No matter if you work in a product studio, a startup or a lab, when it comes to building a product you face a lot of different phases. There is your research, design or implementation process; and there are several sprints or kanban boards, stand ups, feedback rounds, A/B tests and so on. These steps are so common for you, but how do you describe this process to someone in a different environment with a different work flow?
One day I was searching for the right analogy in explaining my workflow at Goodpatch to a friend. He is working in a more classical agency with less agile processes. As a designer, I am used to explaining complex things in easy and approachable ways. I knew my friend is really into movies – you can say he is a cineast. So we were watching the movie Pacific Rim several years ago, but I remembered one particular scene in this movie. The giant machine in the movie was controlled by two people in the roomy head of the machine. They were sharing their mind and there was a brain-fusion — kind of. This idea explains so well how we set up our teams when it comes to producing digital products.
Designers and developer are sitting next to each other and sharing one brain, one product vision. The designer is explaining the wireframes, the developer is reflecting and agreeing or giving concerns; both are thinking beyond their disciplines. Design doesn’t stop at zeplin and uploading pixel perfect files. And development starts much earlier before receiving designed screens.
Bottom line: building your product, app or service has a process similar to launching a movie.
Think about it. What is absolutely necessary in creating a movie? Obviously the story. Without a storyboard you just have an idea, but no concrete narrative to prove that your assumed plot works out. If you ever build products from scratch, you know about the importance of a proper sequence. We use our proven design process to start and set the right tracks. This is the high level roadmap — you decide for instance about the release of your Beta version, your MVP and the next feature to integrate, and so on … Isn’t it the same with a movie? Remember the hype about the latest Star Wars movie? A lot of work was done before the first long-awaited trailer came out. In a way this was their first product release. I am pretty sure the team received a lot of feedback from the community to continue and improve the final cut.
The storyboard is just the beginning and the cast is also more than needed. It sounds so easy, but in order to build the right cast, you should know the roles of your team. In movies you often find characters like: the leader, the helper, the loyal skeptic, the diplomat. Of course these are personalities, but you need these types to run the story. The dude — the main character in The Big Lebowski is super diplomatic and neutral but without him the whole story wouldn’t run.
For products, it more about professions like developers, designers, product owner and other stakeholders. But here you also need each role to run your process.
To give one example, an ongoing project we’re working on is Zenjob. We team up with designers and developers for Android and iOS and of course backend developers, a CTO and a product owner to reach a holistic team. But to build a great product you need more than just the professions. You need all of their opinions and some nervous tension. No matter from which side this opinion comes from — client or product studio. When we start a project, there are no boundaries between these parties any more. We take our role and perspective and start the process. There are a lot of ups and downs, back and forth, user vs. business decisions. But an area of tension among professions is essential to push the product forward.
“The dude in ‘The Big Lebowski’ is super diplomatic and neutral, but without him the whole story wouldn’t run.”
The next phase is easy. A few sprints later we are already in the middle of our design process, starting with high res prototypes. To jump from wireframes to UI screens, your product team also needs a vision for the visuals. Of course this is related to the over all product vision, but it’s compressed to a visual level. The well known look and feel and different UI elements need to be defined at this point. In this process they don’t need to be finalised, but a first step for the feeling.
This is like the setting and the costumes in a movie. Without a setting or costumes it wouldn’t be a proper movie. For authenticity you need visual layers. The audience wants to dive into a story and absorb it's magical, scary or cozy mood. It is not just the surface, it is part of the actual story. Ask yourself: “Do you want to tell a serious, reliable, fun or sarcastic story?” You need the right visual elements for this. The UI is the touchpoint to the audience. The user cannot see the brilliant sitemap of your product. The first contact is the sign up, or the on boarding in your app. Tell your product story here immediately and in an appealing way.
“It is not just the surface, it's part of the story you want to tell to the user.”
Imagine you want to capture the first scene of a movie, something needed? Yo, movies and products can’t be made with bare hands. Both need equipment. Quentin Tarantino was asking to resume the production of a specific lens for his eighth movie The Hateful Eight. He wanted to make sure the footage looked exactly like he knew from old classic Western films. Many of the recipients will not recognized it, but he said it makes a difference. Passion and an eye for details are needed to create a flawless product.
When it comes to building a product, you run through a lot of different tools and workflows. Yes, you can start with paper and pen, in a team or workshop you flip to whiteboards and post-its, then you create prototypes and maybe some mock ups. You choose your tools for designing, you choose your tools for communicating and tools to handle your daily tasks. Each product team uses slightly different software, but everyone agrees on which tools are necessary — like specific cameras for a movie.
Producer, channels and audience
The analogy can still continue. The realization or execution of a movie is often feasible because of the producer: a person or organization who believes in the product vision or sees a big market opportunity. These days a movie needs to have a great box office and make revenue in the first few weeks. Leonardo DiCaprio’s well deserved key to the oscar — The Revenant — grossed worldwide $533 million against a budget of $135 million. Tell me one business angel who would not love this number? Venture capitalism is common in our daily life, and is quite similar to the film industry.
And who invests in these products can influence their distribution as well. Should your first product be released in the Google Play store, or as an iOS App in the App store? This is a fundamental question. It effects your whole product and not just the interface and the questions between material design or human interface guidelines. Is it a hybrid? Neither this nor that?! Ok, you’ve probably faced this question much earlier, but you see the similarity to a movie, right? You need to be aware of your audience — you should know where you find your users. The film industry learned this lesson. Watching a film changed dramatically, game changers like youtube or netflix revolutionized the business. This is another toping, I just want to point out that a movie needs its excited audience just as you need your grateful users.
That’s it. The movie is over and you can wait for part two — the next feature release or the next venture round. My friend is now able to explain our design process to his colleagues and we can continue and watch more netflix or hollywood blockbuster or experimental noir. To end I want to quote the movie “Sudden Impact” from 1983: “Go ahead, make my day.”