Tailoring Your Design Concept to the Right Audience
Few occasions during the ideation phase will ever be as anticipated and well-attended as the unveiling of a new design concept. It’s like your own Apple Keynote – there you are sporting New Balance shoes and a black turtleneck.
When done right, concept designs are a glimpse into the future of your product. They’re not just pretty pictures, and I promise you, a high-five from the CEO is worth a thousand times more than a fist-bump from another designer. Know your audience and the purpose of your design.
A great concept is multifaceted — it checks boxes for multiple stakeholders and inspires them in different ways.
There’s much to gain from a well-composed design, so think strategically instead of only visually. Design for the user, business, marketing, and development.
Designing for the User
It would be irresponsible to start with anyone other than the user since they’re the ones who have to put up with our font choice and color selections.
Serving the user is all about solving their pains in creative and efficient ways, so a design concept should tell a relatable story.
Take advantage of personas defined during user research to help you determine the most appropriate screen(s) to mock up for your concept. If the most active user in the product is doing tactical work, then show one of their common workflows or a screen where they’ll be accomplishing those tasks.
Since it’s rare for the end user to actually be in the room when you present concepts, stakeholders will need evidence that your proposed solutions are sound. Utilizing research will help you sell your vision; be sure to connect insights back to what you heard from customers. Serve the user and prove to the stakeholder(s) how and why you are doing so.
What to do:
- Focus on common workflows
- Tell a relatable story
- Use research to sell your vision
Designing for the Business
Quite simply, businesses want to make money. They also have deeper missions to improve an industry, but in the end, revenue matters. While you may not feel professionally equipped to make pricing and packaging recommendations to the stakeholder, your design can hint at how pricing may manifest itself inside of the product or feature.
Your design can hint at how pricing may manifest itself inside of the product or feature.
An “Upgrade” button in the navigation or a “Pro” badge next to a feature can make a profound statement about product revenue opportunities. Cover obvious revenue models (like seat licenses), then creatively show one or two additional revenue stream ideas. The worst-case scenario is they’re left on the cutting room floor. But the upside is these ideas are added to the product roadmap.
Unless the company is well-resourced enough to build a fully proprietary product, integrations and partnerships are practical and sensible ways to scale the business. Since you’re designing the concept(s), you have the luxury of viewing the product from the inside out, so you’re well-positioned to see these kinds of opportunities where leadership cannot. Hints in the design of supportive integrations or business partnerships are subtle ways to make strategic impacts on the product roadmap, and they may end up saving the company months of time or money.
What to do:
- Show obvious revenue models
- Suggest additional revenue streams
- Hint at partnerships or integrations
Designing for Marketing
There’s a much stronger tie between marketing and the product than just a few screenshots of the app on the website. With SaaS products shifting from B2B to B2U, this is more true every day. Marketing is the voice of the business, so the product should speak the same way.
Concept designs are an early opportunity to influence the outward tone of the business.
When someone in marketing sees design concepts, s/he ought to leave with a strong idea for how to talk about and sell the product—how a blog article might sound, what types of images are shared on Twitter, or how the user is addressed in a marketing email.
In-app help text, error messages, and upsell banners can inject personality into the product via text, but don’t forget iconography and imagery. A cactus illustration in an error modal might be more appropriate for your consumer-facing product than a red stop sign. Marketing folks eat this kind of stuff up, so give them a spark. They’ll take it from there.
What to do:
- Use a consistent product voice
- Use a consistent imagery and illustration style
- Show a few in-app marketing ideas for upsell or conversion
Designing for Development
Concept designs are great and all, but they’ll eventually need to get built. Developers view concept designs through very different glasses than everyone else because they’re responsible for bringing them to life.
As a designer, you should always push the envelope, but recognize that someone, someday, will have to figure out a way to code that fancy glowing line chart.
If your design has anything unconventional or interactive (charts, maps, drag-and-drop editors, drawing canvases, etc.), spend a couple minutes during the presentation explaining how it will work. Developers will appreciate your consideration, and it will quell any negative knee-jerk reactions.
For bonus points, do some research into frameworks, APIs, or integrations that will help developers execute your design. They’ll feel more equipped to successfully implement your design if they know something similar has been done before.
Developers aren’t scared of new design concepts. Quite the contrary, in fact. Most love a good challenge and will be energized by something new. Design clean, consistent, and thoughtful concepts, and developers will help you carry out your vision.
What to do:
- Limit the use of unconventional layouts (users will appreciate this as well)
- Design with a framework in mind
- Spend time explaining the concept directly to the developer(s)
Product and feature concepts are the most fun designers will ever have because they get to think freely, innovate liberally, and influence the business. But before a product idea is sold to a customer, the vision must be sold internally. By thoughtfully designing with multiple internal stakeholders in mind, you’ll strengthen the likelihood of materializing your vision.
If you and your team can’t quickly, easily, and compellingly explain what your product does and how it can help solve your customer’s problems, then you have an identity problem.
Sometimes it is easy to notice, other times not so much. It may be that your sales team isn’t explaining your product in a consistent way, or maybe your customers aren’t responding positively to your brand. Maybe you can feel it affecting your sales conversion, or maybe it flies under the radar.
But however your identity problem manifests itself, one thing is for sure: If your team isn’t aligned to the same story, it’ll lead to confusion and miscommunication both internally and externally. It’s as if you’re a part of a band: No matter how talented of musicians you are, if you are all playing from different sheet music, the song won’t turn out well. Simple as that. Having a great product means nothing if your audience doesn’t understand how it adds value to their lives.
This is the problem that Jill Casey set out to tackle when she joined Renaissance Electronic Services in 2015. She recognized the company’s broken brand identity, and set out to create new positioning, messaging, and brand identity that resonated with the buyer, and a new product marketing team that could activate it.
The path to aligning on the right brand and the right messaging can be a long and difficult one, but it can also be a major differentiator for your business. Jill Casey talked through the brand and positioning refresh process on the Better Product Podcast, but here are a few high-level lessons she mentioned:
If you have an identity problem, you can’t be the only one who sees it.
Redefining who you are and what you do is not an easy road, and even if you manage to forge ahead it’ll be useless if you don’t get other people in the organization on board. Getting internal buy-in from the team means that you need to communicate the value of product marketing and brand in a way that supports what they’re trying to do.
Jill experienced this when explaining brand at Renaissance: someone worried about hiring is going to view brand differently than someone in sales, because it serves a different function for their different jobs. If you explain the problem you’re trying to solve in a way that impacts their work, they’ll have an easier time buying into the process.
If you’re starting from scratch, the team has to believe in where you’re going.
Refreshing your messaging and brand identity can lead to a lot of shake-up internally, and that can be intimidating. So, if you’re basically going to scrap everything and start over, you need to build a brand team that believes in where you are going and can see the future you’re creating.
The best way to get your team to see where you’re going is to get them involved in the process. Through the process at Renaissance, Jill learned that you can’t be afraid to let the brainstorms flow and have fun with new ideas. Taking it slow and involving the team will help get internal buy-in and make it easier to roll it out to the rest of the company, because you’ll have evangelists that believe in the project.
Understand your target market, and talk to them the way they want to be talked to.
There’s a popular expression: you’re either selling vitamins or painkillers. You’re either selling a solution to a specific problem, or a “beautiful future” that they can have with your product. This distinction is important because it will impact on how you explain your product to the market.
Jill recognized this challenge at Renaissance: They sell an administrative solution to dentists, but dentists don’t care about the administrative part of their job, they just want to work on teeth. By understanding this and positioning their product around removing that pain, they spoke to their target market the way they wanted to be spoken to.
If you don’t have a clear and compelling identity for your product, you need to refresh. You need to be able to tell the story of your product in a way that resonates with your buyers and helps them see exactly what you can do for them, better than your competitors. Your product could be a game-changer for your target market but without a clear identity, they won’t be able to see that.
Jill Casey recognized this problem when she joined Renaissance Electronic Services and she set out to correct the ship, which led to a company-wide rebrand and a total website overhaul. Telling the right story takes work, but using these lessons will help you down the right path to solving your identity crisis and aligning your story to your customer’s needs.
To hear more about what it takes to solve an identity problem, tune in to Jill’s episode of the Better Product Podcast.