Designing a product vs. designing a user experience

In day-to-day life we often come across products that stand out.  Some stand out because they are so good, some stand out because they are so bad and many fail to capture our attention or imagination in any way. 

The factors that separate a good product from a middle of the road product are sometimes difficult to nail down.  If we put aside how well a product is marketed, and what role factors such as brand recognition play in the success of a product or service, we can start to peel away some of the outside layers and look at the product itself.

 So let’s do that.  Is a Rolex better than any other watch; is Dom Pérignon better than any other Champaign or is it simply that the whole experience which surrounds these products is different than their counterparts?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that sometimes user needs go beyond actual product usage.  In my field we call this user experience. 

In essence, the user experience does not begin when the user turns on your product or uses your service.  In fact the user experience is a much longer relationship that has a lifecycle of its own. 

From learning about the product or service through, acquiring, “unboxing”, using, maintaining, disposing of and upgrading, these are all stages at which the user’s experience with your product or service can be specifically engineered to meet identifiable needs. 

When you look at a product or service not as an entity unto itself but as part of a bigger process we begin to understand the value of user experience design. 

If you as a small business owner have a great product but have not designed a great way for people to learn about your product, or acquire your product then you may be limiting you own success. 

If you have a great product but it is packaged badly, or the experience of setting it up causes a lot of frustration, then it’s possible that you might have higher rates of returns or requests for refunds than normal. Customer retention across versions of a product is in large part determined by how easy the upgrade process is. 

In short, considering these factors and putting thought into their design can greatly increase profitability, customer retention and overall user satisfaction.  

Luckily there are some great examples of end-to-end user experience that we can draw from for inspiration.  One of these examples is Porter airline.  One might think that what they sell is air travel, and that their “service” starts when you board the plane.  

Of course an astute observer will notice that from the time that a user logs onto the Porter web site, they are entering into a user experience where they are treated like a valued customer.  Porter has very deliberately engineered a customer experience that directly addressed many of the pain-points associated with modern air travel: 

From our downtown location to our upscale amenities and refreshing approach to customer service, Porter Airlines is changing the way people fly.

Gone are the hassles of getting to and from Pearson. Gone are the long check-in lines and unpredictable security lines. Gone are the things that stand in the way of a great flight.[1] 

In a highly competitive industry fraught with difficulties, Porter is carving out a comfortable niche and a loyal following by acknowledging that the user experience for their service begins long before a passenger arrives at the airport and continues long after they have left. 

No matter what product you sell or service you offer, by taking a broad and holistic approach to the design of your service or product experience, you are greatly increasing your chances of success and your customers will benefit from that.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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