CX Science: creating the desired CX using product design
Product design sends powerful signals about the things people can expect from the product.
Here's how to communicate different product perceptions:
- high product performance is best communicated by designs that are harmoneous, not too novel, and slightly heavier (more on these dimensions below)
- to convey ease of use, focus on making your product look 'natural' and not too novel
- to communicate technological advancement, go for novel and non-natural appearances
I strongly believe that we need to be more deliberate in our CX efforts. My number one takeout from this is to be crystal clear on what exactly are you going to communicate; what customer experience are you after?
Once this is in place, investigate which design elements bring you close to this vision or intent.
What do we know about product design?
Following the advice for creating powerful blog posts, I was about to start this one by outlining the importance of product design. I won't. By now I trust it's clear to everyone that good design is vital for brand and product success.
There are, though, two things that can significantly contribute to our thinking in this domain.
One, going after 'good' design is to underestimate the power of design as a communication device. Much more than being 'good' or 'bad', your product design can help you convey specific messages, and this is where I see its utmost power.
Two, we know little about the mapping between design elements and product perceptions; i.e., about the building blocks for embedding specific messages in product design.
Without further ado, I introduce you to one of the clearest and most impactful design frameworks I've seen, a product of the cooperation between Ruth Mugge, Darren Dahl, and Jan Schoormans (the article is available here).
The product design framework
In what I can only imagine being a fantastic research effort, they studied 120 products in 4 consumer durable categories, on 31 design characteristics to come up with the following dimensions of product design (*): harmony, novelty, naturalness, weight, compressed.
As I guess you are wondering what do these mean, here comes:
Harmony: "... ordered, clear lines, simple, well-balanced, minimalistic, harmonious, well-integrated, symmetric, and a good example of the category" **
Novelty: "... innovative, distinctive, new, fashionable, modern, active, open" **
Natural: "... rounded, organic, radial orientation, dynamic, feminine" **
Weight: "... robust, heavy, massive, stable, coarse, rude" **
Compressed: "... horizontal orientation, low, and wide" **
In parallel to this framework, the authors did a similar exercise for product attributes. With this, they identified three attributes that were vitally important for customers: product performance (reliability, high quality), technological advancement, and ease of use.
So far, so good - we now know what are the underlying dimensions along which consumers evaluate product design, consciously or not; and we have three product attributes that matter to customers
Now to the second question - how are these two related to each other? I.e., how can we use the design elements to convey information about the product attributes!
Conveying specific messages with design
So, (drumroll), here is how to increase customers' perceptions of product performance, technological advancement, and ease of use:
There is a linear relationship to 'harmony' - the higher the perception on 'harmony', the more people will think this is a reliable, well-performing product. Remember that harmony is best conveyed via clear, simple, well-balanced design.
'Weight' is also important, but beware - the relationship follows an inverted U-shape curve. After a certain point, the product will start looking rather bulky which will hamper perceptions. Aim for relatively high 'weight' but not too high.
Similarly, 'novelty' impacts perception of product performance, but it follows the same relationship as 'weight'. It can be too much of a good thing if and when the perception of product performance is what you are after.
Ease of use:
Design 'Novelty' does impact ease of use BUT in a negative way. If you want your product to appear easy to use, don't go for novelty in design; what we know is easier to use.
Going for 'Naturalness' is a good call for conveying ease of use. For reference, 'naturalness' means rounded, organic, feminine, dynamic.
'Compressed', like 'weight' for product performance is best kept at moderate levels as it impacts ease of use via an inverted U-shape. So don't go for too long but narrow shapes for example.
As expected, high scores on design 'Novelty' lead to high scores on technological advancement.
Interestingly, design's 'naturalness' impacts perception of technological advancement negatively.
There are three reasons I appreciate this framework so highly.
One, it connects design elements with product perceptions. This, I believe, is a much needed and actionable type of research, as it gives us the building blocks for creating the CX we intend to.
Two, it is a brilliant reminder that a blanket 'good design' approach is not enough. We can and need to be much more specific than that. As we saw, the same product design dimension can have a very different impact on product perceptions - for example, 'naturalness' make us think that the product is easy to use, but reduces how much we consider it technologically advanced.
And three, studies in experimental aesthetics show that design elements often show a U-shaped or an inverted U-shaped relationship with design liking. In other words, for many things the simple 'the more, the merrier' does not apply; for many dimensions there is such a thing such as 'too much of a good thing'.
I hope this inspires you to explore further the ways to communicate deliberately your CX intent and to create the customer experience you want to.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!
* Note that these dimensions are derived statistically from consumers' perceptions instead of resulting from the authors' deliberation on the topic.