When it comes to product discovery and figuring out what products to build, there are a set of techniques we apply.
The first step of the product discovery phase is to frame it. A simple discovery framing technique that saves you time and money by avoiding weak opportunities is the Product Opportunity Assessment. For opportunities that turn out to be lucrative, this technique helps to clearly determine what is required in order for implementation to be successful.
The Product Opportunity Assessment also ensures alignment and clarity of purpose among the team and other stakeholders.
The Product Opportunity Assessment addresses 4 key questions about the project you’re about to undertake:
What business objective does the solution intend to address? (Business Objective)
How do we measure the success of the project? (Key Results)
What problem will we solve for the customer? (Customer Problem)
For whom do we solve that problem? (Target Customer)
To start the conversation, ask yourself or your team: Why are we doing this project? This discussion can take anywhere from 1 minute to multiple days. There’s a risk of skipping this question because you assume the objective for a new project is clear for everyone. However, it’s crucial to have this discussion to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page regarding the overarching goal.
The business goal is usually of a qualitative nature. It should be ambitious and aggressive, yet realistic. Thus, it should inspire and set the direction.
For example, a business objective could be to grow the customer base, or to improve the customer experience.
At the start of each product discovery phase, we want to know the exact measure of success. For example, if the business objective is to improve the customer experience, a possible key result is to reduce the average customer onboarding time to under 3 minutes.
A key result should be a measurable outcome, consisting of a metric with a target value. When reached, it moves the company closer to a business objective.
While the first two questions address the company’s goals and how an initiative benefits the company, we want to focus on the customer in the second step. We must identify the problem that customers are facing so we can attempt to solve it. A problem can come from using the current solution, a competitor’s solution, or exist because there is no adequate solution on the market yet.
The question about the customer problem is usually the hardest to answer, which surprises people because it sounds like the easiest. However, when you ask startup founders or product managers what problem their product intends to solve for customers, often all you get is a list of features.
A possible problem could be that it takes a company a lot of time to pay all its remote workers with a contractual agreement and maintain a clear overview of these payments.
The question „For whom do we solve that problem?“ intends to define the target customer who will benefit from the solution to a problem. A commonly used tool to determine the target customer is the creation of user personas.
Often the initial target group is too large. Whenever the target group is everyone, it’s necessary to narrow your niche. A product created for everyone serves no one. Niching down is especially essential for startups. Underserved sub-niches tend to have less competition, as large brands consider the smaller markets not worth targeting.
A possible target customer could be a front desk employee at a 4-star hotel in Switzerland. If you want to niche it down further, you could consider only hotels in ski resorts.
Focus on the objective and the problem
Depending on the project, there are other factors to consider. However, these are the bare minimum questions we address when starting the product discovery phase. As you can see, the purpose of a Product Opportunity Assessment is to identify the business objective and the customer problem, not the solution.
The result of the Product Opportunity Assessment will be discussed with the client or senior management. It will then be used to make a go or no-go decision to proceed with the project.
A Product Opportunity Assessment will inform you what you’re getting yourself into and what it will take to succeed if the project goes ahead. We also ensure that all team members know the answers to these questions before jumping into the product discovery phase.
One of the first steps of designing a website, web application, or mobile application is to create wireframes. Wireframes provide you and your team insight into the high-level layout, structure, and functionality of an application. Wireframes also visualize how users interact with an interface and navigate through it.
In this article, we’ll cover the following:
What are wireframes?
Why do you need them?
How do you create wireframes?
What are wireframes?
we take a deep-dive into how to create wireframes, let’s first get clear on what wireframes are and why they’re so valuable.
A set of wireframes
is a visual blueprint of how a user interface
of your application will
work. Before you invest
time and money in actually coding your application or creating a high-fidelity user interface (UI) design, it’s
a wise idea to get those wireframes finalized.
defining the key elements
of your product. Wireframes
should include the key copy, buttons, calls-to-action, input fields, and navigation. Furthermore, you should also define error messages,
dropdown options, etc.
Let’s take an online banking app, for example. If you’re wireframing a feature that allows users to make payments, you’d define elements such as inputs of the payment’s recipient, payment reference, amount or currency. Also, you’d include the navigation and the buttons to submit and cancel the transaction.
On the transactions overview screen, where all past and open transactions are displayed, you’d design the filtering and sorting functionality. You wouldn’t just scribble a box that said, „some filters.“ You’d define which type of filters exist and by which attributes users could sort transactions.
You can create wireframes with
different levels of fidelity. It’s important to remember that wireframing is
where you figure out what goes into each screen and how the different screens
Benefits of wireframes
Wireframes are extremely useful. Design
changes on screens can be made quicker and with less effort than if you made
them later in the design and implementation process of the product. Therefore, wireframes
are a perfect tool to go through many iterations of your product, fast.
Wireframes are also ideal to test
your product idea with potential users. Instead of trying to explain how your
product will look, you can show wireframes to test users as a first prototype
and collect feedback.
Wireframes are also a perfect communication tool. Everyone
on a team — developers, clients, designers, businesspeople, etc. — can understand
Well-designed wireframes can replace multipage
documents with convoluted design specs. Such documents often resemble complicated
essay papers — which engineers hate to read as much as designers, requirements
engineers, and business analysts hate to create.
Don’t make them pretty
When wireframing, beauty isn’t important. Don’t fuss
over how the wireframes look. Focus on the usability-aspects by making them
clear and clean. Forget about typography, colors, and well-chosen images.
Spending hours upon hours prettifying and making the interface pixel-perfect at
this point is a waste of time. You’ll go over many iterations and redo many
parts. Besides, if you spend a lot of time on the initial version of your
wireframes, you’ll be less willing to make changes even if the feedback from test
users suggests that you ought to make adjustments.
Also, test users will be less willing to provide critical feedback about the general concepts of a prototype if it looks close to a finished product. They’ll focus too much on the visual aspects of the design instead of its usability.
When to create wireframes
If you choose to build your product according to an
agile development methodology, you’ll typically have to create the key
wireframes as part of your initial solution design and then extend them in the
process of building your product. If you follow a “waterfall” development
methodology (usually completely maladapted for today’s rapidly changing
business environments), you’ll have to create wireframes for all screens, as
part of the product specification, before the software implementation starts.
How to create wireframes
Wireframes can be created quickly and easily. You
don’t need to be an artist or an experienced UI (user interface) designer to
draw the basic wireframes of your product idea. You just need to be able to
draw boxes, circles, and arrows.
To get started, you’ll just need some paper and a pen. If you’re wireframing with group of people, a whiteboard can be useful but isn’t required. If you want to get fancy, you can use an iPad with an Apple Pencil and a sketching app like Concepts.
Some people may feel the urge to start wireframing with a design application, like Balsamiq or Figma. However, I highly suggest starting off the wireframing process with pen and paper (or whiteboard). There are a number of reasons for this, and they’ll become clear in the course of this article.
Step 1: Create a sitemap
The wireframing process starts with creating a sitemap. A sitemap shows all the screens of an application and how these screens interconnect. For each screen that your application should include, draw a box with the name of the screen in it. Typically, the first screen is the „Home Screen“. Next, draw the remaining screens. By drawing lines between screens, you define how the screens interconnect, thus how users navigate through the application. If some of the screens of your application should be made accessible to logged-in users alone, you can indicate that by adding a lock symbol to the screen.
Step 2: Sketch wireframes
Once you have the overall structure of your
application defined on a sitemap, it’s time to draw the wireframes of the
individual screens. If you haven’t wireframed before, don’t fret. The process
is simple! Each element of the application is represented with a simple shape,
Large boxes, for containers and sections
Small boxes with text, for buttons
Multiple horizontal lines, for long paragraphs (titles and important copy should be written out)
Boxes with diagonal lines through them, for images
Two key elements you shouldn’t forget are headers and
In case you’re creating a web application or website that should be optimized for mobile devices, you should at least wireframe the key screens for mobile devices.
Step 3: Draw interactions
After you’ve sketched the wireframes for all screens, draw arrows between screens to indicate how users will navigate through the application. Use the information from the sitemap where you already specified how the screens interconnect. Typically, users get to other screens by clicking or tapping on buttons. Therefore, arrows often lead from buttons to screens.
Ensure that users are well-guided through the user interface. Users must be able to reach each screen. Avoid dead-ends — situations whereby users can’t return to the previous screen.
Step 4: Digitalize wireframes
Now that our paper-and-pen wireframes
are done, it’s time to convert them into a digital version. Paper wireframes
are great to brainstorm first drafts and quickly iterate through different
versions at the beginning of a design process. But they have some drawbacks.
They are more difficult to store, share, and make interactive than digital
versions of wireframes. However, don’t get fooled and rush into a digital
version as your first step. Digital wireframes take longer to create, take more
time to edit, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spending too much
time on the details of a screen.
For basic, low-fidelity wireframes, we often use Balsamiq at Voa Labs. Balsamiq doesn’t allow you to create detailed visual designs, which is ideal when the goal is to create low-fidelity wireframes. Other tools that are also great for creating wireframes, but which also allow for greater detail (which can be a drawback), include Sketch, Adobe XD or Figma.
Step 5: Create an interactive prototype [optional]
„An interactive wireframe is the best trade-off of speed for functionality because it allows for natural exploration and discovery on the part of the subject without requiring a fully working product.“
– Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know
Many wireframing tools allow you to make wireframes interactive. You interlink screens by defining the target screens of buttons and links. The resulting interactive prototypes are great for early user-testing. You can ask test users to navigate through the application and share their feedback.
After following the steps above, you’ll have created your
wireframes, maybe even used them to create an interactive prototype, and
integrated user feedback. Typically, the next step is to create a high-fidelity
visual design. Here, you’ll work on the combination of typography, colors, and imagery
— all with the goal of creating a visual design that delights users
If you have ever thought about getting an education or continuing education, you are well aware of the many options. It is hard to get an overview, let alone being able to compare the different study programs and courses offered by universities and schools. That’s why Benjamin Vidas, now COO, and his co-founders decided to solve this problem by building eduwo – a platform that offers an overview of educational programs and guides people toward their ideal degree and profession.
After working with Benjamin and his team on the design of eduwo, we can confirm that this platform is definitely one you’ll want to check out whenever you’re thinking about getting an education. We got the chance to ask Benjamin about his vision, the things he’s learned the hard way, and the future of the Swiss education system.
inspired you to start eduwo?
Switzerland has a diverse range of educational and professional opportunities.
However, the large variety of choices can also be overwhelming. We founded eduwo
so that everyone can find the right education for themselves.
advantages does eduwo offer over other career counseling services?
The advantage of eduwo is that users not only receive all the information about the schools and study programs, but can also benefit from the experiences of current and former students. Further, we connect between people looking for education, and schools or potential employers.
In addition, we have recently launched a brand new and innovative comparison function that allows direct comparison between various continuing education programs in a very user-friendly way.
What does success mean for eduwo? How do you measure it?
successful when our users – potential students and schools – are satisfied. We
measure this by the number of users and the average time spent on our website.
Most important, however, are the matches between users and providers – for
example when information material gets ordered or a consulting meeting is
Can you tell us about your revenue model?
for a premium presence on eduwo – either a flat rate or per referral of
How will the Swiss education system shift in the future?
that in the future everything will become more digital and much will take place
over distance learning. This trend certainly got accelerated by the Coronavirus
schools that aren’t well-known yet will be more and more in demand, and the
skills like programming and an understanding of IT will be increasingly at the
The importance of lifelong learning is also increasing. More and more people are frequently taking smaller and more specific courses, even later in life.
interdisciplinarity, the cooperation of different disciplines – for example artificial
intelligence with marketing – is becoming very significant.
On leadership & strategy
were the best decisions and where would you adjust certain steps you’ve made
along the journey? What are the lessons from them?
My best decision was to start eduwo and to have the experience of building and developing the company. Certainly, there is always a risk of losing focus. Further, it is important to regularly assure that you spend the money on the right priorities.
Nowadays, there is a great number of advice and support opportunities for Swiss startups. How do you know which advice to follow and which to ignore?
I think it’s always important to get a second opinion
on any received advice, and to take the time to discuss the inputs on important
issues with the team.
This year you extended the eduwo platform by a feature that allows users to compare courses. What prompted you to do that?
thousands of study programs in Switzerland and all of them have different
requirements, varying costs, advantages, disadvantages, learning content and
study durations. Therefore, it usually takes a lot of time to find the right
course. Thanks to this new function, the courses can be compared very quickly
and easily, which helps a person a lot.
How do you prioritize which features to build next? Our platform always puts the user first and we try to continuously release innovative features for their needs. For example, based on the feedback from HR departments of companies, we will soon extend the new comparison feature so that it is optimized for companies. This way, HR managers can make it available for their employees and optimally propose possible paths for continuing education.
“Our platform always puts the user first and we try to continuously release innovative features for their needs.”
On Technology & Design
have been the biggest technology challenges you’ve had to overcome? How were
you able to master them?
We built the eduwo platform from the ground up. Creating a website from scratch comes with certain struggles. An example: SEO – search engine optimization. If you use WordPress, for example, there are SEO plugins available that allow content optimization on a website in order to rank higher on search engines quite easily. This does not exist when you build everything from the ground up. But of course, there are advantages or reasons that speak for programming it from scratch.
What would be your best technology-related advice to other startups?
Use well-known and established programming languages,
keep it lean and start with a MVP! Furthermore, communication among the
IT-developers, and between the business and the developers, is enormously
“Use well-known and established programming languages, keep it lean and start with a MVP!”
What were the biggest benefits to collaborate with Voa Labs?
One of the biggest benefits was to gain a professional outside perspective on the new comparison function. Also, to benefit from their top-notch design and UX skills which we don’t have internally. Another huge advantage was the fast and flexible implementation with agile feedback rounds.
For further information about eduwo and the comparison feature we designed together, read the case study.
Here’s a fact – there are around 200 million active websites. To stand out from the crowd and grab your target audience’s attention, you need a website that is easy to use, aesthetically designed, and provides your visitors with relevant information. More importantly, your website should be able to convey your company’s story interactively.
Now that you understand the importance of
attractive web designs, you’re now able to start thinking about how to design a
website that fulfills the above-mentioned criteria. Exploring the ongoing
trends in the web design industry can help you get inspired and build a website
that draws in visitors and stands out among your competitive landscape.
1. 3D visuals
Here are a few reasons why 3D elements
are currently so popular in the web design industry – compared to 2D elements,
they are often more attention-grabbing and engaging. The realistic look of 3D
creates a sense of physical presence that is very natural to the human eye. The
futuristic appeal of 3D visuals in web design can boost interest and the
overall impression of your brand.
One of the best examples to illustrate this is Campo Alle Comete. The website, designed to advertise an Italian wine, shows a floating city in 3D that depicts the brand story while inspiring visitors.
Whaou is another perfect example of how 3D design elements can bring a website to life. The website allows users to create their own recipes by mixing different ingredients in an interactive kitchen.
2. Parallax animation
In the past few years, designers have
witnessed a lot of web-based animation trends – a number of them have started
to transform the industry. One such trend is parallax animation.
In a nutshell, parallax is the optical
illusion that happens when the objects closest to the viewer appear to move
faster than objects that are farther away. While we keep seeing the parallax
effect in our everyday lives, seeing it on web pages feels both real and
Here are a few reasons why parallax
animation is in this list of web design trends for 2021:
It can add a creative touch to an otherwise dull website.
It makes moving around a website attractive and hence encourages user engagement for a longer period of time. The more they stay the more likely they are to become customers.
Minh Pham is an amazing example of a web design using parallax animation.
The website, created by Anton Tkachev, uses parallax effects that respond to mouse positions and dashes of depth with 3D elements throughout their website. This is a great example of how parallax animation in combination with 3D elements can make an impressive impression.
3. Dark mode
For decades, web designers used the
default background color – white – for websites. Lately, more and more websites
and web apps have introduced dark mode: a simple toggle that lets you change
the background color to black. Some websites even offer a dark mode only.
“Everyone can relate to being in a room where the lights are turned down and you’ve got this white screen blinding you”
Sameer Samat, Google’s VP of product management for Android and Play
Here are a few reasons why dark mode is
trending in the web design industry:
A creatively made dark themed website is Eat Genesis. The website’s homepage shows a few figures along with an option to order food online.
Even the tech giant Apple uses dark themes for some of its web pages, as shown in the example below.
4. Asymmetric layouts
The asymmetric layout trend has been
growing since 2019. The idea behind it is that a website should look less
blocky as well as less straight-edged. There are various levels of asymmetry in
design – from incorporating small asymmetric elements, to more extreme forms.
Asymmetric layouts provide designers with
more freedom of design. Moreover, if used correctly, this layout can help to
draw the attention of users to a specific area of the website.
A perfect example of an asymmetrical layout is Ryn Davis’s website. The visuals are not in symmetry – rather the opposite, but still looking appealing. The website is designed aesthetically with a few visuals and some text.
Felix Lesouef has divided his website asymmetrically into three parts. This provides his vertically organized website a lot of space for the content column.
Neumorphism – one of the latest trends in
the UI industry – is a portmanteau of ‘new’ and ‘skeuomorphism’. Neumorphic
elements pretend to extrude from the background. This extruded look can be
achieved by using light and shadows around the elements. Unlike Material
Design elements, neumorphic elements do not “float”.
The „Rent a Vespa Now“ button on this site designed by Sara Salehi is a great example of how neumorphism can elevate a modern and minimalist website.
Another example is how George Tang created a concept landing page with neumorphic style elements.
If you’re looking for a handy generator to create CSS code for neumorphic elements, head over to: https://neumorphism.io
6. Geometric grids
Geometric grids are indispensable when we
look to create a website that is clean and harmonious. In simple words, a grid
is a structure that comprises a series of lines (vertical and horizontal) that
divides a web page into columns or modules.
Geometric grids help to systematically
order details and information while looking appealing and synchronized.
Hudson Garvin Martin’s website is a great example of how geometric grids can be used in web design. The website uses clearly defined blocks for navigational purposes as well as to store content.
Malika Favre’s website is a perfect combination of bold and minimal art in a grid layout.
7. Cartoon illustrations
Not so long ago, websites were just about
text and graphics. However, since then things significantly changed for the
better. Web design is now
increasingly about establishing a connection and engaging with website
visitors. One of the ways to do so is by including cartoon illustrations in the
A website that makes the process of browsing through it fun is Toy Fight. The website illustrates two characters who keep fighting throughout the entire website. Each page shows the same characters in different poses.
Another example of a website that has creatively used cartoon illustrations is Tubik Studio. Instead of using photographs of its team members, it has used cartoon illustrations for each member.
8. Scrolling transformations
When users visit a website, they’re doing
more than simply scrolling – they’re interacting with the interface. Now that
present-day designers are keen to turn all types of interactions into memorable
experiences, the scrolling transformation has emerged as a trend.
Scrolling transformations can range from
full-color scheme variations to complex animated layout transitions. It’s
natural that eyes get attracted to movement – hence when unexpected changes
happen as users scroll, it will keep them engaged.
Here’s an amazing example of scrolling transformation designed by Vilius Vaicius. The web design provides users with a new experience every time they scroll, making it a truly amazing experience.
Outer Studio uses an eye-catching array of scrolling cards and seemingly non-moving artistic images and forms.
9. Colorless design
Lots of white space and keeping most
elements black or gray makes for a clean design. Any colorful element placed in
a colorless design gets special attention. Plus, a colorless design can speed
up your design process as you spend no time choosing the “right” colors.
Many people believe that the key to popular products and services is to come up with radically innovative ideas. However, Allen Gennett describes in his book The Creative Curve that this widespread belief is far from being true – here’s why. Novel products and services can be too new and too different from the status quo. This indicates that getting the timing of a new product or service right is crucial.
To start off, we need to understand two basic mechanisms that drive how humans react to new ideas. These go all the way back to the most fundamental human psychology that has evolved over millions of years.
Have you ever feared something unfamiliar, for example, the first day of a new job or talking to a stranger? We’ve all been there and it’s totally natural. Humans and closely related animals (like bonobos) have an avoidance reflex to unfamiliar things, and prefer certainty to risk. Over time, we evolved to fear the unknown, seeking familiarity as a protection mechanism from potential harm.
The mere exposure effect
Interestingly, the innate avoidance reflex can be reduced by repeated exposure to a particular thing. Simply put, the more often we are exposed to something novel, the less we fear it. Let’s go back to the first day at work example. Chances are that on the second day you start to get more comfortable.
Repeated exposure not only reduces the avoidance reflex in response to the specific familiarized thing, but also to things that are similar to that particular stimuli. For example, as you become more relaxed with every sight of a red snake, you will also be calmer once you see your first green snake. However, familiarity does not directly make us like things. Rather, it makes us fear things less – it reduces avoidance. Simply put, seeing snakes repeatedly wouldn’t necessarily make you like them. The question then is – what makes us like something and drives our interest in it?
The preference for familiarity has limits. People get tired of things. In a study, subjects were shown paintings with different frequencies. The subjects liked the painting that they saw 25 times far less than the paintings that they saw only once. So, where the preference for the novel comes from?
To answer that question, we need to understand the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Contrary to popular notion, dopamine is a motivation neurotransmitter and not a pleasure neurotransmitter. It stimulates us “to approach something to learn more about it”. Or, simply put, it triggers us to check something out, and it is not so much about the pleasure of consuming something. Research has shown that experiencing novelty releases dopamine, which makes us want to explore whatever new thing lays in front of us.
From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. For a hunter-gatherer, an unfamiliar territory could mean a new source of food, which is worth checking out. This anticipation of potential rewards is what scientists call the “novelty exploration bonus” and it’s why we seek and enjoy novel things – whether it’s food, a new game, or an app.
This leads us to a contradiction: we just learned that humans pursue novelty, but also fear the unfamiliar.
have the Kevins gone?
At the beginning of the 1990s, Kevin became the number one name for newborn boys in Switzerland. Suddenly, it seemed that every parent was calling their newborn boy Kevin. However, as the decades passed, the name lost flavor. By 2019, it had dropped to the 184th place on the name popularity index, with only 43 newborns in Switzerland being named Kevin.
This is a phenomenon that is not only linked to names. The popularity of things often follows a bell-shaped curve. First, things come into favor, then they peak in popularity, followed by suddenly falling out of style.
ago, a friend of mine told me about a song he really enjoyed. As I didn’t know
the song, I asked him to play it on his stereo for me. I liked it too and asked
him to play it again, but he objected. He explained that he was afraid he’d
stop liking it if he played it too often.
I know at that time that researchers from the University of Toronto and the
University of Montreal examined this exact issue and proved him right. They
demonstrated that the enjoyment of listening attentively to the same song over
and over again follows a bell-shaped curve. When the familiarity through
repeated listening increases, the preference toward the song grows to a point
of overexposure. From that point on, the liking for the song decreases – a
phenomenon that is not only linked to songs and names.
Allen Gannett identified this trend development that follows a bell-shaped curve with countless products and ideas. He named this the creative curve, which maps the relationship between preference and familiarity, aggregated on a group level of people.
If we experience something completely new for the first time, the avoidance reflex outweighs our innate desire to explore new things. As a result, we won’t buy or use it – to protect ourselves from potential (physical or monetary) harm. It’s too novel. Fringe groups might be interested, but not the mainstream.
As we get
exposed to the new thing over and over again, we gradually learn that it won’t
harm us. The “novelty exploration bonus” starts to overweight the avoidance
reflex. Every time we see or experience it, we start liking it more, and we
start to wonder if this new thing might provide value in some way. This upward
slope is called the sweet spot of the creative curve. Ideas and concepts
in this region are familiar enough that we feel comfortable to get in contact
with them, while at the same time being sufficiently novel to spark some interest,
compelling us to explore it.
Once we get to know an idea or concept better it starts to become very familiar, and consequently, the “novelty exploration bonus” gradually decays. At the point of cliché, we become overexposed, becoming less and less interested in it. After the point of cliché, ideas become a follow-onfailure. If you launch a product that falls in this category you might initially have some success as people are still somewhat interested, but after a year or so it likely will experience an abrupt drop in popularity.
Ultimately, an idea gets out of date and unpopular. If you open a store selling yo-yos in 2021, you may attract a small group of buyers, but nothing more. Products or ideas with the objective of attracting a large audience that fall in this category should be abandoned.
When creating a product or service, the key is to find the sweet spot between familiarity and novelty – a concept that Raymond Loewy, a famous industrial designer, also strongly believed in. He sensed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, the curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. Loewy called his theory the “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA. His formula was: to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.
startups recognize this success formula (consciously or otherwise). To make
products or services more appealing to consumers and venture capitalists, they
get branded as a fresh spin on familiar successes. The home-rental company,
Airbnb, was once called “eBay for homes”, as people were familiar with eBay.
Uber and Lyft were initially considered “Airbnb for cars”. Once Uber became a
household name, new startups started to call themselves “Uber for …”.
Less Is More
a social network, had launched at Columbia University a few weeks before
Facebook became a success at Harvard. CampusNetwork was a bit earlier and also
significantly more advanced than Facebook. While Facebook essentially was a
virtual directory, with basic profiles, friends, and a function called
“poking”, CampusNetwork already had many features that Facebook would integrate
much later, such as photo sharing, the wall, the activity feed, and comments.
Despite all its advanced features, CampusNetwork soon stalled, while Facebook
strived. What if CampusNetwork failed to a large extent because of the density
of its advanced features?
When CampusNetwork and Facebook launched in 2014, people had a much different view about identity and privacy. We were not used to sharing private photos and posting what we are up to publicly – which was what CampusNetwork asked their users to do. Wayne Ting, co-founder of CampusNetwork, admits that “We were asking them [users] to make too many leaps at once.” By contrast, Facebook gradually added new features to their product as users became more familiar with sharing personal information publicly online. In a BBC interview, Ting said: „What Facebook did that was incredibly smart, was to hook them with the friending and the poking and then they learned with their users and added functionality slowly over time as users became more comfortable.“ Facebook was following the creative curve. They successfully balanced the familiar with the novel.
When Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s first electric pickup in late 2019 its design certainly surprised many people. Once the car becomes available in late 2021 (as planned), sales numbers will give an indication in which phase of the creative curve Tesla’s progressive car concept can be placed and if it has enough familiar components to spark more than just some fringe interest.
the chances of the Cybertruck being successful would have been much lower a
decade ago. Electric cars were not as widely accepted as today, and the brand
Tesla did not yet have its strong standing. Launching an electric car, with a
weak brand and an unconventional design, would have placed the car on the
far-left tail of the creative curve. Over the past years, people have become
familiar with electric vehicles and Elon Musk’s progressive ideas – so much so
that Tesla dared to make a big leap.
When we first come in contact with something new – an app, a website, or a physical product – two things happen in our brain: the unfamiliar makes us want to avoid it, but our desire to explore new things is also triggered. Products have a much higher chance of becoming successful when they balance the familiar with the novel. Something too novel scares people off, whereas something too familiar does not drive interest. You want to work on products and ideas that are rooted in something we already know. The perceived familiarity will make potential customers feel comfortable enough to get in contact with it. At the same time, a product needs to include some novelty that is intriguing enough to spark interest.
immersive technologies, and artificial intelligence are, in every sense of the
word, the disruptors of
this decade. We believe that these
technologies will transform industries and drive tremendous global economic growth.
No longer considered novel, we are on the cusp of these technologies transitioning towards being at the forefront of strategic priorities for organizations. Discussions are now are shifting from, “will these technologies work?”, to “how can we make these technologies work for us?”
1. Blockchain – the trust machine
has the potential to be of enormous value in almost every industry.
Today’s business transactions are complex and costly,
partly due to the data systems of the involved parties being siloed. The
consequences are delays and losses due to paper-based documents and data stored
locally by each party involved. The presence of intermediaries responsible for
transaction validation further worsens the inefficiencies.
blockchain, all parties share a single ledger. Once a transaction is validated,
the record is permanent and immutable. This enables everyone involved to know with certainty what, when, and between
which parties a transaction happened – all this without an intermediary
providing assurance. Also, because of how a blockchain is structured, data
remains secure and is impractical to tamper with.
financial industry is currently at the forefront of the blockchain revolution.
Large-scale blockchain initiatives are being formed within and around existing
financial infrastructures, policies, and regulations to increase the efficiency
of money transactions and trade finance.
However, other industries such as technology, media, telecommunication, manufacturing, logistics are now expanding their blockchain investments. Companies outside the finance space are increasingly recognizing the impact of blockchain technologies. In a Deloitte survey, 83% of businesses indicated they will lose competitive advantage if they don’t adopt blockchain.
2. Immersive technologies – extended realities
internet is an almost infinite source of data and information, and immersive
technologies will change how we will interact with the data and information
beyond keyboards and screens. Immersive technology is an umbrella term that
encompasses technologies such as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR),
and virtual reality (VR). These technologies make use of sensory devices to
either merge a user’s virtual and “real” world or fully immerse them in a
early 1930s, science fiction writers and futurists have been dreaming of
digital environments where people could escape reality. Advancements in
computer vision, graphical processing power, display technology, and input
systems have now made it possible to catch up with a century-old fantasy.
Contrary to popular belief, immersive technologies are not limited to the gaming and entertainment industries. In 2019, commercial spending on immersive technologies overtook consumer spending, with experts predicting it will grow three times larger by 2023. This is in line with organizations progressively recognizing the full potential of immersive technologies. The use cases for immersive technologies are constantly expanding – ranging from healthcare, sports, and aviation.
Big tech players such as Apple and Google have been intensively exploring ways to apply immersive technologies in future products. In 2013, Google introduced the Google Glass, an augmented reality headset targeted at the mass-market. However, privacy and functionality complaints lead Google to retarget the product as a tool for physicians, manufacturing workers, and other professionals. With Apple’s ARKit, iOS devices are already capable of identifying surfaces such as a table, then adding virtual objects to it. It is rumored that Apple is further ramping up its AR/VR efforts by working on new products such as AR smart glasses.
Today, and probably for a few years to come, we need a
technical device in front of our faces to experience digital realities.
Excitingly, however, there are
already prototypes of smart contact lenses that can augment the wearer’s physical world.
Somewhat further down the road,
emerging brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) such as one being developed by Neuralink might allow us to connect our biological neural networks
with the digital world and thus create digital
experiences directly within our brains.
3. Artificial intelligence – the new electricity
Just as electricity completely transformed industries and society, artificial intelligence (AI) will substantially transform every major industry in the next century – from healthcare to advertising, finance, and manufacturing.
The AI domain includes machine learning, deep learning, chat and voice bots, natural language processing, and computer vision. Even though AI has been around for decades, it is taking off now due to a few key technological developments: data sets of unprecedented scale, increasing computing power and better techniques such as improved model architectures. Around 2015, these progressions reached critical mass – and AI suddenly became real. Amazon shipped its AI-powered home assistant Echo. Tesla cars had self-driving capabilities after a software update. Microsoft’s neural network ResNet managed to beat humans in image recognition.
AI technologies will continue to personalize and contextualize human-computer interaction (HCI) and automate processes in different domains with little to no human involvement. Demand for AI systems is skyrocketing – IDC predicts that global spending on AI systems will reach nearly $98 billion in 2022, more than 2.5 times the 2019 spend.
become so powerful over the coming years that governments will need to regulate
it to protect its citizen. The challenge will be to not overregulate AI to
leave room for innovation.
More advanced than what is evident
Recent product launches indicate that blockchain, immersive technologies, and artificial intelligence are becoming strategic priorities for organizations, including tech giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. And this might just be the beginning. Investment predictions and patent applications suggest that behind the scenes, companies ranging from startups to conglomerates are developing products that leverage the presented three disruptive technologies.
technologies have immense potential to revolutionize a plethora of industries,
but a lack of in-house capabilities is one of the greatest barriers to wider
adoption. The good news is that these gaps can be filled through a wide array
of training channels available, as well as talent acquisition options to
develop an organization’s blockchain competencies.
to build blockchain skills within your organization is through training.
Covering technical, business, social, and legal aspects of blockchain-based
solutions, these combine the latest in research with real-world applications.
With training being able to address all or a selection of these areas, we
recommend two options – in-house training, and online courses.
training, courses that are tailored for a specific organization, comes in many
forms. It can be taught by a blockchain expert who works for your company, or
by an external training provider. Traditionally, in-house training is taught in
physical classrooms – but thanks to the adoption of modern communication
technology, more and more sessions are now held online. A big advantage of
in-house training is that it can be customized to your company’s business needs
and learning objectives.
courses have been steadily rising in popularity in recent years. Easily
accessible and often available at a lower price than traditional courses,
people can fit these self-paced courses around existing commitments and
responsibilities. A disadvantage is that they are made for large audiences and
are therefore less specific for a company’s particular needs. Nonetheless,
these can be an ideal introduction to the world of blockchain.
On most established online course providers, you’d be able to find courses that give an introduction to blockchain topics – like the beginner-friendly Udemy course The Basics of Blockchain by Bettina Warburg. For the tech-savvy, there are even courses for building production-ready blockchain applications, such as Ethereum and Solidity by Stephan Grinder.
universities also provide online courses, mostly targeted at executives and
C-level audiences. Here are a few examples:
Many blockchain platforms and technologies, such as Ethereum or Corda, offer extensive tutorials and documentation on their websites. Some even offer a certification exam.
2. Reading and audio resources
audio resources allow you to dive into the blockchain world completely on your
own. There are books, articles, and podcasts for different levels of knowledge
– suitable for complete beginners all the way to technical experts. From all
available learning options, reading and audio resources arguably offer the most
Books, one of the most traditional ways to gain knowledge, offer a great way to learn about one of the most innovative technologies out there. For non-technical people, Blockchain Bubble or Revolution by Neel Mehta, Aditya Agashe and Parth Detroja, and Blockchain Basics by Daniel Drescher provide a great introduction.
Mastering Ethereum written by Andreas M. Antonopoulos and Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum, is a highly recommended read for techies. The book is a fantastic guide – from the basics, to teaching state-of-the-art smart contract programming practices.
technologies are still evolving rapidly, and with that, the associated
knowledge. New online articles are continually being published in line with
these developments – meaning that you’re able to remain up to date with the
industry’s goings-on and breakthroughs.
Medium, an online publication platform, has become a go-to place to learn about blockchain – from business-focused articles on decentralized finance (DeFi), to essays on underlying cryptographic mechanisms. HackerNoon and CoinMonks are two popular blockchain blogs hosted on Medium to explore various articles on the topic.
Whitepapers are documents written by the organization that offers the technology. Acting as a marketing document to promote and explain a technology, these typically present a problem, the solution, and its practical applications. The Bitcoin and Ethereum whitepapers are classics. Although extremely informative, whitepapers aren’t recommended for total beginners – you’d need some basic knowledge at minimum.
are another popular medium to acquire blockchain knowledge. Most feature
interviews with experts, and delves deep into various topics with the people
who are building the decentralized internet. Just bear in mind that a certain
level of prior knowledge is essential to follow these discussions.
From a wide
selection of blockchain-focused podcasts, we’ve narrowed down a couple that we
think you’ll enjoy:
epicenter.tv – recommended for blockchain pros to keep up to date with recent developments
3. Talent acquisition
to develop in-house blockchain capabilities is to hire for relevant expertise.
However, attracting quality blockchain talents to your business can prove a
daunting task due to an exponentially growing demand.
Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are increasingly being explored by startups and major organizations around the world. The number of bitcoin, blockchain and crypto-related employment ads on the popular job board Indeed.com had ballooned by a whopping 1457% between September 2015 and September 2019, according to a “Seen by Indeed” study.
quality talent, you must offer something they don’t currently have where they
are. A-players have an innate desire to collaborate with brilliant minds and
tinker on challenging projects. So, present them with the exciting challenges
your company has to offer and encourage them to get to know the like-minded,
bright, and knowledgeable people they will work with.
One of the quickest ways an organization can also build out its talent base is by acquiring a blockchain startup. In what is also known as an acquihire, the buying organization gets a well-practiced team, proven in building and delivering blockchain applications.
However, the risk of an acquihire is the lack of cultural assimilation between the organizations. As a result, they underperform or leave to start their next venture. When considering an acquihire, figure out early on which opportunities you could offer those entrepreneurial thinkers that they can’t easily find elsewhere. Try to continually stimulate their desire to create rather than interrupting them with a barrage of meetings.
don’t automatically have the best confidence in blockchain technology and its
applications. Trust needs to be built up. Why does confidence in these systems
need to be high? Because blockchain applications and their underlying
technologies deal with valuable data such as asset ownership, identity, and
contracts. If people don’t trust your blockchain application, they simply won’t
So how can you help your blockchain application signal trust to its users? Here are three proven strategies:
Stick to Standards and Be Consistent
blockchain application should respect established user interface (UI) and user
experience (UX) conventions. Having used many other applications, users are
conditioned to anticipate certain interaction patterns. When using your
application, they expect to apply the same patterns they’ve already learned. If
your application violates established standards, users will get frustrated and
first thing you need to do is to learn how popular blockchain applications
interact with users. Then analyze blockchain applications in your domain.
Research their UI and UX to infer established interaction patterns. For
example, if you build a blockchain application to digitize trading in the
commodities space, learn how other trading blockchain applications interact
examine de facto standards among non-blockchain applications in your domain.
For instance, if you’re building a financial blockchain application, research established
norms among traditional finance applications, such as e-banking applications.
If users are accustomed to reviewing and confirming financial transactions,
it’s probably wise that your application follow this pattern.
your application predictable. If it doesn’t behave consistently across all its
use cases, users won’t trust it. Just think about how nearly impossible it is
to trust a moody person who behaves erratically. Well, it’s the same way for
applications. For example, if a user usually needs to confirm the signing of a
transaction in a blockchain application, this confirmation step needs to be
included in every transaction’s signing process — no exceptions.
2. Signal trust with the
right colors and typography
of colors and typography as relatively inconsequential things that can
hopefully make the UI of your blockchain application look pretty. They’re much
more powerful than that — capable of influencing how trustworthy your
application appears to its users.
financial institutions use the color blue as their primary color because
research has proven that blue conveys trust. So it comes as no surprise why
J.P. Morgan (one of the world’s largest banks), Revolut (a major online bank),
and Coinbase (a major cryptocurrency exchange) all use the trust-building color
effects of colors vary among cultures, so select your colors accordingly. For
example, if your main audience is in China, red might be a great choice, as it
signifies good fortune and success; however, you’ll want to minimize black,
which traditionally symbolizes evil and destruction.
color, typography can make a difference in how users experience products. Numerous
experiments have shown how different typefaces can affect a message’s level of trustworthiness.
In one experiment, readers believed that a sentence was truer if the font used
was Baskerville, rather than another font like Comic Sans.
Moreover, the results of an IBM research project showed that typeface influences perceived trustworthiness of banking websites. But while a particular typeface may do well conveying trust, it may do poorly conveying ease of use and appeal.
of various typefaces on the perception of banking websites
research also discovered that typography influences products differently. What’s
perceived as a trustworthy font for one application might not be seen as trustworthy
for another application. Before you decide on a typeface for your blockchain
application, conduct user experiments to gain insights on how different
typefaces influence users’ perception of your product.
You can also boost trust by borrowing it from existing customers, peers, or reputable brands. This concept is known as social proof. Robert Cialdini, who coined the term in his book Influence, wrote, “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” And it makes sense: In situations where we’re uncertain about what to do, we follow the behaviors of others.
proof from experts and well-known organizations is especially effective. We
assume that these professionals are knowledgeable and make informed decisions.
Therefore, it’s no coincidence that emerging blockchain companies showcase the
logos and testimonials of well-known experts, companies, and customers on their
websites. You should do the same.
What’s in store for this year’s digital landscape? At Voa Labs, we’ve researched and identified the top 5 digital experience trends of 2020.
This info can help organizations deliver more compelling customer experiences while maximizing the value of digital products and services. Excellence in digital experience design is vital for navigating customers along the increasing span of digital touchpoints.
#1. Smart Stores
In this age of expanding digital commerce, the lines between physical stores and online stores will continue to blur. Brick-and-mortar stores will boost their digital efforts beyond traditional online shops. For instance, they’ll open APIs, offer online-order/offline-pickup options, or take advantage of immersive technologies.
Meanwhile, digital retailers will open physical stores to provide multi-sensory experiences that they simply can’t offer online.
How physical and virtual stores evolve will culminate in the same thing: smart physical stores that provide rich customer experiences. These next-generation stores will leverage the advantages of the online and digital experience (e.g. wide product range, rich information, and personalization) together with unique physical store experiences that aren’t available online (e.g. multi-sensory experiences, trials and demo, instant gratification, and relationships with sales associates).
#2. Agent Interfaces
Agent interfaces utilize artificial intelligence technologies to predict user intentions by analyzing user inputs and contextual cues. These predictions help users execute their intentions by easing or automating the process. So, users won’t have to spend so much time figuring out how a tool works; instead, they can focus on using it to get the job done.
Chatbots and voice applications, known as conversational user interfaces, are examples of agent interfaces.
Agent interfaces are ideal for repetitive, low-stake transactions, such as ordering food, checking an account balance, or requesting an Uber ride.
Hello multiexperience, the evolution of omnichannel. While omnichannel reflects an inside-out mentality that focuses on channels and technologies, multiexperience reflects an outside-in mentality that focuses on the experience itself.
Until now, people have thought of a computer system in a limited fashion: as a single device. But these days, we have the multiexperience. Now, users interact with platforms made up of multiple touchpoints and sensors, such as smartphones, wearables, or voice assistants.
A multiexperience strategy demands a seamless customer experience. Its success depends on a consistent and unified user experience (UX) across web, mobile, wearable, conversational, and immersive touchpoints. Every touchpoint must be rooted in a single thread of communication; that way, customers will feel like they’re having one continuous conversation with an interconnected system. So, no more having to repeat who they are and what their request is.
“By 2023, more than 25% of the mobile apps, progressive web apps and conversational apps at large enterprises will be built and/or run through a multiexperience development platform.”
As a next step, products will be adjusted to the customer’s emotional state. Using artificial intelligence (AI), organizations will predict the emotions of users to enhance customer experiences and products, even beyond the purchase.
The ability to identify emotions will also be used for targeted advertising. Indeed, real-time mood-based marketing is a growing trend. Gartner predicts that by 2024, AI identification of emotions will influence more than 50% of all online advertisements.
#5. Interfaceless Machines
Traditionally, most machines have integrated user interfaces operating them. But soon, on-machine interfaces will be abandoned in favor of applications that run on their operators’ mobile devices.
Larger screens, higher resolutions, and numerous built-in sensors — these will enable mobile devices to control machines in ways that exceed what would be possible with on-machine interfaces. These mobile devices connect wirelessly with machines via Bluetooth, WiFi, or the internet.
Coming up with innovative products and services that become successful is a challenge. Established companies and startups spend billions of US dollars on product research and development every year. Studies reveal that 40-50% of those investments are wasted on new products and services that get canceled due to poor results.
At Voa Labs, we apply a framework to test the likelihood of innovative solutions becoming successful from the very beginning of the product development phase. In this article, we give insight into this framework.
The likelihood of an innovative product or service becoming successful can be significantly increased if it meets three criteria. First, customers need to desire a solution. Second, it must be feasible to implement the solution. Third, the solution needs to have a viable business case that works out financially. The innovation sweet spot sits at the intersection of the three. Let’s dive into the details.
The product development process starts with putting customers at the center. Products or services need to be desirable to end users by having a positive impact on their life. To find out if people desire a product or service requires empathy, particularly the capability to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you are designing for. There are a handful of methods to capture the mindsets and needs of the people you are building a solution for, such as interviews or immersion.
When we identify a need for a product or service, we first have to figure out if it is a “vitamin” or “painkiller”. “Vitamins” are solutions that customers consider as „nice to have“, while “painkillers” are “need to have.“ With “vitamin” products or services, you have to explain to potential customers some non-urgent problem and convince them that your pill is the solution. Compare this with a “painkiller”, which customers seek when they face an issue. A good place to start when coming up with a painkiller is to look for a pain that people experience. Once this is discovered, we design a relieving solution. To use an analogy, look for people holding their forehead and build a remedy for it. Do not create a pill and then look for an illness that the pill can cure. Although you might get lucky, the chances of landing a hit are small.
Here are some key questions that help to determine if a solution is highly desirable:
Does the solution fill a need?
Is the solution a “vitamin” or a “painkiller”?
Desirability is only one lens through which we look at potential solutions.
A solution needs to be technically and organizationally feasible. Even though a product or service is highly desirable, it may not be possible to build it within time and budget constraints. If the requirement is to have a project done in three months, yet our solution is projected to take seven months to complete, it is not a feasible solution. For example, without question curing cancer is highly desirable. But unless an immensely long project duration and a massive budget are provided, the solution is unlikely to be feasible.
A solution is not only required to be technically feasible, but it also needs to match organizational capabilities. A startup may have the ability to build a product quickly in an extremely agile way. While an established corporation may have the human resources, expertise and financial resources to work on a complex solution over a longer period. Besides having the ability to build a solution, it must also be feasible to operate it. We also ask ourselves if the solution can be managed and kept alive after deployment. An organization needs to have the capabilities to run a solution sustainably and stably in the long run. Of course, there may be the possibility to make organizational changes so that operating the solution becomes feasible.
Here are the key questions that help us test if a solution is feasible:
Is it feasible to build the solution within the given time and budget constraints?
Do we and our client have the technical capabilities to build and operate the solution?
Do we and our client have the organizational capabilities to build and operate the solution?
The final test for a solution focuses on its economic viability. A profitable business model needs to be built around a product or service. Oftentimes, startups and teams of corporates make the mistake of working on new solutions that customers desire, and even find a way to implement and run those solutions. However, they miss assessing if there is a viable business model until the first version is implemented.
The cost of a solution must be covered by the revenue it generates. It is quite possible that a solution’s business model may not be profitable initially. But it must be determined how and when the business model becomes profitable. If no path to profitability can be found, the business model must be revised. A startup likely needs to break even faster than a large corporation, which can cross-subsidize a new solution over a longer period.
After a viable business model for a solution is found, it makes sense to question whether there are ways to make it even more profitable.
Some products and services pursue other goals than achieving monetary benefits. In this case, the alternative aim needs to be clearly defined in the form of some quantitative outcome. If the benefits of the desired outcome do not outweigh the investment, it might be a good idea to reiterate the solution idea.
Here are the key questions that help us test the viability of a solution:
How can we build a sustainable business around the solution?
How much will we charge for the solution?
What are the costs to develop and operate the solution?
How can we make the solution even more profitable (e.g. by lowering cost and/or increasing price)?
Finding the innovation sweet spot is a balancing act
Coming up with a solution that is desirable, feasible, and viable is a balancing act, but one that is crucial to master when designing successful products and services. The key is to iterate product and service ideas, and assess and reassess them for these three core criteria. A solution has a high chance of being successful if it is desirable, feasible, and viable in the context of a specific organization.