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WillowNotes on Mobile in the Mountains 2019: Innovation with a Purpose

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This year’s Mobile in the Mountains (MiM) executive retreat in Charlottesville brought the WillowTree team together with clients and thought leaders from all over the country for two days of big-picture thinking, emerging technology insights, and of course, craft beer.

The common thread throughout the retreat was outcome-based innovation. How can we use data to do things better? Get to market faster? Make users love us even more? These are issues that every ambitious organization needs to grapple with every day. Since the goalposts of innovation are always moving, every once in a while it’s important to stop and take a look at where we’ve been and what’s happening now so we can recalibrate our vision for the future. The presentations at MiM 2019 combined cutting edge research with real-world application in a potent way, opening peoples’ eyes to new possibilities:

Takeaway 1: Design Thinking is a Whole-Organization Investment in Innovation

Design isn’t just for designers and developers. It’s a business critical issue for everyone in the organization: McKinsey reports that over a five year period, firms in the top quartile of their design index had 32% higher revenue growth and a 56% increase in total returns to shareholders.

Everyone can appreciate the iconic design of a Swiss Army Knife, Google’s homepage or the Disney visitor experience; while many organizations settle for copying great design, the market disproportionately rewards the ones that originate great design. So how do organizations become originators? It starts with a holistic, user-centered view of the cognitive, strategic and practical processes that go into developing a new product – which means that everyone in the organization needs to be involved.

What it means: No matter how your good competitor’s solution, there’s an opportunity to leapfrog right over it – if you ask the right questions. Above all, Design Thinking is based on a deep understanding of user context and needs: it’s not about asking users what they want – it’s about knowing what they don’t like, and having an iterative, quantifiable process for coming up with a better alternative.

What to do now: Take a hard look at the cultural norms that are holding back your organization or team – even if those are the same traits that helped you succeed in the first place – then do what needs to be done. Take steps to minimize the fear of failure that keeps developers from swinging for the fences. Break down silos that keep stakeholders from linking end-to-end processes in a way that’s meaningful to users. And start putting a methodology in place for evaluating design thinking, along with a tool kit of processes and templates to help development teams stay focused on the outcome.

Takeaway 2: Find Your Voice – and New Opportunity – in Conversational UI

Alexa, Siri and Google are taking over: The number of households with a smart speaker will grow at a CAGR of 34% between 2017 and 2022, at which time half of all US households will have an AI-driven voice-activated interface. Already, Alexa can perform more than 70,000 skills. What’s driving consumer adoption? People love the intuitive interaction, like telling your microwave to start cooking. Voice can also convey more meaning and context than text alone. It’s faster than filling out a form. It’s hands-free. It’s also eyes-free. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t certain things missing from the current voice experience: It’s not truly conversational. Users worry about privacy. They complain about not being understood. And compared to conventional entry methods, users are more likely to give up after one or two unsuccessful attempts of trying to get Alexa or Siri to do something.

What it means: While there’s still much to learn about the human and technology considerations that go into a great voice experience, it’s not a question of whether you should invest in voice, but how to do so. Voice is clearly becoming mainstream, but it’s not right for every interaction. Developers need to be acutely aware of the limits of today’s voice technologies and constraints to design around – and companies need to augment their experience design strategy to brainstorm, develop, and pilot successful voice experiences.

What to do now: Start by defining a customer need that voice can help solve, then conduct empathetic user research to understand how to achieve the outcomes you want:

  1. Observe users in context by following them around for the day to determine how voice would function best
  2. Mine existing voice touchpoints for insight, such as customer service call centers
  3. Ask users what they think

You also have to decide whether to invest in existing platforms or build a new one. The answer depends on a number of factors:

  • Brand loyalty – do people currently come to you?
  • Capability of your in-house teams or agency partners to tackle voice
  • Urgency – it’s usually faster to use existing partner ecosystems
  • SEO – if you build your own, how will it be integrated into existing platforms?
  • Confidentiality issues – for example, partnering is a problem for health agencies due to HIPAA concerns

Takeaway 3: Design is Less About Pixels and More About Impact

Business priorities shift. New user requirements pop up unexpectedly. If you want the designs you’re investing in to have the impact you anticipate, you can’t isolate designers from the rest of the organization. It’s not enough to define business goals – they break down at the team level when members can’t distinguish between business goals and day-to-day demands.

What it means: There is a process for creating impactful design that’s insight-driven, customer-led, unsiloed and fast. The build-measure-learn cycle, a core component of lean startup methodology is still incredibly important in the context of design. Continuous delivery reduces the cost, time and risk of delivering the incremental changes that lead to greater success. Companies and teams need to internalize recognized techniques for enabling great design – while developing new ones as well.

What to do now: Take steps to deliberately optimize the way you work. The WillowTree Field Guide distills the lessons learned from building more than 500 digital experiences, with templated learnings from user research, behavioral research, and experiments that help to define more productive work processes that lead to better outcomes.

Tree Talks: The Top 10 Tidbits

MiM 2019 also featured an entertaining assortment of “Tree Talks”: 15-minute TED-style talks that focused on specific ideas that lead to great outcomes. Here’s a selection of our favorite Tree Talk insights:

  1. Only 5% of people who download your app will use it after 90 days if they don’t receive messages. – from When Push Comes to Shove: Why You’re Probably Underinvesting in Your Push Strategy

  2. The Two Pizza Rule: if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too big. – from Is Your Product Outgrowing Your Organization?

  3. 45% of people have paid more for good design in the past year. – from You’ll Believe It When You See It: The Impact of Visuals on Users

  4. Surface Delight is visceral; Deep Delight is achieved when users needs are met. – from Measuring the Mood: How to Quantify “Delight” in User Testing

  5. In 2018, 2,250 lawsuits filed against companies with inaccessible websites. – from Inclusive Design: The Bottom Line

  6. Deployment process is basically pain management. The more you do it, the better you get – and the less pain you experience. – from Organizational Change Begins with Delivery

  7. 25% of app users are going to delete your account after one use. – from Analytics = $

  8. Lower visual complexity = higher perception of beauty – from You’ll Believe It When You See It: The Impact of Visuals on Users

  9. 65% of information workers are not satisfied with their employer’s app. – from Employees Are People, Too: The Enterprise Mobile Experience

  10. Software has no inherent value. Like produce, it incurs debt while idle. – from Organizational Change Begins with Delivery

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