“The Art of Being a Client “— the only check list you will need to build a successful product

Camilla Dahle
Mar 5, 2017 · 5 min read

“We need an app..”

This sentence describes a common situation for many of us working in digital agencies and even many large organizations.

You start setting up teams, find a budget and an exciting tech area (“VR” or AI” or other trending technologies) and then start searching for that Great Idea to Emerge. After some time with various ideas or even building a functional prototype — sometimes all the way into development, you discover that some fundamental pieces of the project are missing either completely or partially. For instance content not ready or knowing for whom you are creating the product — or why.

The result is confusion and loss of focus — which is a very costly affair on today’s digital market! On the App store alone there is approx 2.2 million apps, a number which needs to be seen in parallel with the fact that only a fraction of those are installed on a user’s phone. And of those making it to the phone, only a few will actually be used on a regular basis. It is incredibly easy for an app to NOT be selected, so do it right from the beginning!

Dare to ask

The most important thing and the biggest service anyone can do on a project is to ask! Even if it seems like all questions have been asked or you are new in the project or everybody are senior to you— or what ever reason you might have to not ask. If there is something which seems unclear or odd to you, dare to ASK, just like the little innocent child does in the Emperor’s New Clothes, when all of the grownup world pretends the Emperor isn’t naked out of fear to be deemed stupid.

This is my plea to you all out there! Remember that nobody is perfect, everybody forgets or displaces information involuntarily or out of ignorance — or has tunnel vision here and there. It is human. Even Apple, often considered the pinnacle of design has had Bad Design Days (or longer). Those of us that were there can hardly forget the pain in the hand you experienced after some time using the smartly designed but ergonomically painful mouse that was known as the Puck mouse from 1998 *-*

Hence based on the many projects I have worked on over the past years and watching how the same issues occurred over and over, I wrote down my best tips for any team & client who is kicking off product development. Introducing ..

.. The Check List Method

A Guide to remember what is important, based on the assumption that if it works for pilots, surgeons, NASA and fire departments — then it will work for you too! It is important because it will keep your focus on creating a lovable product just like our above case, Apple is so good at.

This is the only check list you will need to keep the right focus in any project, and it is this simple for you to be able to know it by heart:

  1. Why?
  2. Who?
  3. Validated?
  4. Aligned?
  5. Ready?

These 5 simple questions form the key to a successful (digital) product. They should be seen as 5 basic steps on a ladder, where all questions must be answered properly. Remember, it is human to make mistakes and miss something, so it is important to use the entire check list.

Here follows a thorough walkthrough of all steps:

1. Why?

  • Why do you want to build this particular product?
  • Why is it important for you? Why is it important for your users?
  • Which values does your company have?
  • Why should the user care?

Listen carefully after hollow answers where more questions pop up with the answer. If for instance you answer “we want an app like our competitor’s”, ask yourself: WHY is that? Does it sell well? Does it look more modern? Remember, the product IS your company, so it is central to think about how the product represents your values.

2. Who?

  • Who are the users of the product/service and why?
  • Are there different ones — and which is the most important one?
  • Do you know what they need and want?
  • Do you know what their behaviour is?
  • Talk with your users/customers!

Ask themselves about how they feel and what they do in relation to your product/ the area of interest. Focus on primary users, who are the ones most likely using the service and the most common use cases, not uncommon ones. Then add secondary users to tweak the service. It does not exclude other types of people using it, but if you say that “everybody” is your user, it means you are building it for no-one!

3. Validated?

  • Has the need been validated?
  • Did you talk with the users?
  • Did you talk with all stakeholders?
  • Are there other services solving the same problem?

Test different ideas with the users — both primary and secondary, and validate the need. Be in contact with them early and often, listen and don’t instruct or seek assurance, when you test your ideas. Then remove what doesn’t solve any need.

4. Aligned?

  • Have all stakeholders talked with each other?
  • Does everyone agree on the direction?
  • Do all stakeholders know about the project?
  • Do all stakeholders know they are stakeholders?

Attempt to gather all stakeholders in the same room at the same time even for only a short while. It is the most efficient way to align on the direction, why and who of the project. To agree as early as possible saves huge amounts of resources later!

5. Ready?

Are all materials and content ready? Are all systems ready? Is everyone who should be available, available — and do they know? Who is the ultimate decision maker? Who plans the project and what does it look like? How is the team structured and does everyone know?


Now that you have the Check List to Rule All Check Lists — go forth into the world and make a difference, because …

This post is based on a talk I gave on two occasions at ustwo and Webbdagarna/Sweden 2015–2016.

Camilla Dahle

Written by

Opinionated design strategist with a deep conviction of the good which design can do. Attempting to use my skills for good.

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