thus the idea for Instagram was born. The functionality of the product stayed the same but the priority shifted from being a location check-in app with photo upload capability to a photo-sharing app with check-in capability.
Had Instagram’s founders not trusted their research (much of which they received by talking to people face to face about the product), Burbn would’ve died and we never would’ve received our much-admired Instagram filters.
Here’s the bottom line: human-centered design isn’t an efficient process, but it is an effective process. By committing to using it, you’re committing more time and resources than you would in a lean or agile environment, but the insights you receive help you build a better product from the ground up without the need for so much iteration. It also shifts you focusing on what people want to why people need a product.
When you focus on building a product that provides meaningful value and incredible engagement, your product will have its own unique personality that people will fall in love with—it takes on humanistic qualities. In the end, they become our friends.